The old jokes are the best ones. I once walked into a friend’s office and said “Is this a banana in my pocket or am I just glad to see you?” Then, a fraction of a second later (timing is everything in these matters), I whipped a banana out of my pocket and said “No, it’s just a banana!” (Hey, it was funny… it had been a long week… I had a cold… you had to be there).
We will return to the topic of bananas in a moment (be afraid, be very afraid…), but first let me explain how we got here. As you may recall, in a couple of weeks’ time I will be heading out to Norway to give the keynote presentation at the FPGA Forum (see I’m pining for the Norwegian fjords) followed by a guest lecture at the University of Oslo (see Just call me “Max the Viking!”).
In the case of my talk at the university, I thought it would be interesting to show the students a copy of the UK hobby magazine that got me started in electronics so long ago – Practical Electronics. Furthermore, I thought it would be a little poignant to use an issue from the summer of 1975, because this what when I had just graduated from high school and was hanging out with my friends before we all set off to start college and plunge into the rest of our lives.
But where would you go to find a copy of an electronic hobbyist magazine from 37 years ago? Well, I actually write a monthly column for the magazine’s successor, which is called EPE (Everyday Practical Electronics), so my first port of call was to ask the publishers, but – perhaps not surprisingly – they replied “Sorry, we don’t have any issues from that long ago.”
Next, I emailed my old chum Alan Winstanley, who has been writing for the magazine for as long as I can remember. Good old Alan – he immediately responded that he had a couple of copies of the December 1975 issue lying around and would send me one immediately (I later discovered that this issue contained Alan’s first ever published article, for which he was paid the princely sum of five UK pounds).
But, as we all know to our cost, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. A couple of days’ ago, Alan emailed me to say that a reader had just posted a question to one of the EPE message boards. Is seems that this reader had recently purchased a high-end graphics subsystem, but the 12V output he was using from his power supply wasn’t sufficient to drive the card. The power supply actually had several 12V outputs, and the reader was wondering if he could simply strap them together to give him enough “Umph” to drive his graphics card. The bottom line is that Alan wanted me to answer this query (no, I’m not going to tell you what I said … you’ll have to visit the EPE message boards if you want to find out).
The point is (yes, there is a point, there’s no need for you to look so disdainful), as part of all this I somehow found myself wandering around a site called Geeky-Gadgets.com. I really don’t recall exactly how this came about … I just know that it was somehow connected to the Wily Wicked Winstanley, who delights in luring me into sticky sites from which I find it exceedingly difficult to extricate myself.
Thus it was that I found myself looking at a picture of a banana with an associated USB cable and connector. (You thought I’d forgotten about bananas, didn’t you? Oh ye of little faith!)
It appears that this is something called USB-It from those rascally rapscallions at ThinkGeek.com. The idea is that you can attach the sticky end of your USB-It to pretty much anything, thereby causing confusion and consternation to those around you.
What? Me? You think I would buy something like this? I can safely say that I DO NOT have any of these little rascals winging their way to me (the fact that they were out of stock when I visited the Think Geek website has nothing to do with anything).
Next you will be saying that I’m the sort of person who would buy a USB Pet Rock. OK, I’ll have to give you that one, because by some strange quirk of fate I do happen to have one of these little scamps sitting on my desk plugged into a spare USB port on my computer.
Who are you calling an idiot? Why are you interrogating me like this? It’s a talking point, for goodness sake! On the bright side, this little rascal is environmentally sound because it consumes no power whatsoever. Also, it works with any form of operating system (including those that are yet to be invented) without the need for any special drivers. Plus, you can play all sorts of games with it. One game we like to play is to try to outstare each other and to see who blinks first, but my favorite is to see which of us can exist the longest. (What? Of course I’m not thinking about getting a Wireless Pet Rock... that would just be plain silly!)
But we digress… The Geeky Gadgets website also lured me to the gallery of an artist called Dmitriy Khrishtenko, who creates awesome miniature sculptures such as scale model motorcycles and cars from parts he recycles out of old watches (Click Here to see some of Dmitriy’s creations).
I tell you … we could be here for hours talking about the stuff I found on the Geeky Gadgets website, but I shall restrain myself to just one more little tidbit. As you must know by now, I am a huge fan of Doctor Who (see Agatha Christie meets Dr. Who), so you can only imagine my surprise and delight to discover The TARDIS Mini Set.
As it says on the BigBadToystore.com website: “Build your very own TARDIS and re-create adventures in time and space with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond! The TARDIS, or Time and Relative Dimensions in Space, is the Doctor's vehicle and home that can take him to any place and any time. Remember, it’s bigger on the inside than the outside! Includes constructible TARDIS and fully articulated Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond micro-figures.”
I know it’s silly, but this would look very cool in my office, and the figures are “fully articulated” after all, so I could amuse myself for hours posing them in different ways (maybe I could integrate this into my Caveman Diorama project in some way). The problem with me is that everything I see triggers a “chain reaction” of thoughts and ideas. For example, thinking about Doctor Who made me think about “Time and Space”, which made me think of a really great book called The Big Questions – Physics by Michael Brooks.
This is basically a collection of 3000-word essays, each of which “Simply and concisely examines a question that has eternally perplexed enquiring minds,” as it says on Amazon. I only began to read this a couple of days ago and I must say that, thus far, I’ve been very impressed with the way in which really complex topics are presented such that I can understand what’s going on and not be left with a “Huh?” expression on my face.
Actually, to be scrupulously fair to Barnes and Noble, I purchased my copy of this tome from the “Bargain Books” section in their local store a week or so ago for just a few dollars. I was reading one of the chapters earlier this morning. This contained one of the best descriptions of Schrödinger's Cat that I’ve ever seen. I was familiar with the underlying concept, of course, but Michael’s explanation really made me better-understand the concept of a cat being in a superimposed state (I hate it when that happens to me).
And, of course, talking about cats made me think of the “Juggling Cats” sequence from the film The Jerk. It has to be said that one-handed cat juggling is not as easy as it looks (my apologies to our cats Rocket and Skitty – I’m sure they will soon recover from the experience).
Of course you can’t ruminate on Schrödinger's Cat without pondering the philosophical implications of this conundrum, which (a) reminded me of my recent Nothing stays the same (philosophically speaking) column, (c) led me to ponder the old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality, and (b) allowed me to say “Yes, I know that points (b) and (c) are out of sequence!” (Ha! Caught you Mr. Brian LaGrave [Brian is a friend who peruses everything he reads with a fine-tooth-comb and never fails to email me whenever I slip up]).
In turn, this reminded me of a variation of the “If a tree falls…” thought experiment as follows: “If a man says something in the middle of a forest and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?” (The answer, in my experience, is “Yes!”)
Returning to bananas, you might be expecting me to raise the perennial question “Is the banana a fruit or a herb?” The answer, of course, is “Both”. This is because the yellow thing you peel and stick in your mouth is undoubtedly a fruit, but the so-called “Banana Tree” is technically regarded as a herbaceous plant (or “herb”), because the stem does not contain true woody tissue like a tree.
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the thought of the banana being a herb had never crossed my mind. What I was actually thinking was more along the lines of “Bananas are a funny shape and they make me smile.” Of course this reminded me of that classically funny image How can you tell when a banana goes bad?
And you really don’t want to know what I’m thinking about now…
…Good Grief Am I truly that transparent? How on Earth did you guess that I was thinking about Comic-Con 2012, which is to be held July 12–15 in San Diego? Of course the link was obvious when I come to think about it. In addition to bananas, something else that makes me smile is the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. All of the main characters in this program (Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Rajesh) like comics. I like comics. The biggest thing in Comic Space is Comic-Con. As the Wikipedia Comic-Con Entry says:
Originally showcasing comic books, science fiction / fantasy and film / television and related popular arts, the convention has expanded over the years to include a larger range of pop culture elements, such as horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels.
I’ve never been to a Comic-Con before, but everything I’ve seen and heard about this event tells me that it would be a lot of fun.
What? Of course Comic-Con has nothing to do with bananas. What on Earth is this disturbing and unnatural obsession you have suddenly developed with fruit?
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There is much misinformation about Schrödinger's Cat. For the truth, one ought to read my blog about the matter. Or, not.
But I know you will...in at least one alternate universe
Eileen Schuh, Author
Well I don't think he was being serious, he was doing his mountain-goat act (leaping from topic to topic...). And long may it continue. He writes & posts plenty of serious stuff as well if you prefer that.....
Really? It's just the joy of life ... it all came about the way I said -- something from Alan led me to that Geeky Gadgets site where I ran across all sorts of cool "stuff" -- the first one was the "USB Banana" and after that I was on a roll :-)
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