Web Hunter: Potpurri IX

It's time again for Executive Editor Russ Kratowicz to share his favorite weird and wonderful web sites. Remember, he surfs the web so you don't have to.

By Russ Kratowicz

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In the course of the year we stumble across quite a few somewhat irrelevant Web sites while mucking about in the Internet morass for material to include here each month. You already know about the valuable content sites. They formed the list of places we recommended you visit. But, we found quite a few zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that, although inappropriate for the given monthly topic, certainly have some amusing or interesting features and content. This is the ninth year-end edition of this column in which we explore those off-the-beaten-path "sights" that don't necessarily have a rational relationship to the business life of the plant professional.

Survival skills

Everyone must eat. There’s no getting around that fact of life. That situation leaves us with some choices. We can fill up on convenience foods of questionable nutrition or we can engage in some truly fine dining. The latter option, while demanding a bit more of our valuable time, provides more control over the quality of the raw materials that stoke the internal fires. In short, one can sustain themselves in a more elegant manner and at a lower daily cost. Producing haute cuisine is an acquired skill, make no mistake about that. Your ability to impress and astound friends and family will increase in direct proportion to your stove time. Even though thousands of Web sites are dedicated to the culinary arts, I’m going to recommend only one this year. Find the others on your own. Let your mouse follow the aroma emanating from Cooking for Engineers, the brainchild of Michael Chu, a Silicon Valley software engineer. Once you get into www.CookingforEngineers.com, you’ll find the technically methodical results of Chu’s testing of different cooking methods, his community forums, recipes, info about ingredients and more.

Every good chef depends on a set of good knives. Because dull blades are a hazard to your perfectly good fingers and hands, you should learn how to keep the edges as keen as you can. Unfortunately, many people aren’t very sharp when it comes to knife construction and care. Fortunately, that group will exclude you after you slice your way to http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=26036 for a 14,000-word treatise on maintaining the edge on a chef’s finest hand tool.

From the days before spam


Next to digital spam, the most common irritant is a phone that rings during dinner. If you answer it, the chances are good that you’ll hear some telemarketer who can’t wait to let you know about a good deal you simply can’t ignore. Meanwhile, that fine meal you just prepared quickly returns to an inedible room temperature. You can stop this unjust infringement on your personal life if you review and implement the guidelines put forth at http://bama45.yafro.com/photo/10820813, where you’ll see “Andy Rooney's Tips for Handling Telemarketers.” It’s a quick read, and he finishes with some suggestions for handling junk mail. I suppose that if everyone followed that advice, we could forestall future postal rate hikes.

Making sweet music

There’s no rocket science involved when a musician hears a song, picks out the melody line, figures out which chords go into the accompaniment, and then transposes it all to another key more suited to the vocalist’s range. There are, after all, far more musicians than astrophysicists walking around your neighborhood. One particularly community-minded musician is helping others expand their repertoire. That good guy is Aaron Parsons, who designs electronics for the SETI program at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley. A page on his Web site, http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/~aparsons/guitar/guitar1.html offers words and chords for 180-plus songs. Just click on a title. A feature at the bottom of the page will transpose the tune to a different key. Also, you can sort the tunes by composer or by first line if you don’t remember the title. Now, go home and dig out the old guitar.

Homegrown music

In stark contrast to your typical ho-hum, run-of-the-mill band, the members of the First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra use no woodwinds, brass or strings during their concerts. In fact, they use no standard musical devices you’d recognize. As the name suggests, this dozen musicians from Austria fashion carrots, gourds, radishes and cucumbers into sound-making instruments just before their concerts are to begin. Veggie freshness, you see, is an important strategic advantage when you’re playing with your food. Of course, most of the instruments are heavily amplified, which explains why they have a full-time sound technician. After the concert, the instruments are made into soup so the audience can enjoy the vegetables a second time, which explains why they have a full-time cook on the crew. Hey, don’t laugh. They’ve recorded two CDs already. Check it out at www.gemueseorchester.org/anfang_e.htm.

The skilled eye

Practice makes perfect, and the extremely low cost of digital photography has made it so easy to become skilled in the art of visual capture. One can afford to throw away nearly every snapshot, keeping only the fraction of one percent that has the best composition, background, posing, color palette and other characteristics that constitute classically good work. But, a high-res image implies a rather large file size, which makes it difficult to send your images via e-mail or to upload them to a Web site. Bob Phillips, a full-time network and systems administrator with RRWH.com in Adelaide, South Australia, developed Resize Images Online to help you get around this problem. Aim your viewfinder at www.shrinkpictures.com for a utility that resizes graphic images to reduce their file size while keeping as much visual fidelity as possible. The site also allows you to convert images to gray-scale or sepia-tone.

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