Computers Archives

February 19, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

Ok, ok... since the eagle-eyed folks at ResourceShelf have already sniffed this out, I might as well make the formal announcement: The World Almanac now has a Twitter feed. If your response is "Huh?" then I suggest a quick jump over to the NYTimes for a recent explanation of the Twitter phenomenon. We don't have any grand plans for the feed right now -- the truth is, we're stretched a little too thin to keep up with regular, full-length blogging right now, but we can definitely handle a few 140-character tweets here and there. Follow us, send us comments or suggestions, ask questions... we'll see where it takes us.

And while I'm at it, I should point out a few more online tidbits from the World Almanac:

  • I've mentioned our Facebook fan page before, but now we've also got a funky little daily-quiz widget on Facebook -- sign up, pass it around, and click on it daily to test your knowledge on all manner of odds & sods from the latest World Almanac.
  • If you're a rabid David Cook fan, you've probably already seen this. But you might not have seen some of the delightful responses it elicited, from the good to the bad and the ugly. Thank you, snarky Internets! I feel like I'm in the 8th grade all over again...

And one more note, before I take my creepy smirk back inside World Almanac HQ: people always ask "Who's a typical World Almanac Reader?" The stock answer is "virtually anyone"... but I think this video suggests a whole new demographic to pursue with the 2010 edition. Enjoy.

November 26, 2007

The Growing Collection of E-Waste

0711ewaste_ill_400.gifNew to the 2008 World Almanac is a table on computer products disposal from 1999 to 2006 (page 351). In just 2005, Americans threw out 1.4 million tons of computers, monitors, printers, scanners, fax machines, and other peripherals. Only a sixth of that was recycled. The rest went into landfills or sometimes an incinerator.

A caveat: the Environmental Protection Agency considers any electronics not sent to the dump as recycled. This includes pieces sold to developing countries for reuse or just dismantling and chemical recovery.

The Electronics Takeback Coalition aims to raise awareness among consumers about this growing problem and have electronics manufacturers take on greater responsibility in disposing of this waste. In September, Sony Electronics USA became the first to sign their Manufacturers Commitment To Responsible Recycling, which means they won't send toxic e-waste to developing countries, use prison labor in disassembling electronics, or send hazardous chemicals to landfills or incinerators.

Electronics Takeback Coalition

September 14, 2007

Map Mashups

Yahoo just rolled out a very cool new beta product called MapMixer, which lets you upload your own maps and overlay them on Yahoo's interactive world maps—even if your map doesn't have just the right proportions or perspective.

There are already some great examples online, including the historical lower Manhattan overlay at right. Make sure you zoom out and play with the overlay opacity. Oh, what a little landfill can do...

If you want to play around with MapMixer but don't have your own personal stash of maps, I suggest you click on over to the Library of Congress, which has some great historical maps its American Memory collection.

MapMixer (beta) (Yahoo!)

September 13, 2007

Searching for Fossett Online

Steve_Fossett.jpg One of the more innovative projects I've learned about recently is the one that's been set up in the search for adventurer Steve Fossett, who went missing on Monday, Sept. 3, while flying over Nevada.

Richard Branson, a friend of Fossett's, spoke to Google, who in turn spoke with two companies that deal commercially with satellite imagery. The companies—GeoEye and DigitalGlobe—compiled recent satellite photographs of the area in which Fossett is believed to be. They then passed along these images to Amazon's Mechanical Turk Web service, where the general public can make a contribution to the search effort.

The following comes from an NPR story:

Amazon's tool divides the whole search area—6,000 square miles—into small squares about 300 feet across. It assigns each of those small squares to anyone who signs up to help.

"And they click 'yes, there is something interesting in this image,' or 'no, there is nothing interesting in this image,'" explains Peter Cohen, the director of the effort at Amazon.

Steve Fossett search site (Amazon Mechanical Turk)
"Internet Users Join Search for Steve Fossett" (NPR)

Image: Screenshot of Steve Fossett search site on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

August 2, 2007

The Virtual Universe

2007-08-02_170023.jpgRight now I'm reviewing the Astronomy chapter for the upcoming 2008 World Almanac—so it was a nice coincidence to run across this link. runs down a list of "The Top Five Virtual Sky Simulators," each of them catering to slightly different levels of interest and expertise.

Need some help making sense of the nighttime sky? Click through and get some fast (and free) electronic assistance.

Top Five Virtual Sky Simulators (

June 26, 2007

Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc (IRENE)

IRENE%20Rec.jpg A bit like Arthur Lintgen, Berkeley Lab physicists Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev have developed a computer that “reads” records. IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase, Noise, Etc.) scans thousands of high-resolution digital images of a record’s surface, maps them out, and then replicates the audio by analyzing the grooves—all without using a needle. In the process, they can also visually edit out scratches and dust. Since a needle isn’t needed, the record can be warped, moldy, or even broken. Berkeley Labs is hosting some samples on their site, including “Goodnight Irene” of course. They also have an introductory video (QT .mov, 32,953 KB).

Since August, Haber and Fadeyev have been helping the Library of Congress recover and preserve the sound from rare or delicate recordings. They have also developed a device to scan 3D recordings like wax cylinders.

As they point out, these processes are no way superior to current restoration methods. Yet they’re much safer than using a needle on fragile mediums like acetates, shellac, wax, cellulose, and metal foil. Instantly having unlimited copies of the digitized audio file is a nice bonus, too.

Sound Reproduction R & D Home Page (Lawrence Berkeley Natl. Lab.)
From the new Library of Congress blog.

May 31, 2007

The First Digital Image

FirstScanImage.jpg That's it to the right. The first film photo registered by a computer and recreated in pixels—30,976 to be exact. In 1957, Russell Kirsch, a scientist at what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used a drum scanner connected to the SEAC (Standards Electronic Automatic Computer) to scan an image of his three-month-old son Walden.

As I understand it from reading Kirsch’s original report (PDF), the scanner used a very sensitive light-detecting tube called a photomultiplier to translate the parts of the image into black or white square pixels. If light was reflected off a scanned spot on the photo, SEAC registered a 0 (white). If no light signal was received, it’d register a 1 (black).

Kirsch has posted a brief video describing the event. He has a surprise guest too.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Museum has an online exhibit based on a 1998 report by Kirsch.

Credit: NIST

May 15, 2007

What Type of Technology User Are You?

chex-mailz.JPG To coincide with their new report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has created a survey to let you figure out what type of technology user you are. I most closely resemble the “Omnivores” typology group:
Members of this group use their extensive suite of technology tools to do an enormous range of things online, on the go, and with their cell phones. Omnivores are highly engaged with video online and digital content. Between blogging, maintaining their Web pages, remixing digital content, or posting their creations to their websites, they are creative participants in cyberspace.

Quiz: Where Do You Fit?
Report: A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

(LOLcat from

March 22, 2007

More Fun for Quant Jocks

We're all hunkered down and hard at work on the 2008 World Almanac for Kids, so I don't have nearly enough time to play around with this stuff... but for those of you with more time on your hands, some new data visualization toys:

ME-Tag%20Cloud.jpg IBM's Many Eyes continues to expand their already impressive lineup of visualization tools, most recently with a tag cloud option. Upload any text you like, and get an instant cloud showing frequency of single words or two-word combinations. I'm hoping for a modification to this that lets you chart frequency changes over time, like Chirag Mehta's cool presidential speeches analysis tool. But in the meantime, click on the image at right to see a quick cloud generated from the U.S. Constitution.

Self-proclaimed "YouTube for data visualization" Swivel has also beefed up its services slightly, first with the ability to embed images in graphs (mostly useless, but pretty), and now with a "Swivel It" bookmarklet that greatly simplifies the process of sending data from Google Spreadsheets to Swivel.

Many Eyes
IBM's Many Eyes App After One Month (Read/Write Web, March 5, 2007)

Numbers...You're Swimming In Them (PDF; Fast Company, March 2007)

March 12, 2007

The Video Game Canon: 2007 Edition

West of House.
You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door.
If those words don't stir something in your soul... well, you're probably younger than me, or at least you've never been a computer game enthusiast.

In case that line doesn't ring a bell: it's the opening of the classic text adventure game Zork, which ranks as one of the "ten most important video games of all time," according to a committee headed by Henry Lowood, curator of the History of Science and Technology Collections at Stanford University.

Lowood and his fellow committee members (game designers Warren Spector and Steve Meretzky, researcher Matteo Bittanti, and game journalist Christopher Grant) envision this list as the start of something akin to the National Film Registry, which every year adds new films to its massive list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" American films (see pages 238-39 of the 2007 World Almanac for that list).

I'm interested to see if this list gains as much widespread recognition as the Film Registry:

  • Spacewar! (1962)
  • Star Raiders (1979)
  • Zork (1980)
  • Tetris (1985)
  • SimCity (1989)
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
  • Civilization I/II (1991)
  • Doom (1993)
  • Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
  • Sensible World of Soccer (1994)
Seem like the right choices for the basic canon? What games would you nominate for next year's class of inductees? Do you think we should include this initial list in the 2008 World Almanac? Take it up in the comments...

Is That Just Some Game? No, It's a Cultural Artifact (The New York Times, March 12, 2007)

Image: Zork in 1980 from the-tml's Flickr stream (CC)

About Computers

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Computers category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

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