October 7th, 2012
Paul Owen looks forward to a couple of the events at this week's Conservative party conference:
Probably the most blue in tooth and claw is tomorrow at 9am, and is baldly called: "Why the public should want hospitals to close." For sheer mad brio "We can't afford roads!" (Tuesday, 5.30pm, their exclamation mark) runs it close.
October 2nd, 2012
Cooperative Quadrocopter Ball Throwing and Catching:
OK, so now it's cute and amusing and quietly impressive. A decade from now, when the AI-driven quadrocopter is employing those same subroutines to hunt down the remnants of the human resistance … not so much.
October 1st, 2012
If you can get to the end of this image gallery without wincing at least once then you're a better man than I. Or, possibly, you're a replicant.
September 30th, 2012
Maciej Cegłowski, confused by Romania:
Around ten o'clock, we arrive in Bistrița, the setting of Bram Stoker's Dracula. […] Bistrița is not shy in the pursuit of the vampire tourism dollar. We pass a hotel called the Golden Crown, lifted directly from Stoker's novel, along with several other Dracula landmarks before reaching our hotel.
A very un-vampire-like young man with careful English greets us at the door. We appear to be the only guests in the entire hotel, and briefly I am filled with hope that I'll hear the Tocatta and Fugue blaring in some distant attic as he escorts us up the stairs with a dripping candelabra. Instead, he asks us if we have eaten, and when we say we have not, he rouses the hotel staff to make us supper. […]
After dinner, he takes us up to our room. In the lobby and on the landing we see some some strange cushioned platforms about a meter square, with joystick-like handles at opposite corners; they look like something you might use for physical therapy, or an excessively comfortable torture device. We ask our host about them on our way out of the dining room.
"This week we have been hosting a Skanderbeg tournament," he explains.
Noting our blank faces, he apologizes for his English and tries again.
"Skanderbeg. Do you know it? For the men with big mushrooms?"
I take some time to reflect on this question as we continue up to our room. It gives me comfort to know that, since I could not possibly become more confused than I am now, I can only grow less confused later. I prove this to myself with calculus. Little theorems like this make my stay in Romania easier. […]
September 27th, 2012
Scrollbars Through the History.
Nine out of the eleven pictures are of scrollbars from Apple's MacOS and iOS or Microsoft Windows, with one of the other two from NeXTstep (a.k.a. MacOSX's eccentric uncle) and the other of the Xerox Star (a.k.a. the grandfather of every other GUI shown). No room for scrollbars from other interesting Graphical User Interfaces from the 1980s and early 1990s? For shame…
|Digital Research GEM
||Commodore Amiga Workbench
||Acorn RISC OS
[Via Daring Fireball]
September 25th, 2012
Natalie Angier on army ants and their parasites:
[Wherever…] there are army ants out on a hunting raid, peckish antbirds are almost sure to follow.
The birds are not foolish enough to try to eat them: Army ants are fiercely mandibled and militantly cohesive. Instead, they hope to skim off a percentage of the ants' labor, by snatching up any grasshoppers, beetles, spiders or small lizards that may jump to the side in a frantic attempt to elude the oncoming avalanche of predatory ants.
It's a gleeful reversal of the conventional notion of parasites as little, ticky things that plague large, poorly dressed hosts. Here the big vertebrates are the parasites, freeloading off insects a fraction of their size. […]
Fun and frightening as the army ants are, the real stars are the birds. Angier explains that the antbirds' behaviour is in flux. Over time, as the populations of the various species of antbird fluctuate, scientists are observing how species are changing their behaviour in order to take advantage of the opportunities that open up. Fascinating stuff.
[Via The Awl]
September 23rd, 2012
Learning to Talk by Lauren Daisley:
When a voiceover artist temporarily loses the use of her primary asset, the struggle back to speaking unearths what's gone unsaid for too long.
September 23rd, 2012
Another weekend, another selection:
September 20th, 2012
Consider this a job application: S.H.I.E.L.D.E.D.
Nice cameo at the end from Agent Benson.
[Via feeling listless]
September 20th, 2012
Remember how for years one of the standard jokes about technological overkill was about whether the world really needed an internet-connected fridge. At heart, that joke was all about the pervasiveness of the network and what could be done with it.
Now we're living in the era of the PDA and I think we have a worthy successor to the networked fridge: Smarter Socks…
Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks. Your phone would know:
- which socks belong together,
- and could help sort them out,
- how often you have washed your socks,
- when your socks were produced,
- when you ordered your socks and
- when your socks were dispatched.
Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.
This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true. The result is Smarter Socks – probably the smartest socks in the world. They are undoubtedly the first socks which leave their mark on the internet via the Sock Sorter and your iPhone.
The funny thing is that I spent some time sorting socks yesterday, as you do, and even though I had my iPod Touch to hand at no point did I think "I wonder if there's an app for this?" Not only is there an app, there's a sock-scanning peripheral to scan the RFID tag built into each sock. Furthermore, the app includes a Blackometer function that allows you to check how black your socks are. Which is vital, apparently.
Granted, this is from the company that brought us the Sockscription, so it's for people who are really serious about their socks. I don't think I'm the target audience.
[Via VentureBeat, via Chuq Von Rospach]
September 19th, 2012
Will you be catching The Bus tomorrow?
September 18th, 2012
A week in the life of an airline pilot.
I get that at one level it's little different than driving a bus. Except for all the many ways in which it just isn't.
September 17th, 2012
File under "I can't believe it never occurred to me to try this":
Like the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store strangely lacks tabbed browsing, despite the fact that they're both basically just websites. One way to work around this drawback hails from Josh Helfferich, who pointed out that you can drag and drop icons from the Mac App Store onto your browser. If you're doing a lot of looking around, this is a great way to look at a lot of apps quickly or keep multiple tab open to compare.
I knew you could copy the URL for an item. I even knew I could drag an App Store/iTunes Store icon onto my desktop and get a .webloc file to click on later. Somehow it never occurred to me to just drop the damn link on the web browser and see what happened.
[Via Mac OS X Hints]
September 17th, 2012
I'm not sure that I spent a single hour back when I was doing my GCE O-Level in History looking at Sweden's imperial phase. To the extent that I was aware of it at all, it was as the great power that Peter the Great of Russia pushed aside as Russia became a great European power.
All of which means that I somehow missed out on The Blazing Career and Mysterious Death of "the Swedish Meteor":
[Charles XII (1682-1718) was…] An endlessly fascinating figure – austere and fanatical, intelligent yet foolhardy – Charles has some claim to be the greatest of Swedish kings. Voltaire, an admirer, dubbed him "the Lion of the North," and though he was at heart a soldier, whose genius and speed of movement earned him the nickname "the Swedish Meteor," he was also a considerable mathematician with a keen interest in science. In other circumstances, Charles might have turned himself into an early example of that 18th-century archetype, the enlightened despot. Yet plenty of Swedes, then and now, despised their king for impoverishing the country and sacrificing thousands of his subjects by fighting almost from the moment he ascended the throne in 1697 until he died two decades later. For the playwright August Strindberg, he was "Sweden's ruin, the great offender, a ruffian, the rowdies' idol." Even today, the king's biographer Ragnhild Hatton observed, "Swedes can be heard to say that no one shall rob them of their birthright to quarrel about Charles XII."
The story of how Charles XII died – still a matter of debate nearly three hundred years on, apparently – is as fascinating as the story of how he reigned.
September 16th, 2012
Ursula Vernon's take on The problem of Susan:
"Elegant and Fine"
The real problem with Susan, in the end, was not that she was no longer Narnia's friend. It was that she had already been its lover. […]
[Via Making Light (Particles)]
September 16th, 2012
Rob Weychert was hoping to use the Rdio streaming music service to broaden his musical horizons. The result wasn't what he'd expected:
[Last fall…] I was convinced to give Rdio a chance after a friend showed me how he used it as a try-before-you-buy service. As a discovery mechanism to augment my personal collection, the prospect of a subscription service was suddenly intriguing. At any given time, there is a ton of music, new and old, that I'd like to properly investigate before committing to a purchase. For ten bucks a month, Rdio would give me unlimited access to a lot of that music, all in one place. I decided to give it a whirl.
Moments after signing up, I dove in head first, and in the months that followed, I wolfed down music at an unprecedented rate, dutifully working my way through a mental checklist of veteran bands who had long needed my attention as well an avalanche of new releases. […]
At one level, what Weychert found wasn't a surprise: he listened to a lot more music, but with so much to explore he listened to a lot of material just once and didn't ever return to albums to get to know them well enough to decide to buy them. It'd be the same if he'd inherited umpteen boxes of CDs from a friend with good musical taste. Presented with so much material to listen to, you'd always be tempted to find out how great the next thing might be instead of stopping and concentrating on the contents of the first pile you grabbed. With a finite amount of waking hours to devote to listening to music, something has to give.
It'll be interesting to read a further report a year on to see whether Weychert can find a strategy for avoiding the temptation to keep on pressing the Next Track button on his infinite jukebox.
September 15th, 2012
A partial eclipse of the Sun by Phobos, as seen by the Mars Curiosity rover.
Not the most spectacular astronomical image you'll ever see, and not even all that rare an event, but even so it's pretty cool that we have a one ton, nuclear powered robot present on the Martian surface to beam the picture back to Earth.