Our Latest Discovery

November 19, 2007  4:02 PM

Vector Magic: A great webapp for precision bitmap to vector art conversion

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Are you thinking ahead to making gifts for the holidays? I certainly am; once the Thanksgiving holiday is on the immediate horizon, my internal clock starts ringing madly. Less than a month until the gift exchanges begin?!


Fortunately, a friendly colleague forwarded me a rather useful tool: Vector Magic. If you, like me, love to make your own gifts, including digital imagery, this tool will excite you as well.

Here’s a quick and clean summary. Vector Magic converts bit map images to vector graphics.

Why is this cool? Because a bit map uses a fixed or raster graphics method of specifying an image, the image cannot be immediately rescaled by a user without losing definition. A vector graphics graphic image, however, is designed to be quickly rescaled.

Instead of using commercial software, you can just upload your image to Vector Magic (essentially, a stanford.edu server) and they’ll vectorize it for you.

Here’s their example of the difference:

bitmap to vector conversion

In other words, you can scale an image without making it blurry or pixelated. Savvy? Happy gift making!

Here’s a video that demonstrates how you how Vector Magic works:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://vectormagic.stanford.edu/screencasts/vm_short.swf" width="450" height="380"/]

Check out this FAQ for more info. Vector Magic supports the JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF image formats as inputs and outputs them as EPS, SVG or PNGs.

November 15, 2007  9:11 AM

The IT Room: Streamingly funny IT humor coming to a tiny/medium/large screen near you

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Thank to its ubiquitous advertising spots on BoingBoingTV, I’ve discovered the IT Room. Clearly, I’m part of the target audience of this new take on tech support humor, ’cause I found the trailers and initial 4:22 minute webisode (embedded below) hilarious.

Download link

If you like it, you can watch it online or subscribe with iTunes or RSS — or even via email. Folks, we’ve left the old ways of watching TV in our living rooms at a set time far, far behind.

The IT Room has ambitions to be more than just a series of webisodes created by Motiv Studios, written by a group of writers in a snark-laden conference room. The producers want the audience of IT geeks (and perhaps a few end users) to submit their own IT horror stories, which they can then use to create further episodes.

Is it a way of dodging the ongoing writer’s strike? Perhaps. We’ve had some luck with getting users to submit their own IT bloopers in the past, though we haven’t assembled a crack comedy team to make them into video shorts quite yet. The monkey promises to give the best written IT horror story a Dell Latitude, so there’s some extra incentive in there, too. The site gathers submissions in a transparent and decidedly techie way — you contribute the story as a blog post, visible to all.

Cleverly, there’s a Digg button next to each post, a move that the rather more old media Wall Street Journal just made as well, leading to wide spread speculation that Murdoch might be interested in acquiring the social news site. (That move also allows you to subscribe to an RSS feed of all of the WSJ’s content on Digg— neat!)

The cynic in me notes that Motiv works on marketing programs for Dell, though this is obviously more than just extended commercials. There’s no Dude getting me a Dell (instead, he’s offering me a pint), happily, but until I see a battery meltdown or a frustrating tech support mobisode focused on relentlessly calm Indian associates offering scripted responses, I’ll be a tad suspicious…. even as I snarf my coffee a bit when I tune in.

November 7, 2007  10:32 AM

Driven to distraction by drive-by interruptions

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Does the following sound familiar? You’re at your desk, opening email, preparing for a good solid work day. As you’re responding to one message, however, that little alert pops up on the bottom of the screen and before you know it you’ve got a bunch of open emails clamoring for your attention. And then comes the IM, which, being real time (as opposed to the several seconds elapsing between messages in an email exchange) trumps email. At the height of this madness, I’ve occasionally been exchanging email and IMing with someone simultaneously when interrupted by the phone. Guess who?

Whatever your job, if you do it at a computer you’re probably coming to terms with spending a fair amount of your day doing things that didn’t come up in your job description. (Hands up, anyone who saw “Writing and responding to email” at the top of the required tasks list?)

Ok, no surprise that email is eating our lives (not sure I even want to see the numbers on that) but did you know that you probably spend more time being interrupted from tasks than you do working on them?

This article looks at drive by interruptions and the toll they exact on productivity.

Here are a few stats:

  • Interruptions crunch through 28% of the average knowledge worker’s day.
  • Interruptions typically lower a worker’s IQ 10 points. (The researchers note that’s over twice as big a drop as experienced by someone who smoked marijuana. Man.)
  • In a study of Microsoft employees, it took workers an average of 15 minutes to settle into a task again after an interruption.

If, like me, you telecommute you may not have the “drop-by drive-by” coworker sitting on the edge of your desk. On the other hand, family and neighbors (many, many of whom just never seem to get the “work” part of “work from home”) will typically take time out of their busy days to fill that niche.

When a friend of mine was working on his doctoral dissertation, he actually locked his door and tied himself into the chair at his computer with the belt from his bathrobe so that he couldn’t absent-mindedly wander away.

Ingenious, but it would never work today. We’re virtually strapped in at our computers but the potential for interruption just seems to get worse. Without so much as standing up, we’ve got email, IMs, RSS notifications… not to mention the siren call of the Net or even the archaic charms of the telephone.

So how to cope, get some work done and maybe even save your sanity? Well, here’s a hint: “Unplug” is number three on Lifehack’s top 50 ways to increase your productivity list. On rare occasions, I’ve closed out of Outlook and exited IM. It’s amazing how much you can get done without interr… oh, hold that thought — I’ve got to take this call…

~ Ivy Wigmore

October 31, 2007  11:54 AM

Happy Halloween to ghosts, goblins and geeks everywhere!

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

[Photo credit: Noel Dickover]

Ah, All Hallows Eve has come around again, though the holiday is being celebrated with costume-clad kiddies collecting candy and pumpkin-brew besotted co-eds in these parts, as opposed to the bonfires of Samhain, the celebration end of the harvest that is the ancient ancestor to to Halloween.

In honor of the holiday, we’ve opened the Vault of Tech Terror up again and added a new Halloween tech trivia quiz to the archives. We made the Word of the Day zombie army. And we asked our readers the following three questions:

1) Should you ever travel to Hades, you’ll have to get by this three-headed dog, the namesake of a secure method for authenticating a request for a service in a computer network.What’s the secret word?

2) This underworld denizen is also a program or process that is dormant until a certain condition occurs, when it’s summoned up to do its processing. Is it a(n):
a. demon
b. zombie
c. troll
d. ogre

3) You might see “RIP” on a gravestone, but your network depends on it for managing router information within a corporate LAN. What does RIP stand for (other than, of course, “Rest in Peace”)?

We’re not the only ones celebrating the holiday in fine techie fashion. Wired, for instance, has a marvelous gallery of geek-o-lanterns, including the Death Star pictured above, carved by one Noel Dickover. (Hawkeyes, beware: Iowa has begun taxing jack-o-lanterns, geeky or not.)If you’re stuck for ideas for dressing up, Chris Pirillo came up with five costumes for geeks: Steve Jobs, an iPhone, Chris Crocker, the Blue Screen of Death or the FreeBSD Demon. BBspot does him six better, with 11 more costume ideas for geeks, including a personal favorite: a 1G iPod Nano “complete with scratches and class action suit.” Heh.

CNET has a gallery of frequently hilarious ways to geek out this Halloween as well.

Christopher Null, over at Yahoo Tech, has his own list of the best geek costumes, including the TRON guy and an exploding Sony battery.

Brent Evans did a great geeky Halloween costume roundup as well, including Lego bricks, a working PacMan costume, Rubix cubes and the Wii-mote. Nicely done! He also links to the Wired Flickr photo pool of techie costumes.

Browsing through the lists, its not hard to notice a decidedly male-tinge to the selections. For the ladies out there, here’s a top 10 list of the best Halloween costume ideas for girls. Along with Trinity, Sarah Connor, Princess Leia and Ripley, she offers up Ada Byron Lovelace. Well played! I loved the Matrix, Terminator, Star Wars and Alien, to be sure, but true geek-cred goes to anyone dressing up as the first computer programmer.

I’m vaguely surprised by the lack of a Bluetooth fairy out there.

Halloweenforgeeks.com has a ton of DIY projects for anyone that wants to upgrade the normal porch offerings of carved pumpkins and spiderwebs. If you just want off the shelf geeky gizmos to make the holiday howl and friends freak out, PseudoMart.com has a great list of techie toys for Halloween.

Finally, if you’re swamped with work and haven’t been able to pull together a costume, you can always print out your own Halloween mask. Thanks, Lifehacker! Now THAT’s geeky.

Have fun out there!

October 25, 2007  11:09 AM

As a public service, presenting the Vonnegut-assisted ARSE test

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

They’re everywhere, and nowhere more prevalent than in the work world. Kurt Vonnegut symbolized them thusly: * As a means of maintaining our serious and sober demeanor on WhatIs, I shall follow his sterling example throughout this blog post. ~ IW

From the seagull manager (one who flies into the office shrieking, craps on everything, and then flies out again) to the copy shop employee who screws up the order for your 10-minutes-from-now presentation and shrugs, working life is studded with *s. You probably know if your boss is an *. You can probably recognize if a colleague is an *. Even your best friend may sometimes display distinctly *-like behavior. But what if someone even closer fits the description? Is it possible that you’re an * and just never realized it? How would you know?

According to Bob Sutton, who wrote The No * Rule (substitute relevant term for asterisk), an * is someone who leaves others “demeaned and de-energized.” A couple of warning signs:

  • Thinking that what you have to say is so important that it supercedes what anyone else is saying, thus giving you the supreme right — perhaps even the obligation — to interrupt.
  • People seem to get hostile in response to your emails. *shrug*
  • You believe that you’re surrounded by idiots.

Sutton created a simple, 24-question test, the * Rating Self-Exam (ARSE) to help you find out if you are, in fact, an *.

Here’s a list of resources from Sutton’s site (Warning: Sutton does not subscribe to the Vonnegut style.):


ARSE Tools


Sutton’s work is intended to serve the greater good by allowing the *s among us to recognize themselves and repent. Here’s to an *-free work zone!

~ Ivy Wigmore

October 24, 2007  1:09 PM

Went to Vegas, lost my RFID (chips)

SarahCortes Sarah Cortes Profile: SarahCortes

I’ve always considered RFID to be “neat technology”.  I knew that Walmart was starting to mandate the use of RFID by its many suppliers, but beyond that, I never really heard of any practical, “real world” use of the technology.  I guess some credit card suppliers were considering it (or perhaps already are using it), but RFID had never really “hit home” at a personal level.

Now granted, I’m not big on gambling (I go to casinos for the buffets, frankly) – but here, to me is a “real world” example of RFID in action:


The Chip Inventory System, from a company called Progressive Gaming, uses RFID technology to provide tracking of chips in a casino environment.  Casinos can use this technology to track chip flow, detect counterfeit chips and determine how much was just won/lost on a particular bet.

It’s a little too “Big Brother” to me, but I can imagine that investment in this technology (by casinos) may have a nice return.  When I go for seconds on the buffet desert line, I’ll leave my RFIDs with a friend – back at the table.

October 23, 2007  12:01 PM

Andrew Sellick’s 100 terrific open source or freeware apps for web developers

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Say what you will about link bait — this list of freeware and open source Web development applications from Andrew Sellick is a great resource if you’re in the business (or even hobby) of building Web sites and don’t have the budget for Adobe’s creative suite. While some resources are likely to be familiar to many, like Eclipse or the IE Toolbar, if you work in the creation or maintenance of online content, it’s a sure bet you’ll discover something new and worthwhile in Andrew’s list.

Thanks to Andrew for all of his hard work researching and pulling them together — and to the delicious community, as always, for highlighting the achievement by collectively bookmarking it to the top.

October 17, 2007  1:02 PM

xkcd: a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

xkcd comic -- exploits of a mom

Yuval Shavit, a triple threat of writer/coder/sarcasm maven over at SearchITChannel.com, turned me on to the xkcd webcomic a few months ago. Today, he pointed out the edition above, an example of DB humor that might just result in coffee-laced chuckles in server rooms worldwide.

xkcd is written by by Randall Munroe, a Christopher Newport University graduate who worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia before he began producing xkcd full-time.

These days, his witty, snarky comic is produced three times a week and has found its way into the offline world on prized geeky t-shirts everywhere. Techies who live and breathe acronyms (and challenge themselves to identify them) may be disappointed to learn that xkcd doesn’t actually stand for anything; according to Randall, “It’s just a word with no phonetic pronunciation. It stands for the comic and everything the comic stands for!”

What does the comic stand for? Mostly funny pokes at a geek’s challenges, including work, the quest for love, the oddity of daily life and quirks of technology, but that’s probably too narrow. Randall is unapologetically nerdy, honest and manages to inject his sparsely drawn figures with actual pathos, along with a brand of humor that seems to speak directly to the reptile brain of techies everywhere. With subjects ranging from raptors to Red Spider, zeppelins, Vanilla Ice, Mussolini, Guitar Hero and Firefly, xkcd plays on the heart strings of modern geek culture to hilarious effect, though occasionally with a thoughtful note. Cory Doctorow loves it, and so do I.

If you happen to live in Massachussetts, keep an eye out for the next real-world meetup. And if you’re looking for updates, here’s the xkcd RSS feed.

October 15, 2007  3:44 PM

Blog Action Day: Synchronize your environmental blogging and try green computing today!

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Thanks to the ever-observant Cory Doctorow (whose Eastern Standard Tribe I thoroughly enjoyed last week), I’ve discovered that today is Blog Action Day.

According to the organizers over at blogactionday.com, Blog Action Day is intended to try to elevate a singular issue into a higher place in the world’s consciousness. This year, it’s the environment. All you have to do to participate is to blog about whatever environmental issue you are the most passionate about, contribute the day’s advertising earning to a favorite environmental charity and encourage others to do the same.

Simple and, perhaps, effective. While you may not earn a Nobel for your efforts, you just might help the world become a tad greener today. We’ve blogged here before about ways to e-cycle, a new way to think green (carbon footprints) and even podcasted about greenwashing.

Here’s one more hot (or cold) concept to add to the list for the server geeks out there: green data centers. My colleague over at SearchDataCenter.com, the intrepid Matt Stansberry, has been hard at work writing “The Green Data Center: Energy Efficient Computing in the 21st Century.”

Learn more about the forces driving IT energy consumption, why you should care and how you can make a business case to do something about it. It’s well-written, it’s downloadable and, best of all, it’s free.

Go read it.  For that matter, go read Matt’s post today posted today about how green computing is driving both better collaboration and faster product advancement.

In the meantime… it’s time to start practicing green computing!

Don’t forget to turn off your PC and unplug your chargers before you go home tonight.

Consider switching to a laptop and telecommuting more while flying less.

Ride your bicycle wherever possible and look into the slow food movement.

Adjust your PC’s hibernation settings to use the least amount of energy.

Consolidate some servers through virtualization.

Use LCDs, not CRTs.

And don’t forget to e-cycle!

Go green!

October 4, 2007  10:05 AM

IPTV update: Free classes from UCBerkeley on YouTube; BoingBoing goes to online video

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

As reported by the AFP, the University of California at Berkeley has created a dedicated channel on YouTube for more than 300 hours of classes and events. Videos include peace and conflicts studies, bioengineering and “Physics for Future Presidents,” though I wonder how much that last is a dig at former or current POTUSes. Given that Berkeley s a famously liberal institution, you can draw your own conclusions. You can find the courses at http://www.youtube.com/ucberkeley.

Tech fans may find gems like “SIMS 141 – Search, Google, and Life,” with Google’s Sergey Brin, to be of particular interest:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ka9IwHNvkfU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
If that doesn’t meet your bar for online video goodness, you might try BoingBoing TV, a new IPTV feature hosted by cybergoddess Xeni Jardin and BoingBoing’s co-creator, Mark Frauenfelder.
The 3-5 minute segments will also feature cyberpunk author and digital copyright maven Cory Doctorow and gadgets editor Joel Johnson. The debut episodes featurethe usual mix of pop ephemera and geeky art, including a piece on Listography.com, an remix of an industrial movie from the 1960s and a robot covering Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

All Things Weird and Wonderful, here I come.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://p.castfire.com/Xu7m0/video/2835/bbtv_2007-10-03-205621.flv" width="450" height="325"/]

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