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;!).