Don’t Look a Zombie Chocolate Bunny in the Mouth

A few weeks ago, Thoughtsy from Thoughts Appear’s Blog sent me a lovely seasonally appropriate confection in the mail.

Cat inspecting a zombie chocolate bunny
Health and safety inspection

Of course, the first question one asks when presented with a chocolate zombie bunny is: will biting into this thing turn me into a zombie? After all, biting a rabid dog will give you the rabies virus (which is why you should never do that — also, rabid dogs taste terrible), so wouldn’t biting a zombie give you the zombie virus? And if it does, will I turn into a regular human zombie, or a zombie bunny, or what? And is the chocolate chocolaty enough to be worth it?

I turned to the bunny’s packaging for answers. The ingredient list didn’t include “zombie pathogens”, “zombie virus”, or anything else with “zombie” in the name, which was encouraging. But I also made a horrifying discovery: the main ingredient wasn’t dark chocolate or even milk chocolate. This bunny was made of white chocolate. A pale, lifeless imitation of real chocolate. Zombie chocolate.

That’s right — this wasn’t a chocolate zombie bunny at all; it was a zombie chocolate bunny. Instead of a zombie bunny made of chocolate, I was harboring a bunny made of zombie chocolate. And it turned out to be even more dangerous than I suspected: a few days later, I found evidence that it had been attacking my other chocolate.

I got this as a present a couple years ago. It’s designed to be eaten on backpacking trips, but I never go backpacking, so I was saving it for the zombie apocalypse. Which has, apparently, just started.

Clearly, it was time to act. Chopping off its head seemed like a reasonable precaution. And I’ve been trying to build up a natural immunity to the zombie chocolate virus by eating a little at a time.

A zombie chocolate bunny with a severed head.
Snapping the bunny’s neck was surprisingly easy. Please don’t quote me out of context.

So far I’ve only eaten an ear. A zombie chocolate bunny ear, not a human ear. It was delicious.

What I Use My Time Machine For, Now That The Novelty Has Worn Off

Like many people, I get a number of free products to review. Sadly, that number is zero, so when I decided I wanted to try the Acme Chrono-Jump Personal Time Travel Device, I knew I’d have to buy one myself.

When the Chrono-Jump arrived (a year and a half ago or last Tuesday, depending on how you count), I did all the things you’d expect: I dropped in on famous historic events, took a peek at what’s in store for the future (I won’t reveal any specifics, but you might want to stock up on those little plastic thingies they put in pizza boxes to keep the cheese from getting stuck to the lid), and even tried to change a few things from my past. Each trip sent me into a nightmarish spiral of attempts to correct whatever horrible mistake I’d made the previous time around, more or less like every time-travel story you’ve ever read or seen on TV. (Are butterflies attracted to time machines, or what? I’ve never stepped on one while living in the present, but for some reason they’re always getting underfoot in the past). So I got a little burned out.

I was going to write a negative review and take it back to the store, but the warranty had expired, so I decided to look for smaller-scale, safer, more practical applications. I’m glad I did. Here are some of the things I use my time machine for today:

1. Any time I forget something, I just pop back in time, call my younger self on the phone and ask where I parked my car, or when I last saw my next-door neighbor alive, or whatever else it is I’ve forgotten. The only problem might be that it can be a little annoying; any time I sign up for a new website, for example, five or six older versions of me show up asking for the password. Also, sometimes I forget how long it’s been since I remembered the thing I’ve forgotten.

2. I use it to make better choices at restaurants. I just wait until all the entrees have arrived and then go back in time and order the one that looks best. I am, of course, very careful to always order last, so that people who know what I’m doing don’t copy my order and create one of those annoying time paradoxes.

3. I hooked the time machine into my alarm clock, so now instead of a snooze button, I have a “go back four hours and get more sleep” button. It’s amazing.

4. Before I had the Chrono-Jump, if I wanted a baked potato, I’d have to either wait an hour for it to cook, or microwave it and deal with that awful microwaved-potato skin, or try to figure out one of those hybrid oven / microwave potato-cooking recipes. But now I’ve hooked the time machine into my oven, so I can just put the potato in and set the timer to start cooking an hour ago.

So there you have it. I wouldn’t recommend the Chrono-Jump to someone who’s looking to have adventures or change their past, but it’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had. Four stars out of five.

Customer Review: The Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device

My drive to work is 32 miles each way and involves practically every freeway in the greater Los Angeles area. That wouldn’t be so bad if it lots of other people didn’t also drive on those freeways — but they do. I hate my commute, so when Amazon.com suggested I might be interested in the Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device, I ordered it right away.

This bumper sticker is one of many available accessories.

It arrived three days later via UPS (which seems like an odd way to ship a teleportation device, but whatever). The box contained the base unit (a plexiglass booth approximately the size of a refrigerator) and an instruction manual. The manual is 47 pages long: 3 pages of legal disclaimers in tiny print, 1 page of technical specifications, 37 pages of safety warnings in large print, 2 pages of operating instructions, a 1-page list of authorized service centers, and 3 pages of ads for EZ-Jump accessories (my favorites are the “Honk if you didn’t see me on the road today because I teleported” t-shirt and the “My other car is a teleportation device” bumper sticker). I skipped over most of the tech specs and safety warnings, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.

In theory, the initial setup is pretty simple: just move the base unit to an out-of-the-way corner, plug it into the wall, download the EZ-Jump app to your phone, then register with their online service, MyEZJump. But the base unit is unwieldy and difficult to move, and it turns out that the app is only available for iPhones and for Android versions 4.0 and later. My phone runs Android 3.2.2 and doesn’t support 4.0 yet, but I was eventually able to find a compatible, unofficial, user-contributed version on the Android app market.

The EZ-Jump’s maximum range is 50 miles; you can only teleport within a 50-mile radius of your base unit. Once you’ve set up the device, you can use the phone app to teleport from anywhere (within range) to your base unit; you can also teleport from your base unit to locations (within range) that are registered with MyEzJump. You can use the phone app to find publicly registered locations, although at this point, there aren’t many of them. Most are repair centers (and, really, what are the odds that you’d need a repair and still be able to teleport to the repair center?), and there aren’t any within range of my house. Fortunately, you can also register your own locations.

My next step was to register my office as a location. I drove to work, hit the “register this location” button on the app, and then drove home at the end of the day. The next morning, I left the car at home and teleported to work. Easy-peasy. Or so I thought. When I tried to teleport home, nothing happened. It turns out that the initial trip had overloaded an electrical circuit, which cut power to both the EZ-Jump and to my Crock-pot, ruining the stew I’d left simmering for dinner that night.

I upgraded my home electrical wiring, and it’s been mostly smooth sailing since then. The biggest adjustment for me has been that I can’t really run errands “on the way home” any more. Well, that and the thing with my left hand — the retractable claws are cool, but if I had it all to do over again, I probably wouldn’t teleport on Bring Your Cat To Work Day.

No Time to Read? Try the New Kindle Spark

I love my classic Kindle; its convenience and simplicity make it the perfect entry-level e-reader. But let’s face it — the Kindle has limitations. With my busy lifestyle, I need a device that does more than simply facilitate the reading of books. That’s why I was so excited to hear about the new Kindle Spark.

The new Kindle Spark

The Spark is the newest member of the Kindle Fire product line; like the Fire, it features a color touchscreen that provides access to books, magazines, movies, videos, games, and other apps. But the Spark has one feature that sets it apart from all other e-readers: summaries on demand. Traditional e-readers download books for you to read; the Kindle Spark downloads books, reads them, and describes them to you. The Spark can summarize any content instantly, using proprietary on-the-fly summarization technology designed by SparkNotes in partnership with Amazon.com (leaked internal documents show that Amazon chose SparkNotes over CliffsNotes because “Kindle Spark is a much better name than Kindle Cliff“).  Here are some common scenarios in which the Kindle Spark really shines:

  • You enjoy the first hundred or so pages of Atlas Shrugged, but as you read further, you find the characters increasingly difficult to relate to and the speechifying somewhat tedious. Just hit the “Summarize” button to see how the story turns out.
  • You decide to watch The Seven Samurai because you’ve heard it’s a cinematic masterpiece — but after 10-15 minutes of white subtitles against an almost-white background, you decide you just can’t take three more hours of this. Hit “Summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will instantly convert the film into a movie trailer of whatever duration you want (90 seconds if you don’t specify a length).
  • You want to keep up with your friends, but you just don’t have the time. Bring up the Facebook app, hit “summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will produce a report similar to this one:
    Photos Stories Links
    Children 3 5 0
    Pets (including Internet cats) 8 1 6
    Vacation 15 3 0
    Politics (including political comics) 0 1 4
    Comics (non-political) 0 0 6
    Non-sequiturs that may or may not be song lyrics 0 9 0
    Food 3 3 0
  • You don’t want your friends to know that you get all your news from the tabloid headlines you read while waiting in line at the supermarket. Subscribe to as many newspapers and magazines as you want, then hit “Summarize” to receive a highly-condensed version of each periodical as it’s published. A planned software upgrade will include the option to post 1-3 summaries of randomly selected articles to your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account each day. Each summary will include a reference to the original periodical (“Just saw this on The Economist today”) and a link to the original article.

At $219, the Kindle Spark isn’t exactly a stocking stuffer, but it does make a great gift for someone who loves to read but never seems to find the time to actually read anything.

Need more last-minute gift ideas? For the cat-lover on your list, consider the CatSofa or the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

This Is Not a Book Review (Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking)

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. It sounds like a really interesting book, combining food science, photography, and recipes. In a radio interview, Myhrvold described new techniques for cooking classic dishes, like hamburgers (sous vide to cook the meat, then a liquid nitrogen dip to freeze the outer layer, then a final deep fry to form a crust without overcooking the chilled burger) and brisket (smoke, sous vide, liquid nitrogen, then deep fry). I began to wonder — why hadn’t I heard of deep-fried burgers before? Doesn’t that seem like something that would be popular at county fairs? And how would the sous vide + liquid nitrogen + deep fry technique work on other classics, like chocolate cake or Caesar salad?
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To the Manufacturers of the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse

Recently, I purchased a Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse for my cats, Holly and Thunder. They’re big fans of other items in your product line, especially the Squeaker Catnip Toy Mouse, the Squeaker Laser Toy Mouse, and of course the classic Squeaker Squeaky Mouse, so I decided they might also like the robotic version. For the most part, they’ve enjoyed playing with the Squeaker 3000; however, the product has some serious flaws. The following is my evaluation of some of its key high and low points.
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A First Look at GM’s Prototype Facebook Interface

Facebook updates while driving to work

When I heard that General Motors was testing a new feature that allows drivers to post Facebook status messages while driving, I couldn’t wait to try it out. So I called GM, explained that I have a blog with almost a dozen regular readers, and asked if they’d let me try the system out for a few days in exchange for some free publicity. Naturally, they jumped at this opportunity and offered me a 48-hour test drive.

Tuesday, after work: I stop by the dealership to pick up my vehicle, a Chevy Impala with the prototype social networking software installed. After programming in my login information (a tedious process, but one that only needs to be done once) and getting a brief tutorial on how to use the system, I’m all set. As soon as I pull out of the dealership, I dictate my first (admittedly unimaginative) update: “Hi! This is my first Facebook update from my car”.

My first Facebook update using the automotive interface.
Continue reading “A First Look at GM’s Prototype Facebook Interface”

Video Review: Vinay and Maru Prove that P ≠ NP

P vs. NP is one of the most famous unsolved problems in math. Recently, mathematician Vinay Deolalikar circulated a paper that contained a possible solution to that problem. There’s been lots of discussion on the Internet about this paper; surprisingly, though, the companion video series has been largely ignored.

Maru
Maru

In Vinay and Maru Prove that P ≠ NP, Deolalikar presents the material from his paper with the assistance of Maru, who is possibly the most entertaining cat on YouTube. Each episode features video imagery of Maru with narration by Deolalikar. In Episode 1, Deolalikar defines what P ≠ NP means — basically, that the solutions to some problems are hard to find but easy to verify — while Maru interacts with a large cardboard box. Finding a way into the box is a difficult problem for Maru; eventually, he solves it and goes on to demonstrate (repeatedly) that verifying the solution is easy. Of course, the fact that Maru found the initial problem difficult doesn’t prove anything; it’s possible that someone could discover a simpler box-entry-finding algorithm tomorrow. Episode 1 gets two thumbs up from me — the narration is clear and informative, and Maru’s performance is outstanding.
Continue reading “Video Review: Vinay and Maru Prove that P ≠ NP”