The data: URI scheme

The data: URI (RFC 2397) allows the inclusion of small data items like images, text etc inline. It is quite useful for embedding small bits of data into scripts, as no external source needs to be referenced. In fact, I had come across the data: URI through a Greasemonkey script named Smilize which substitutes the usual smiley texts with images (embedded in the script using the data: URI).

There are a few sites which convert small images, html etc to the data URIs. There is one major drawback with the usage of the data: URI – it is not supported in Internet Explorer. So, for the time being its utility is mostly restricted to Greasemonkey and Opera scripts, till IE support is available (maybe in version 8?).

I came across a new addon for IE 7 – IE7Pro – which provides userscripting functionality plus some other features like Ad blocker, mouse gestures etc.

Computer resistant game

I was going through the wikipedia page for Deep Blue (which I had followed through one of my feeds), and came across the game Arimaa (official site). The game was apparently developed by Omar Syed following Garry Kasparov’s defeat at the hands of Deep Blue. The game layout is quite similar to chess, and is played on an 8×8 board, but with different looking pieces, and different rules and objectives. There is also a wikibook for the game, plus a downloadable program.

Omar Syed designed Arimaa as a game which would be difficult for computers to play well, and there is a prize (valid upto 2020) for the first computer program which defeats a top ranked human player. The results so far have been quite convincingly in the favour of human players so far (2004-2007), with even low ranked players dominating the computer challenger.

One of the reasons behind this could be that not too many challengers are lining up. Another reason is likely to be the usual brute force approach used in chess programs does not work too well in this game due to its design.

So, for now we can easily say machine smart, but humans smarter.

The real story behind the space pen

The story of NASA spending millions of dollars to create a pen that worked in space for their astronauts, while the Russians just opted to use pencils, is often cited as a KISS example. However, it turns out that it’s just that – a story, and not the reality.

I first came across the actual story behind the space pen in the Geek Trivia article of TechRepublic. Apparently, both the Americans and Russians opted to use pencils initially, but turned out to have several problems due to the tips breaking off, and their flammable nature (in the high oxygen environment). NASA did opt to use mechanical pencils initially, but they were pretty expensive (almost $130).

In the end both parties started using the space pen developed by the Fisher Pen company which was a lot cheaper ($2.39 after a bulk discount). The research behind development of the pen did require around a million dollars, and patented in 1965. But, this was done by the pen company and not NASA. Also, if you are interested in buying one, it costs around $50.

There is also a detailed Scientific American article on the space pen which appeared last December.

Push starting a train

We have seen people push starting their cars and other vehicles, but trying the same on a train is not what one would expect to hear. However, this is the exact news I came across in today’s paper (link to online article). In this case, the train was left stranded in a neutral zone (with no electricity) when one of the passengers pulled the chain and halted the train. However, to get the train up and running, a few hundred passengers pushed the train about 60 metres to the nearest live point. Now, this is something you don’t hear too often.

Easiest way to type backwards

I am not sure whether this serves any useful purpose other than having some fun, but there is an easy way to type backwards. The method occurred to me during an IM session with one of my friends. The technique is quite simple – spell your words as usual, but type one character at a time, and follow up each character with the back arrow. The method may be slow, but you don’t have to spell out the words backwards before typing.

.tnemmoc a evael dna yrt ti evig ,oS 🙂

Writer and StoryTop

I came across a couple of interesting sites today – Writer and StoryTop – through Lifehacker and downsquad respectively. Writer is an online text editor with a very simple interface (distraction free interface as per the Lifehacker post). It also allows you to post your notes onto some common blogs in the draft mode. You can also create an account for better management. If you are interested in simple and distraction free text editors, you can also try out Darkroom which is for Windows or WriteRoom for Mac OS X.

Coming to StoryTop, it is an online story creation tool, as the name suggests. It allows you to create, save and share simple stories which can span multiple pages. I guess it could also be used for making simple presentations, and not just stories.