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.
Everyone must eat. Theres 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, Im 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, youll find the technically methodical results of Chus 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 arent 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 chefs 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 youll hear some telemarketer who cant wait to let you know about a good deal you simply cant 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 youll see Andy Rooney's Tips for Handling Telemarketers. Its 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
Theres 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 vocalists 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 dont remember the title. Now, go home and dig out the old guitar.
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 youd 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 youre 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, dont laugh. Theyve 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.
While were on the subject of file transfer, you might want to investigate Media-Convert, a software utility from media-convert.com, a company in Puteaux, France. The file conversion is rather simple. Flip that mouse over to www.media-convert.com, browse to the file to be converted (must be less than 50 Mb), indicate the preferred format and click the convert button. The software works with more than 150 formats applicable to a variety of compressed archives, data, databases, images, mathematics, movies, presentations, ringtones, sounds, text documents and vector documents. Scroll to nearly the bottom of the page to access the feature that lets you compose your own MIDI polyphonic music and ringtones using an online music editor.
Walking on art
Imagine strolling down the street and having your path blocked by a swimming pool, an enormous soft drink bottle or a huge, dead housefly. If this ever happened to you, its likely you stumbled upon the handiwork of Julian Beever, an English artist who has placed elaborate trompe-l'oeil drawings done in chalk on the sidewalks in more than half a dozen countries. Because you can see his art only from a very low angle, the pieces are done in deep perspective and they make visual sense from only a few vantage points. Youve got to see this amazing art, which can be viewed from http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/pave.htm. While youre at it, you can go to http://www.kurtwenner.com/street, where Kurt Wenner shows his pavement art based on classical themes.
For most folks, buying a domicile represents their single greatest purchase or investment. Media outlets throughout the country, though, have been trumpeting the collapse of the real estate boom and braying about crashing home prices. I guess if you didnt unload your holdings before now, youre not going to retire quite as early as you might have planned. Meanwhile, you might as well monitor the dwindling asset valuation by visiting www.zillow.com. Here is where Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink try to give consumers access to the house valuation information and other tools that real estate agents use. Just go to the site and click on Map & Search. This gives you a map you can click and drag to zoom in on your property using either the street, satellite or hybrid views. The site claims 67 million homes in its data base, but the content isnt exhaustive for areas where the population density is low or where sales are infrequent.
More than 2 billion people lack adequate sanitation. About half that number has no access to clean water. An equal number lack suitable shelter. The conditions of the poorest of the poor in this country, in contrast, are well above the appalling situations that exist in other parts of the world. A group that is trying to make a difference overseas is Engineers Without Borders USA, a Longmont, Colo.-based non-profit humanitarian organization that implements sustainable engineering projects in developing communities. Typical projects include water supply and sanitation, food production and processing, housing and construction, energy, transportation and communication, and income generation. By the time the project construction is finished, the team has already trained and empowered the local residents to operate and maintain the new infrastructure. EWB claims 155 chapters across the country. I mention the site because its a concrete example of your fellow engineers using their skills to make a better world. Read the details at www.ewb-usa.org/index.php. Perhaps you could help them out in some small way.
Engineers are taught that one of our key standard physical constants, the kilogram, is embodied in the mass of a special metal cylinder. That approach served well for more than 100 years, but the kilogram thus defined cant be derived from more fundamental physical constants. Scientists would prefer to reproduce physical standards without having to rely on physical objects. So, they have floated a proposal to determine the kilogram by means of truly invariant properties of nature. The kilogram, however, isnt the only physical standard coming under fire. Those pesky scientists also have their sights on the ampere, Kelvin and mole. How would you produce exactly one laboratory-quality ampere, anyway? Its an interesting story. If youre nosy, send a standardized mouse click to www.nist.gov/public_affairs/newsfromnist_beyond_the_kilogram.htm and learn how one determines these constants.
Covering the world
From the watershed event that occurred on October 4, 1957, artificial satellites have been serving mankind. Fast forward and now we enjoy the way the descendents of that simple beeping orb launched from the Soviet Union have led to more precise weather reports, automated vessel navigation, universal telephone access, non-fading radio reception and hundreds of television channels blanketing the entire country.
Thanks to the good folks at NASA, its possible to take an online world tour by riding on the back of your mouse. World Wind, a open-source software system developed at NASA Ames Research Center by Chris Maxwell, Randy Kim, Tom Gaskins, Bruce Lam and project manager Patrick Hogan, allows you to zoom down from satellite altitude to any place on Earth for a 3D view. The secret is integrating and animating satellite imagery that NASA originally gathered for disparate purposes. Youll need to download and install the software before you can access NASAs image files. Launch your guided mouse at http://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/index.html for the details.