Sunday, August 31, 2003

Barcode plan uniquely identifies individual item

"A group of academics and business executives is planning to introduce next month a next-generation bar code system..." (C|Net)

[Cans] of Diet Coke have the same bar code more or less. Under EPC, every can of Coke would have a one-of-a-kind identifier.

Obviously, such technology could have a major repercussions (both good and bad)...

Time utilisation and task awareness

Time utilisation is something most of us probably wish we were better at. I've been trying a lot lately to improve my skills in this area, which have been, in a lot of ways, pretty poor, and it occurred to me the other day one area that I've got a definite lack in.

Keeping an awareness of the current task(s) you're undertaking sounds so obvious, so basic, that it's hard to think that anyone could not do it. But it's something I have trouble doing, and I suspect that a lot of others do as well.

I'm not talking about eating lunch and having no awareness that's what you're doing; I'm talking about eating lunch, wiping the last crumb off your mouth and then jumping into the next thing that grabs your attention, without having concious awareness that you were doing so, and without thinking, have I really finished this task?

Shouldn't I also clean up and clear everything away? But more often that not I don't think that, and sometimes I feel I'm floating around on a breeze of what grabs my attention and what I feel like doing. If you haven't got a decent awareness of what you're currently trying to do, then it's easy to get sidetracked and/or leave tasks only partially completed.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Phantoms in the House

A bit after lunchtime today I came out from my bathroom to hear Chicago by Groove Amarda on the radio. Cool, I thought, I like that song, and especially cool because it's one you wouldn't expect to be played on the radio much (I don't think it was a single).

Then a spooky realisation hit me - it was playing on the lounge-room stereo rather than my portable stereo. I keep my portable stereo on the dining room table (the dining room is combined with the living room) and I knew that it'd been playing before I went into the bathroom, and I knew that the stereo had been off - I always use my portable because it's more accessible and its controls are quicker and easier to use.

What the hell was going on? Had like someone broken into the flat and was trying to play with me?? Then I figured it out: the power must have briefly cut off - switching my portable stereo off, and when it came back on the stereo must have switched itself on and, as it always does, started playing the CD in its tray - my copy of the Groove Amarda CD, the first track of which is Chicago. A quick look at the microwave and its reset clock confirmed this hypothesis.

Today's Selection of Comics

Dilbert - Magical Management Necklace, funny.
Speedbump - The end is near, not bad.
Monty - Alarm-clock parrot, not bad.
Pearls before Swine - Survivior, not bad.
(Others: Strangebrew, Herman, Get Fuzzy)

Friday, August 29, 2003

"Unsubstantiated reasoning"

So often people don't justify things they say. I had aways explained this situation in those terms: that the person isn't providing any justification, that they're essentially just asserting that their belief is true. And while I still think that's a technically correct description, it's always been problematic in getting the point across.

Problematic because the person might have given some justification for some of their points, even if those justifications are simply a way of deferring their assertion - i.e. they are something that equally requires justification. I've been aware of this problem, but not known how do better.

It occurred to me that a useful term might be "unsubstantiated reasoning". Someone may present their reasoning, but they haven't substantiated it - there's no reason to belive why the premises hold, or that the reasoning holds, or is relevant, in this situation.

[A search on Google tells me that there are 29 pages (or 29 relevant pages - 73 if you count lots of similar pages) that use this phrase]

Phrasing and significance

Consider this: "Persistance is the triumph over skepticism"

It's one of those 'pearls of wisdom' - from some day-by-day calendar or diary (I'm not exactly sure - it was supplied to me by my dad, who shares a similar view on it as I do).

Then answer this question: what does it mean?

It seems a bit iffy to me. You can see what they're trying to get at: persitance will eventually overcome skepticism to whatever it is. I guess "Persistance will triumph over skepticism" sounds a bit too plain, so they've tried to make it sound more impressive, more significant.

Phrasing things to create a sense of signifance is fine, as long as there's substance to it - as long as the idea has some substance and the sense of significance doesn't come solely from the phrasing. I think this example is a case, though, of something that's not much more than an attempt at "significant" phrasing.

One way to create the effect of "significance" is to say something is something else, where that something else is of a very different nature. For example, "Channel X is sport" (which might be a sports tv channel's slogan), or "communication is the quality of brightness", or "resentment is the escalator of authority". It's the same kind of thing when they say "Persistance is the triumph over skepticism". More often than not, this kind of thing is simply a hollow rhetorical trick.

Another thing about that line -- it seems to give the impression that skepticism is somehow bad (it's certainly inviting people to see skepticism in a negative light, at least). I shouldn't need to say it, but skepticism is good -- it means only taking things on board if you're sure they're right. If you're not skeptical about things, then you are, by definition, simply accepting things because people say they are true or simply because your emotions tell you it's true, both of which are recipes for bad things to happen.

Got to go now -- I feel inspired to go out and wreak some persistance over those evil skepticism doers!

Weird instruction manual pictures

C/o Darren Barefoot's web-page.

Which of course means: "Do not pull fridge over speed bumps, particularly when wearing an ill-fitting belt"

Label it terrorism, do what you like

War on Terror franchises opening around the world (CommonDreams). In Indonesia, Israel, Spain, Colombia, the Philippines and China, governments have latched onto to Mr. Bush's deadly WoTtm and are using it to erase their opponents and tighten their grip on power

This is a good example of the power of rhetoric, or, in other words, the powerful effect that langugae can have on people and societies. Label somebody as 'Terrorist' you've defined them as being evil. In many readers you'll stir up an intense hatred, precluding any rational consideration by them. And the great thing is, rarely will you have to justify your labelling. Not that that would matter that much anyway, as 'terrorist' is loose enough to encompass lots of things that are opposed to existing power structures.

'Terrorist' is a label that encapsulates strong connotations. Such labels are pretty common: call someone 'Pigheaded' if they won't agree with your aguments, but say that they have 'Integrity' if they they share the same view as you and won't be persuaded by someone else. In my view it's almost always bad to use these labels, especially if you're not going to justify them.

(I know of at least one book that talks a little about these types of labels: Straight and Crooked Thinking).

Today's Selection of Comics

Get Fuzzy - chicken vs cat.
Monty - Mr Pi's comic, not bad
(Others: speedbump, strangebrew, Herman, Pearls Before Swine)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Today's Selection of Comics

Get Fuzzy - they don't in sandwich form.
Monty - Mr Pi's comic, not bad
Pearls Before Swine - office with a door, not bad
(Others: dilbert, speedbump, strangebrew)

Anamatronic dinosaur walks amongst crowds at Disneyland

Sounds like it'd be pretty cool to see - check out the story at
PHOTO: Chandler leads the way to Dinosaurin' Over California.
"What is most impressive about Lucky [the dinosaur] is the degree of articulation in the head and neck, and the wide range of facial features. It's easy to believe that he is real as he “talks” with Chandler, or whimpers when his balloon floats away, or smiles and winks at a shy child. Lucky's motions are incredibly smooth—he doesn't appear robotic in his steps, or the way his head moves around to take in the scenery.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Real-time Pitch-perfect Singing with Autotuners

Autotuners are a piece of hardware that can correct and improve vocal pitch in real-time which are being used in the recording process and at concerts (GlobeTechnology). Unsurprisingly, people find this concept controversial, and this is clearly seen in the Slashdot article on the subject.

I'd say 90% of the Slashdot views are basically saying:

  • It's cheating and thus removes the emphasis on talent, which means that people with real talent get even less than they deserve.
  • It's against the spirit of what live music should be about. Imperfection is part of the live music deal, part of what makes it interesting. Interaction with the crowd and showmanship are what live music is about. People don't want the live performance to sound just like the CD.
    (There's a whole lot of stuff there which I think is pretty irrelevant, such as saying that that live music should be about improvisation and evolution of the music, which is irrelevant because using or not using an autotuner does not, in itself, have any bearing on this issue. There's also a number of autotuner/kareoke jokes :-))

    I can appreaciate their concerns. I prefer music that's genuine, too. However, Autotuners are a simply a tool, and like any other tool can be used for "good" and "bad" (as an example of the "good", if a singer in can't quite hit a note right in the studio on a particular day an autotuner can save a lot of time and money, which is certainly good for the little guy). The real issue is why commercialism has such a hold and whether anything can be done about it.

    But surely, you might say, there's nothing wrong with pointing out that something's wrong? The problem is with treating a symptom as if it were a cause, because it's unproductive and hides the real issue.

  • Of course, things aren't peachy now the war's over

    Report of poor commitment (or something worse?) of Americans supposedly helping to rebuild an Iraqi community (CommonDreams)

    Diamonds made cheap as chips

    New manufactoring techniques allow the cheap mass-production of high-quality diamonds (Wired).

    Naturally, De Beers aren't too happy, but from what I've heard they're a bit of a nasty monopoly who've artificially created the high-prices for diamonds. And not only should this help bring down unrealistic prices, but these manufacturing techniques should lead to some interesting applications for this unique substance, such as creating faster computer chips.

    Today's Comics

    Minor chuckles: dilbert, speedbump, strangebrew, get fuzzy, monty, pearls before swine.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2003

    Tobin Picture

    There you go. Amon Tobin is probably my favourite musican, and I'd seen plenty of sites with info on his music but never a picture of him, till just then.

    Todays Comics

    Nothing that great today.
    (Dilbert, Speedbump, Strangebrew, Herman, Get Fuzzy, Monty, Pearls Before Swine)

    Monday, August 25, 2003

    Internet access to full BBC library

    The BBC plans to give the public full free access to its programme archives via the Internet (BBC News).

    The article doesn't go into a lot of detail, but if this pans out and is implemented right, it'd be a fantastic resource. Just imagine recalling a favourite moment in an old tv episode and being able to immediately access it and share it with friends.

    CoherenceEngine blog

    More of a note to myself than anything else, I'm mentioning this because I stumbled across it today and it's topic areas seemed like thye might be of interest to me: Will have to check it out sometime...

    Sunday, August 24, 2003


    Don't be afraid to be a bright! A bright views the world in a naturalistic light, free of the supernatural. Let Daniel C Dennett explain.

    As Dennet says "[what] we want most of all: to be treated with the same respect accorded to Baptists and Hindus and Catholics, no more and no less".

    There's a slight negative slant to the definition of 'Athiest' : someone who doesn't believe in religion. Right off the bat you're positioned as something lesser. Bright, on the other hand, is positive. You can feel like you want to be a bright.

    There's not much identity associated with 'Athiest' - it's just the collection of people who don't happen to believe in religion. Bright, on the other hand, gives the same level of identity as 'Baptist', 'Hindu' or 'Catholic', and that's a good thing.

    Selection of today's comics

    Herman - "Anything to declare?", not bad.
    (Others: Strangebrew, Speedbump, Get Fuzzy, Monty, Pearls Before Swine, Dilbert)

    Distortion in news reporting

    An example of how langauge use can distort the details, with respect to recent middle-east reporting (FAIR - Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting).

    Saturday, August 23, 2003

    Nice Line

    "Just cos you feel it doesn't mean it's there" - I like that line! It's from the Radiohead song "There There".

    Haven't actually heard the song, yet. I know about the line because the radio announcer mentioned it when she was backannouncing that song and a bunch of others I'd missed. I like all their other stuff, so I'm keen to hear it.

    Selection of today's comics

    Strangebrew - "You have a problem", not bad.
    Pearls before Swine - Courage Awards, chuckle.
    Herman - "Can't seem to make up my mind", chuckle.
    (Others: Monty, Get Fuzzy, Speedbump)

    Japan ready to market "robot suit"

    "Japanese companies are preparing for the commercial launch of a "robot suit" that helps aged or physically disabled people walk, get up the stairs or seat themselves to relax without a chair" (Yahoo News)

    Parkinsons Gene Therapy

    "US doctors hope a ground-breaking surgery, the first-ever in vivo gene therapy in the brain, will bring relief to millions of sufferers of Parkinson's disease." (Channel NewsAsia)

    It's great to see examples like this of the progress (in knowledge and potentially-useful techniques) that's going on in medicine. Lets hope this surgery works out well.

    Friday, August 22, 2003


    Brisbane-based three peice band featuring a freind of mind, Pete Collins. You can check out some of their solid, guitar-based pop-songs online.

    Hyfinity's XML Virtual Machine

    According to The Register, a small UK company called hyfinity have developed what is essentially an XML-based Virtual machine. Code and data are represented in XML and can make use of inbuilt support for XML standards like XPath and XSLT.

    It's nice to see this happening, because our computing systems are really in need of support for structured information that's implemented at a much more fundamental level. But at the same time it's concerning to see they have a patent pending on the VM architecture. The patent details aren't discussed but, for one thing, others have thought of this idea before, and more importantly, it is, I think, a far too fundamental thing to patent, something akin to patenting a branch of mathmatics.

    Test Post

    Just got this set up - now for a test post. By the way, Explorer Street is the name of the street I live on. It sounded like a nice name for the weblog