Category Archives: Science

Early version of Google

This was the early version of Google. Using these humble wooden drawers, generations of scholars and researchers, desperate students and cunning spies, despairing parents and fanatical bibliophiles, and every other shape and size of reader delved into the depth and breadth of human understanding.

Something worth considering: Google contains only a fraction of the knowledge once cataloged by card catalogs. Technology has digitized and indexed only that which is easy to digitize and index; most journal articles, newspaper articles, books, scientific papers, notebooks and other written material are still confined to physical forms, and unknown to Internet search engines.

How I miss card catalogs.

The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder's of the world's past and the future of the universe.

The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder’s of the world’s past and the future of the universe.

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Along the Louisville waterfront

Louisville is a seaport, of sorts. The Louisville, Kentucky, “seacoast” is the waterfront along the Ohio River, with that other coastal state, Indiana, just across the water. Barge traffic has moved up and down the river for a couple of centuries, winding its watery way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the waterfront is industrial, or devoted to roads. There are a couple of parks. And a boat ramp, where this sign was found:

"Cars will be launched" could be frightening, unless you had a car that was also a launch, which is a particular type of boat.

“Cars will be launched” could be frightening, unless you had a car that was also a launch, which is a particular type of boat.

Less whimsical is this concrete obelisk, marked off in feet, showing the height of the river above “normal” elevation. At 26.5 feet is a note that this was the height of the 1997 flood. A mark at 29.2 feet shows the 1964 flood level. A mark at 30.1 feet shows the 1945 flood level. And the red arrow at the top points to the air above the 32 foot mark, noting the 1937 flood level, at 40 feet, would be somewhere up there.

Flood gauge along the Ohio River front in Louisville, Ohio, showing the heights of the 1997, 1964, and 1945 floods. A mark at the 32 foot level notes that the 1937 flood would have been up there somewhere, eight feet higher.

Flood gauge along the Ohio River front in Louisville, Ohio, showing the heights of the 1997, 1964, and 1945 floods. A mark at the 32 foot level notes that the 1937 flood would have been up there somewhere, eight feet higher.

Why I didn’t become a graphic artist

I spent most of my grade school years drawing pictures instead of doing classwork. Classwork was easy, so I did that quickly and then “illuminated” my work with fanciful spacecraft, mythic maps, and lots of lizards and horses. My maps were quite good, my spacecraft were probably not flyable, and everything else was quite poor.

But now, thanks to powerful computer hardware and clever software, I can make cartoons based on nothing more than photographs that I’ve taken and odd comments. Such as this:

Cartoon showing two stacks of CD-ROMs mulling over their fate.

Combine powerful computers and software, a decent photo or three and some brief text, and you have cartoons!

You can find more such efforts at KLJC Computing Cartoons.

NOAA Patch and Coins

NOAA is the world’s leading publisher of original content on the Internet. Not collected from others, but direct publishing. Every day, NOAA instruments, programs, projects and people push a steady stream of environmental, technical and scientific information out to the U.S. public. These commemorative coins were issued to honor NOAA’s history; the patch is just a patch.

When plumbing fails

What happens when a high-tech urinal crashes? It no longer flushes, but it does flash an indicator light and occasionally beeps. No, it was not made by Microsoft.

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The beep sound occurs only about once every ten seconds. This is a long enough interval that you aren’t really sure you heard a beep, but frequent enough that it will annoy you if you think to use the restroom as a place to take a nap away from coworkers. Curse you, beep!

Something else you can’t help but notice: nobody seems to know what to do with a crashed urinal. Should you call a plumber? Should you call the computer help desk? Should you bring in a systems analyst? An electrical engineer?

Nobody seems to know.

TSA and communications

As you strip down to pass through a security gate at an airport, keep in mind that the Transportation Security Administration has spared no expense to bring the highest level of technology to securing your journey. This technology is rigorously tested,

TSA test of an electronic sign

TSA test test test of a TSA sign sign sign.

to make sure that you, the flying public, can travel securely, if not necessarily while wearing a belt, shoes, jewelry, or anything except possibly underwear.

Oops. Maybe not everything has been tested:

TSA communications error

TSA communications error in the real time security screening system.

Apparently there will be some delays with the TSA’s real time security screening system.

Poor memory management

For most of human history, people had only their own memories for storing information. Most people who have lived did not know how to read or write, and if they wanted to remember something, they had to memorize it. Stories and poetry helped people to remember things.

With the advent of mass printing, and then typewriters, duplicators and photocopying machines, the printed word came into its own. Memory could be put to paper; the memories could be profound — the Iliad, the Bible, Shakespeare — or trivial: an order for a hamburger and fries.

One of the great advances of the latter part of the 20th Century was the mechanization, then automation, of memory. Originally, computers were designed to compute: they were custom-made for things that could be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided things. Today, by far the largest and most important use of computers is for memory: storing photos, songs, movies, bank records, electronic books, and anything else that can be described with ones and zeros.

Alas, automated memory is not perfect, as seen in this photo. A shopping mall placed a computer in the ceiling over a hallway in a shopping mall, with a projector pointing down onto the floor, advertising something. Exactly what was being advertised is not clear; the poor Windows XP computer had a memory management problem, and projected its problems onto the floor instead of the advertising.

Memory management and the blue screen of death.

Memory management caused this Windows XP machine to spill its guts all over the shopping mall floor.