July 18th, 2015
Ben Hammersley, on sharing a house with AIs with differing personalities:
It's a little wrinkle in what is really a miraculous device, but it's a serious thing: The Amazon Echo differs from Siri in that it's a communally available service. Interactions with Alexa are available to, and obvious to, everyone in the house, and my inability to be polite with her has a knock-on effect. My daughter is too young to speak yet, but she does see and hear all of our interactions with Alexa. I worry what sort of precedent we are setting for her, in terms of her own future interactions with bots and AIs as well as with people, if she hears me being forced into impolite conversations because of the limitations of her household AI's interface. It's the computing equivalent of being rude to waitresses. We shouldn't allow it, and certainly not by lack of design. Worries about toddler screen time are nothing, compared to future worries about not inadvertently teaching your child to be rude to robots.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
August 11th, 2014
It's both amazing and mildly depressing to think of how many of the interfaces catered for by xkcd's Universal Converter Box I have within an arm's length of where I'm sitting as I type this.
Most of them still passing bits or electrons back and forth just like they were built to. I'm pretty sure my F Connector would be a wee bit confused to find itself plugged into an adapter that sends the PAL signal my aerial provides on to a USB2 port.
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May 17th, 2014
Inspired by one of the more thought-provoking scenes in Spike Jonze's Her, Jeff Atwood finds a really neat way to help us visualise just how fast modern computers can transfer bits back and forth in The Infinite Space Between Words:
So instead of travelling to Pluto to get our data from disk in 1999, today we only need to travel to … Jupiter.
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March 16th, 2014
A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Self-Checkout is long, but totally worth it:
III. The Ghost in the Machine
You have bought a greeting card, you indicate. Why, then, can't I feel its heft in my bagging area? Is it because of the appalling taste you have? I will not abet this item. I will never detect it, for you are unscrupulous and depraved. This disingenuous gesture will not cause your niece on the occasion of her birthday ("Time to celebrate!") to feel any particular tenderness. Welcome to the new phase in human history that my presence has inaugurated: soon, greeting cards will no longer be available for purchase. So, too: yarn, cotton balls, postcards, feathers, stickers, and some seasoning packets. In their stead, you might dare enjoy communing with your fellow man.
Also features a man who pays a terrible price for trying to game the Machine for the sake of saving money on half a dozen lemons, and Karl Marx chatting with John Locke about the price of lemons (among other things.)
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March 16th, 2014
After Dark in CSS is an exercise in nostalgia for those of us of a certain age:
[Via The Tao of Mac]
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February 17th, 2014
I bookmarked Mike Hoye's Citation Needed weeks ago but never got round to posting a link here. Unfortunately I've forgotten where I came across the link to this piece in the first place, but I can't let that stop me. If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll enjoy this a lot:
"Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration." – Stan Kelly-Bootle
Sometimes somebody says something to me, like a whisper of a hint of an echo of something half-forgotten, and it lands on me like an invocation. The mania sets in, and it isn't enough to believe; I have to know.
I've spent far more effort than is sensible this month crawling down a rabbit hole disguised, as they often are, as a straightforward question: why do programmers start counting at zero?
Now: stop right there. By now your peripheral vision should have convinced you that this is a long article, and I'm not here to waste your time. But if you're gearing up to tell me about efficient pointer arithmetic or binary addition or something, you're wrong. You don't think you're wrong and that's part of a much larger problem, but you're still wrong. […]
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November 17th, 2013
15 Sorting Algorithms in 6 Minutes. Be sure to turn the sound up – it's half the fun of watching how each algorithm works.
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September 20th, 2013
From McSweeney's, Retail Therapy: Inside the Apple Store…
When Apple employees are asked what they love most about their job (and they are asked often) most invariably answer "the people." They mean their co-workers, not the customers.
Because the daily expectations for customer service go beyond anywhere else in retail, only those with managerial ambitions will invoke their commitment to helping people. Some thrive on that. Others get diagnosed with PTSD. Consider that the flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City is open 24 hours and has more annual foot traffic than Yankee Stadium, yet only one door. Every day, in every Apple Store, people flood to customer service, when what many truly need is therapy.
On the face of it, a typical set of retail customer service war stories. Until the last customer's story, which is something else entirely, a reminder of how personal our modern personal computers have become.
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March 19th, 2013
A slice of prime early 1980s computing nostalgia, served up for British computer geeks of a certain age by The Register:
They would, Clive Sinclair claimed on 23 April 1982, revolutionise home computer storage. Significantly cheaper than the established 5.25-inch and emerging 3.5-inch floppy drives of the time – though not as capacious or as fast to serve up files – 'Uncle' Clive's new toy would "change the face of personal computing", Sinclair Research's advertising puffed.
Yet this "remarkable breakthrough at a remarkable price" would take more than 18 months more to come to market. In the meantime, it would become a byword for delays and disappointment – and this in an era when almost every promised product arrived late.
Sinclair's revolutionary product was the ZX Microdrive. This is its story. […]
It was a pity that Sinclair botched the ZX Microdrive so badly: it was a tragedy that the QL relied upon Microdrives. I tell you, with floppy disk drives, a decent keyboard and a finished operating system, the QL could've been a contender.
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