Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Get Restaurant Ratings on your desktop

You may already have an assortment of widgets on your computer... small applications for Konfabulator or the Macintosh Dashboard. My new favorite is the RestaurantRatingz widget, which lets you quickly look up ratings and reviews for local restuarants. True, the reviews are already available on the RestaurantRatingz.com website, but when I am working in my web browser, I don't like to open a lot of extra windows. Somehow the widget just seems more convenient, and I suspect I will use it more often.

The widget was developed by Intertron Software, and you can download it from their website at www.inertron.com/widgets/.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Any Guesses?

El Cotoro loves gadgets! In the information age, there's something satisfying about a well-designed device you can hold in your hand... whatever it does! This particular gadget is for applying postage stamps! It takes a standard Post Office roll of 100 self-adhesive stamps. Drag it across an envelope, and it quickly and neatly applies one postage stamp. You might not think you'd ever need a gadget like this... until you have to apply stamps to 5000 postcards for a volunteer organization!

You can buy it on the Internet for less than $20. Just search for "Premier Stamp Affixer"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Long Now

The purpose of The Long Now Foundation is to help people to think in longer terms... thousands of years, rather than a few weeks or months.

To foster longer thinking, they have several projects, including a website, Long Bets, where you can place "bets" on future events (though the timeframe for most of the bets seems dissapointingly short!)

Perhaps the most intriguing project is the 10,000 Year Clock. The idea is to build a mechanical clock in a chamber under the Nevada desert which, with regular maintenance, will operate for 10,000 years. There is no timeframe for the project, but prototypes have been built, operating principles defined, and donations are being accepted.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I had never really thought much about LEDs, until a friend showed me the GlowBug.com website. The GlowBug site is entirely devoted to LED lights of all kinds... flashlights, keychains, lamps, lanterns, headlights, and even booklights.

I learned a lot from GlowBug. Did you know that the life expectancy of an LED is 5 to 10 years of continuous use? Or that they consume less than 1/10 the electricity of equivalent lightbulbs? LEDs are also much less fragile than lightbulbs. (They don't break when you drop your flashlight!)

While still too expensive to replace household lightbulbs, LEDs are very affordable for flashlights and other "portable" applications. Plus... they're cool! (Literally, because unlike lightbulbs, LEDs waste very little energy in the form of heat.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Grand Canyon Skywalk: Not a Hoax

I was skeptical when a friend first sent me this picture. It has all the earmarks of an Internet hoax. But with a little web searching, I found that there really is a glass walkway being built over the edge of the Grand Canyon. The glass-bottomed Skywalk is being built by the Hualapai Tribe, and it is now scheduled to open in January 2006. It will project 70 feet from the rim of the canyon, and allow visitors to look straight down over 4000 feet.

For more information visit www.destinationgrandcanyon.com/pressrelease.html

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Talking Turkey

For the past few years I've been hearing about organic, free-range turkeys. People who've tried them swear they are better tasting. Now there's another reason to "go organic."

Most turkeys are fed a steady diet of antibiotics to keep them healthy and promote growth. But of course, there are still bacteria present in the turkeys and in their environment. Due to poor sanitation in the poultry industry, some of these bacteria may remain in/on the turkey.

Here's the big problem: due to the long-term exposure to the antibiotics, the bacteria in the turkey is extremely resistant. So if you get sick from bacteria in the turkey, you won't respond to conventional treatments. This is becoming a major problem, to the extent that some large food companies (including McDonalds) are now requiring their suppliers to reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics in poultry.

If you want to avoid antibiotics in your holiday bird, look for a UDSDA Certified Organic turkey. For more information, visit www.environmentaldefense.org/article.cfm?contentid=4131

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

You Are a Freedom Rocker!

You're stuck in the 70s - for better or worse
Crazy hair, pot soaked clothes, and tons of groupies
Your kind showed the world how to rock
Is that freedom rock?... Well turn it up man!

OK - this is El Cotoro's result from one of those online test thingies. I don't even know what to call these things, but you've probably seen them... "What's your Martian name?" - "What kind of boss are you?" - "Could you pass 8th grade English?"

Well, follow the link above and you'll find a BUNCH of these things. Don't blame El Cotoro if you waste half your day!

(PS - let me know... what movie genre would you be?)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Connect with the Arts

There are over 100,000 art groups, galleries, guilds, schools and museums in the United States and Canada. Most of us can name only a few, even in our own communities.

ArtChain is an ambitious attempt to "connect people with the arts" in their communities and on their travels by providing a comprehensive, searchable directory of arts organizations. Presently there are only a few hundred entries in the ArtChain directory. Some areas are well covered, while others are sparse. There is not a single art museum listed in the state of Indiana, for example.

But the project seems worthwhile, and it's easy (and free) to add a listing. Visit ArtChain.com and check it out. And if you belong to an arts organization of any sort, add it to this growing directory.

Monday, October 31, 2005

New Moon

Seems appropriate to post on Halloween, doesn't it?

The cute thing about this bit of web magic is that it uses the timezone and clock on your computer, so you should see the correct phase of the moon whereever you are. Let El Cotoro know if it works!

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Million Dollar Homepage

Alex Tew is a pretty clever guy. He's a college student in the UK, studying Business Management, and he came up with an idea to pay for his education. He set up a web page and divided it into 10,000 little blocks, each 10 pixels by 10 pixels. He is selling ad space on his site in blocks, and each block costs 100 dollars ($1 per pixel). If he sells every block, he will make $1 million.

This idea has already been copied, but apparently Alex was the first to think of it. He got some good press, and his site is getting a lot of traffic. (For those of you who care about such things, the Google pagerank is 7, and the Alexa traffic rank is 2,518.) It's actually not a bad deal for advertisers, because the site is quite popular, and people seem to spend time clicking on the links. Alex promises to keep the ads up for 5 years, though I expect that traffic will fall off once the novelty wears off.

Alex certainly doesn't need my help... he's already sold over half the space on the site. But I think it's a clever idea. You can check it out at www.milliondollarhomepage.com

Monday, October 17, 2005

Al Gore and Governer Schwarzenegger agree!

What do Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Senator John McCain, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Vice-President Al Gore all agree on?

Each has spoken out about the crisis of global climate change, or global warming, and the need for effective action.

Each has joined an online movment called the Virtual March on Washington, to help publicize the problem of global warming.

The Virtual March is essentially a year-long press tour to publicize the problem. A growing list of membership signups on the website are an indication of the public support for action on this issue.

Please take a few minutes to sign up and show your support. Visit www.stopglobalwarming.org

Monday, October 10, 2005

Self Made TV

I'm not sure how I found this website - one of those days that started as a research project and got diverted into random web surfing - but it's a great example of how broadband Internet connections are enabling new kinds of information and entertainment.

Simply put, this site lets you watch short videos. Some are "artsy,” some are straightforward, some are even TV commercials. Most are entertaining. And that's the appeal. I spent almost an hour on the site and still haven't run out of things to see.

The site is not easy to navigate... it's not at all clear to me what I will see when I click on various parts of the screen, or how to get back to something I've seen before. But maybe that's not what this experience is about. Sometimes it's fun to let someone ELSE point you to things you might never have discovered on your own.

So check it out: selfmadetv.com

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Ghost Hunters - a Guilty Pleasure

Amid all the new TV shows, El Cotoro has discovered a "guilty pleasure" - Ghost Hunters. Actually, this show is not new... it's been running for some time on the SciFi channel.

Each week, a team of investigators goes to a supposedly haunted building. The formula is always the same: they interview the owners, who tell about the experiences they've had with the "ghosts." The investigators then set up a bunch of recorders and cameras. After a few hours, they leave to analyze the "evidence." They then meet with the owners to tell them what was found. Usually it's nothing. In a few cases, there may be some strange sounds on a recording, or a brief flash or motion on the video.

Sounds boring, doesn't it? But for some reason, it's fascinating!

The shows are shot in some really creepy places, and even if there are no ghosts to be found, the show has a creepy atmosphere. The investigators are either really into what they're doing, or great actors. It's fun just watching them. And it's not all serious. On a few of the shows they play jokes on one another, especially when they have a new team member. And did I mention that the two lead investigators are plumbers by day?

I can't explain why I watch this show week after week, but I'm not alone... the show has an almost fanatical fan base. Maybe we're all possessed???

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fish Photos!

On my recent snorkeling trip, I tried a new toy... a disposable underwater camera. These cameras are just like the cardboard disposables. In fact, they ARE cardboard disposables, with a watertight plastic case around them. (Supposedly the plastic cases get recycled.)

I had a lot of fun with the camera, and I would be even happier if the pictures were better. The water in Maui was incredibly clear, the sun was bright, and the fish were beautiful. Unfortunately, none of that comes through in the photos! The snapshot to the right is about the best of the bunch I took.

I should emphasize that the camera is capable of pretty good pictures. It's just hard to realize how quickly the water attentuates light. So if you want to get good results, keep three things in mind:

(1) Use the camera near the surface on a BRIGHT day. Don;t even bother if it's overcast.

(2) Try to take pictures with the sunlight coming over your shoulder and shining directly on the fish.

(3) Get within 3 to 6 feet of the fish... anything beyond that comes out dark, even if the water seems clear and bright.

I'm glad I tried one of these things... it's fun showing off my fish pictures! But if you remember my three simple rules, you'll get much better results than El Cotoro!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Snorkeling with Bob

El Cotero recently took a trip to Maui to visit some distant relatives. (Parrots aren’t really native to Hawaii, but the climate is great!)

While in Maui, El Cotero spent some time snorkeling. We rented our gear from Snorkel Bob’s. There are many places on Maui that advertise cheap prices for snorkel gear. Bob’s prices are a little higher. But I certainly felt like we got our money’s worth. Bob’s offers masks in several sizes (many of the places have a one-size fits all approach). They make their own masks with silicon bodies so they seal really well. They also have masks with prescription lenses, so those of us who need glasses can actually see the fish! I was really surprised at how well the prescription lenses worked.

The girl who helped us was very careful to make sure I had a good prescription match… she made me try several. She also checked the fit on our masks and fins. We had a great time snorkeling, and I think it had a lot to do with the excellent service, advice, and equipment we got at Snorkel Bob’s.

I know that most of my readers probably won’t be headed to Maui in the near future… so why write about Snorkel Bob’s? Because good service is a rare thing these days, when everyone seems to be shopping for the lowest possible prices. So when you find a place that give really good service, it’s worth paying a little more… and taking the time to tell people about it.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

It's a Hoax!

I frequently get e-mail from friends and family urging me to boycott a company because of something terrible they've done, or to buy a product in order to suppport a worthy cause, or to send a greeting card to a sick child. These messages all have one thing in common: they are hoaxes.

No, I don't mean that my friends are deliberately trying to trick me. They are simply forwarding messages that they believe to be worthwhile. But the messages are, in almost every case, false. In the very few cases I found where the original message was true, it was long ago expired. (For example, the Mars candy company really did make donations for breast cancer research every time someone bought special pink and white M&Ms. But the offer expired in 2004, and the mail is STILL being forwarded around the Internet.)

These perpetually circulating messages of often innocent enough, but in in some cases they are malicious and can cause a great deal of damage. I recently got an e-mail urging me not to shop at Target stores because Target refused to support veterans group, and was owned by a French company (gasp!). Of course, the story was false - but how many people now have a bad image of Target because of the e-mail?

It's pretty simple to stop these messages. Just don't forward them - ever, and ask your friends not to send them to you. Of the dozens I've received, only ONE has turned out to be valid.

If you need help proving to your friends that a particular message is a hoax, visit urbanlegends.about.com or www.snopes.com, or use your favorite search engine to search for the title of the mail message plus the word "hoax".

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Free CDs in TV Guide

I bought a copy of TV Guide at the grocery store today. It has a mini-CD stuck to the front cover, promoting the TV show Lost. The mini-CD will work in most tray-loading CD players. I popped in in my computer and played with it. It had outtakes from the TV show, pictures, musics, games, and lots of fun stuff - plus the inevitable ads to buy the boxed CD set of the show's first season.

It was pretty cool as a novelty item. It's amazing to me that CDs are so cheap to make that they can stick them in magazines.

I'm sure the novelty will wear off if lots of people do this, but if you are a Lost fan, pick up a copy of TV Guide.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Survive the IRS (inside info for businesses)

This should interest everyone who runs a business!

When the IRS audits a business tax return, the auditors need to know something about the type of business in order to know what to look for. So the IRS prepares training documents on all sorts of businesses, ranging from auto repair to nightclubs and restaurants. This tells the auditors exactly what they should look at and question.

Wow! So if you're in one of those businesses, wouldn't it be great to know exactly what the IRS auditors will question?

Well, you can. You'll find a bunch of these IRS documents (called "Audit Techniques Guides") right on the IRS website. There's also another list, inluding some older (possibly outdated) guides, at http://www.unclefed.com/SurviveIRS/MSSP/

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Skype Me!

I've been playing around a bit with Skype, an Internet telephone (VOIP) application. (See www.skype.com)

Skype requires that you have a microphone on your computer (a headset combining microphone and earphones is the best bet), and a high-speed Internet connection. You can talk to other Skype users, computer-to-computer, for free. You can call ordinary telephone numbers for a small per-minute charge.

Skype is also adding a feature that will allow you to pay a subscription fee in order to have a real telephone number, so that people can call you at your computer. Right now it's being tested.

So, what's the verdict?

I have a VERY high-speed connection, but I found the quality to be poor. Kind of like a weak cell-phone connection. I also found the interface to be a little clumsy.

From a purely technical standpoint, voice and data are being integrated, and a lot of phone traffic is alreayd routed over IP lines. But for personal use, Skype isn't quite there. If you are paying high fees for long distance calls, you *might* want to investigate Skype... after all, free is good! But for now at least, you're probably better off shopping around for a better rate plan for your regular phone.

Friday, August 12, 2005

How We Got Here (a good book)

I recently read a fascinating book, Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond. The book sets out to answer the questions, "Why did advanced civilizations arise in some places but not others? How did people of European descent come to dominate the world economically and politically?"

This is not light summer reading - but it is surprisingly interesting and well written. Need more convincing? The book won a Pulitzer prize, it was on the New York Times bestseller list, and on the back of the book there is a recommendation from Bill Gates! (OK, maybe that's not the best recommendation - but read the book anyway.)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Art Cards

I know a fair number of artists and designers, and I've always been surprised to find that in their free time, they create more art!

Often these "spare time" projects and quick forms of self-expression, meant to be given away or traded. I've recently discovered art cards... simple works of art (sometimes multi-media) created in a 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 size - like an old fashioned baseball trading card.

In fact, art cards were originally intended to be traded among artists... but now many are available for sale. It's an inexpensive way to pick up some nice original artwork, and they don't take a lot of wallspace!

Visit eBay and search the Art section for ATC (artist trading cards) or ACEO (Artist Cards - Editions and Originals).

Thanks to Cindy Couling for permission to use her Art Card, "El Cotorro." Visit Cindy's blog at lunagraphica.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A User Edited Web Directory: Wikidweb.com

There are many web "directories" that contain thousands or even millions of web pages, organized into neat categories. The two biggest, Yahoo and DMOZ (the so-called "Open Directory") are now too restrictive for most small sites. Yahoo charges $300 a year for a listing, effectively keeping out anything but large commercial sites. DMOZ has a bureaucratic system of volunteer editors, so that it often takes onths or years to get submissions approved.

A new directory, wikidweb.com, is trying to solve this problem by creating a community edited web directory. Quite simply, anyone can add to or edit the directory. This system has worked very well for wikipedia.com, the online encyclopedia, and hopefully it will work equally well for wikidweb.

Visit wikidweb and take some time to learn how the site works. Add your own favorite sites, and volunteer some of your time to help edit and clean up existing entries. It's a worthwhile effort.

Monday, August 01, 2005

El Cotoro

"El Cotoro" seems to be an archaic Spanish word for parrot. I found the word on an old deck of Loteria cards. I've also seen it spelled el cotorro, but neither spelling shows up in my Spanish dictionary.

What does that have to do with this blog? Nothing. I liked the word. I liked the image. And that's it.

That's what this blog is about. Stuff that catches my interest for a moment or two. Stuff that I find fun, or interesting, or intriguing. New products? Sure! El Cotoro is attracted to shiny things!

Maybe the things that catch my eye will appeal to you as well. There's a little bit of El Cotoro in everyone.