Giles Turnbull looks at what's on the Dock of a few OS X users for O'Reilly. I'm in there, near the bottom
I stand alone in the elevator, right in the middle, equidistant from the four walls. Before the doors close, a woman enters. Unconsciously, I move over to make room for her. We stand side by side with equal amounts of space between the two of us and between each of us and the walls of the elevator. On the 12th floor, a man gets on and the woman and I slide slightly to the side and to the back, maximizing the space that each of us occupies in the elevator. At the 14th floor, another man gets on. The man in front steps to the back center and the woman and I move slightly toward the front, forming a diamond shape that again maximizes each person's distance from the elevator walls and the people next to them.
It reminds me of cell division in an embryo or the arrangement of atoms in a molecule. Just as the cells and atoms know how to position themselves for maximum efficiency at a minimum size, humans know how to balance the need to collectively occupy an enclosed area and give each person his/her own space.
Boundary Functions is realized as a set of lines projected from overhead onto the floor which divide each person in the gallery from one another. With one person in the gallery there is no response. When two are present, there is a single line drawn halfway between them segmenting the room into two regions. As each person moves, this line dynamically changes, maintaining an even distance between the two. With more than two people, the floor becomes divided into cellular regions, each with the mathematical quality that all space within the region is closer to the person inside than any other.
D3an 4 Am3r1ca SEP 29
A timely post from Steven Johnson about creating "mob spots" for political campaigns. Well, timely for me because I was thinking about something similar last week. As the next step in the utilization of the Web in his campaign, Howard Dean should open up a b3ta-like forum for people who want to create digital media (photos, movies, music, Flash animations, etc.) related to Dean and the election. Give people starting material (photos, soundbites, talking points, important issues, logos, colors) and let them go nuts (you know, participate in the political process). Create ratings systems so that the good stuff bubbles to the top. Use that good stuff (with the permission of the creators) to get ideas for the ads you put on TV and in magazines or run the actual ads on Web sites, on TV stations like MTV, on radio stations (Web & not). And don't sweat the "negative" results (the anti-Dean ads that will inevitably appear) too much...moderate down or delete anything offensive, study the rest for good ideas, and, if necessary, create a separate forum for dissenting views.
Build your own Segway for about $2000. This guy is my new hero.
Thirty SEP 29
Had a nice birthday this weekend, which was good after a couple not-so-good birthdays in years past. Cookies from my mom, a present for myself, an excellent meal at Gramercy Tavern (one of the best 3 or 4 meals I've ever had in a restaurant, highly recommended), and a mini one-day vacation to Midtown Manhattan, including a trip to the Met to see an exhibit of French Daguerreotypes and a collection of objects from Saint Petersburg. Thanks to everyone who sent along birthday wishes, prompted or otherwise, and happy birthday to everyone with a birthday right around now, including Michael, Jen, Andre, Peter, Matt, Mena, and Ben.
Be Safe with your Dong SEP 28
Here's a fun tip for visitors to (or even residents of) NYC. If you're in Grand Central, make your way down to the lower level where all the food is and find the Oyster Bar. In front of the entrance is an archway about 12-16 feet across. If you and a companion stand facing opposite walls of the arch just inside the archway and whisper to each other, you will be able carry on a hushed conversation despite the 15-foot gap between you. The closer you get to the wall the better...about 6-12 inches away is pretty good. This works on the same principle as the "whisper dishes" you see at science museums.
Shanghai Knights SEP 23
Jackie Chan's schtick -- along with the man himself -- is getting old. I wanted to like this movie, but even Owen Wilson's presence, which actually made the movie worse, couldn't help it.
From Criminal Records, an article from the Sunday Times Magazine on UK pirate radio:
There is a studio mobile too. It vibrates every few seconds like a faulty alarm clock, as listeners call and text. Scrolling through its inbox, I notice scores of "missed calls". Big N explains that this is how pirates gauge a record's popularity. If listeners like a tune, they call in and then ring off, so the studio mobile registers a "missed call". This costs callers nothing. If Xtreme receives over 20 missed calls from different numbers before a track ends, the DJs play it again. This is why teenagers listen to pirate radio: it's interactive in ways legal stations can't match. Some tune in on their mobiles - on the bus, in the high street, even at school.
An evening with Bjork SEP 22
An evening with Bjork. Gina goes to see the Bjork New Yorker Festival Event
ON TRIAL! NOT ON STAGE! LIKE GOEBBELS AND LORD HAW HAW. Dissent at the Jeffrey Goldberg and Paul Wolfowitz New Yorker Festival event
Moneyball SEP 22
Since Lewis writes primarily on business, business folks will undoubtably read Moneyball with an eye toward picking up some pointers on how to run their companies. Some will completely misunderstand what Lewis discovered about major league baseball and beefheadedly apply their new "knowledge". The lesson of Moneyball is not that there are potential employees out there that are cheaper than your current employees. That's the holy grail of large American corporations and exactly what they would want to hear.
As Lewis reports, what Oakland actually did is a) measure player statistics as objectively as they could, b) identify players that perform well in those statistical categories, c) discover that the players they valued were not valued by other teams and were therefore relatively cheap, and d) went out and got the players they wanted at bargain prices. As much as the business person would like to skip directly to step d, it's impossible to determine if that will actually be effective unless you do the a-c analysis first.
Ocean's Eleven SEP 20
I have a theory about this movie. Every time I tell my theory to someone, they cough uncomfortably and roll their eyes as soon as they're out of my sight. Well, Greg didn't, but I don't know him well enough to discern if he was just humoring me or not.
My theory is that Ocean's Eleven is the best Hollywood blockbuster movie produced in years and that all Hollywood blockbusters should follow in its footsteps. Most Hollywood films try too hard (We're supposed to care about the romance between Liv Tyler and Affleck in Armageddon? Bring on the asteroid!) or hit the audience over the head with cheap humor or heavy metaphor (Seabiscuit was particularly heavy-handed) or have absolutely no style at all. Ocean's Eleven is a reasonably smart movie (it's not cerebral, but it doesn't pander either), entertaining, and thanks to Soderbergh's direction and a good soundtrack, it's got great style too. And it never resorts to sex or violence to score cheap points with the audience. (I could go on and on...)
The Elegant Universe on PBS SEP 20
One of my favorite books, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, is being turned into a three part NOVA special to be aired on PBS in late October & early November. Here's what I wrote about the book back in April 2001:
The Elegant Universe (paperback version) is easily the most accessible book on modern (and postmodern?) physics I have ever encountered. The examples, metaphors, and analogies Brian Greene uses to explain the concepts of general relativity and quantum mechanics, both of which are extremely complicated and difficult to understand (even for physicists), can be understood by anyone with a bit of curiosity and determination. Even when he attempts to explain superstring theory, which combines and greatly magnifies the complexity of relativity and quantum mechanics, he lays everything out for the reader, explaining, restating, and then restating again in plain English the most difficult concepts in physics. Highly recommended.
I'm quite looking forward to the PBS series.
Salam Pax, our man in Baghdad, has written a book called Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi and it's available for preorder on Amazon. One unusual thing I noticed is if you look at the current list of related books on the Amazon page, four out of the five authors listed have weblogs: Neal Pollack, Virginia Postrel, Charles Stross, and Tom Tomorrow.
Sippey reads the terms of service for the Verisign SiteFinder "service". Surprise! They're draconian!
Broken Social Scene SEP 19
If you're strapped for new music and flush with cash, you might want to check out You Forgot It In People by Broken Social Scene. I didn't think much of it at first, but after listening to it a few times, it's really grown on me and has become a regular in the rotation on my iPod. (via almostcool)
Fantastic photo of Hurricane Isabel. Update: the photo is of a hurricane, but not Isabel
Last Thursday, I posted a remaindered link to an article on advocate.com about the "Montana Family [Coalition's] plans to launch a campaign against the new television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy". The article included a quote by Julie Millam, executive director for the Coalition, about the show:
To me, that's not a reality show about gay people. A really good reality show for gay people would be five gay men dying of AIDS.
Montana Family Coalition has always held the position that the homosexual lifestyle should not be glamorized because it is plagued with many serious health threats to those who practice it. We feel the onslaught of television shows that promote and glamorize this destructive lifestyle are irresponsible and lead young impressionable children to wrong conclusions.
Studies show that practicing homosexuality drastically shortens the lifespan of males due to HIV/AIDS. This is the "reality" that we need to portray- that sex outside of marriage is dangerous for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Montana Family Coalition is dedicated to educating people about these risks, hopefully REDUCING the number of AIDS cases. Let me be clear-I would never ,ever imply that I, in any way, would enjoy seeing someone die from AIDS. That would be tragic-That would be the antithesis of our mission at MFC. Our goal is to offer hope, restoration and healing for the homosexual through EXODUS International and other ministries that help lead the way out.We love the sinner but hate the sin. Many people successfully leave this lifestyle every year.
Unfortunately the "reality" of homosexuality is grave with its sexual consequences is something that we must face and then warn our children about. Our point is that "reality" TV is not reality, because it glamorizes a lifestyle and fails to warn of the grave danger people face. Whether it is "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" or "Elimidate," "Temptation Island" or any other television program that degrades abstinence and/or traditional marriage - it is offensive. People are simply fed up with this type of programming and are calling for responsible change.
Tightening the screws SEP 17
Did a bit of noodling around with the archives of the remaindered links. Not perfect yet. Soon, my pets, soon. And then we'll show them. More details about RemainderedLinksCon tomorrow! (Tired. Bed. Zzzz......
Update: Gah! Should have gone to bed. I accidentally deleted the sidebar thread about the stupid fireworks thing in Central Park, along with 10 comments. Dammit and sorry! Really going to bed now.
When I grow up SEP 17
I wish I were Sofia Coppola. Then I could say, hey, Air, why don't you, like, record a song for the soundtrack of my new movie, Lost in Translation? And then they would and the song would be great and I would play it on my iPod again and again, so much so that it would become my #1 most played song in a single day. That would be cool. Fo shizzle.
I was somewhat disappointed in the 2003 edition of this collection, especially after enjoying so much the last three editions. Perhaps Oliver Sacks and I disagree on what makes science writing good. The two best articles were 1491 by Charles Mann about what the Americas were like before Columbus landed and the effect of the European arrival:
In North America, Indian torches had their biggest impact on the Midwestern prairie, much or most of which was created and maintained by fire. Millennia of exuberant burning shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms. When Indian societies disintegrated, forest invaded savannah in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Texas Hill Country. Is it possible that the Indians changed the Americas more than the invading Europeans did? "The answer is probably yes for most regions for the next 250 years or so" after Columbus, William Denevan wrote, "and for some regions right up to the present time."
and Atul Gawande's The Learning Curve, an article on how doctors need to learn on the job (while potentially making costly mistakes) in order to become more effective overall:
In medicine, there has long been a conflict betwenn the imperative to give patients the best possible care and the need to provide novices with expericne. Residencies attempt to mitigate potential harm through supervision and graduated responsibility. And there is reason to think that patients actually benefit from teaching. But there is no avoiding those first few unsteady times a young physician tries to put in a central line, removes a breast cancer, or sew together two segments of colon. No matter how many protections are in place, on average these cases go less well with the novice than with someone experienced.
Lost in Translation SEP 14
Best film I've seen in the theatre in ages. Bill Murray is a comedic genius; the scene with the elliptical trainer had my eyes watering and my pants wetting.
One Hour Photo SEP 14
There's nothing wrong with this movie. Robin Williams was good and they didn't do the typical serial killer thing with it. But the film as a whole seemed empty, forgettable, and bland.
Bottle Rocket SEP 13
Wes Anderson's first film isn't as polished and elaborate as Rushmore or Royal Tenenbaums, and that's a good thing. It would be nice to see Anderson do another stripped-down film like Bottle Rocket. Caw-caw!
Psychogeography is "The study of specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals". Hmm, sounds like I'd be interested in that
Collection of Conde Nast magazine covers. The old Vogue covers are great
Bilingual conversations SEP 11
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone (probably Meg) who had overheard a conversation in which the two participants spoke in a fluid mixture of English and their native language. Today at lunch, I overheard a conversation between two Hispanic women who were unconsciously switching back and forth between Spanish and English. Much of their conversation was in Spanish, but there were English words sprinkled in and the occasional complete sentences in English.
As a hopeless monolingual (I dream in Tetris when I play GameBoy too much and sometimes think in HTML markup, but I don't think that counts), I find bilingual conversations fascinating. A cursory search on Google turns up several mentions of research and inquiry about this practice (the technical term seems to be "bilingual codeswitching"). The results link mostly to academic books and papers, but I think the topic would make a great New Yorker piece. There are so many potential interesting questions around how bilingual codeswitchers choose words and languages during a conversation:
- Does the subject matter, um, matter? Are sports more "English" and politics more "Spanish"?
- How much of language switching is about brevity? Maybe people base word/phrase choice on how quickly they can speak a particular phrase in a particular language.
- Or is it expressiveness? The "perfect phrase" for what a speaker is trying to convey to their partner might exist in only one of the two languages.
- How do the grammars mix...if at all? Would a French speaker use English syntax when speaking French (or vice versa)?
- Does code switching happen in writing as well, or is it strictly verbal?
- How fluent does a speaker have to be in both languages in order to codeswitch fluidly?
- How much does a speaker's primary language determine language choice? Does their ability to codeswitch improve if they were bilingual from birth?
- Will a strong codeswitcher speak to his partner's stronger language?
- If one person finishes a remark in English, will her partner start her remark in English? What would prompt them to go back to the other language?
- Are some combinations of languages not amenable to codeswitching? Is Italian/Japanese codeswitching possible?
Not to mention all the questions about what changes in brain activity of a codeswitcher can tell us about the brain, speech, learning, etc. Like I said, I find this fascinating.
Does anyone know anything about codeswitching, either from researching it, personal observation, or otherwise hearing/reading about it? Any codeswitchers out there care to share their experiences?
The Montana Family Coalition wants Queer Eye for the Straight Guy off the air. Displaying excellent family values, executive director says: "A really good reality show for gay people would be five gay men dying of AIDS."
Free as in stagnation SEP 10
According to news.com, Google is discontinuing Blogger Pro and folding the Pro features back into their free version of the software:
Google-owned Web log-creation site Blogger is eliminating its paid version and folding premium functions into its free service, bucking a trend toward making people pay for Web site extras.
The creation of Blogger Pro, which cost subscribers a yearly fee of $35, came about as a result of financial necessity, Blogger co-founder Evan Williams wrote in an e-mail to subscribers. Now that Google owns the service, that need has passed.
It's a good move...Pro never offered significant improvement over the free version and the proliferation of Blogger's various options (Blogger, Blogger Pro, Blog*Spot, ad-free Blog*Spot, etc.) was confusing.
But as I mentioned back in May, it makes me nervous when a big company releases for free software for which other smaller companies are charging. Just as Microsoft buried Netscape with a free browser (resulting in stagnation in overall browser development), Google could give away blogging tools and services (to what end?), make it difficult for Six Apart, UserLand, etc. to sell their products & services, and in two years time, we've got a single dominant blogging platform and innovation in blogging software goes to zero. Fortunately, the general excellence and feature-richness of TypePad and Movable Type in particular and Blogger's continuing uptime and support problems will probably override any advantage Blogger has in price.
Practice your Scrabble skills daily on Scrabblog. Nice execution of a great idea
Edward Teller dies at 95 SEP 10
Physicist Edward Teller, who helped develop both the atomic & hydrogen bombs and alienated many of his friends in the process, died yesterday at 95:
Few, if any, physicists of this century have generated such heated debate as Edward Teller. Much of it centered on his decade-long effort to produce the hydrogen bomb, his ardent promotion of nuclear weapons in general, his deep suspicion of Soviet intentions and his opposition to curtailment of nuclear testing.
His frustrations in seeking to win support for development of the hydrogen bomb led to his testimony that helped deprive J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the development of the first atomic bomb, of his security clearance. The result in much of the scientific community was a backlash against Dr. Teller that clouded the rest of his life.
I just finished reading about Teller in Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb; I had no idea he was still alive.
BTW, if you read to the end of the article, it says that Walter Sullivan, the author of the piece, who was "a science writer and editor for The New York Times, died in 1996." An obituary within an obituary.
The big record companies are (smartly) using statistics from file-sharing networks to get a TiVo-level look at what people are listening to, but are keeping it on the downlow because it weakens their legal case against those networks:
According to on-the-record statements by many major labels, the scene I witnessed in Fleischer's office couldn't possibly have happened. But Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, says his firm is working with Maverick, Atlantic, Warner Bros., Interscope, DreamWorks, Elektra, and Disney's Hollywood label. The labels are reticent to admit their relationship with BigChampagne for public relations reasons, but there's a legal rationale, too. The record industry's lawsuits against file-sharing companies hang on their assertion that the programs have no use other than to help infringe copyrights. If the labels acknowledge a legitimate use for P2P programs, it would undercut their case as well as their zero-tolerance stance. "We would definitely consider gleaning marketing wisdom from these networks a non-infringing use," says Fred von Lohmann, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based cyber liberties group that's helping to defend Morpheus, Grokster, and Kazaa.
I was wondering when this issue would arise. There's just too much information available about people's music-listening habits on file-sharing networks for the labels to ignore, even if it means that those networks would be legally allowed to exist. The labels and the RIAA must have some inkling of this because their tactics have changed in recent months; they're now going after individuals in addition to the networks. Might they are willing to concede a distinction between legal and illegal use of file-sharing systems? (via bb)
Reviews of dozens of joysticks and game controllers. with ratings
Stealth Disco: people dancing behind other people's backs. "The 70s are right behind you"
Punch-Drunk Love SEP 07
Forget for a moment that this is just another Adam Sandler movie where he plays a dorky guy who gets angry at inappropriate moments and smashes things. Actually, scratch that...Sandler's pretty good at playing that part by now and it's nothing for him to be ashamed of. After seeing the movie, the first question out of your mouth may have been, "what the hell was that?" A: a musical.
Rhodes' followup to The Making of the Atomic Bomb (for which he won a Pulitzer), while not as tight a narrative as its predecessor, was more interesting to me because I was less familiar with the story. In particular, the Soviet espionage effort during WWII was fascinating.
Invading the South SEP 05
I'm off to Raleigh, NC this weekend to visit some friends. I don't think I've ever been to Raleigh...well, except for the airport. I think everyone who's ever flown in an airplane has been to the Raleigh-Durham airport at some time or another. Anyway, no posts this weekend probably.
PHP to enter NULL into MySQL SEP 02
Reading some mailing list messages just now, I came across a post titled "PHP to enter NULL into MySQL". Sounds like a headline from the world's dorkiest newspaper.
Update on the uber Matrix Reloaded thread(s): 1509 comments and counting. 931 comments on the first thread and 578 on the second one
Spellbound SEP 02
Somehow this 90-minute film isn't just about the National Spelling Bee and eight of its contestants, it also manages to fit in a great deal about what it means to be an American. Being from the Midwest, I identified most with the boy from Missouri and the girl from Texas. They were smart kids and naturally talented spellers but had no chance against big-city kids from the coasts whose parents could afford French tutors, spelling coaches, and computers with spelling software.
The Good Girl SEP 01
Jennifer Aniston's acting ability keeps thwarting my attempts at disliking her. The only drawback here is Jake Gyllenhaal's character; he needed to be a little less crazy. If he was that insane, he never would have made it to this point in his life without offing himself.