May 24th, 2012
Designing the mobile wallet – A case study. Slide 59 is a particular delight, but this entire presentation by Tim Caynes is worth a look.
Designing the mobile wallet – A case study. Slide 59 is a particular delight, but this entire presentation by Tim Caynes is worth a look.
The Descriptive Camera takes what the concept of metadata about images to a new level, making use of cameras and Amazon's Mechanical Turk:
As we amass an incredible amount of photos, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our collections. Imagine if descriptive metadata about each photo could be appended to the image on the fly – information about who is in each photo, what they're doing, and their environment could become incredibly useful in being able to search, filter, and cross-reference our photo collections. Of course, we don't yet have the technology that makes this a practical proposition, but the Descriptive Camera explores these possibilities. [...]
Having said that, isn't at least some part of the Descriptive Camera's functionality being undertaken – albeit for very different reasons – by Facebook users who go round tagging one another's photos? Isn't every Facebook 'friend' potentially a stand-in in for the Mechanical Turk, busily identifying who's who in their friends' photographs?
This Past Imperfect post about Closing the Pigeon Gap is a fascinating look at how 19th century continental powers made use of networks of carrier pigeons in wartime, and how the British responded to the perceived threat of a Pigeon Gap developing. All good stuff.
And then there's this one passage that reads like a scene from a discarded Blackadder Goes Forth script, recounting a description by Lieutenant Alan Goring of a sticky moment during the Passchendaele offensive of 1917:
[...] I was left with just a handful of men, all that was left out of those three platoons…. We had two pigeons in a basket, but the trouble was that the wretched birds had got soaked when the platoon floundered into the flooded ground. We tried to dry one of them off as best we could, and I wrote a message, attached it to its leg, and sent it off.
To our absolute horror, the bird was so wet that it just flapped into the air and then came straight down again, and started actually walking towards the German line. Well, if that message had got into the Germans' hands, they would have known that we were on our own and we'd have been in real trouble. So we had to try to shoot the pigeon before he got there. A revolver was no good. We had to use rifles, and there we were, all of us, rifles trained over the edge of this muddy breastwork trying to shoot this bird scrambling about in the mud. It hardly presented a target at all.
BERG's Matt Jones on the human race's newest companion species:
They see the world differently to us, picking up on things we miss.
They adapt to us, our routines. They look to us for attention, guidance and sustenance. We imagine what they are thinking, and vice-versa.
Dogs? Or smartphones? [...]
Michael Mace on
With our obsession for newness, those of us who work in the tech industry often fail to understand the historical roots of our technologies. Case in point: telegraph operators more than 150 years ago were sending short messages called "graphs" that were surprisingly similar in form and content to Twitter tweets.
One remarkable example was recently discovered in the Museum of Telegraphy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It is the transcript of a telegraph operator's comments during Abraham Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address in 1863. The transcript was shared with me by a friend on the museum staff, and I'm pleased to reproduce it here:
Still waiting for the Pres. to commence his speech. #gettysburg
Good heavens, I should have foresworn that fifth corn dodger for lunch. #gas #dontask #gettysburg
Starting now. Pres. waves to crowd. #gettysburg
Four score and… WTF is a score? 25? #pleasespeakenglish #gettysburg
Okay, it's twenty. So "87 years ago the country was founded." Why not just say that? Duh. #gettysburg
LG has started mass producing flexible, plastic e-ink displays.
What we need now is for some consumer electronics company1 with deep pockets to buy a huge quantity of these things, give some talented programmers and user experience types their head, and present the world with a genuine alternative to the Kindle. Just for a start.23
Paul Vixie has posted details of his work in dismantling a network of DNS servers being used to redirect internet traffic from computers infected with the DNS Changer malware. The problem is, even after all that work there are still hundreds of thousands of internet users with infected computers and/or routers, just waiting for someone to pick up where DNS Changer left off:
Internet users are endlessly bombarded with warnings about their security and with offers of services and software (some of it apparently "free") offering to make their computers healthier. The victims of DNS Changer are by this time jaded or overwhelmed or both. The Internet seems to be a very dangerous place, and most Internet users probably feel that they could spend more than half their waking hours just installing patches and responding to warnings – unless they just put their heads down, ignore all that noise, and try instead to get their work (or play) done. I am sympathetic to this mindset. The problem is, the Internet really is that dangerous, and people really do need to pay more attention to the dangers of unpatched or infected computers.
Short of jumping into a TARDIS and going back to 1982 to give various heads of computer companies a stern talking-to about the need to make designing secure systems a top priority I don't see a good way out of this problem beyond passing the problem to ISPs and having them cut off internet access for customers still using infected systems until they clean up their systems. Which isn't going to happen any time soon, and is a terrible idea anyway.
Dan Hill's review for Domus of the already-defunct Nokia N9 serves both as a requiem for an elegant smartphone and as a reminder that there's more that one approach to designing mobile computers:
Imagine an inverted pyramid representing the Apple mobile product line, with the MacBook Pro at the top, moving down into the Macbook Air, then down again into the IPad, before miniaturizing further into the iPhone at the apex. Each step down the 'computer-ness' diminishes and the 'phone-ness' increases, yet Apple takes its knowledge of building computers and runs it through the entire stack, with iOS simply a version of MacOS. As a result, the flexibility and efficiency of its software is evident at each stage, just as integration is enabled up and down the pyramid. This strategic alignment has an impact on consistency of functions, interactions and integration, yet also the operational requirements of device maintenance, code libraries, and battery life.
Nokia has been effectively starting at the bottom of the pyramid, the phone, and trying to move up. (To be fair, when they started, there was no pyramid above the phone.) [...]
I think I'd have responded the same way Grig Larson did to this job interviewer's question…
Riddled (from Grig Larson)
Not too long ago, I applied for systems administrator job. The interviews were going very well, and I had to return twice because they flew people in to meet me. One of them was a guy who, God love him, seemed like a great person but his interview skills were a little hackneyed. [...]
"If you had to move Mount Fuji," he asked, "how would you do it?" I recall thinking, "why is he asking this? What does he mean by Mount Fuji?"
"You mean, Mount Fuji, the volcano in Japan?"
He looked confused I asked. "Er, yes. How would you move it?"
What he didn't know was I was a science fiction author as well. I spent a lot of time asking odd questions like these. [...] But like a writer, I had to have a principal motive of the protagonist.
"Why?" I asked.
The man chuckled as if he had never thought about that before. "Just how would you move it?"
I felt I didn't explain my question. "I mean, who is my customer? Why does he or she wish to move Mount Fuji? I mean, to move Mount Fuji seems like the middle of a plan; it's a verb that has an end mean. Like, does my client want the rubble? Do they want to move it 10 meters to the left? What drives such a vast plan?" [...]
… which means it's probably just as well that I haven't had to undergo a job interview in almost fourteen years now. If that's the state of the art in interview questions then I'm destined to be a long time unemployed if my current job ever goes away.
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
My first reaction was that at £25 a time it'll be right at home sharing a bag with the expensive ultralight laptops which inspired the designer to create the original design. On second thoughts, when I contemplate the size of the clunky old1 mains USB adapter I have stashed in my desk drawer at work in case my iPod Touch needs a mid-day charge, I can clearly see the appeal. £25 is a wee bit pricey, though; at £10 it'd be well worth the money.
I hope they sell them by the thousand, so they can go on to expand the range. I especially want to see the compact 3-way adapter that featured in the original video.
[Via, once again, The Null Device]
I tend to like my time lapse videos plain. If the film maker can deploy their skills and equipment at a suitable location in order to compress time and reveal how the night sky shifts as the planet turns under it – or how the clouds break on mountaintops like surf, or to show me just how much ground a slow moving machine covers over the space of a week – then I'll lap it up.
Signal To Noise isn't that sort of time lapse video. It's flashier and is clearly going for visual impact rather than trying to impart information to the viewer,1 but it's so beautifully done that I enjoyed it quite a bit anyway. Definitely worth a look.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
This sort of cruelty to washing machines seems awfully … unsporting.
I swear that when someone tossed a discarded drive motor in to finish it off at the 3:45 mark I was half expecting the poor beast to send it right back with interest.
Aaron Skirboll writes in praise of an invention whose time has come (again):
Thomas Watson was a respectful man. He was working as an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 when his name became the first to be uttered into Bell's new invention, the telephone. "Mr. Watson, come here," Bell famously said. "I want to see you." Even before this monumental moment, however, Watson had proved his worth – and his neighborliness. While working out the telephone's kinks with Bell from his apartment, Watson initially had to shout to be heard over the early equipment, prompting complaints from the neighbors. So Watson, ever the courteous gent, wrapped himself inside blanket during these initial telephone trials, creating a tunnel, and, thus, the world's first phone booth: society's great unused invention. [...]
From 1997, the story of Martin Tytell, a.k.a. the Typewriter Man:
Mr. Tytell understands that his trade involves more than just some possibly out-of-date office machines. "We don't get normal people here," he says with a certain pride. Coincidentally or not, the second time I saw him he made a point of showing me a small typewriter in a steel case as smooth and silvery as a gun mount on an airplane wing. He told me it was an uncrushable typewriter case designed during the Second World War to survive being run over by a tank. Then he began to tell me his experiences working on typewriters for the government during the war.
This is how musicians should deal with people who don't mute their mobile phones before the performance begins.
[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]