Listen to Wikipedia

April 26th, 2015

Listening to Wikipedia is oddly soothing.

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Today: 30 Times Fridge Door Opened

February 17th, 2015

The Sid Lee Agency has gone to town in wiring up their office in Paris with Arduino-based sensors monitoring pretty much everything that moves across the working day and the Dashboard they've created to display the data they're gathering is insane:

Coffees poured

For the avoidance of doubt, when I say 'insane' I mean not so much 'impressively geeky', more 'Why the hell would anyone want to work for people who want to monitor how many times the fridge door was opened and how many times the toilet was flushed?'

[Via Flowing Data]

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June 3rd, 2014

This excerpt1 2 from Mike Judge's Silicon Valley is a beautiful illustration of what can happen when a bunch of geeks take an idea and run with it.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Embedding not allowed, unfortunately – you'll have to follow the link to YouTube to see it.
  2. Dialogue and subject matter are probably NSFW.

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'One rarely disappoints with a skull on one's crotch.'*

April 24th, 2013

I'll confess to never having played Warhammer 40K or read any of the tie-ins, but even so I'm quite prepared to believe that this truly is the Best Warhammer 40K Costume Ever:

Best Warhammer 40K Costume EVER?

* Post title courtesy of MeFi user Halloween Jack.

[Via MetaFilter]

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This is a thing now in Japan…

March 29th, 2013

Life imitates Dragonball Z. On Twitter.

And why not?

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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December 26th, 2012

Greg Kumparak has built himself a toy TARDIS. A toy TARDIS that's bigger on the inside.

I have just two things to say about this:

  1. A quick note for the benefit of whichever BBC executive is responsible for enforcing the BBC's copyrights: it definitely would not be a worthwhile use of time and money to track Mr Kumparak down and demand that he take down this post.

    If anything, you should be getting someone to dig out whatever specifications you have for other versions of the TARDIS control room, so that enthusiasts with the requisite knowhow can produce downloadable alternative interiors1 for those of us with fond memories of the Pertwee years.

  2. To quote the first comment on the original post: "I don't know who you are, I don't know what you want, but I will find you, and SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!"

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Let's face it, we were all thinking it. And now I mention it, it goes without saying that the alternative interiors should permit us to specify which Doctor and companions are going to be hanging out in 'our' TARDIS.

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June 20th, 2012

I love the fact that Tim Bray is so keen that his proposal for a new HTTP status code for cases where access to a resource is blocked for legal reasons incorporates a Latin example that is both grammatical and historically accurate:

One of the things in the proposal is that the 451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons status is sup­posed to be ac­companied by an explanation of what the legal restrictions are, and what class of sites they apply to. The proposal has an ex­ample, and since obviously you don't want to use any real legal author­i­ties in this situation, I decided to pick on the Roman Empire:

This re­quest may not be serviced in the Roman Province of Judea due to Lex3515, the Legem Ne Subversionem Act of AUC755, which dis­al­lows access to re­sources hosted on servers deemed to be operated by the Judean Liberation Front.


But I made up the name of the Roman law by typing some­thing into Google Trans­late. So… does any­one read­ing this know what a plausible Latin name would be for such a law, and how it would be cited? Roman his­tory is full of law­suits, so I assume it must have been a fairly routine operation. Thanks in ad­vance.

Attention to detail1 being very much the mark of the Alpha Geek.

  1. And yes, he's already acknowledged that he muffed the Monty Python joke, and will be inserting a reference to the People's Front of Judea in a future revision.

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May 19th, 2012

Repetitive Tasks. So true.

[Via swissmiss]

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Machete Order

February 28th, 2012

I've seen any number of links over the last few days to The Star Wars Saga: Suggested Viewing Order but only got round to reading it today.

I've got to admit, his argument makes a hell of a lot of sense.


If you're thinking of introducing a youngling to the Star Wars saga, you owe it to yourself – and to them – to consider what this man says.

Don't let your loved ones' first memories of Star Wars be sullied by the presence of Jar-Jar Binks. Or midichlorians. Or trade disputes. Or Jake Lloyd.

[Via The Tao of Mac]


Geeks and tinkerers and curiousity

February 22nd, 2012

Awl commenter jfruh posted a terrific passage from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle:

We watched the Laboratory's receptionist turn on the many educational exhibits that lined the foyer's walls. The receptionist was a tall, thin girl — icy, pale. At her crisp touch, lights twinkled, wheels turned, flasks bubbled, bells rang.

"Magic," declared Miss Pefko.

"I'm sorry to hear a member of the Laboratory family using that brackish, medieval word," said Dr. Breed. "Every one of those exhibits explains itself. They're designed so as not to be mystifying. They're the very antithesis of magic."

"The very what of magic?"

"The exact opposite of magic."

"You couldn't prove it by me."

Dr. Reed looked just a little peeved. "Well," he said, "we don't want to mystify. At least give us credit for that."

Come to that, the rest of jfruh's comment – made in the context of a discussion of the nature of geekiness – is absolutely spot-on, and well worth quoting:

To me, part of the nature of geekiness that I've always liked (and liked in myself, so I suppose I defend it as part of my self-image) is wanting to know how things work. People started using computers in the '70s and '80s not because of what they could do (they really couldn't do much), but to see how they worked, and to see what they (the hobbyists) could make them do.

The attitude that "Computers are geeky, iPhones are computers, I love my iPhone, therefore I'm a geek," when paired with "my iPhone is magic!" strikes me as almost a little cargo-culty. The Franzen quote may have been wrenched out of context, but the fact that you like to play with your iPhone doesn't make you a geek any more than the fact that you like to drive makes you a motorhead (or whatever the term was for people who liked to tinker with their car engines, back when that was a thing).

For me, one of the hardest things to get my head around in the early/mid 1990s as work colleagues/fellow students/friends and relatives started using first PCs and then the internet in their day to day lives was that they didn't particularly want to know why the computer did things the way it did (or why it didn't do things the way they'd thought it would.) They just wanted to know what button to press to get to the next step, and didn't much care about why pressing that button got them out of the corner they'd trapped themselves in.

I can let it go now (mostly), but I'm still conscious that I look at this stuff differently to most of the people I deal with.1

  1. Just don't get me started on people who go to web pages by typing the URL into Bing and clicking on the top result!

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Not Social. Not a Graph.

November 10th, 2011

Maciej Cegłowski's The Social Graph is Neither has been linked to far and wide, and with good reason:

There's no way to take a time-out from our social life and describe it to a computer without social consequences. At the very least, the fact that I have an exquisitely maintained and categorized contact list telegraphs the fact that I'm the kind of schlub who would spend hours gardening a contact list, instead of going out and being an awesome guy. The social graph wants to turn us back into third graders, laboriously spelling out just who is our fifth-best-friend. But there's a reason we stopped doing that kind of thing in third grade!

You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong. Asking computer nerds to design social software is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender. Our industry abounds in people for whom social interaction has always been more of a puzzle to be reverse-engineered than a good time to be had, and the result is these vaguely Martian protocols.

How good is this essay? Right up there with Argentina On Two Steaks A Day.

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If I'm doing all this stuff in Emacs anyhow, what would it hurt …

August 13th, 2011

Even if you're not a fan of Emacs, if you're any sort of geek you'll find the feelings evoked in org-mode In Your Pocket Is a GNU-Shaped Devil horrifyingly familiar:

With Emacs, you don't just go "la la la … I'm gonna add org mode back and call it a day!" You think to yourself, "I love org mode. I wish there was an easy way to turn an e-mail message into a todo …" and the next thing you know you're dealing with how to configure GNUS.

Then you think "All my calendar stuff is in Google calendar … how can I get it into my org mode agenda?" […]

At which point you're off down the rabbit hole.

[Via slipstream]

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Waiting for a Catbus

June 1st, 2011

Well played.

[Via kung fu grippe]

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The Joy of Stats

May 1st, 2011

Marc Tracy on attending the 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:

There was an unusually small room at the northwest end of the hall devoted to the authors of research papers. Here are the names of some of the papers: "Paired Pitching: The Welcomed Death of the Starting Pitcher"; "Optimizing an NBA Team's Approach to Free Agency Using a Multiple Choice Knapsack Model"; "A Groovy Kind of Golf Club: The Impact of Grooves Rule Changes in 2010 on the PGA Tour"; "An Improved Adjusted Plus-Minus Statistic for NHL Players"; "A Major League Baseball Swing Quality Metric"; "The Effects of Altitude on Soccer Match Outcomes." There is no way David Foster Wallace did not come up with at least one of those titles.

Readers on this side of the pond shouldn't be put off by the fact that the article is almost entirely about American sports; ultimately, Tracy isn't so much writing about sports as he is about geeks who love (analysing) sports. The geekery is the thing.

[Via Give Me Something To Read]

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January 15th, 2011

One for the geeks: a detailed account of a glorious hack called Retrocast

You may have heard of the new gaming platforms like OnLive or Meo Jogos […] They're a new paradigm in what comes to gaming: you don't need a console or an expensive PC, you'll pay a cheap flat fee or renting cost to play the high end games, all the processing power and game rendering is done on the Datacenter and the video is streamed to your house, all in real time. […]

Technologies like these are bleeding edge. There are many challenges related to the quality of the network, scalability, firewalls, etc, but mostly: very low latency video streaming is difficult. In order for these platforms to work, the roundtrip latency between a gamepad command (ie: you press fire) and the first video frame related to that command being rendered in your client (ie: you actually see the gun being fired) must be less than 100ms in order to "fool" the human brain and have the same real time experience that you would have with local consoles. It's not easy, trust me.

I'm a sucker for retrogames, great and emerging technologies, experimentation and hacking. This idea of doing a poor man's version of a streaming gaming on demand platform was ringing in my head for quite some time, so in a rainy weekend I decided to take matters with my own hands and glue this thing together. […]

Thirty-plus years after I got my hands on my first microcomputer, it still amazes me just how powerful and versatile modern desktop computers are. Still more impressive is the way that the numerous different pieces of software used allowed themselves to be lashed together to produce such miraculous, unexpected results. Powerful, flexible, open software; in the right hands, it's pretty much magical.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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The Mad Men Alignment Chart

December 6th, 2010

The Mad Men Alignment Chart.

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The doors of Peter Cushing's TARDIS opened outwards! Why did I not know this?

November 10th, 2010

Four Decades of Police Box Modifications is geekery of the highest order:

Not everyone realises that the TARDIS in Doctor Who has changed many times, and those that do many not realise quite how much it changed. Then again, maybe the differences are only visible to those amongst us who don't get out enough – Those whose lives are enlivened by doing diagrams such as the one above showing the main TARDIS props to scale. I am unhealthily delighted by creating such diagrams, and if seeing such a diagram delights you, then read on.

I did (obviously.)

[Via The Great Escapism]

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Everything you ever wanted to know about map pins, and then some

October 14th, 2010

Serving up your recommended daily allowance of vintage map porn: A Discourse on Map Pins and Pinnage

Pin maps have not much been much used in the past, chiefly because a map pin which would give satisfactory service has not been available for common use. Until recently the map markers obtainable have been little more than old-fashioned carpet tacks having chisel-shaped points which cut the surface of any map into which they were pushed. Tacks with rough steel shanks cannot be pushed far into a map if the tacks are to be pulled out again. Also, rough steel is likely to rust so as to cause the whole tack to deteriorate rapidly.

Thus begins a discourse on the map pin – and its brethren map beads, flags, and buttons – by Willard C. Brinton in his Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts (1919). […]

The epic Residence of the Men of the Class of 1907, Harvard University, Six Years After Graduation must be seen to be believed.1

[Via Kevan Davis]

  1. You could put your eye out on that thing.

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Gender Plots in

September 22nd, 2010 intern Joachim Van Herwegen explains the thinking behind his Gender Plot tool:

About 6 weeks ago I started a short internship at For my project I wanted to explore's data to learn how listening preferences vary with the listener's age and gender. Apart from the science, the most important thing I found is that you can make awesome plots with this information.

I started by making a chart to show what kind of music you "should" be listening to if you really want to fit in with the most common artists in your age range and gender […]

The sizes of the artists' names indicate how popular they are, while their position shows the gender mix and average age of their listeners. Based on the positions of the larger names, it's already obvious which age category is most common amongst users.

I don't care one whit about what music I 'should' be listening to at my age/gender,1 but the data plots are still fascinating – much more so once you get away from looking at the entire user base and look at subsets of the data. The most stereotypically 'male' act on my chart is Black Grape, just ahead of Living Colour and Prefab Sprout, whereas my most 'female' acts are Rilo Kiley, Regina Spektor and Florence + The Machine.2 It's also neat to see which of my favourite artists are clustered around the mid-point of the 'male/female interest' axis: in increasing order of their average listener's age (i.e. from left to right on the chart) we have Explosions in the Sky, Pixies, The National, Eels, New Order, Stevie Wonder, Echobelly and Squeeze. I'd have guessed that at least half of those acts would skew a bit more towards the 'male' end of the axis. Shows what I know…

It would be nice if the tool could plot charts for entire groups. I'm pretty sure that the chart for readers of The Word Magazine would skew rightwards, but I'd be fascinated to see what other trends and surprises it might reveal.


  1. I know: I'll bet they all say that.
  2. It's worth remembering that in the interests of legibility – not to mention processing time – these charts only plot the most listened-to subset of your library of artists. In practice the span of any given user's listening habits will almost always be a lot wider than it appears on the chart.

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Fixer-upper or new build?

September 20th, 2010

Phil Gyford is trying to talk himself into building his own weblogging tool:

Writing my own weblog CMS from scratch is, of course, lunacy. Consequently, I have been coming up with an elaborate justification for why the project is, at least, lunacy with a more respected real-world precedent. If you're allergic to Internet metaphors look away… now. […]


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