[Surf's Up, as publishedin the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, July 24, 2008. Click here to read more columns.]
Missouri boasts of being the "show me" state, and puts such a high value on its slogan – a call for proof – that it prints it on its licence plates. This week, we lead with a website that shows, and tells.
Howcast DIY – the do-it-yourself principle – is alive and well on the internet, with sites like eHow, Lifehacker and Make competing for your eyeballs with tips and instructions on projects ranging from simple crafts to full-on home improvement. Howcast is not the first site to emphasize video – VideoJug is well established on that front, being all of two years old – but it has made a splash since debuting earlier this year.
Anyone is welcome to submit a video, but there seems to be an editorial standard at play here. At least, that is, the videos I've wound up watching have been decent, and in some cases amusing. The logic makes sense: when you watch something, you're bound to pick up the knack faster than when you read a manual.
So, I learned a few useful things – like how to replace an iPod battery – as well as some more off-the-wall selections, like adapting an alarm clock with a water pistol. (No kidding. Steps include soldering information.)
Elsewhere this week
Piled Higher and Deeper PhD … get it? Piled Higher and Deeper offers a comic strip that may cut too close to home for grad students and young academics, but I bet they'll get a kick out of the material, which skewers the university world … often by simply contrasting the lofty ideals with the rock-bottom reality.
Big Lebowski Random Quote Generator Kinky bowlers, a rug that really ties a room together, the occasional acid flashback … the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski has been a cult favourite for a decade. I'm willing to bet that the web helped build that fan base. The Big Lebowski Quote Generator is an older site that adapted a once-novel technology (the quote-generator part) to an object of passion (the comedy, about an L.A. stoner who gets caught up in some seedy business). It still makes me laugh. It abides.
Bio Motion Lab Walker Imagine yourself walking down a street. Now imagine a stranger. Does that person walk differently from yourself? In this curious bit of interactive animation, you can adjust the “walker” (a collection of dots, resembling a skeleton) by gender, weight and degree of nervousness and happiness. If you're truly intrigued, click on the “info” link to connect through to a journal article on which the model is based.
1980s Commercials I was reading recently about how production designers of a television show treated old catalogues with the reverence of antiques; how else, after all, to get the details of a specific period right? Well, one way to know the 1980s – a decade in which everybody did not, incidentally, wear balloon pants, Michael Jackson's red-leather jackets and Flock of Seagulls haircuts – is by its advertising. Which is why this site is so funny, and sometimes charming.
Fingerjig If you're a two-finger typist, you may find this game a useful way of improving your technique, and likely your output, too. OK, so this may not be rip-roaring fun, but I'll bet it won't feel like work, either, as you try to match the words as they glide before you. It takes about six minutes to move through the tasks, which grow more complicated as you move along, but which are never frustrating or offputting.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.