Monthly Archives: July 2006

The transparent propane container

Statoil komposittbeholderBoingboing makes noise about a transparent propane container, made out of fibreglass, which allows you to see how much gas is left for your barbeque.

Well, puh-leeze, the Norwegian oil/gas/hotdog company Statoil has sold a propane container with this feature for at least 10 years (that is, it was available here in Norway when I moved back in 1996.)

That being said, my view is that the main benefit is not being able to see how much propane is left, but the fact that the fibreglass container weighs much less than the traditional steel one. I have a bad back, and really appreciate this feature.

The funny thing is, no other company than Statoil sells this version – since propane gas containers have a return deposit – meaning that you have to shell out serious money to get a new one – it is very hard to break into the market with new technology. Hopefully this is not a problem in the US, though that remains to be seen.

UPDATE 7/30: This is indeed a Norwegian invention, it seems, from a company called RAGASCO.

Favorite things Boston

This is outdated – there is a new post here: Things to do in Boston.

I have lived in Boston (or, strictly speaking, Arlington, MA) for six years, and go back there occasionally. Since there are many universities and conferences in that part of the world, I am often asked by colleagues and others what they should do when they are in Boston. This is a list of my very personal recommendations – your mileage may vary:

Harvard Square, uterestauranten Au Bon PainI will start at Harvard Square, not really Boston but in neighboring Cambridge. The Square is in the middle of the constantly encroaching Harvard Campus and is one of my favorite places (though, as a slew of critics like to point out, it has become less personal and more mall-like over the years:)

  • Take a deep dive into The Harvard COOP Bookstore (the large and “official” university bookstore, much better after management was taken over by Barnes and Noble a few years ago) or the Harvard Bookstore (my favorite, an independent bookstore with great selection, competent staff and a used book basement. Make sure you get their stamp card, reduced prices after a while.) Spend time browsing (nobody will bother you) and wearing out your creditcard.
  • Have a burger at Mr. Bartlett’s Gourmet Burger Cottage (right next to the Harvard Bookstore.) No alcohol, but great lemonade, crispy onion rings and a huge selection of excellent burgers. Cash only, noise level can be high.
  • Have a late and large American Sunday breakfast at the breakfast restaurant (can never remember the name) [UPDATE 7/30: The name of the restaurant is Greenhouse, and I have reliable information that it is no longer as good as it used to be – seems you will have to go with Au Bon Pain instead] next to Cardullo’s Delikatessen, after first having purchased 6lbs. of New York Times Sunday Edition from the newsstand on the sidewalk outside.
  • Buy Harvard-paraphernalia for the kids and people back home at the COOP (cheap and good by Norwegian standards)
  • Have a coffee at Peet’s Coffee (worn locales but good coffee) at Brattle Square. This is the place to bring your newly purchased stacks of books and dig into them without feeling awkward.
  • Another alternative, especially if the weather is good, is Cafe Pamplona, more Spanish than many things found in Spain. Here, you escape the American “HellomynamisBrandyandIwillbeyourservertoday” restaurant culture – sit as long as you want.
  • Visit the “glass flowers” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and spend an hour or more at the Harvard Fogg Art museum (one of my Norwegian colleagues, an art buff, characterized it as “small and selective, just great for a relatively short visit.”) [Update: Fogg is closed for renovations 2011/12, unfortunately]
  • Bring a bunch of friends and have a Tex-Mex dinner with much shouting and joking at the (ask for Bohemia beer, recommended by John Steinbeck) at the Border Cafe. The bar here is also good, try a Marguerita as an aperitif. No table booking, expect to stand in line.

Stata Center, MITYou can take the T to MIT/Kendall Square, where you can

  • (nerd alert!) visit the MIT Press bookstore (not to be confused with MIT’s branch of the COOP, which is on the other side of the street.) MIT Press Bookstore is tiny and on the right side of the street when you look towards Boston, at Kendall Square.
  • Check out the Stata Center, MIT’s newest building and an example of deconstructionist architecture. In my opinion, not very functional, but interesting shapes.

In Boston proper, you could

  • Newbury StreetIf you feel flush with money and want to impress someone, take a shopping (or, perhaps, browsing) round in the fancy stores on Newbury Street
  • Visit the Museum of Fine Arts and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Stay away from Cheers, a bar that from the outside looks like the TV series. If you are looking for a real, Cheers-like, bar, try Rosie’s, which is at Porter Square in Cambridge about 7 block up Mass Ave from the Harvard Common). Or just go to any of the Irish bars downtown.
  • Have dinner in North End, the Italian district.
  • Have seafood at the Union Oyster House, USA’s second oldest continuously operating restaurant. It is regarded as a bit of a tourist trap by the locals, but it has been a huge hit with anyone from abroad I have taken there.
  • Walk around and explore – Boston is a city of culture, with interesting stores and restaurants. A car is not necessary.

Outside Boston: Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown

  • Go to Newburyport and Plum Island. Eat seafood from one of the food joints.
  • Visit Concord, have lunch at the Concord Inn and take a walk around Walden Pond (Where Thoreau wrote his book)
  • Go to Marblehead for an icecream, a stroll along the harbor, and some seafood.
  • If you have a weekend, rent a car and drive to Cape Cod, visit Provincetown (“P-town”, if you want to sound local) out at the tip of the peninsula
  • If you have an oval weekend: Go to Marthas Vineyard or Nantucket (the latter I haven’t visited myself, but I have heard good reports.) These are summer holiday islands southeast of Cape Cod, an interesting and very distinct part of the USA. It can be very crowded in summer, so make sure you have accomodation before you go.
  • If you are in the mood for some real shopping: Drive to the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine. There are a number of other factory stores in the area as well. (According to their web site, L.L.Bean is about to open a store in Burlington, just north of Boston snart, so the long drive may not be warranted. The store in Freeport is, anyway, open 24 hours – it has actually been open continually since 1951, except for two Sundays.)

There are, of course, lots of other things to do and see, but these are some of the things I like. Have a great trip!

Dog bites man

Random acts of reality, an excellent blog written by a London ambulance driver, has a post discussing a hostage situation that never made the papers. In it, he reacts to a commenter who accuses the police of looking for people to shoot, and how the incident he is talking about never made the papers:

‘Let’s hope they don’t gun down an innocent brown-skinned young man this time.’

A somewhat snide remark. The police don’t go around looking to shoot people, despite what the media may lead you to believe. Whenever I’ve been involved with armed police I’ve been impressed by the pure professionalism that they show. They are anything but looking for brown-skinned people to shoot.

People who make such pronouncements don’t understand how confused a scene can get, with differing intelligence, hearsay, rumour and lines of communication suffering from Chinese whispers.

Well now some ten hours after your post, and I can’t find anything on the Beeb web site. I’m keeping the conspiracy theories at bay by acknowledging that I’m probably not looking for the right thing…

Related to the above comment, this is an example of how the media works. The operation went off without a hitch – no one was shot, there were no interesting pictures of irate kidnappers. The only injury was someone who had been punched in the mouth.

In 2002 the armed police were called out 2,490 times in London alone.

How many times was this reported in the media?

It’s only a story if someone gets shot.

This is why the public have an imbalanced view that the police enjoy shooting people. You never hear of all the lives that have been saved because of their attendance.

The reason why blogs such as mine are so popular is because they tell you the stories that aren’t interesting enough for mainstream media to dedicate time to. We humanise the jobs that are often just ‘nameless men in uniforms’. Perhaps we need an armed police blog…

I think we do. We need blogs from hospitals, from hospices, from the inner sanctums of bureaucracies, from refugee camps and military bases. Information want out, and direct from the source is best. I am looking forward to it.


Dragon NaturallySpeakingThis is a test using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate a blog entry.

Language recognition technology has been seen as promising as long as I can remember.  When I started studying in the United States in 1990, one of my fellow students came from IBM, where she had worked with language recognition technology for 12 years.  Six years later, I purchased my first language recognition system myself, IBM’s ViaVoice.  It cost the whopping sum of $ 89, and you had to pause between words when you dictated.  I used it for a few weeks, but the slow pace of dictation and the frequent errors, partially a result of not having enough computer, was frustrating.

Now, 10 years later, I read about Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Kevin Kelly’s blog Cool Tools. Apparently, language recognition has progress, thanks to more powerful computers and better software.

I have now fiddled with Dragoan NaturallySpeaking for about an hour, and I must say some progress has been made.  You can now speak rapidly and fluently, and there is an autopunctuation feature, which inserts commas and periods as best as it can.  It kind of works.  I could see myself using this for instance to record speeches I give on telephone conferences, or to dictate blog entries and essays if my carpal tunnel syndrome flares up again, a friend of mine has used language recognition technology to meet into the computer long reams of text and data without having to type them.  

Nevertheless, the technology still has a way to go before it can do it very hard task of taking dictation.  Correcting errors is rather cumbersome, you have to select words, and then laboriously tell the computer what you want to do with them.  Also, the system has problems interpreting what I say occasionally.  For instance, I tried to say laboriously, and it came out labor asleep.  Hopefully, dictation will do for my diction what Graffiti did for my handwriting — train me to make the computer recognize it.

Whether this works or not remains to be seen.  I will report back when I have learned how to insert a Colůn cola call on….

Thoughtful Scoble

Robert Scoble has an interesting "exit interview" with his readers as he is leaving Microsoft. Very interesting. One key phrase on blogging in general and how information moves: "All you need to do is tell 15 bloggers something and if it rings true it’ll get repeated around the world. That’s what gets executives fired."

I am just waiting for blogs from, say, inside General Motors or some of the large airline or media companies talking about their struggles to stay afloat. Not to mention the blogging-induced Enron, whoever that will be.