Category Archives: Ideas

Notes for the Needy

The following is an idea I have for a charity. If you would like to assist in its development or comment on how it could be improved, please e-mail me at sleet at ymail.com.

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The Boredom Game

(Created in In-Design, meaning I had to save it as a PDF. Please click the link below to view the file.)

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Embracing Your Inner Statistician

[Disclaimer: I mention a few sites and programs in the course of this article. Rest assured, I’m not trying to advertise any of them, nor do I get any compensation for doing so. They just happen to fit with the subject matter.]

Embracing Your Inner Statistician

9/27/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

    
 

    One of man’s great pursuits is to make the daily grind more interesting. We tune into the radio during the daily commute, hunt out a new place to eat on our lunch break and accessorize our cubicles with whatever accessories seem convenient. If it weren’t for these little touches, we might have keeled over in boredom.

    Family photos and radio stations aside, there is one more way to break the monotony of everyday life: measure it. Keep track of how many miles your employer makes you fly. See how many keystrokes that proposal took. Best of all, record the days where you’re forced to walk to the bus stop in sub-zero temperatures. Logging not only makes the everyday routine a little more interesting, but creates a sense of progress when you see just how far you’ve come.

    The following are just a few ways to make use of your copy of Excel or Numbers. Who knows? You might have been cut out for a career in figures after all.

 

    Track your flights. Frequent flier or not, you might enjoy seeing how many miles you’ve spent in the sky. It doesn’t take a pile of ticket receipts to accomplish this, either.

    A relatively unknown site called “Flightmemory.com” not only helps you keep track of all your flight statistics, but—with the origin and destination you enter into the program—creates a personal flight map showing where you’ve been in the world. Whenever you go on a trip, just enter the details (airports, airline and plane) into your user account to make use of the features the site offers. If you’re really bored, go to your main page and see how much further you have to fly to get to the moon—or the sun.    

    For a simpler approach, just create a spreadsheet with columns for the date, airline, destination and departure and arrival airports. Flightaware, another site made specifically for aviation geeks, will let you see the distance (and time of flight) between two airports. By compiling all this data, you can see how long you’ve had to endure economy class—or, perhaps, how long you’ve been able to enjoy time in business or first. (In the latter case, just ask your secretary or butler to do all this work for you.)

 

    Log your keystrokes. This might be the nerdiest idea on the list, but you’d be surprised at how fast those letter hits can add up. If you spend at least a few hours on the computer each day, try downloading Whatpulse—a free and detailed program—onto your computer’s taskbar. The site not only measures how many clicks and keys you amass over time, but lets you see which keys you hit the most. (Using the “Key Frequencies” feature, I discovered that I’ve hit the “E” key 5,005 times in the last few days, but—in that same span—have only typed 36 Q’s.)

    Of course, if you want to unleash your inner geek along with your inner statistician, try joining or creating a “Typing Team” on the Whatpulse site. This is not a joke. To increase your rank, simply type and click more than the other 7,000 or so registered groups. (You are also assigned an individual rank, which should increase over the lifetime of your keyboard use.)

    If you want to disprove your boss’s allegations that you’re not doing enough work at the computer, try saving your daily statistics to a spreadsheet on your computer. The next time she criticizes your work ethic, tell her, “Really? Why, I’ve logged 375,000 keystrokes this week!”

 

     Follow your footsteps. In the last 20 days, I’ve walked far enough to get from my house to southern Pennsylvania. At least, that’s what my pedometer says.

    It doesn’t take a jogging schedule or a workout regimen for a pedometer to be of interest. By putting a stopwatch-sized device in your pocket and going about your business, you can easily amass thousands—even tens of thousands—of footsteps a day.

    Pedometers aren’t even particularly hard to find; even my cell phone has one. With just a little time spent buying one and keeping track of the results on a spreadsheet, you can boast to your friends that you’ve walked far enough to get to the ocean—or beyond. At the very least, you might find yourself inspired to walk to the grocery store instead of driving there. There’s nothing wrong in inflating your step count.

 

    Keep watch on the weather. Most of the people on your block have a stick or dial thermometer that tells them how warm it is at the moment. You can do better than that.

    One nifty byproduct of the digital revolution has been the digital thermometer. Though more expensive than the convenience store standard, these electronic devices often measure pressure (a vital figure in forecasting the weather) and indoor and outdoor humidity in addition to the temperature. Even better are those that keep track of maximum highs and lows, meaning you don’t have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to see just how cool it got last night. Just remember: the fancier the system, the more difficulty you might encounter setting it up.

    Though you can find thermometers that automatically upload their data to the computer, there’s no reason to break the bank. Just find a device that will keep track of how hot and cold it gets over a resettable period, then enter the statistics into a computer. You could use this strategy to keep track of the day’s highs and lows if you’re that inclined.

    

    Perhaps the above ideas didn’t sound quite as exciting or useful as you hoped. Just don’t be surprised if flight tracking or keystroke logging becomes the next big thing.

 

Kenneth made 16127 keystrokes and 471 clicks in the process of writing and revising this article.

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The National Typing League

The National Typing League

9/20/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

An Overview of the National Typing League

I: Typing Teams

A: Each team will be made up of no less than five competing typists.

B: Each teammate will be seeded against the other members of that team based on their typing ability.

II: Beginning typing competitions

A: Competitions will be held in a location accepted on by both teams.

B: The competition location must be suitable for a typing contest, meaning:

.    1. The location must include a sufficient number of computers and keyboards for each team.

2. The location must be free of auditory and visible distractions.

3. The owners of the location must be willing to comply with the requests of each team.

4. Internet connections must be available to register results.

5: The location must be large enough to accommodate all team members, staff and equipment.

C: Before the competition begins, there will be a twenty-minute period for set up and warmup. Teams may use this time as they please.

D: The coaches, or captains (if no coaches are present) will meet and decide on the following matters:

  1. If the teams have an unequal amount of players, the coaches must decide if they wish to have more than five seeded matches. There may be up to 11 seeded matches.
  2. What order they wish to have matches. If resources permit, all matches may take place at the same time; if time permits, each match may take place separately.
  3. How to manage technological problems.
  4. Where and when to schedule future matches, if desired.

E: The coaches will then greet the match organizer.

E: After meeting, the coaches and captains will then address their team members. The contests then begin.

III: The Typing Competition

A: Both players in a match will greet one another before beginning.

B: Each player will be given a keyboard and a computer. They may request headphones, but only for noise reduction purposes.

C: The match will be officially begun by the match organizer. He will start each match by:

  1. Revealing the text that each player will be typed.
    1. If one player is given the opportunity to see this text beforehand, a different text will be chosen.
    2. Both players will use the same text, but on different computers.
    3. Unless more technology exists and is agreed on by both coaches or captains, the text will assume the form of one or more sheets of paper arranged to the left (first and second pages) and right (additional pages) of the computer.
    4. The text must be legible, and the font must be agreed upon by both coaches.
  2. Beginning the match timer.
    1. Match contests will last three minutes.
    2. Players are required to stop typing at the sound of the timer’s whistle.
    3. The technology available will influence exactly how the match is timed. The game clock will operate by computer if possible; or, the organizer may use a manual timer.

D: During the course of the match, the players will attempt to type the words featured on the pages of text as quickly and as accurately as possible.

  1. Words may not be skipped in the course of the contest. Skipped concept will be counted as mistyped content.
  2. Players are not to distract each other verbally or physically during the course of the concept. Doing so will result in an automatic disqualification.
  3. The word processor that each player will use must:
    1. Have all copying and pasting features disabled.
    2. Must have spell checking or grammar checking software disabled.
    3. Must allow manual (by mouse or keyboard) editing only.

IV: Scoring Individual Matches

A: At the end of the match, both players’ typing will be categorized as correctly spelled and misspelled words.

  1. Only words that match the words on the text page in terms of capitalization, punctuation, spacing and spelling and in the order that they appear on the page will be considered correct words.
  2. Misspelled words will be counted (surprise!) as misspelled words.
  3. Words that lack proper capitalization, or words that feature capitalization in the improper spots, will be considered misspelled.
  4. Words that are skipped on the page will be counted as misspelled.
  5. If a word is typed more than once, the word will count the first time it is written, then be considered misspelled for all consecutive appearances.
  6. Words written that are not seen on the page or pages of text will be counted as misspelled.
  7. Words that cannot be finished by the termination of the test will not be factored into the final score.
  8. Extra spaces between words will make the word preceding them count as misspelled.
  9. Mispunctuated words will count as misspelled.

B: The scoring method is known as “divide, then multiply,” or DTM.

  1. To tabulate the final score, the number of correctly spelled words will be divided by the sum of all correctly spelled and misspelled words. This quotient will then be multiplied by the sum of all correctly spelled words. This product will be rounded up to the nearest integer, and will then count as the final score.
    1. Multiplying the number of correct words typed by the percentage of correct words typed out of all correctly and incorrectly spelled words serves as a means to reward accuracy and deter typists who might otherwise seek to type as fast as possible without any regard for misspelled words.
    2. For example, take the sentence “A dog jumped into a briar patch, but jumped out fairly quickly after that.” A typist who wrote “A dog jumped into a briar patch” in ten seconds would receive a score of seven (7 x 7/7). One who wrote “A dog woked ito a brire patch, but jumped ot fairly quickly affer that” in ten seconds would have written nine correct words in that span of time, but—given the extra time needed to correct his misspellings—he did a worse job than a blind “total correct words” score would reveal. Thus, the DTM system takes his nine words and multiplies them by 9/14 (his correctly spelled words divided by all correctly and incorrectly spelled words), giving him a final score of 6 (considering that scores are rounded up.) In this way, accuracy becomes as important to typing competitors as it would in the real world.

V: Scoring matches as a whole

  1. Each match won counts as a +1 for a team; each match lost counts as +0.
  2. Ties will count as 0.5 for each teams.
  3. If a match could not be finished for a reason out of either team’s control, it will count as +0 for both teams.
  4. Final scores, therefore, will be tabulated an A-B format, with A counting as one team’s points and B counting as the other’s.

VI: Extraneous situations

  1. In case of a situation beyond the teams’ control, any of the above may be amended with the consent of both coaches or captains.

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Loathe Flying? Repack.

Loathe flying? Repack.

8/20/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

Sorry, baseball: America’s new national pastime is a game called “Hate air travel.” It starts when you wait in a check-in line for forty minutes and ends when your carrier accidentally sends your bags to Kuwait. The sport can be played at every major city and with any team you wish, though American and Delta are especially fun. Better yet, attendance is on the rise.

There’s no shortage of reasons to despise your time in the sky. From the little things (shoddy peanuts and the wait for the bathroom) to the big ones (cancellations and overbookings), flight has turned into a test of wills as much as a test of gravity. The average tourist has no control over the flight attendants’ snack offerings nor the bowels of their fellow passengers, but there is one novel approach they can take to make for a better flight.

No checked baggage.

At this point, most readers would laugh and stop reading. What kind of freak manages to pack everything they need into a little duffel bag or a purse? And yet, should travelers swallow their pride and play a game of Tetris with their available carry-on space, they’ll find much less to hate about the “friendly skies—” and more money in their pocket.

First, I may as well elaborate on what the word carry-on really means. Travelers who bring all their luggage on board aren’t just limited to a little tote or a purse. United allows 2,772 cubic inches of space for just one item, or 9″ x 14″ x 22″ . That limit, largely consistent across the country’s major carriers, is generous enough for actual pieces of luggage to come on board. (Baggage companies have designed models just small enough to fit into these restrictions.) The good news doesn’t stop there, though. In addition to that one luggage piece, fliers are permitted some sort of “personal item.” Depending on your level of imagination, this item could be anything from a purse to a large-sized bag or backpack.

In short, it’s not impossible to pack everything into your carry-on. You may not be able to take 13 pairs of heels and a dozen dresses on your way to Vegas, but the essentials will certainly fit.

Now that the issue of size has been packed away, it’s time to go over the great benefits of leaving the checked baggage at home. We’ll go from the front door to the hotel door, covering every positive along the way.

Wake up with your carry-on luggage at the door. The taxi driver won’t be able to charge as much for the extra bags you carry, seeing as you only have two small items. Unless you’re a brick salesman, the walk into the airport should not put a strain on your back.

It only gets better, though. Go through the doors and walk right past the hour-long check-in line. Because you’re not putting any bags on the conveyor belt (or paying for the service), you can bypass the queue and head over to an electronic kiosk, where a confirmation number or credit card swipe will be enough to print out your tickets. The time saved will also give you more opportunity to shop or sleep beforehand.

Onto the plane itself. This is the one point in your travels where checked baggage can seem like a wise decision, but you have little to worry about. Make sure to beard the plane early so that you have ample room in the overhead compartment. (That would be the place to stow your main piece of luggage.) Your personal item, as the cheery flight attendants will remind you, should go under the seat in front.

On to the landing. The minute you walk out of the plane, you’re free to exit the airport. No baggage claims. No need to scream at the representative whose airline popped the zipper off your luggage or simply lost track of it. If you’re heading through customs, you not only bypass that baggage claim but save time on inspection. (Even the slowest TSA authorities can’t spend too long looking through your purse.) Once exiting the airport, the same savings apply for taxi fees.

When you add all this together, you can expect savings of one to two hours and ten to twenty dollars. There’s also the security of having your bags right at your side when checked luggage is out of reach, out of sight. Carry-on luggage is even good for the environment; the decreased load you put on the plane means less gas needed to set your plane down at the destination. Best of all, you might not hate air travel so much when check-in lines and luggage carousels aren’t part of your trip.

Perhaps this strategy won’t work for you for vacations longer than a week, or even three days. This is understandable, though I’ve pulled off the feat for a 28-day trip. (Key word: washing machine.) Nevertheless, give the idea a try. You might just find yourself becoming a smarter—and happier—traveler in the long run.

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Craft a Movie out of Memories

Craft a Movie out of Memories

8/17/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

(In short: this guide shows you how to take a large, unedited video file, cut it into clips and arrange those clips by category. It’s geared towards those who have plenty of tapes or DVDs of their own filming, but don’t know quite what to do with them.)

To see the short video series which I created using the following method, visit https://schreibendepot.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/jofvc/ .

I would take an educated guess and say that 70 percent of American families have some sort of video recording device that they bring along on vacations and use around the home. Of those, I’d say that 70 percent do next to nothing with the stacks of tape that they create.

Capturing video is easy enough; taking those hour-long movies of beach trips and birthday parties to the next level is not. I used to be content to leave my recordings sitting on a shelf or compressed into DVDs, telling myself, “I’ll come back to them, some day.” I never did, of course. Watching uncut, unedited video is a little like poking around in a landfill for diamonds. You have to sit through a lot of lackluster footage before getting to the actual memories.

The good news in all of this is that editing and saving your movies onto a computer is rather simple, if a little time-consuming. The following is a general guide for creating a structured, abridged tape out of an hour’s worth of raw footage.

Step 1: Connect camera to computer

This first task gets easier every year as camcorders turn more and more computer friendly. If you’re using an analog VCR (in other words, one that does not use digital tapes), you’ll need to get some sort of adapter. Otherwise, the following instructions should be more or less comprehensive:

Hard disk cameras—since your video is already saved into an internal hard drive, you should have no trouble getting your precious memories onto your computer. A USB connector or Firewire cable should do the job.

Digital video cameras—this is the category that my camcorder falls into. If your computer supports Firewire, consider buying a linking cable for fast, simple data transfer. Otherwise, a USB port or an SD card (should there be a slot in your devices) should function just as well.

DVD video cameras—if your machine saves video directly onto a DVD, you’ve either got the easiest setup or the hardest. It all depends on whether your computer has a functioning DVD reader, which would allow it to save the data on your disk to your hard drive. If not, check your instruction manual to see if the information can be transferred by means of a cable. Consider purchasing an external or internal DVD drive for your machine; their simplification of the uploading process more than makes up for the cost.

Step 2: Import the video

In any case, you’ll want to import your tape, DVD or digital media into some sort of program. Most amateur filmographers (like me) will find Windows Movie Maker to be an acceptable entry level program; it should have come installed with your computer. (Mac users, I hear, will be pleasantly surprised by iMovie.)

Since I’m one of the brainwashed millions who uses Microsoft, I’ll supply the directions for uploading a video to Movie Maker. Once you’ve gone into your Programs > Accessories folder and started up the software, go to File > Import or locate the prompt at the left of the window. If your camera is turned on, set to playback mode and successfully connected, you should see your device listed as a source for imported footage. Follow the wizard until your video has been saved onto the program.

(I’ve circled the Windows Movie Maker “import from Digital Video Camera” prompt in red on the neighboring picture. This will probably be the easiest way to import footage.)

Step 3: Beginning the editing process

In the interests of length, I’m not going to list directions for cutting, splicing and merging video. Those are skills that you should spend a little time with the software to master. Instead, I’m going to provide a brief template for sorting out your video. Feel free to follow these directions as liberally as you wish.

First, you’ll want to think about the categories your footage might comprise. I’m coming back from Tokyo as I write this, armed with a few hours of film. My categories included things like “People/Crowds,” “Shops,” “Temples,” “Nature” and “Cutesy Japan.”

Once you have a list, go to your movie editing program and create a title clip for each category. (Windows Movie Maker users: See Tools > Titles and Credits.) Label each with its corresponding category name so that, when the clip is played, the category appears as the title.

This seems like a nice touch for the audience, but it’s even more beneficial for you. These little clips will act as “video bookends” with which you can sort all of your footage.

Step 4: The sorting begins

(Note: if any of the following confuses you (I got a little mixed up just reading over it), see the caption for the picture at the bottom of this step. It offers a visual representation of what I’m trying to say.)

Here’s where the steps begin to get a little more concrete. You have your title clips that display the various categories of your film, along with the raw footage itself. The following step is both the simplest and the longest: chop! Split your continuous film into a series of small clips, each of which corresponds with one of the categories. If there’s filler in between (e.g. you adjusting the camera or your son videotaping a block of wood), delete it. Condense the unabridged movie into a series of little clips, thus making the movie denser and easier to sort.

Now take each piece of film and drag it to the immediate right of its corresponding category title. (This is done, not surprisingly, by clicking and dragging things around on the “Timeline” near the bottom of the screen, assuming that you’re using Movie Maker.) Continue this process until every single clip on the timeline has been positioned right of the category that it falls into. This is what I mean by “sorting.”

(The picture near this text should make things a little clearer. I’ve circled what I mean by a “category title” or a “title clip” in black; it’s also circled in green on the timeline. Next to that green circle are the clips which correspond with that category (e.g. my temple clips), which are circled in yellow. Note how they’re just to the right of the title. You can also see how all the clips on the timeline are divided up and sorted.)

Step 5: Your choice!

There are a few roads you can take from here. The first, and simplest, would be to save the movie as is. Your final product would be a nice sequence of title clips and their corresponding themes, all in order.

That’s just the tip of the prodigal iceberg, though. You could copy and paste every category’s worth of clips into its own separate movie, then save all the movies individually. You could outright delete an entire category if it seems bland or miniscule compared to the others. If you know your way around your video editing program, why not create a table of contents at the beginning that lists the start time in the video for each category, thereby allowing the audience to…

There really isn’t any way to go wrong. After all, you’ve already taken a clump of video camera footage and turned it into a categorized, abridged, digitized production. In today’s world of shoot-and-forget filming, that’s a giant step to take.

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Phrazzled

“Phrazzeled”: A game idea

8/12/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

The wonderful thing about the English language is that just about any phrase or expression can have multiple meanings behind it. Some definitions for a phrase might be obvious; others could take a little thinking to arrive at. “Phrazzeled” invites players to try their hand at matching given definitions with a hard-to-guess phrase.

Instructions:

The game’s idea is simple enough. Participants are each given two or more definitions for a certain phrase. Their job is to think hard about each one and try to come up with that phrase first, resulting in a point or more for them. The tougher the definitions are, the more points they receive.

For the game to work best, it is suggested that the players take turns reading out the definitions to the other contestants and listening for the correct answer.

Example phrases and definitions:

Definition 1: A steeple top in Alabama

Definition 2: What Australian astronomers see

Phrase: Southern Cross

D1: Used to make a “Bingo”

D2: Shirts, shorts and such

P: Textiles (Text Tiles for D1)

D1: Comes before touchdown

D2: A pyrotechnic touching down

P: Landing Flare

D1: Starts with a bang; ends with the tape

D2: When two rails merge

P: Track meet

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