Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Game Boy Advance to go wireless

Nintendo's Game Boy Advance portable game consoles will soon be wireless, allowing up to five players to play together over a 2.4GHz radio connection (PCWorld). Wireless is getting pretty pervasive - I think increases in our communication capabilities is overall a good thing.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Sci/tech tracking

  • Wallami pines, once thougth to have been extinct for millions of years, were discovered in a small grove in a secret location in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, in 1994. In 2005 they'll be available as a household plant (BBC).

  • Philips have developed paper capable of displaying high-refresh-rate video using rearrangeable electronic ink (Story: Nature; discussion: Slashdot).

  • Differences in human activities on weekdays vs weekends affecting climate (Article: Scientific American; Discussion: Slashdot)

Making the corporate landscape more responsible

As a first step, we need full public disclosure of all factory names and locations. Such transparency will make it much harder to hide abuses (Guardian)

...in today's global economy, the product is protected but not the human being who made it...

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Design for a very nice office

Custom designed, highly functional office-space archictecture, developed for company's new office (Joel on Software). Some quite nice ideas, and really great to see considering how awful the design of most offices is.

Today's Comics

Monty - The Body Can No Longer, fairly good
Strange Brew - You May Now, not bad
Speed Bump - Change Machine, okay
(Others: Pearls Before Swine, Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Herman)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Sci/Tech Tracking

  • Bilboards using 'digital ink' developed (New York Times).

  • Physicists have created blobs of gaseous plasma that can grow, replicate and communicate - fulfilling most of the traditional requirements for biological cells (New Scientist).
    • a few points in the article require some sort of justification
  • Single atom laser. A research group at Caltech has successfully constructed a laser consisting of only one caesium atom. The emitted light is very weak but highly ordered, so such a device may be used to control a quantum computer (Story: PhysicsWeb; Discussion: Slashdot).

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Today's Comics

...quite a good one I saw recently...
Monty - Schoolyard Memories.

Enabling rich structure in weblogs

Syncato is a very interesting new peice of weblog software. Essentially, posts are XML fragments stored in an XML database, which can be powerfully and easily queried by users (Staken, via Udell).

One important consequence of this is that it provides strong motiviation to add metadata markup to your weblog posts, as then you can use the metadata in queries, to extract useful information from the weblog or to construct custom views of it, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Today's Comics

Strange Brew - He's following me again, not bad
Monty - My Old School Playground, not bad
Speed Bump - Recall Notice, not bad
Dilbert - Only During National Holidays, okay
(Others: Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Herman)

Monday, September 15, 2003

Unweaving that Turntable Sound


The other day I saw The Herbaliser in concert. Anytime I see a group or artist who's using turntables, a constant stream of records and a whole heap of pushing buttons and twiddling knobs, I'm always wondering what is it they're really doing up there?

I mean, I know what they're doing on a basic level, with stuff like mixing sounds together, scratching and cuing up parts of the records, but I can't get any sense of the correspondence between actions they do and sounds I'm listening to.

Just what's on those records they're using? What are all the things they're doing contributing to the sounds I'm hearing? To what extent are their actions contributing to that sound?

Not knowing this makes it hard to really engage with the music as a live act - it almost makes it feel like I'm listening to a CD. And I think a lot of people -- the majority, perhaps -- have the same experience. They don't get it.

Not everyone, though. I'm sure it's a lot different if you've got some experience doing this kinda stuff with turntables, and you know what's going on. I've been thinking, it'd be interesting to have a little multimedia program that illustrates the kinda stuff that's going on. So if someone, like me, wants to know -- or there's someone who dislikes the music because of the fact that they don't get it -- you can just point them at it.

Micropayments Pingpong

I think micropayments would be a great technology, should they be feasable. I'd like to be able to pay 50 cents to download a some episode of a tv show I really want to see which hasn't been on tv for years.

I think Clay Shirky is a pretty sharp guy, but I felt the argument against micropayments in his latest article Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content was a bit flaky, and Scott McCloud has a published a fairly convincing (to my mind) demolition of Shirky's arguments. It will be interesting to see what Shirky might have to say in response.

Sci/tech tracking

  • New nokia phone allows users to print their own cover-designs with a bubble jet printer (MobileTracker).

  • India to use GPS technology to alert train drivers of obstructions on the tracks (BBC, Slashdot discussion)

  • High-tech window generates efficiently generates energy from light passing through (Wired)


Today's Comics

Dilbert - The Keeper of the Giant Binder, not bad
Speed Bump - More Facets, Clarity and Brilliance, not bad
Herman - How We Built This, not bad
Get Fuzzy - Spanielle Steel, not bad
Monty - You Can Look But You Can't Touch, not bad
Pearls Before Swine - At Least I Came Close, not bad
(Others: Strange Brew)

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Today's Comics

Pearls Before Swine - No Money for Bridge Toll, not bad
Monty - I Was Kicked Out, not bad
(Others: Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Herman, Speed Bump, Strange Brew)

Friday, September 12, 2003

Sci/Tech headline tracking

  • Simple test for validity of near-death visions (BBC) - nice.
  • Bacterial battery - just add sugar (SpaceDaily).
  • Hubble sees very small objects in Kuiper Belt, but surprisingly few (EurekaAlert).
  • Carbon Nanotubes can produce Ideal Photon Emission, which can make fields as quantum cryptography and single-molecule sensors a practical reality (UniOfRochester).
  • Another phone network switching to IP (Slashdot).

Today's Comics

Strange Brew - Godzilla Gets Inspired, not bad
Dilbert - A Thousand Ways to Say, not bad
Monty - Whose Photo is This?, not bad
(Others: Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Herman, Speed Bump)

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Misc Recent Articles: New Aibo, Bangalore's Infrastructure Problems, Cheaper CDs, Mars' Redness

New Aibo - There's a new model of Sony's robotic dog, Aibo (PcMag). Improvements include a new, quite cute look, more realistic and smarter movement, and better pattern recognition.

High-Tech Bangalore's Infrastructure Problems - infrastructure can't match business boom in India's high-tech city (USA Today).

Universal Music Group Reduces CD Prices - ...in an effort to bring customers back into retail stores and boost music sales (CNN).

Meteors Made Mars Red? - It seems likely that meteors, not water, gave Mars its distinctive colour (EurekaAlert from NewScientist). Also talks a bit about the issue of how much water was on surface of the planet in the past.

The economics of application installation - Most computer people are stuck in the "disk space is scarce" mindset, but Sean McGrath has been thinking about some consequences of this no longer being true.

Today's Comics

Speed Bump - I'm an Ideas Person, quite good
Monty - Are We Looking at the Same Bird?, good
Strange Brew - Who's the Joker?, not bad
Herman - If You're So Smart, not bad
(Others: Pearls Before Swine, Dilbert, Get Fuzzy)

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Monday, September 08, 2003

Today's Comics

Dilbert - I don't have the time, not bad
Speed Bump - Pot Bellied Pig, not bad
Herman - Thirteen Primrose Gardens?, not bad
Monty - She loves me, she loves me not, okay
Pearls Before Swine - Been Asleep for Centuries, not bad
(Others: Get Fuzzy, Strange Brew)

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Showing not telling, and not thinking about doing

I get the bus to work and it's cheaper to buy a 10-trip ticket than a ticket each trip. The other day I was in a newsagent waiting in line to buy one (you can't buy these tickets on the bus), when I noticed what the guy in front of me, who was also buying one, did.

When I buy one I'll usually roll out the slightly-awkward line "could I get a adult, ten trip, one zone bus ticket thanks". But what this guy did was simply to hold up his old ticket and ask "could I get another one of these?". So simple and (in hindsight) obvious!

Now why didn't I think of that? Actually, I think I can answer that: I (and I think most people) don't really think about the things we're doing as we go about the day to day tasks of our lives. This is also an example of learning by copying, which I think is a far larger component of our learning than is generally recognised.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Today's Comics

Monty - New Strain of Salmonella, not bad
Pearls Before Swine - Rat's New Philosophy, not bad
(Others: Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Herman, Speed Bump, Strange Brew)

Friday, September 05, 2003

The Nutritional Value of Spam?

I've been thinking, maybe there's some good that comes out of that constant torrent of junk e-mail. Sure, it's time consuming and a pain, but I'm wondering if it's also doing us some good by making us more critical consumers of information? Although the potential positive I'm thinking of also applies to advertising in other forms of media, I think there's a crucial difference with e-mail which I'll also discuss.

Spam is full of dodgy claims about larger body parts, nigerian money, becoming more youthful, etc etc, and maybe it helps teach us that just because someone says something is true, and just because they've given reasons and justifications for why its true, doesn't mean that it is true. That is, perhaps spam helps us become more discerning about what is a valid justification for a claim.

You might say that, well, people fairly quickly pick up the fact that that all spam is rubbish and from then on simply ignore it. I'd agree with that to a certain extent, but I don't think it necessarily invalidates the idea I'm thinking about. I still think that before someone will competely dismiss all spam off the bat they are likely to have read some. And judgement of the worth of spam's claims must play some part in the decision to ignore it.

I don't know the answer to the question, but I'd be interested to know whether it has already been considered by anyone. Analagous questions in more traditonal forms of media, such as junk mail advertising or radio or tv advertising, may have been considered. There are also analogous issues outside the field of advertising, such as the effect of new media technologies, such as the printing press, on the critical perspectives of people in societies.

But coming back to e-mail, I think spam is different in one significant sense, because spam is locked into an arms race with anti-spam software and measures. As anti-spam software becomes able to identify messages as spam, the spam evolves to outwit the anti-spam software, and so on. It seems likely that spam will therefore become more and more subtle and will find smarter ways to get its message across.

For one thing, spam is likely to camoflage itself a lot better. I can imagine a situation where a person posts to a newsgroup praising the quality of a product being discussed -- where this 'person' is actually a spam-bot (sure, this sort of stuff goes on now, but people have to write it and thus there's economic constraints on its quantity).

The question is, to what extent will people be dragged along in this arms race? Will people have to become more discerning judging spam claims -- and thus any claim they faced with? Will this strip all the guff from peoples judgement centers - so people can no longer belive things simply because their buttons have been pushed?

It'd be nice to think so, but to come close to an answer would require a lot more investigation and consideration than I have given, and more than I can right now.

This whole issue reminds me of the statement that's been made that much of the behavioural complexity of creatures, including humans, derives not so much from the creatures themselves, but their environment, or rather the interaction between those creatures and their environments. Ants are, for example, quite simple creatures, but they can perform some quite complex behaviour because of the complexity of their environment (which includes the physical environment and the other ants).

I'm also reminded that things tasting bad is often an indicator that they are poisonious, but also that just because something may leave a bad taste in your mouth -- like your spinach and brussel sprouts of the world -- doesn't mean it's bad for you.

Commenting Features Added

I've added a commenting feature using the BlogSpeak system. There's a link at the bottom of each post, to the right of the time-of-post, where you can view comments on the post and add your own.

Today's Comics

Speed Bump - Madame Zubali's Seances, good
(Others: Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Herman, Monty, Strange Brew)

How much does a cloud weigh?

Yeah, those clouds may look all light and fluffy, but in reality they're big fat bastards. (AbcNews - not their words of course)

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Origami helps cellphone cameras to focus

Picture-messaging phones may be about to get a whole lot more intrusive. Thanks to a novel and ultra-cheap micromotor technology, cellphone cameras should soon be able to zoom and focus with the same precision as the autofocusing lenses used in expensive stills cameras. (New Scientist)

Today's Selection of Comics

Pearls Before Swine - I Have An Idea, quite good
Dilbert - One Good Thing, not bad
(Others: Strange Brew, Speed Bump, Herman, Get Fuzzy, Monty)

Monday, September 01, 2003

Scientists Crack Silk's Secret

Scientists have worked out a feasable method for developing artifical silk that's as good as the real stuff (Tufts, via Slashdot).

Today's Selection of Comics

Dilbert - Blank Business Card, not bad.
Monty - Cartoon Fishing, okay.
Pearls Before Swine - Famous Initials, okay.
(Others: Strange Brew, Speed Bump, Herman, Get Fuzzy)