Wednesday, July 20, 2011


From an engineering perspective, sunflowers are an awesome plant.  About 2 months ago, I dug a few holes, dropped in a few seeds, and then more or less forgot about them.  I forgot about them so much that I even killed a few with RoundUp the following week.

So they're hardy, they grow impressively fast, and they're freaking huge.  The label on the little packet of seeds said "12 feet tall" which I initially dismissed as marketing mumbo-jumbo.  But, no, some of them really do grow to 12 feet tall in less than 2 months.  And the leaves track the sun in their thirst for more juice from the sun.

And the flowers (actually, technically, they're flower heads, as the big yellow thing is actually a bunch of small flowers crammed together) are a marvel of engineering.  According to the wikipedia article:

  • Each floret is oriented next to its neighbor by the golden angle, 137.5 degrees;
  • The orientation gives rise to a series of right-handed and left-handed spirals within the flower head;
  • The number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers;
  • The pattern yields the most efficient packing density of seeds in the flower head.

All of which combines to form one really cute picture:


One last note: May 1st is the International Guerrilla Gardening Day, where people surreptitiously plant sunflowers hither and yon.  Hilarious.  I might just be an active participant next year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Internet Just Had Its Doors Blown Off

A few weeks ago, the "Powers That Be" that control various aspects of the internet decided to do away with perhaps the most defining piece of the internet: .com .

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization that is ultimately in charge of distributing internet names and IP addresses.  They are the ones that enforce the use of .com, .net, .org, and everything else.

And so, on June 20th, ICANN announced that it was opening up the internet to almost anything.  For the first time, an internet address doesn't have to end in ".com" or ".net" or ".au".  Instead, it could end in ".john" or ".smith", if an enterprising John Smith wanted to pony up the $185,000 to register his own top level domain.

At first, I was "meh" about this story.  Who's going to sign up for this, and what will it do for them?  Take a prior example: the small western Pacific country of Tuvalu was given the country code of ".tv" in 1998.  (Each country gets its own country code for country-specific things on the internet: .au for Australia, .uk for the United Kingdom, .ad for Andorra ... there's a whole list here)  Businesses lined up behind Tuvalu to "rent" some of their .tv space, with the thinking that it would be really cool to have sites like or -- that all your favorite tv shows would have a .tv address.

But it hasn't really turned out to be all that popular, and Tuvalu appears to have gotten short-changed in the process.

So, at first, I was pretty "meh" about the whole thing.  A nice idea, a $185,000 price tag to keep out spammers and the lowly bloggers like myself, and a limit of 1,000 new top-level domains per year.  Who would sign up for this?

The answer: almost every tech savvy company out there.  Think about it:

  • mickey.disney
  • www.HugeOilSpill.bp

You get the point.  Big businesses will have the opportunity to closely align the company name with their product on the internet.  And, depending on how ICANN sets it up, you may even be able to dispense with the www stuff -- simply type in "twitter" in your browser, and you'll be taken straight to Twitter's home page.

The era of ".com" will seem quaint in 5 years.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Driving in DC #8

This one goes back all the way to my very first post on Driving in DC.  I mentioned that DC is laid out on a grid with numbered streets running north-south, and lettered streets running east-west, and stated that this was nearly a wonderful idea.  This post will explain my use of the "nearly."

So, letters go east-west, and numbers go north-south.  Something like this:

Seems simple, right?  Kind of like Manhattan's grid system, where the avenues go north-south and the streets go east west, Washington, DC should be a similarly easy place to navigate?


The problem is, in Pierre L'Enfant's twisted mind, it was perfectly logical to place the origin of the coordinate system smack dab in the middle of the city: the US Capitol.  Thus, four quadrants are established.  Suddenly, instead of just an intersection, you now need a third piece of information to find the destination you're looking for.  (And, of course, the city designers were not so mathematically inclined so as to include negative numbers and negative letters in their street naming convention.)

To illustrate, let's say you're new in town, you've heard great things about the new Arena Stage, and a friend told you it's at the intersection of 6th and M.  If that's all you know, you have a 25% chance of finding the right spot on your first guess.

  • 6th and M NW is basically one block over from the Convention Center.  
  • 6th and  NE is almost the main entrance to Gallaudet University.  
  • 6th and M SE, technically, doesn't exist (6th street is blocked by the new Marine Barracks) but it's the entrance to the Chief of Naval Operation's house at the Navy Yard.
  • 6th and M SW is the Arena Stage.

This may seem trivial or minor, but when I used to live in Southwest DC, three or four times per year I would have to redirect some poor lost soul who had mistakenly wandered into the wrong quadrant.  People who live in DC or have to navigate there often learn to instinctively pick up on the "NW" or "NE" label (or just assume NW if there is no other distinguisher), but for any newcomer, beware.  It makes a BIG difference.