Sunday, May 27, 2007

Amusing Vid (Otaku, maybe?)

These bits of frivolity always get me -- link.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

True Fans will Pay Whatever

Boy, I'm behind on posts. Well, here's a great interview with Trent Reznor in which he disucsses the music industry.

That's the most insulting thing I've heard. I've garnered a core audience that you feel it's OK to rip off? F--- you

Link to Interview

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Here's a pretty amusing short.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Interface Gripe #3 - Do what I say!

I'm not a huge fan of Python. I think it's okay, but every time I use it I find something annoying to gripe about. I've pretty much stopped programming in it in favor of Ruby.

However, every once in a while I need to check the version of Python that's installed on my mac. I do the usual version check -- type python -v in an iTerm window. Of course, the proper option for Python is -V, so instead I get a spewage of verbosity in my terminal, followed by the Python interpreter prompt.

The obvious next step for me is to type "exit" or "quit" (or maybe "bye"). What does Python do in response? This:

>>> exit
'Use Ctrl-D (i.e. EOF) to exit.'

Yep, instead of exiting the interpreter, Python feels the need to let me know I didn't issue what it considers to be the proper exit technique. I get Python's pedantic leaning, but do I really need to be trained to exit the interpreter? Just do it, damn it!

I know there could be lots of academic arguments for using an out-of-band signal to terminate the interpreter (namespace pollution, etc.), but I think they're all bunk when you have to put up a page that tells you how to exit. Usability, folks! At least treat the interactive interpreter in a more friendly way. Of course, I can hear the counter-arguments piling up against that (the principle of least surprise). Hey, in the remote cases in which I type "exit" in the interactive interpreter and there happens to be a function named "exit", then just prompt me to find out what I want!

Others have noticed this annoying behavior as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What are We Eating?

I'm all for applying science and technology to as many areas of life as we can, but I think we can go too far when we don't really study or consider the possible ramifications of our actions. Combine that with a generally uneducated or lethargic public, and scary things can happen.

Specifically, I think we're going too far when we put butane in our chicken nuggets, as McDonald's is doing. Do we really feel confident that McDonald's has a good grasp of what the chemicals they use can do to us? Or, do they care very much compared to how much they care about food preservation? Oh, and their nuggets are 56% corn.

Watching the food preservation experiements that Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me did was eye-opening. Here's a link to a similar experiment.

I've read Fast Food Nation. Now it may be time to read The Omnivore's Dilemma.

A Good Use for Game Consoles

If you're not too worried about your PS3 overheating, you can consider donating your spare cycles to humanity by running Folding@home. Since the PS3 client has been released, it has topped the list of contributors by TeraFlops, according to this article.

Folding@home is a project that allows researchers to run simulations involving protein folding. The goal is to better understand diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer. By allowing researchers to run specially written code components on their computers via the Folding@home clients, a large number of people can each give a fairly small amount of CPU time to the project to create a large pool of CPU resources in aggregate. Think: distributed supercomputer.

By the way, there are clients for a variety of platforms, including versions that run as your screensaver. [Download Link]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pecha Kucha

I had to post at least once while sitting in a SXSW talk, so here it is...

Can Pecha Kucha be a valuable format for condensed information transfer? I'm slowly processing Edward Tufte's work, and I buy the idea that we do harm by excessive filtering of information to make it palatable to our audience. But for certain topics, environments, and audiences, it makes a lot of sense to condense material.

Pecha Kucha is a style of presentation in which you present 20 slides for 20 seconds each. Transitions are timed, which forces the presenter to make quick and steady progress. The total presentation time comes out at 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Thinking about it reminds me of Dick Hardt's legendary Identity 2.0 presentation.

The Wikipedia article mentions the value for business applications, an area that hits close to home:
This is primarily a device to help ... force presenters to be more focused in their message, allow them to flow uninterrupted, and ultimately to avoid the "death by powerpoint" syndrome, of sitting through long and often tedious powerpoint presentations.

It could be a digestible format for some of the BarCamp presentations.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Interface Gripe #3 - PHP Error Messages

I'm learning PHP right now for work, and it's not the most fun thing in the world after using Ruby On Rails. C'est la vie.

However, error messages like this don't help much:

Parse error: syntax error, unexpected T_SL in /usr/local/apache2/htdocs/proj/include/file.php on line 703

That's supposed to tell me that there's probably an extra space after my declaration of a tag for a heredoc:

$foo = <<<END_FOO[ space ]

The T_SL stands for the Token Shift-Left operator. At least it's not too hard to search for these messages.

I know that it's possible that this error could arise due to a condition unrelated to heredocs. However, I'm a big advocate of providing extra support for the common case. If you want to take this to an extreme, you can do a study on the various causes of an error that might produce a given message. Then you provide extra context or help text for the most common case(s). I know there's a (DWIM, QWAN, TMTOWTDI, DRY)-style acronym out there somewhere for this principle, but it escapes me at the moment.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Amen Break

Here's a short discussion of the history of the Amen Break -- the 6 second drum break that, via sampling, contributed to much of the hip hop and electronic music that we have today. Snippets of songs by NWA, Mantronix, Squarepusher, and Perry Farrell are heard, among others. Remixes of this break's pattern show up in music by one of my favorites, Aphex Twin. Copyright issues are discussed in the video as well.

The video seems pretty useless - why do I care to watch a record play for most of 18 minutes, even if they custom pressed it? I know, I need to slow down and get in touch with my inner tortoise.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The New Generation of Graffiti

This is awesome. The Graffiti Research Lab built a system that uses a laser pointer to control a video projection that they can shine on buildings.

There's a howto here: GRL Laster Tag Howto

And source code for the software is here: Laser Tag Source

Man, Project Mayhem should've had this gear.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Slife - The Awareness Browser

Slife is an application that keeps track of the time you spend doing various activities on your computer. I have a strong desire to prioritize my activities to increase my productivity, and Slife could be a valuable tool for that. I've just started playing with it, so time will tell.

You can group your activities under your own project names with hotkeys to let you keep track of your work across applications. Maybe you want to label certain activities based on whether you're doing work or play, or label work you do for various clients to aid in developing project management metrics or for billing. There's also a tagging interface available (including hotkeys), so you can tag your work with whatever categories you wish.

There's also a community site, Slifeshare, that lets you automatically upload your activity to share with others. There are widgets for your home page or blog to show your activity as well. Since I'm struggling with the tension between privacy and exposure and community, this idea both excites and frightens me.

It's still early for this project, so I can't be too hard on them, but Slife didn't pick up the couple of chess games I played this morning. There's an extras section on the site that has plugins for other applications, but there's no support for Chess (included with OS X) or OmniGraffle today.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Audrey Kawasaki Interview

Audrey Kawasaki is an artist I admire. In a recent interview which she refused to do in person, she talks about her introverted qualities, complete with lowercase i's:

i’m not a good talker in person. i feel much more comfortable typing this down at my own pace. My brain doesn’t function as quickly as most people, maybe – too aloof perhaps – plus i can never find the right words to match what’s going on inside.
i grew up pretty sheltered. Too shy. Too reserved. i was never a good talker. Was and still am a horrible story teller. But on paper, or on canvas or wood, with a pencil and brush in hand, i can be as loud as i want! i am clear and explicit as ever. There is no fear, no shame, nothing to worry about. i am honest and blunt and direct, and loving it!
I gravitated towards visual art at around five years old. After abandoning it for about 10 years, I've been trying lately to reclaim my skills. Audrey describes pretty well the way my brain works. Some of my earliest memories of drawing are of creating new worlds that my imaginary characters could inhabit and explore. I would sit up in my room drawing and reading. It's interesting to read about others with similar experiences.

Testing your Tests

Jester (for Java) and Heckle (for Ruby) are tools that take an interesting approach. They attempt to discover coverage deficiencies in unit tests. They do this by mutating your code in various ways, and then running your unit tests to see if they fail. The argument goes: if the code under test changes, then a unit test for it should fail.

I would expect there to be problems with false positives, as this article confirms. However, it does mention that FPs are easy to filter out.

Here's another article on Heckle.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dynamite Surfing?

This is so hard to believe.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Have you ever cooked with Spam?

I may be late to the party, but I just noticed Gmail's spam screen contains ads for spam recipes. It's kind of a nice break from scanning my loan approvals (I've got a great credit rating!), and things Darius said are incredible, and mis-addressed mail ("Frederick, I guess I'll give one to Sandro") looking for legitimate messages.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Elusive Introversion

This article at the Atlantic on introverts is thought provoking, though I don't think it really deserves its title. There's not much about "caring" in it.

There are a few quotes I can identify with:

Many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors...

I know I've often felt like I'm faking something when I make small talk. I really don't think I know how to do it. I tend to want to either dive off the deep end into meaningful conversations that will leave participants changed in some way, or else keep my mouth shut.

... after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge.

This one is easy to feel guilty over. I used to find myself not wanting to go to some social event and I would feel like I was being rude. Then I learned, mostly through trial and error, that I need time to rest and re-center myself between social exertions.

At other times, Rauch goes too far:

Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

I think this is stated too strongly. Author and psychotherapist Marti Laney makes the point in her book, The Introvert Advantage, that introverts can be energized by deep conversations in small groups. Is it a big surprise that I hate over-generalizations (except this one)?

Rauch also paints quite a caricature of extroversion, which I sense is a strong reaction to frustrations he's experienced (please, that's not intended as an ad hominem!):

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts.

I certainly share his frustrations, but I wouldn't go so far as to rank introverts as more intelligent than extroverts. Uni-dimensional intelligence measurements disgust me. Also, treating the introvert/extrovert classification as binary is a mistake in my opinion. Marti Laney spends a bit of time discussing variations. I believe there is a continuum of sorts.

Overall, the article's worth a read if you think some of your coworkers are "scary loners". I think we're still just beginning to understand this area of personality though.


Our Superbowl Halftime

Well, I went to a friend's Superbowl party last week. Full disclosure: I enjoy playing tennis, basketball, and a few other sports, but I have little desire to watch team sports. The only time football has ever decorated the pixels of my television screen at home was when my family visited.

That said, it's hard to miss out on this particular serving of halftime entertainment - a dwarf who impersonates Britney Spears. It was a nice addition to the moonwalk castle in Rick's backyard.

The No-Click Interface

I like to see people trying to push boundaries, especially if they're not entirely sure what the outcome will be. DONTCLICK.IT is an interesting pursuit in the field of interaction design, thrown my way by my friend Oliver.

The interface is designed to obviate the need for mouse clicks. I do feel a slight urge to click, but it's not that strong. I haven't done it accidentally yet. I did click once on purpose to see the result. It's gratifying. Maybe I should look for a job in QA. :)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Constraints on Production: Tools or Essentials?

A creative and charismatic friend of mine is fond of saying, "Poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis with the net down." (which was probably lifted from Robert Frost). That's another way of saying that art without constraints is not art. As Google VP Marissa Mayer put it in a podcast (iTunes link), "Creativity loves constraint."

I tend to rebel against my friend's formulation of this philosophy. I'm not absolutely sure why, but I know there's something about putting a constraint on the definition of art or creativity or innovation that pains me. With art, I'm inclined to agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe there is some objective definition of art that I can get behind, but I haven't yet encountered it. I think of constraints more as tools to be used or discarded as necessary, more than as defining characteristics of the pursuit. I think Marissa is on the right track here.

Do you require or benefit from rhyme, or a rectangular frame, or 72 dpi web safe colors, or an 8MB memory footprint limit, or a 2 week deadline? Then use it. If not, toss it out.

Improvisational comedy is an arena in which constraints (often in the form of offers or audience input) can provide a catalyst for great results. Imagine the difference between being commanded, "Improvise!" and being asked, over imaginary beers, in a sly manner, "Dude, is she looking at me?".

f(“onomatopoeia”, “vestibule”, “succotash”) = ...

With that boring introduction, I now offer this short interview, thanks to constraints provided by Cute Kate:

"Keblang! Kerpow! It's amazing how long it takes to ink an onomatopoeia that lasts a single panel. So slow to create, yet it goes by so fast." Clive Jenkins is a comic genius, and yet we know so little about him. Jenkins got his start tagging old rail cars at the train depot during a stint as a hobo, but he got tired of all the convoluted arrows and fonts that noone could read. Well, that and seeing his masterpieces rolled over in flat gray once a month by some transit authority wash-out.

As we walk through the comic-adorned vestibule of his studio-cum-tudor flat, I can't help feeling a little giddy, what with being the first journalist allowed an interview in over 10 years (and no, I won't share my secret bribes!). After all, finding out how Jenkins crafts such gemological characters as 'Mr Snoffles' is one of the great unanswered questions in the field. Today I aim to find out.

"Inking is actually my favorite part," Clive says with a tug of his pipe. "I've got the sketch lines already there, and I have to commit to the work; it's crossing a threshold, if you will. You're reaching for that golden ring, and there's no return." With his left hand in the air holding an imaginary stylus, he motions through sketching, then inking, a magnified panel of 'Cleevus the Agonifier' slamming hoof-first into a protruding roofing nail as he talks.

Eager to get to the goods but hoping to time my question perfectly, I wait until I've suffered through two bowls of his succotash, a horrid dish he became fond of during his train-hopping days.

"So, from whence comes inspiration?", I ask, just as he lights up his after-dinner tobacco.

"Oh, mostly from dreams," he responds not a second later. Something's fishy. I push. "Dreams, eh?"

"Yeah, you know that Van Halen song?" Egad! Deflected! Well, maybe the world will never know his secret.

Self Reference for Safety

Ever since reading Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas, I've been fascinated with the theme of self reference. Gödel, Escher, Magritte, Lisp, self-stultification, the Epimenides Paradox (with implications on trust), Buddhism -- it comes up in many forms.

This sign displays it in a humorous way.

Other humorous examples of self reference can be found in Hofstadter's books. I've spent late nights cracking up with friends reading parts of Metamagical Themas aloud. Okay, maybe I'm easily amused by internal dialogue. Here are some other examples (from this site):

Break every rule.

All generalizations are misleading.

If somebody loves you, love them back unconditionally.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

ikea hacker - A Great Idea

Here's an example of remix culture at work -- ikea hacker. This blog (microsite?) encourages people to share their customizations of IKEA's products.

People hunting for ideas get their fix. IKEA gets free product research. The verdict: everyone wins.

Hey Corporations -- please don't be afraid of this.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Improv class #2

Well, last week I attended the second night of our improvisational comedy classes. Last week's post is here. This week saw new games and more fun.

A major theme for this night's class was learning about extending and accepting offers. Part of this was learning about blocking and how to avoid it.

Highlights from the games included: improv interpretive dance and improv paired drawing, in which partners take turns drawing features of a face, and then title it by taking turns with the letters. No speaking between partners is allowed. The masterpiece you see in this post is the handiwork of Jovial Jeff and yours truly.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Folding Chair

Cool concept for a chair!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Mechanical Turk: The Search for Jim Gray

Computer Scientist Jim Gray has been missing at sea since January 28 after he didn't return from a trip to the Farallon Islands in his yacht.

After the Coast Guard failed to find him, a satellite scan was performed and the images were posted to Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

The fact that you can join the search for Jim Gray is, I think, a wonderful sign of the power of technology to both equip people and to help them organize around common goals.

Being the weirdo that I am, my next thought was, "How can you get more people to join in?", and I immediately thought of a technique for circumventing CAPTCHAs using porn surfers that my friends and I discussed. This porn CAPTCHA idea has surfaced independently on a post by another blogger, titled The Power of Porn.

Imagine it: "Yes, yes, we'll get right to the T-n-A, but first, please check this satellite image for indications of foreign objects..."

Of course, one of the problems with this approach lies in a critical difference between this and CAPTCHA problems. CAPTCHA solving problems are effectively supervised learning problems -- the answer can be checked immediately, and if the spammer gets an error message instead of the free email account (or whatever), then they can try again. The case of examining satellite imagery for foreign objects is unsupervised, in that, if a participant happens to miss the little speck of sail boat in the picture, or just blindly clicks an answer to get to the porn, then there's no easy way to check it.

One solution to this problem is a critical part of Mechanical Turk -- test problems. For the satellite imagery problem, you first inject one or more test pictures, which you have specially created and know whether there is a foreign object present. Then you can test participants and grade them before you send them the real thing.

I'm telling you, there's power in harnessing the collective intelligence.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Wireless Range Hack

Here's an interesting way to increase your wireless range. I wonder if it works on a Mac.

Interface Gripe #2 - Alt+Tab

This gripe is definitely minor, but minor annoyances can add up. Does anyone use alt+tab to cycle among open applications? I do, in my quest to avoid using my mouse for window navigation.

Let me throw out one thing first: alt+tab is a mode, similar to insert or ex mode in vim, or even the foreground application mode of a window manager. Once I hold down alt and hit tab, I've entered a new mode in my window manager -- certain keystrokes that were associated with some action a second ago are no longer associated with those actions. This provides an opportunity for accepting new actions for those keystrokes.

Which brings me to Mac OS X's support for alt+tab application switching. In short: I like it. That's primarily because of two things:
  1. the icons are nice and large; and
  2. the arrow keys work!
Here's a shot:

See, Apple appears to understand the modal nature of alt+tab switching. So for people like me who don't like to contort their fingers -- and minds -- to cycle back and forth among applications with alt+tab and alt+shift+tab, there is an alternative. I simply hold down alt with my left thumb (I'm on a laptop, by the way), tap my tab key, release it, and then use my left and right arrow keys to cycle among the application icons. This gets important when you have a lot of applications open.

This brings me to my gripe. And, like I said, it's a small one. I'm cycling among my ten or twenty applications with either the tab key or the arrows, and when I get to the end of the list, it cycles around to the beginning of the list. Why? I think the proper behavior should be one of two things:
  1. stop the cycling and wait on the last icon until I release the key and (with tab still held down) re-press it; or
  2. insert a short delay, similar to a détente in the potentiometer controls found on electronic equipment.
Either option would allow me the same functionality as before, but I would also have an anchor to use as a navigation aid. Look, I told you it was minor!

I can hear one response already: Why aren't you using Apple's Exposé? Well, here's my reasons on that one:
  1. I don't really care for all that animation for something I do quite a lot -- I want speed.
  2. I'm pretty good at recognizing my applications by icon, but I'm not as good at recognizing them by window.
  3. The keyboard! Using the keyboard for Exposé is not that great -- the windows are arranged according to size, and there's no cycling order for them. You have to use the directional arrows to navigate the arbitrary ordering, so it feels like playing some kind of maze game. So you're left with the mouse.

Well, what about the Windows version of alt+tab? It's pretty terrible. No arrow key support. It works on the window level, not the application level like Apple's version. Have you ever tried to use it with, say, 20 windows open? I can't speak for Windows Vista, thankfully.

A final thought: I would appreciate having control over the application-vs-window cycling choice. How about allowing me to pick keys for either behavior? Alt+tab (with arrows) would cycle among applications, while Ctrl+tab (with arrows) would cycle among the open windows within a single application. How about that?

I'll wait for another day to expound my theories on keystroke economy (here comes jkl;!).

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Google Mapit bookmarklet

Here's a simple bookmarklet that I cobbled together because I got tired of copying and pasting addresses from the browser into Google maps, and then having to do it twice because the multi-line copy/paste didn't work. You should be able to drag this right onto your toolbar:


Then you just highlight an address and click it, or setup a hotkey for it. I haven't tested it across all browsers yet, but it's working fine in Camino, Firefox, and Safari on my mac.

Here's a prettier version so you can see what it does:

javascript:var url = '';
if (window.getSelection) {
var sel = window.getSelection() + '';
url += sel.replace(/\n/g,%22, %22);
} else if(document.getSelection) {
url += document.getSelection();
} else if (document.selection) {
url += document.selection.createRange().text;

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Humvee Driving in Iraq

I had a friend who once drove trucks for a US base in Poland, and he mentioned that when he was driving in town, he was instructed not to stop for anything. Once, when some protesters congregated in front of his truck, a group of Polish police zoomed in on motorcycles and started beating the protesters. Anyway, enjoy this clip of soldiers driving a humvee in Iraq.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Zoinch! Zoinch? And The Art of the Circus Bow!

The games. Boy, the games. They were hilarious.

Tuesday evening was a first for me. Improvisation 101, my first class. Going in, I was both excited and nervous. I love to laugh and I love to make people laugh. I knew this was going to be fun. But I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pick it up -- that I wouldn't be able to think quickly enough.

Why take improv? Well, besides loving comedy, an article I read over Christmas break about improving communication for technologists suggested taking improv classes (I wish I could find the link). A week or so after that, I was talking to my friend Tim, and he mentioned that he was taking a highly recommended improv class in Austin. That was it -- I was in.

The classes are at the State Theatre School of Acting. Our teacher, Shana Merlin, or "Shapely Shana", as she came to be called in our alliterative adjective name game, led the class in a series of games designed to challenge common tendencies that are barriers to developing improv skills.

A big one is the fear of failure. Early on, Shana gave us a technique to deal with this, called the circus bow. You raise your arms, exclaim, "I have failed!", and take an extravagant bow. It's great for turning failures into celebrations, and the class would burst into laughter and applause every time. And there were many times, though I never obliged, partly because I kept forgetting.

One of the early games was the invisible ball. Everyone is in a circle tossing around a make-believe ball that makes a sound when you throw it. The thrower makes up a sound and throws it, and the catcher has to repeat the thrower's sound upon catching it. Then the catcher becomes the thrower, and must voice the ball's sound as it is thrown. It may sound simple, but it's surprising how easy it is to mess this up. Bows abound. There's also that desire to plan out your sounds, instead of reacting in the moment. That must be tempered in order to develop spontaneity.

Slow-motion samurai got us moving around. Each person's first two fingers are samurai swords, and their outer forearms are shields. A sword to any other part of the body means instant death. Oh, and everyone moves really slow. Lesson learned: It's hard to fight the temptation to speed up to dodge or block an incoming blow. This was about learning generosity: by dying, you're playing a part in the scene. Instead of making it about competition, it becomes about contributing to the scene -- dying becomes a great chance to express yourself and make people laugh!

And how can you not crack up when someone says, "Slow motion -- it's a bitch!", or someone else lets fly the first "fucktard"? There were quite a few games, and it was interesting to see the class grow more comfortable with failure and commitment with each one. I found myself thinking, 'If all we do is play these games, then this is a great time.' But Amateur Andy's developing mad new skillz at the same time!

Shana's Rule #1: Have fun. No problem!

Color-based search

I love this product search by colors. I haven't figured out the wider uses for it, but for coordinating clothes or housewares, it seems pretty cool.

A step up would be to match photos uploaded with products whose colors match the photo content. Variable lighting conditions for user-submitted photos could be a problem, but I think you could achieve some decent results.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Peaches @ funfunfun fest

Testing the Moblog

This is the new sign in our front office.

The Quest for the Rest

Seen on digg: This simple game has pleasant artwork and an interesting design. You have to figure out how the parts of the environment interact to move your party along.

Annoying: After I passed the octopus-submarine level, it crashed Camino. Luckily I've got CaminoSession.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Interface Gripe #1

I'm fond of complaining about user interfaces. Isn't it everyone's right to be an armchair interface designer? Here's an example that's temporally relevant (to me) if not very significant in its severity.

A casual look at the graph above leaves me thinking that the x axis for the main graph is the one with the years marked out on it. I think this happens for several reasons:
  • The actual x axis doesn't pop out at me (it has more marks and less contrast)
  • There's not enough vertical separation between the two graphs - I think even having a thin line of separation would help.
  • The year-scale graph at the bottom is so faint it's hard for me to see that it's there.
  • The year labels on the x axis for the year-scale graph are above the graph, instead of below it.
I appreciate what they're doing with the moving zoom window. Maybe they could separate the two graphs just a bit more, and maybe show a zoom-like indicator, such as this (forgive the aliasing and general poor mod job):

This is a beta (but hasn't that term suffered a meaning decay?), so they're actively making changes. They've done some interesting things to it recently in which they annotate the graph with news stories that were released at the associated point in time. They've also got a handy management view where you can quickly find out about the recent stock activity of the executives.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

OpenID Mashpit in Austin

We're here at the Austin OpenID Mashpit at Cafe Caffeine. The connection is lousy right now, but I'm trying to post pics up on Flickr here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Captivating Sun

I caught a clip of this installation at the Tate Modern in London on tv. It's called the Weather Project, it's by Ólafur Elíasson and it looks awesome. I wish I could have experienced it firsthand. I was there a little too late, in October of 2005.

There are some videos up on YouTube:


The HeadOn Imperative

Commercials really annoy me. I don't know if I have some aural equivalent of an eidetic memory or what, but when I get some jingle in my head, it's hard to get it out, and it occupies much of my passive cycles.

I have no eyelids on my ears, so I can't keep jingles out. When I'm bombarded with something on TV or the radio, I feel like I'm being disrespected. Instead of appealing to my conscious mind with reasoning, the perpetrators are attempting to embed associations into my long-term memory. I've noticed a few tactics recently that particularly bother me:
  • Terrible music - why would I ever want to hear a song some hourly studio musician wrote extolling the virtues of some laundry detergent? Some songs should not be written.
  • Commandeering classic music - I can't listen to Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" anymore without picturing a Cadillac motoring down a dusty road.
  • Repetitive commands - Anyone seen the HeadOn commercials? They're shameless. Why don't you just point a gun to my head and get me to memorize your stupid application instructions? That's what it feels like. I won't buy that stuff specifically because of those commercials. And of course, they have to fold in on themselves by releasing a new commercial that has an actor state, "I can't stand your commercial, but your product is amazing!"
  • Rapid-talk legalese - This is an old one that's used on radio a lot. If you have to double the duration of your spot by adding in disclaimers read by John Moschitta, you should rethink your approach.

A simple request: Please, just respect my intelligence and tell me what your product does and what its strong points are. I know, I know, I'm asking way too much. As on Slate:
Maybe a small percentage of us will snootily refrain from buying HeadOn—as an act of protest against an ad we find irritating—but this is a small price to pay when millions of other folks are now familiar with HeadOn, curious about it, and unlikely ever to forget its name.

It's the same reason spam works -- some small clueless percentage of us think it's a good idea to buy some "v1agara" or "Codeinee no dr lvisit".

Monday, January 15, 2007

Crass Chic

I find these vulgar cards humorous. I've been drawn to the whole crass chic thing recently.

For Christmas, I got my family some of those funky notepads at Urban Outfitters with salutations like, "This is fucking urgent ...", and "Hey Shithead ...". Cheap, I know.

I also can't get over this shirt:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A 3D Diversion

Here's a rendering of a wireframe design I did in Blender -

I built it up by repeatedly extruding and then deforming some simple geometric shapes.

RARFF - A simple ARFF library in Ruby

RARFF is a very simple ARFF handling library for Ruby that I wrote for kicks. ARFF is a file format popularized by Weka, the machine learning toolkit.

I've had a couple of cases where I collected some data using Ruby and I wanted to analyze it with Weka. This makes it a bit easier.


It's so easy to become desensitized to death when you read about it or see it on TV all the time. When I hear about strange circumstances like death by water intoxication while trying to win a Nintendo Wii, I try to go through a little exercise where I humanize the situation. I may not develop a historically accurate picture of the actual events, but I think it's a valuable diversion anyway.

"She was telling me about her family and her three kids and how she was doing it for her kids," said one of the contestants.

Before I begin an activity or competition like this, I usually have to make the case to myself that I can succeed. I have to mentally prepare myself with reasons why I can accomplish my goal, in order to summon the motivation I need. The type of preparation required differs based on the nature of the feat. Imagine the mental preparations that go into a lengthy task like climbing Mount Everest or running a marathon (I did a slow 5:16:31 in the 2004 Motorola Marathon). Now contrast that with the type of mental preparation that people like the cast of Jackass undergo when performing most of their stunts. I think the latter is usually both much quicker and more . It involves more phrases like, 'If I can just sit still, it will be over.' Witness the riot control test stunt from Jackass Number Two, in which the guys are hit with a blast of small rubber balls going 500 feet per second. Johnny Knoxville says something to the others like, "It's gonna hurt like hell, but you just have to stand there ..."

This woman had to have been thinking, 'I just have to drink a lot of water, and I win this toy for my kids -- I can do that.' She couldn't have imagined that death was even a possibility when she took this on (maybe in contrast to the Jackass cast). I try to imagine the moment when she realizes that she is in trouble. Does she have time to think of her kids? Does she think about the fact that she might have just given her life to win a toy?

Saturday, January 13, 2007


A stroller plus a wireless laptop equals this. TUAW called it "wartoddling", but the voice synth should be pitched up a few octaves.

Transactive Memory Systems

Daniel Wegner talks about the concept of transactive memory, a memory system that spans individuals. I first encountered this concept while reading The Tipping Point, and I couldn't help thinking about how my laptop forms part of my transactive memory system. Why should I remember appointments, account information, emails, phone numbers, addresses, or anything else that a machine is better at? Of course, I have no end of gripes about the current capabilities of machines in this area. I wonder if the iPhone will help ...


I think we'll just have to see how this turns out.