Sunday, January 31, 2010

A box that will only open in one location

Make has a post about an interesting wooden puzzle box. The box can only be opened in one place on earth. Personally I think you should be able to change the batteries without opening the box but that is a minor quibble.

Google Chart API

This is a bit of a geeky one but it might be useful for people who need to get graphs into their webpages / blogs but don't want to learn how to create images in a spreadsheet.

The Google Chart API lets you draw quick little graphs (and other graphics) using just a URL.

For example the url:,30&chs=250x100&chl=Chris|World

will create the following image:

You can change the image just by editing the URL. So, for instance, if you don't like the division in the above graph you can change the 70:30 ratio in the URL. So,90&chs=250x100&chl=Chris|World would give you:

The other parts of the URL are the type of chart (p3 for pie chart), the size of the chart (250 by 100 pixels) and the labels for the two sections (Chris and World).

There are lots of other charts available as well:

bar charts:

Venn diagrams:

A stranger example is maps. For example, this url:,FF0000,FFFF00,00FF00&chld=CAGBSGUS&chd=t:0,0,0,0&chs=440x220
creates a map showing all the countries I've lived in:

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Home Grown Chair

Atlas Obscura has an article, with a picture, of a chair that was grown from a specifically planted stand of trees.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Million Dollar Murray

Malcolm Gladwell has an article about Million-dollar Murray. Murray was a homeless man who lived in Reno, Nevada. Because he was poor he got all of his medical treatment at the hospital emergency room. Because he was an elderly alcoholic who lived on the streets he ended up in the emergency room a lot. The local social services estimate that they had paid over $1 million for Murray's medical care.

The article raises an interesting point. Obviously it would be cheaper to just rent Murray an apartment and find him a job and a regular doctor. The problem of course is moral hazard, ie if you help everyone who ends up on the streets then people have no incentive to not end up on the streets.

The article, which is from 2006, discusses several other similar situations.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Magazine on line

Google Books now has the entire run of Life Magazine on line for free.

The interface makes it pretty easy to find, for example, the issue from the week you were born. The cover of mine shows Martin Luther King Jr and proclaims "A Historic Turning Point for the Negro's Cause".

You can see the whole list of magazines on Google Books here.

One of our intrepid correspondents has reported that they have the entire run of the World Weekly News for those of you researching the history of Bat Boy.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

How People Spend Their Day

The New York Times has a nice interactive graphic that shows how people in various groups spend their time over the course of a day. It is interesting to click on the buttons and see what people are up to.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Going for the Paper Airplane Record

WTOP has an article about a recent attempt to break the record for keeping a paper airplane aloft from a throw from the ground. Amazingly the record is 27.9 seconds.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

An Eclipsed Blue Moon

Astronomy Picture of the day has a nice shot of a partially eclipsed blue moon.