Friday, April 13, 2007

Study: one in five couples get together through ‘mate poaching’

Interestly, one in five couples get together through 'mate poaching', according to the study reported
in Psychology Today:

Wedding announcements in newspapers rarely tell the whole story. If they did, they would occasionally read something like this: "The happy couple met through her boyfriend at the time, who is the groom's former best friend. It took four months to lure her away."

According to one study, up to 20 percent of long-term relationships begin when one or both partners are involved with others. Evolutionary psychologists call this "mate poaching." This figure holds steady across age groups and among couples who are married, living together or dating, according to psychologists who polled some 16,000 individuals in 53 countries as part of the International Sexuality Description Project. Most surprising to researchers: Sweetheart-stealing is prevalent across continents and cultures, although it is notably less common in East Asia.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Favourite Recipes: Heston Blumenthal 's Roast Potatoes Recipe

Heston Blumenthal 's Roast Potatoes Recipe

This is from his excellent book "In Search of Perfection" (which I got thanks to Kerry).

They're just roast potatoes, but they're quite impressive. Much crispier and crunchier on the outside, and soft and fluffier on the inside, than you typical ones. It's boiling them for a while first that does the trick.

  • large maris piper potatoes, 1kg
    (he says that the variety of potato is important for the right end results. However, you don't seem to be able to get maris piper potatoes in brisbane, so I just used the standard potatoes you get in supermarkets, and they seemed to work fine)
  • olive oil, enough to fill the roasting tray to a depth of just under 1cm
  • garlic, 4 cloves
  • fresh rosemary, 1 generous bunch
  • table salt

  • Preheat the oven
    • to 190 celcius / 375 farenheight / Gas 5
  • Wash, peel, cut and rinse potatoes
    • Wash the potatoes thoroughly and then peel them.
    • Reserve the peelings and tie them in a muslin bag.
    • Cut the potatoes into quarters
      (the quartering's important because it's the edges that get nice and crunchy: that's why reasonably large potatoes are needed for this recipe)
    • Leave the quaters in a bowl under running water for 2-3 minutes (or put in a bowl of water for 15 minutes, changing the water every 5 minutes).
  • Boil the potatoes
    • Bring a pan of salted water (10g salt per litre of water) to the boil
    • Add the potatoes and toss in the bag of peelings (they
      contain lots of flavour).
    • Cook for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft: take them as far as you can without ending up without potato soup. (It's the fissures that form as the potato breaks up that trap the fat, creating a crunchy crust.)
  • Preheat the oil
    • Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a roasing tray (it needs to be large enough to hold all the potatoes in one layer) and place in the oven.
  • Drain poatoes
    • Once the potatoes are soft, drain them in a colander and discard the bag of peelings.
    • Give them a gentle shake to roughen the edges and drive off any remaining drops of water.
  • Roast the potatoes
    • Put the potatoes in the hot roasting tray and roll them around so that they are completely coated in oil.
    • Roast for an hour or so, until crisp and a lovely golden brown
      • Turning every 20 minutes.
      • Add the garlic and rosemary after 50 minutes.
  • Season with salt and serve.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Teaching communication skills with interactive-fiction games


We can use simulations and games to give people the practice at tasks required to develop skills. Here's a way that 'interactive-fiction' games could be used to help people learn communication skills.

I'll illustrate by talking about a particular communication skill - the ability to negotiate effectively. There are principles behind effective negotiation, and to be good at this form of communication you need to have a mastery of them.

It's not that important what these specific principles are (see this article if you're interested in a discussion of some negotiation skills), just that there are different principles, and you can master each of them to various degrees.

Here's the sort of interactive-fiction game I'm thinking of. It probably wouldn't matter if it was textual or graphical, just that it involved a converstaion between your character and another (or others), where you are negotiating with them, and at each point in the conversation you have a selection of options for what to say next[1]. At each point there might be five different possibilities, and you have to choose one. Each choice is of the actual text that the character will say (as opposed to something more abstract such as "Ask about the red book").

The idea is that you are playing not simply yourself, but a character who had a certain level of skills. And you can run through the same scenario multiple times, but each time that character's skills improve -- either they have learnt new principles or have further developed the ones they have. And these improved skills are reflected in the conversation choices you are presented with.

Here are the ways I think would help people to learn those skills:

  • It gives you practice. The conversation options at each point would cover a range of degrees of effectiveness. Would give you a chance to see how effective your choice was.
  • You get to see the differences between different levels of skills. If you don't have the particular skill, it's hard to know what would have been the better way of handling the situation. But if you've already tried one way, and then you are shown what a better way is, then that might make it easier to appreciate the principle involved.

[1] The best examples of these sorts of conversations that I'm aware of are the first two of the 'Secret of Monkey Island' graphical adventure games (there is a third and a fourth game in the series, but they weren't done by the same person and aren't as good)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dordoni Worktop table

The guys at Signal vs Noise recommended this desk - looks quite nice (US$1 998, though!).

From the website:'s all about elegant function and ease. The angled table legs afford ample leg room for when you and colleagues pull up chairs for an impromptu conference. To cope with uneven floors, its glides are adjustable. The Dordoni Worktop holds up to eight roomy desk drawers (sold separately) and openings on each end offer convenient storage space for rolled up blueprints and drawings.

Paper - Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface

This paper, "Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface" by Bret Victor, is a powerful argument for why, in designing software, greater emphasis should be given to graphic design and less to interaction. I think there's a good chance it'll go down as paradigm-shifting classic (and I don't mean that just as a buzzword, but as a genuine paradigm shift).

I've only read the first half of it so far -- it's quite long -- but I thought I'd post here to let others know about it.

Here's the abstract

The ubiquity of frustrating, unhelpful software interfaces has motivated decades of research into “Human-Computer Interaction.” In this paper, I suggest that the long-standing focus on “interaction” may be misguided. For a majority subset of software, called “information software,” I argue that interactivity is actually a curse for users and a crutch for designers, and users’ goals can be better satisfied through other means.

Information software design can be seen as the design of context-sensitive information graphics. I demonstrate the crucial role of information graphic design, and present three approaches to context-sensitivity, of which interactivity is the last resort. After discussing the cultural changes necessary for these design ideas to take root, I address their implementation. I outline a tool which may allow designers to create data-dependent graphics with no engineering assistance, and also outline a platform which may allow an unprecedented level of implicit context-sharing between independent programs. I conclude by asserting that the principles of information software design will become critical as technology improves.

Although this paper presents a number of concrete design and engineering ideas, the larger intent is to introduce a “unified theory” of information software design, and provide inspiration and direction for progressive designers who suspect that the world of software isn’t as flat as they’ve been told.

Do the people living today /really/ outnumber all those who have ever lived?

I'd heard the claim that there are more people living in the world today than all those who had lived before. It seemed plausible, and I took it as true, but according to this Scientific American piece, it's quite wrong.