Posts filed under ‘Geek’

Commonly Misquoted Phrases

By Chad Upton | Editor

Admittedly, I am not an English professor. There are many occasions when readers have corrected me, and I appreciate it, that’s what this site is all about — learning new things.

I’ve noticed a few common phrases that frequently get misquoted in conversations. Even if you know the correct phrase, you might not know it’s meaning or origin. If you’ve got others, share it in comments at the bottom.

Tide over

common misquotes: tie over, tied over

The word “tide” is an obsolete word for time, although it’s still with us in words like “Yuletide” (Christmas Time).

The phrase comes from sailors who had to anchor (or compromise progress) when there was no wind to fill their sails — to prevent the tide from pushing them backwards or off course. The earliest recorded use of the phrase can be found in A Sea Grammar (1627), “To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”

Down the pike

common misquote: down the pipe

If you’re talking about something in a pipeline, whether it’s literal or metaphorical (like a sales pipeline), then “pipe” does make sense. But, if you’re talking about anything else, then it’s probably “coming down the pike.”

The etymology is pretty straight forward, in this context, “pike” simply refers to “turnpike”, which is a major roadway, usually a toll road. In other words, it just means that something is coming down the road.

Flesh Out

common misquote: flush out

Much like, “coming down the pipe“, “flush out” is a real phrase. But, “flush out” is often used when people actually mean, “flesh out.”

To “flush out”, means to expose or release something, like flushing the toilet. It comes from bird hunting, where one flushes out a flock of birds. To “flesh out” is to bring something to life, to make it real. If you take an idea and make it real, you have put flesh on a skeleton.

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Photos: skipnclick (cc), MuseumWales (cc)

Sources: The Free Dictionary (turnpike), Google (pike), UsingEnglish, phrases.org.uk, Wikipedia (Tide), Paul Brians (Washington State University)

October 22, 2010 at 2:00 am 30 comments

How to Tell Which Printing a Book is From

By Chad Upton | Editor

Books were once a luxury.

That changed with the printing press, making duplication of books faster and cheaper, which made books more accessible to common people. Eventually, public libraries made books available to everyone in a community.

The way we access books is changing again, by eReaders like the Kindle and iPad.

If you browse the Kindle forums on Amazon.com, you may notice that eBook snobs refer to normal books as DTBs (Dead Tree Books). While eBooks are a status symbol now, they may eventually be the way common people access books, making paper books a luxury once again, reserved for expensive hardcovers and collector editions.

For some people, the only books they have ever read were the ones they had to read in school. This year, many high schools and colleges are using iPads and Kindles to distribute reading materials. It’s not because they’re fancy, it’s actually quite practical.

Although the initial cost of the device is high, the cost to create and distribute electronic books is almost negligible. The cost of a Kindle ($139) is about the price of two or three large college textbooks. At that rate, the device could pay for itself in the first semester.

Because it is much cheaper, faster and easier to download books, eBooks may eventually replace paper books as the primary way we read. Like I said, the reading devices are expensive, but even if people don’t want to buy a dedicated device, chances are good they already own one that is compatible. Amazon has already made software that allows Kindle books to be downloaded and read on Windows and Mac computers, iPads and iPods, along with all of the major smartphone platforms (iPhone, Blackberry and Android).

The future of books may be eBooks. In the meantime, it’s hard to know how popular paper books are, unless you know this secret.

When a book is printed for the first time, the publisher doesn’t know how well it will sell. They print a limited number of books to minimize the risk of their investment. If the book sells well, they can always print more.

Most publishers list the number of the printing in an ambiguous format on the publishers copyright page near the front of the book. They put the numbers 1 through 10 on their own line near the bottom of the copyright page. Sometimes, they’re in left to right order from 1 to 10. Other times, the numbers alternate from left side to right side, with 10 in the center.

The lowest number you can see on this line is the printing that the book is from. When a book goes into its second printing, the number 1 is removed. On the third printing, the number 2 is removed and so on.

1st Printing

9th Printing

12th Printing

You can see that the numbers alternate from left to right. They sometimes do that so the remaining numbers stay centered without adjusting the printing of the remaining numbers. If you see them in a book and they are not alternated, the remaining numbers will be off to one side instead of being centered (they don’t normally adjust the type to re-center it).

Sometimes, printings are confused with editions. A book may go through many printings and still be considering the “First Edition.” Generally, the edition doesn’t change unless the content in the book or the publisher changes.

The images above are from one of my favorite books, The Book of Awesome. As you can see, this book has been extremely successful — it’s in its 12th printing! Frankly, it is an awesome book and I’m not just saying that because I’m trying to be funny or because I’m in the book — the sales speak for themselves, it is a great book.

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Sources: Travelin Librarian, Between the Covers, Wikipedia (Books), Kotaku

September 24, 2010 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Quantum Teleportation is Real

By Chad Upton

We know a lot about the world around us. We have a pretty good understanding of forces such as gravity and magnetic fields. We know a lot about barely visible subatomic particles and even invisible energy such as radio waves.

We can control and measure most of these amazing things and they really are amazing. Think back over a thousand years. Could you imagine what it was like when magnets were first discovered? The amazement, confusion and challenge to explain how they worked.

Due to recent developments, we are in a similar state of fascination.

When you read “quantum teleportation” in the title,  you probably had visions of something from Star Trek where people and objects are transported from one location to another. That is teleportation but it’s not quantum teleportation.

In quantum teleportation, no visible object is moved from one place to another. Rather, quantum information is moved from one place to another.

It starts with entanglement of two atoms or particles such as ions or photons. In simple terms, they are “tied” together. When separated, something amazing can be observed. Changing the state of one, the state of the other changes to match. This phenomena has been observed when the two have been separated by a distance of a few meters (10 feet), 16 km (10 miles) and even 144 km (89 miles).

No, it won’t let you visit your grandma in Montana and your other grandma in Malta on the same day, but the potential is still amazing.

You’ve probably seen a satellite interview on TV noticed there is a huge delay between the two people talking. That’s what happens when shipping information to space and back on each side of the screen. But, Quantum information moves extremely fast so there would be negligible delay if it could one day be used for communication (it can’t for now).

Although a bit awkward sometimes, we can live with delayed satellite interviews. But, as we try to explore deep space, communication delays could become a factor that prevents or severely delays exploration. One day, cell phones might use this technology to eliminate dropped calls and dead zones. In communications, the possibilities are endless.

We can’t even imagine how this might affect other areas of science and that’s because we don’t really understand how it works. But, scientists believe these entangled particles exist in nature and there are potentially billions of them. Of course, we don’t know which ones they are or where the other half of their entangled pair is. Maybe there is some truth behind the notion that one twin feels something when their identical twin experiences something traumatic. Maybe there’s even some science to prove it.

Broken Secrets

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Sources: Wikipedia (QT), Quantum (Entangled QT, First QT),  The Future of Things , Ars Technica

Photo: Thomas Shahan (cc)

July 14, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

A Secret Government Spaceship is Circling the Earth

The US government recently launched a secret space plane called the X-37B. You’ve probably never heard about it and that’s because nobody is really talking about it.

We do know that the X-37B was launched on April 22, 2010. It was originally a NASA project in 1999, but was transferred to the department of defense in 2004. It looks very similar the space shuttle, but it’s unmanned and about a quarter of the size. It also operates very similar to the space shuttle, it is launched by powerful rockets and it lands like an airplane. It has a small cargo bay, about the size of a pickup truck bed.

For safety and security, a little over 14000 space objects are cataloged and tracked. The objects include satellites, debris and rocket bodies. Tracking these objects reduces the chance of a collision between them. In fact, there are a few public websites that let you view this information, some will even plot satellites on a map so you can try to spot them when they’re over your area. The location and orbit of the X-37B spacecraft has not been announced by the government.

However, a group of amateur astronomers and sky watchers believe they have enough sightings to identify the craft and it’s orbit. The space plane has been tough to spot since it seems to be operating in a low orbit, similar to the height of military spy satellites. There are a lot of satellites in the sky, 75 military satellites plus 15 search and rescue; 37 gps and 19 Navy navigation satellites. Then, there are thousands of other satellites for communications, science and entertainment uses.

China and Iran are both on edge about what this space plane is capable of. According to China, it may signal the start of a space arms race.

Experts believe the X-37B is just another spy plane, except it can stay in the air for 270 days before returning for fuel. The sky watchers who are tracking the space plane have seen it over Iraq and Afghanistan and believe it is currently testing surveillance equipment. Because it can return to earth and be redeployed very quickly, it’s likely that it will serve a number of different roles as needed.

As for the name, it’s just a test plane series number. For example, the X-24A was the model of the plane used in 1963 to test the re-entry heat-shields that would end up on the bottom of modern day space shuttles.

When the X-37B does return to earth, it will land on a runway in California. If it veers too far off course, it will self destruct. Seriously.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Yahoo, Space.com, Wikipedia 1 2, n2yo

May 31, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Most Expensive TV Pilot in History: LOST

If you’ve watched ABC in the last week then you’ve probably seen commercials for the final episode of LOST this Sunday. If you’re not a LOST fan then you’re probably sick of hearing about it. Frankly, if you’ve never seen the pilot episode, then bear with me for one minute while I tell you why I think you should at least watch that first episode.

I think that everyone likes a good story, that’s why we read books, follow the same TV show for years and lineup overnight for movies. We suspend our disbelief to live in a different world for a few hours, days or even years. We do this because we want to feel happy, inspired and surprised. Great stories make us smile, laugh and cry — LOST is no exception.

Rent the first season on DVD and at least watch the 2 hour pilot episode. At $11.5 million, it’s the most expensive TV pilot ever made and it’s worth every penny. In fact, that’s more money than it cost to make Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and it’s a much better story too. But, it cost more than a lot of money, it cost Disney Chairman Lloyd Braun his job — they fired him for green-lighting such an expensive pilot. In hindsight, he made the right decision, LOST is one of the most successful shows ABC history.

The story of LOST draws from; makes subtle references to, and more than anything; pays homage to dozens of literary classics including: Alice in Wonderland, King Lear,Through the Looking Glass, Catch 22, The Fountainhead, A Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men and dozens of others.

Just to put it into perspective, LOST is so rich with story that it has it’s own book. There is a character with a bit part in the pilot episode. That character (not the actor) is an author who wrote a book. There is no mention of the book in the show, other than its use as a prop in one scene, but you can buy the book on Amazon. Yes, it’s a real book that they wrote just for the show, the author listed is even the Character’s name on the show. As a viewer, you don’t need to read the book, but it’s apparently a pretty good book and it has a meaningful subtext if you’re a fan of the show.

LOST is filmed in Hawaii, which presents its own challenges. One reason the first episode was so expensive is because they bought a decommissioned Boeing 777 airplane to recreate the plane crash scene. Just the shipping on the plane alone cost $250,000. The crash scene was clearly visible to other planes landing at the nearby Honolulu airport. A plane crashed on the beach is not what you want to see from a plane that is about to land on a short runway that ends at the beach. So, airlines were advised to notify passengers they were looking at a TV set.

Many scenes in LOST are filmed in the same area as Jurassic Park. If you remember the magic you felt when you first saw that film, I think you’ll feel the same when you discover what’s great about LOST.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Movie Budgets, LOST Books, LOST Trivia

Photo: ewen and donabel (cc)

May 21, 2010 at 5:30 am 3 comments

Arial is Not a Font

Arial is a typeface (aka “font family”). In fact, what many people refer to as “fonts” are actually “typefaces.”

The meaning of the word “font” has been butchered since the introduction of desktop publishing in the mid 1980s.

What is the true meaning? Directly from Wikipedia, “… a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface.”

In other words, a font is a specific version of a typeface. Arial is a typeface, and 12-point Arial Italic is a font. 14-point Arial Italic is a different font in the Arial font family.

Changing the size of text on a computer is not a significant amount of work, so it might seem silly to think that you’re actually changing the font when you do this. Especially since we think of the font as just the typeface and not its size or style. But, this terminology made a lot of sense before desktop publishing.

The first printing presses used characters that were carved from wood and arranged in order to form a complete sentence, although they were glyphs rather than Latin characters.

This evolved into more modern systems that used metal characters that were more durable. At that time, changing the size of a typeface was a lot of work — it meant you had to pull all of the letters out and reassemble the words with a different set of metal pieces. (more…)

May 18, 2010 at 12:01 am 6 comments

Defenestrate Means: To Throw Out of a Window

Whenever someone tells me a computer frustration story, it usually ends with the phrase, “I almost threw it out the window.”

If you prefer more concise dialogue, then you’re probably reading the wrong website, but I can share a helpful word with you: defenestrate. It means, “to throw out of a window.” Used in a sentence, “I nearly defenestrated my computer.”

Today, this word is typically used for humor, but it has a very serious past. It comes from Latin, de means from and fenestra means window or opening. The word was coined around 1618, upon what is now known as the Second Defenestration of Prague. (more…)

May 12, 2010 at 12:01 am 1 comment

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