All posts made the week commencing Sunday 21 Apr., 2002:

Rudyard Kipling's Mandalay. Good.

Gallery of cool 404 Not Found pages.

(Brief plug: You, Reader, should consider writing for Upsideclone. Creative writing, weekly.)

Tom gets caught out trying to cut-and-paste between different computers. I do that the whole time. Very frustrating. The clipboard shouldn't be on the computer, it should be stored on a ring on my hand so that when I copy it's uploaded to my finger. And then I change computer, and paste, it's downloaded from the ring through the mouse and onto the new computer's desktop (or wherever). I mean, of course. Bluetooth could be cool for this.

It's become fashionable to bash Web services and SOAP recently. Web services have been surrounded by far too much hype. SOAP is derided by developers as slow and over-complicated. Here's the back-backlash: The early adopters are naturally going to think SOAP is over-complicated because they could do it all themselves. But sooner or later you've got to get tired of doing the service requests by hand, of coding fault responses, of writing custom parsers for the return documents. And if you're not such a hard-core developer, those requirements constitute a high barrier to entry -- the freely available SOAP modules make life a hundred times easier.

And development time isn't all that matters. What you get with SOAP + WSDL is a reasonably standardised way of documenting your service, in a way that can be attached to a contract. And because it's all objects and method calls, there's a shared language to express Service Level Agreements in. Both of which are extremely important before a technology gets adopted by business. Web services do make life easier. The fact that SOAP is used makes it possible to implement commercially.

My favourite thing about Web services? I can get on with what I want to do (recombine things in interesting ways) without pissing around cleaning up malformed things to make them recombinable. It's the same reason I don't build my own computers, the same reason I use a Mac, the same reason I like science. Standing on shoulders.

Reader Alex Robinson comes up with the goods: X Font Info is a freeware utility to preview uninstalled Mac OS X fonts. I've already associated all my font filetypes with it. Ideal.

Question: Is there a utility for Mac OS X to preview uninstalled fonts? Hunting...

Interesting. Easel is a programming language to simulate emergent behaviour. You define actors with behaviour, and run them in a simulation to examine effects. The epidemic example lets you read the code (defining how the actors behave, in this case individuals who move around and may or may not be infected), and view the output of a simulation run as a Quicktime movie. (Easel is currently Mac OS only.)

Work that's currently being done in voice-based automation comes in two flavours: recognition technology and interface design. Machine voice systems are moving on from the traditional menu hierarchy ("For Customer Support, say 'Yes' now") to a more intuitive (familiar) design. A lot of the lessons being learnt there are equally applicable to Conversational User Interfaces [CUI] (and, I imagine, vice-versa). See AT&T's How May I Help You? voice research, and especially the research paper "Designing User Interfaces for Spoken Dialog Systems" [PDF, at the bottom of the page].

It's at this point you should also go away and read The Jack Principles -- in short, how to direct the conversation so a user will never be in a position to ask a question the machine can't answer.

Technical Writing, online textbook.