Category Archives: Random

Google cannot decide

Looking for a download link, I did a Google search for “emacs“. To my amusement, Google asked, “Do you mean vi?”

Screenshot of the results of a Google search for "emacs".  Google asks, "Do you mean vi?"

Emacs and vi both have die-hards among their users, so this could be a somewhat contentious suggestion.

But wait, what if you search for vi? Yep, Google asks, “Do you mean emacs“?

Screenshot of the results of a Google search for "vi".  Google asks, "Do you mean emacs?"

(For completeness, I’ll note that what’s generally distributed as “vi” is actually a lookalike called “vim.”)

Slash and Axl

I’m not really what you would call a huge fan of Guns N’ Roses. Nothing against them, just not my music and I doubt I could name more than one of their songs (even then, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine”).

Pretty much the main thing I know about the group is that two of its members are Slash and Axl.

The other thing I know is this:

If you do a Google search for Slash, you’ll be presented with a large number of pages about the guitarist. (As an aside, his interview on Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me was quite a bit more entertaining than one might expect from the rocker stereotype; a good lesson in not judging a book by its cover band.)

On the other hand, if you do a Google search for Axl, you’ll be presented with a similarly large number of pages for a B-movie about a boy and his robotic dog. (Definitely a “popcorn” movie; I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it in the theater.)

Hunt Valley Inn Flashback

The Hunt Valley Inn (most recently a Delta Hotels by Marriott property) is permanently closing on Monday. Yesterday the Shore Leave and Farpoint conventions held a farewell event to say goodbye to the hotel which had been host to both events for most of the past 40-plus years.

It was a nostalgia-filled day, mostly spent reminiscing about past conventions and memories associated with the hotel. Memories such as the time we all got snowed in during the 2003 Farpoint, the Hunt Valley Stargate, and more. One of my own memories is from 2006 when Shore Leave 28 guest Kent McCord and his wife took me on a tour of the new Hunt Valley Wegmans (it turned out they’d been going there for breakfast all weekend).

One topic that came up several times was the time Marriott imposed their “standard” corporate look on the hotel, without regard for whether it would actually fit in. The Hunt Valley Inn was built in 1969 by the McCormick company and the building’s design reflected the area’s history. But as quickly became apparent, a design that might be OK in a recently designed building with neutral wallpaper and ballroom-sized foyers, might not be well-suited to dark brick and less sprawling areas.

I don’t recall the exact reason for being there (it likely involved the Farpoint committee meeting with the hotel staff), but I happened to visit the hotel in December of 2005, when the renovations were just getting started. I took a few photos.

Keyboard Cat

The Register reports a VA hospital in Kansas had its IT systems knocked offline because a cat jumped on someone’s keyboard. I’ve certainly heard of cats being blamed for typos (and had the parrot do similar), so I’m left wondering whether any of my feline-affiliated friends have experienced this level of cat-astrophe.

A cat typing on a computer keyboard, wearing a hoodie; it's face is partially obscured.
The Register: VA hospital’s IT snafu blamed on cat’s keyboard surfing

(Images generated with AI via

The Superb Owl

One night every year, sometime in mid-February, the Superb Owl flies across North America.

The general populace spends that night huddled around TV screens, waiting for the conclusion of the annual gladiatorial competition to determine the fate of two cities. One will be spared, the other will be tomorrow’s owl pellet.

But those whom the owl has truly blessed are given a calm evening without crowds at the restaurants and supermarkets.

Hoot, I say! Hoot! Hoot!

Sunday’s forecast calls for rain, so when I was about to leave to run errands this afternoon, I decided to take Sweet Potato with me and head up to Black Hills Park in Boyds. That way, even if she can’t run around the yard tomorrow, at least she’ll have been able to spend a few hours outdoors this weekend.

We usually follow the path around the park’s main loop, that’s good for three miles and, depending on how much time she spends sniffing, is generally something we can complete in about an hour.

About a third of the way through the walk, I heard a sort of “whooping” sound, so loud that I thought it might be a human trying to imitate a bird call. About 15 seconds later, I heard a similar call in the distance. The calls repeated periodically and realizing it might just be the first time I’ve ever heard an owl in the wild, I quickly recorded the video below. There’s really not much to see in the video, but you can hear the hooting.

Looking toward the apparent source of the sound, I spotted “something” in a tree. Maybe a bird, maybe a squirrel’s nest. I cranked the phone’s digital zoom to the max (I really need to carry something with better optical zoom on these trips) and took a photo of what I’m told is a barred owl.

Very pixelated owl photo

I made one more attempt at recording audio and if you carefully watch the middle-right section of the video, you can see the owl flying off, presumably to find the other owl.

Smiling Happy Trees

A friend recently shared a meme claiming that someone in Oregon had planted a combination of trees in a pine forest laid out so that every fall some of the trees change colors would create a smiley face.

My friend wondered if this might be real (a fair question in today’s world) and the answer appears to be that yes, it is indeed real. (Yay!)

It seems the David Hampton in question is the owner of Hampton Lumber and this is something he and his timberland manager came up with in 2011. If all goes well, this should be visible every fall for another 30 to 50 years.

So yay for a company showing a sense of humor in their efforts to be sustainable.

Lunar Watermelons

My friend Anna recently asked the somewhat random question:

How many watermelons would it take to equal the volume of the moon?

As a fan of Randal Munroe’s “What If?” articles, I felt compelled to take a shot at answering this question.

According to, there are over 1,200 varieties of watermelon grown in 96 countries. That’s a lot of variation; in order to make this simple, we’re going to use a single variety of watermelon as representative of the entire group. To be more scientifically robust, it would be better to gather information on a larger number of watermelon varieties and calculate an average from there.

I look forward to receiving a grant in order to refine this research accordingly.

According to gardening site Harvest to Table, the “Bush Charleston Gray” watermelon is a popular choice for home gardens, so we’ll use that as our “standard” watermelon if for no other reason than it was first on the page. (See previous comments about needing a wider sample, I look forward to funding.)

Continuing to cite random sources in order to look scholarly, the Everwilde Farms page for Charleston Gray Watermelon seeds says this variety can grow up 24″ long and 10″ wide, or about 60 centimeters by 25 centimeters.

The volume of a cylinder is calculated by the formula

V = π x radius2 x length

That tells us the volume of our “standard watermelon” is approximately 117,750 cubic centimeters, or 0.11775 cubic meters. (A watermelon isn’t a perfect cylinder, but at the scale we’re talking about, this is pretty much a wash.)

According to NASA (because who else are you gonna trust for space stuff?), the volume of Earth’s moon is 10^10 cubic kilometers, or 10^19 cubic meters.

So, one moon at 10^19 cubic meters, divided by one watermelon at .011775 cubic meters is roughly 84,925,690,000,000,000,000 watermelons to equal the volume of of one moon.

I suggest you try not to eat it all at once.

(Watermelon image via flickr user Marco Verch/wuestenigel, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)