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Yesterday I made the mistake of entering the search term "perpetual motion" at youtube.com. Then I lost an hour of my life looking at videos claiming to make perpetual motion engines out of natural magnets. These videos fascinate me because I presume they are all fake. It seems to me that if any of these devices worked I wouldn't have to hunt around on youtube to find them. I'd already have one in the garage charging my electric car. So what is up with these videos?

One theory is that all of the inventors started out seriously trying to build perpetual motion machines, realized at some point they couldn't do it, and decided to salvage something out of the effort by making fake videos and getting some attention.

Another theory is that the so-called inventors never intended to do anything but create fake videos. But it sure seems like a lot of work for that. That option seems unlikely to me.

Lastly, we must entertain the possibility that the laws of physics have some sort of loophole, inventors sometimes find it, and the big corporations send around hit men every time it happens. That's why you never see the invention beyond youtube.com or some local news show. But that seems unlikely too. So it remains a mystery.

As I was googling around on this topic, I discovered that there is an element called gadolinium that is attracted to magnets up to about room temperature, then it abruptly loses its attraction . It seems to me you could build a generator using that principle. All you need is an external source of heat, and not much of it, to power the thing. A natural magnet could attract the gadolinium, which creates some mechanical energy, and some portion of that energy could be used to introduce heat from the outside that makes the gadolinium non-magnetic and puts the device back to its original position. Some of that energy from the return trip would turn off the outside heat source and the process repeats forever. It would only operate at about room temperature, but that's still pretty nifty. The inside of my house, for example, is always at about room temperature, so there is no shortage of that environment.

Yeah, I know, someone probably already invented it.
 
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I like to concoct concepts for science fiction movies and do nothing with them. Lately my favorite concept involves aliens who are having a sort of sporting contest that involves humanity, unbeknownst to us. Somehow the competing teams of aliens can see our world through our eyes when they want to, and can influence our actions by ramping up or down on our desires. They can't control our specific actions, just our general propensities, making us, for example, hungrier or hornier or lazier than normal whenever that would be a strategic advantage in the game.

There would be some rules of the game, such as only one alien can influence one human at a time, and maybe an alien team can influence no more than five people per game. So most people would not be under the direct influence of the aliens at any given moment. They would be random elements of the game.

The plot of the movie would involve a brain surgeon who discovers the control mechanism in all of our brains. It would be organic in nature, but sending and receiving some sort of control signal that hadn't ever been discovered before. The brain surgeon would be trying to unravel the mystery and detach humanity from the game while at the same time the aliens are having their Superbowl equivalent match that might result in WWIII.

The aliens live many light years from Earth, having visited only once several billion years ago to influence evolution in a way that would turn us into their living chess pieces. They didn't mind waiting billions of years because they have been doing the same game-making process since the beginning of time and there is always a new world somewhere coming online. They like to think ahead. They are immortal, so having game pieces that can die allows them to experience the preciousness of life vicariously.

In the end, the brain surgeon discovers that humans have a synergistic arrangement with the aliens that helps us just as much as it helps them. If we were not part of their game, our lives would be dull and meaningless. So he decides to keep it to himself. The aliens reward him for his silence by filling whatever hole he had in his personality up until that point. For example, they might give him the capacity to feel love.

In the final minute we discover that even the brain surgeon's search for the truth of the game had been part of the game.


 
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I'm in the (long) process of building a house. The house will have solar panels, but it bugs me that I can't be off the electric grid entirely. There's no convenient and economical way to store energy at your own house while the sun is shining. But is that technology imminent?


Some car companies are allegedly coming out with vehicles that operate on compressed air. Here's one.


http://zeropollutionmotors.us/



How hard would it be to convert that compressed air technology to a home generator? My solar cells could compress air during the day and the compressed air engine would produce electricity at night. There would be plenty of waste in the process, I assume, but it sounds feasible to me.


I'd also like to have a house with two elevators that are balanced so that when one goes down, the other is pulled up. And I would only use the elevators for going down, so my weight causes one side to be heavier than the other. To slow the descent, I'd be compressing air into my home air battery. If you need to go up, you use the stairs. It's healthier. I'd have a full-power elevator option for the elderly and handicapped, but everyone else would be an energy producer.


Then I'd put the guest bathroom on the second floor so I gain some electricity every time a guest goes to take a whiz. It wouldn't balance out the water use, but it would make me feel better. And every time my wife or kids asked me where some lost item or other was, I'd say, "I saw it upstairs."

 
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I wish it was Dilbert. But today it is the May 16th Pearls Before Swine. Check it out today at this URL, but after today it will be in the archive.

http://www.comics.com/comics/pearls/

 
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In the news, a JetBlue pilot allegedly made a passenger give his seat to an off-duty flight attendant. The flight was full, so the passenger was ordered to sit on the toilet for three hours.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24585615/



I'm sure your reaction to this story was the same as mine: That passenger got the best seat in the house! He had lots of leg room, total privacy, no one trying to hog the armrest, no seatbelt requirement, and all the whizzing he could handle. So naturally he sued the airline.


The passenger's problem was that he didn't know how to make the best of a great situation. I would have kept the door propped open and yelled "Waiter! More Diet Coke!" every time a flight attendant walked past. And I would have gathered up enough blankets and pillows to feather my little nest.


You might be thinking that the toilet seat in the bathroom has more cooties than Rick Solomon's beard. That's true, and it's why you should always pee in the little sink. But I digress. My point is that there is some theoretical number of airline blankets that will give you three hours of protection. Then all you have to worry about is the germs on the blankets themselves.


The real victims in this story are the two-hundred passengers who had to share one bathroom. They're the ones who should be suing. Airlines have a rule that you can't congregate around the bathroom and wait in line. That means you have to keep one hand on your seatbelt buckle and get ready to pounce as soon as the door opens. If anyone else makes a move, you might need to show your box cutters and yell something about Allah to clear the aisle. It's either that or your bladder will burst. There are no good choices here.


The passenger in this story had his own private suite for three hours and apparently missed the opportunity for a solo flight to the Mile High Club. I assume this is the case because he arrived in California all angry. If you put most men of that age group behind a locked door for three hours, with no other form of entertainment, you need a gurney and an IV at the other end.

 
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Few things fascinate me more than seeing something work when it really shouldn't. For example, as you know, nothing is more boring than listening to another person talk about the dream he had last night. Therefore, you would assume, a comic that is nothing but an account of a stranger's dream should be the most uninteresting comic in the universe. And yet it isn't.


Artist Jesse Reklaw turns people's dreams into four-panel comics on the Internet. They have no coherent story line and no punch lines. If you read only one, you would probably scratch your head and wonder what he was smoking. But if you read several it feels like accessing the dream part of your brain while being awake. It's the strangest sensation. Check it out.


http://www.slowwave.com/index.php

 
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The hardest part about writing is capturing your own (or someone else's) inner thoughts. For example, if I ask you to tell me something funny or frustrating about your job, you'd give me tales of coworkers eating your food from the break room fridge, or tell me your boss is incompetent. But those aren't thoughts, just observations. We seem to store memories in terms of actions and some broad emotions, but not thoughts. And it is the thoughts you generally don't voice that make writing interesting.


Let's test this. In the comments section, tell me what you were DOING immediately before reading this blog, and also tell me what you were THINKING about while you did it. If you can do both of those things, you are halfway to being an interesting and humorous writer.


For example, "I was answering an e-mail from my coworker Karl while thinking he won't understand my answer because he has an unusually small head that probably can't hold much of a hat much less a brain."


Your turn.

 
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My Cat
May 12, 2008 | General Nonsense | Permalink
 

I have an office cat, Sarah. She's a scrawny little tuxedo cat, about 18-years old. Sarah hates it when I try to work. I mean she really, really hates it. As soon as I enter the office she starts screaming at me. It's not a polite meow. It's more like a baby banshee being attacked by a porcupine. The noise penetrates my entire body. I'm almost certain it causes internal bleeding. This screaming lasts from the time I come to work until I leave.


Sometimes she punctuates the shrieking by puking on my carpet, destroying any documents she can reach with her arthritic leaping ability, and grunting out WMD in the cat box. Only one thing can stop this cycle. I must lift her up and pet her in just the way she likes. Any deviation from the recommended petting pattern means bloodshed.


You might wonder why I haven't thrown her through a double-paned window in all these years. That's because I haven't told you about the licking.


When I hold her in my arms, her pupils widen with love and she starts to lick my chin. I am not talking about a perfunctory little dry tongued "how ya doing?" here. Imagine a toothless, starving angel trying to lick a pork chop. It's like that, but less creepy.


I know I am special because she only licks the things she loves the most, including soft cat food, my chin, and her own ass, not always in that order. She doesn't have a favorite book or TV show, but if she did, I am sure she would lick them too.


Her tongue is surprisingly wet. I think she drinks water all night long to get ready for the morning. She's 4 pounds of cat and 2 pounds of pre-slobber. I've gotten used to the moisture, but the sandpaper texture has made it impossible for me to grow a beard. I live in fear that my town will have some sort of old-timey festival where all the men are expected to grow facial hair. People will just look at me, put an arm on my shoulder and whisper "Must be a great cat."


And they will be right. My cat is great.

 
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I'm trying to come up with a catch phrase for a Catbert t-shirt. Here are some rough sketches. Which one do you like best?

 


 

 
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Recently we redesigned the Dilbert.com web site and added a ton of features, such as animation, deeper archives, mash ups, and more. The reaction from readers has been fascinating.
 
www.dilbert.com
 
Let me get this out of the way: I realize the Beta version of the web site has lots of issues. It’s overloaded with Flash, slower than it needs to be, and the navigation is confusing. We’re fixing most of that over the next few weeks. I apologize for the inconvenience.
 
The fascinating thing about the responses is that it revealed three distinct types of Dilbert readers:
 
The first group is the ultra-techies who have an almost romantic relationship with technology. For them, the new site felt like getting dumped by a lover. Their high-end technology (generally Linux) and security settings made much of the site inconvenient. Moreover, the use of Flash offended them on some deep emotional level.
 
The second group objected to the new level of color and complexity, and the associated slowness. They like their Dilbert comics simple, fast, and in two colors. Anything more is like putting pants on a cat.
 
The third group uses technology as nothing more than a tool, and subscribes to the philosophy that more free stuff is better than less free stuff. That group has embraced the new features on the site and spiked the traffic stats.
 
For you first two groups, if you promise to keep it to yourselves, we created a stripped-down Dilbert page with just the comic, some text navigation, and the archive: www.dilbert.com/fast. This alternate site is a minor secret, mentioned only here and in the text footnote to the regular site as “Linux/Unix.”
 
The main site will be getting a Flash diet that will make it speedier soon, so check back in a few weeks. That’s where all the fun will be.
 
Enjoy.
 
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