Magic iPod Shuffle fixer-upper saves my tunes 2

Yesterday. I managed to render my new iPod Shuffle into an inert piece of plastic and metal. How? I have no idea, but probably because I pulled it out of the USB port before it was ready. It was so cooked that none of the computers in the house could peek inside it or even format it. iTunes said it was corrupt, but failed to repair it, and the Apple Updater also fell flat on its face. I was resigned to taking the thing back to the store to get a new one, until I discovered after considerable searching online Apple’s own anti-nuke solution — the iPod shuffle Reset Utility 1.0.1. It saved my little iPod Shuffle from oblivion. It was just released, so word of its arrival has not spread across the ‘net yet. I am adding a post about to help speed the news to other broken iPod Shuffle sufferers. So, to avoid this problem, watch the blinking amber light on your Shuffle. Don’t remove the iPod from the USB port until the light stops blinking, or you risk corrupting the flash memory. In my case. the corruption was so bad that Windows and Linux could see the ...

You have to care … 6

Today was my students’ final exam in physics. With the exception of two absentees, all my kids were in the same room, working diligently away at their responses, while I walked the aisles doing the invigilating-teacher thing. Maybe it’s the season, but it hit me that I really care about these kids. I want them to do well on the test. Like a parent looking in on his sleeping children, I had the chance to watch my students in a rare quiet moment, without the added responsibility to lead the class and keep them alert. Some of my students are brilliant, and given a few additional years of coursework, could probably teach me something about physics. Others have a really tough time with the subject. And there are a few who are just plain incorrigible, who with the right attitude, could probably run rings around the rest of us. I care for all of them, and this feeling is what sets really good teachers apart from those teachers who just show up to collect a paycheck. If I ever start to not care about my kids on an academic (or a personal) level, it will be time to find another ...

Stop with the “going forward” already!

Going forward, I would like to eliminate the clumsy phrase “going forward” from the US lexicon. I mean, what is wrong with saying something more precise, like “in the future,” or something really wordy, like “later” or “soon.” The phrase sounds stupid, as if the speaker had a lapse in memory and stammered out whatever words came to mind. It has no real meaning, even if one is trying to emphasize he does not want to go backward or regress. Time was, “going forward” was a favorite of politicians and business types, who utter all sorts of vague and/or wonky terms that carry little real meaning outside these guys’ (and gals’) professional circles. After all, we are still “going forward” in Iraq, despite evidence to the contrary. Lately, “going forward” has entered into more common venues. National discourse, meanwhile, goes backward. This week, I heard a fellow on National Public Radio say in an interview, “We need to work on some things going forward.” Right. As if you could work on them by going into the past? That same day, while glancing through a mail-order electronics catalog, my eyes fell on this charmer, “You’ll need some composite and S-video inputs ...

Those annoying mental itches that have to be scratched 11

TomTom, the global positioning system (GPS) retailer, has been running these cute TV ads lately, featuring driver and passengers unsuccessfully navigating their way around, accompanied by a catchy, syncopated musical refrain: “boomp-boomp-boomp-boomp-de- boomp-boomp-boomp-boomp-de-” etc. And hearing that music was driving me nuts, because I know I had heard it before, somewhere, but I couldn’t remember when or where or how or who. It reminded me of Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” from the 1962 movie Hatari!, but the TomTom sample has a completely different feel — definitely not a Mancini work. Yet I had heard it before. It was just so familiar, but dammit, I couldn’t remember the title, composer, or original venue. Enter that wonderful mental backscratcher, Google. I tried off and on for three days to locate anything informative about the TomTom music, with little success. Choosing the right search terms for Internet searching is after all partly an art, partly a science and partly a crapshoot. After trying different combinations of search terms like, TomTom, commercial, music, composer, ad, and TV, I finally struck gold with this combination: “tomtom composer tv ad.” The third hit, a Wikipedia entry, provided the salient fact that TomTom’s ad agency had ...

Happy Gilmore, cosmonaut

The flight engineers have weighed in, the flight directors have given the go-ahead — a Russian cosmonaut will in fact knock a golf ball off the International Space Station as a marketing stunt. Admitting that golf is not exactly his game, flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, told the BBC, “I play ice hockey and my understanding is that it is very similar.” Da! And I’ve flown a Cessna 172 and I understand it’s very similar to flying a Boeing 777. On the other hand, applying his slapshot to golf worked great for Happy Gilmore. When word of the Russian’s arrangement with golf equipment manufacturer Element 21 got out earlier this year, the folks at NASA went into a tailspin. They had unpleasant images of a regulation golf ball whizzing through space at more than 8 km/s (17,200 mph) and whacking either the ISS or some other valuable piece of orbiting machinery. Well, the wily Russians worked out a safer arrangement. The ball will be more like a ping-pong ball than a golf ball, with a tenth a regulation golf ball’s mass, and “Happy” Tyurin will by necessity only be able to tap the ball one-handed. His bulky space suit makes attempting ...

Ask, and you shall receive; knock, and the door shall be answered 9

Ninth graders can learn physics. Let me say that again. Ninth graders can learn physics. In fact, I bet sixth, seventh and eighth graders can, too. So why do we numb their brains in middle school with rote learning and endless fill-in-blank worksheets? Because many “educators” think middle school students cannot learn “hard stuff” like physics, algebra and chemistry, because they do not have the right developmental skills. Bullcookies. If that were true, how is it that students in Europe, Japan, the Middle East and elsewhere manage these subjects from the sixth grade on? They cannot all be on the college track. This school year, our school chucked out its science sequence of courses for the newly encouraged “physics first” sequence: conceptually based physics, then chemistry, then biology (P-C-B). After teaching physics to 10th, 11th and 12th graders for two decades, I have to admit that I began this school year with considerable trepidation. My plan was to hold essentially to the same conceptually based approach I had been using for years, with some modifications. It is not an easy syllabus. I don’t spoonfeed the material. Our school’s mission is to prepare students for college — all of our students ...

The difficulties of blogging …

OK. so I’ve figured out that maintaining a blog is a whole helluva lot harder when you’re teaching than when you have the summer off. Plus, my teaching load this year is higher than it was last year, so I don’t seem to have the spare time to write as much as I did. Nevertheless, I persevere. I am not going to be one of those bloggers who quits before the year is up, nosirree. To that end, I am going to try to squeeze out a couple of posts about teaching and a few other items that have been kicking around in my head for the last 12 weeks of school. One will be coming right up!

Moving sucks already, but wait, there’s more! 9

So, our Sunday was to be spent moving our larger items of furniture with a borrowed pickup from our present abode to a new place in nearby New Albany, Indiana. While we were gone from apartment #2 getting stuff from apartment #1, a fire broke out in #2’s building. We returned that afternoon to find workers crawling over the roof of the building, the Red Cross response team helping residents find hotel accommodations, and a bright yellow caution tape barring access to our part of the building. Our new apartment was now aflood in water and smelling strongly of wood smoke. This after we had just got the cable and internet hooked up, and moved most of our kitchen stuff into the new kitchen, which now resembled a small wading pool. Of the residents displaced by the fire, we got off easy, since we still can live in apartment #1 for another week and could store our undamaged stuff elsewhere in the complex. We lost a few small kitchen appliances and will have to launder some blankets. No biggie. We will probably get a similar apartment to replace the one we lost. Everyone else affected, five other tenants, are holed ...

New science carnival, second edition

For lovers of the physical sciences — and isn’t that everyone? — the latest edition of the latest science blog carnival, Philosophia Naturalis, is at Nonoscience. Check it out.

For sale: Remote, lakeshore lots. Buyers must be methane-breathers

Oh, and be prepared to travel to stake a claim. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is the only satellite in our solar system with its own atmosphere. It may well be the only object in the solar system besides Earth with lakes, as this recent image from the Cassini space probe reveals. The dark, smooth features are lakes of liquid methane and ethane, not water, though. The weather on Titan is just a tad chilly — -178 degrees Celsius or -288 degrees F –cold  enough for the two hydrocarbon gases to liquify. Compare that image (taken with radar to penetrate Titan’s thick cloud cover) with this view of Lake Powell in Utah taken from orbit by the Space Shuttle astronauts: We can see in the Lake Powell shot how the dark water contrasts sharply with the rough terrain, just as the methane/ethane lakes stand out from the rougher ground on Titan. Scientists are especially curious about surface conditions on Titan, since it is believed that Titan’s atmosphere (methane rain, folks!) resembles the early atmosphere of Earth before photosynthesis “poisoned” the air with oxygen. In other words, Titan could be a large time capsule, providing clues to the conditions on the infant ...

Sad news, the USA trails behind 32 other countries in its acceptance of evolution 1

We knew it was bad here, but not this bad. An international survey of adults’ acceptance of evolution places the US near the bottom of the barrel, just above Turkey and far, far below Japan and most of Western Europe. It’s yet more evidence that the US of A is a pretty benighted, or at least confused, nation. The survey, conducted by two US and one Japanese researchers in 2005, asked adults in 34 countries their responses to this statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” The responders were asked to state whether the statement was true or false, or to state they were not sure. The results for the US group: true, 40%, not sure, 21%, and false, 39%. Only Muslim Turkey, with an acceptance rate of about 23%, scored lower than the States. Meanwhile, more than 75% of the participants in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Japan and the UK judged the survey statement as being true, and relatively few were fencesitters. Most of the other Western European countries were not far behind. The US shared the bottom rankings with Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus and Turkey. I leave the reader to draw his ...

Why Facebook is better than MySpace 1

So, if I have a MySpace page, it seems only natural that I join the Facebook crowd, too. And in just a short few days, I have concluded all on my own that Facebook is light years ahead of MySpace in terms of form and function. Form: None of the MySpace DIY webpage formatting that creates graphic abominations. True, Facebook pages are boringly identical in layout, but you CAN READ THEM! SInce they are easily read and navigated, it seems to be a lot easier to find people and for them to find you in Facebook than MySpace. Function: Aside from the clear navigational aids, I was most impressed by Facebook’s “import a blog” feature, which I immediately enabled on my page there. It’s not a particularly complex feature, so I wonder why MySpace can’t do it, too. Blogs have feeds (RSS, Atom, etc.), so you give Facebook your feed URL and you get to post in two places at once. Result: wider audience and more traffic to your site (perhaps). That being said, I feel like somewhat of an interloper on both sites. The vast majority of Facebook and MySpace users are less than half my age! So I ...
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