All posts made in May. 2003:

Before I [metaphor based on fictionalised model of the internet here, about getting re-engaged], here are my current four favourite frequently-updated sites. They rock very hard.

  • Girls Are Pretty has just had an epic last week, funniest thing out there.
  • Peter Lindberg, of Tesugen, reads a startling amount of quality stuff, and consistently (I mean always, for as long as I've been reading) pulls out the best quotes and has massively perceptive, original comments.
  • There's nothing to say about Erik Benson except that his essays are chock-full of genius ideas, and you should read everything he's written for the last month.
  • At BlackBeltJones, Matt Jones has been pulling together concepts from all over the place. Fantastic brain buzz material.

(And during my time of joblessness, enjobbedness, enforced-but-actually-very-pleasant offlinetime, I've done nothing but move house and write a single Upsideclown: Extelligence.)

See, I keep coming back to what Danny said: "While I manage to fend off pop-up windows with Mozilla, and spam with Spamassassin, most people don't know about those programs". A bookmarklet to help you buy CDs by independent labels [via boingboing]? Or scanning barcodes with a cellphone to search for hidden product information?

So it's one experience for the people who know how to use the machinery, how to play the game, and a thoroughly unpleasant one for the people who don't know who to ask, or can't understand why they should even have to carry four bits of expensive electronics to avoid having their allergy triggered by badly designed packaging.

That's the worst kind of exclusionary tactics, isn't it? Using equality as an excuse to not teach those less able? And hypocritical?: living an online life unharrassed by blocked adverts, but paid for by those same ads on the eyeballs of those we don't let into our club? We use our knowledge for access to good, free software, but leave the rest to fend for themselves, having to put money into the hands of those we claim we're against. If we say we're pathfinding, exploring for the future, is that the same as dodging the responsibility to open these new abilities to everyone else? The people who have the knowledge have the best time; some people - inevitably - have less, and don't have such a good time. That's the way of the world, isn't it. That's the way it's always been.

Yeah, except: this time we said it would be different. Remember?

What's really going on in a teenager's brain: "These scientists have discovered that the brain goes through massive refinement in adolescence. Paths are smoothed, bridges built and rubbish cleared. As one of the American scientists interviewed by Barbara Strauch puts it, in the cheerful style shared by all of them: 'The brain's pruned back to the essentials, you know, like one of those poems, a haiku. It's as if the brain says, hey, it's time to specialise.' To enable this, there is a surge of grey matter aptly called an 'exuberance'. This overload of capacity and possibility is why teenagers can read a Russian novel a day, hack into military software, steal a car or want to save the world. It also causes a heightening of experience and emotion for which they are not fully equipped - like a rollercoaster setting off before every nut and bolt is in place".

(Exuberance. Hebb again! Young Komodo dragons climb trees. One day, they're too big to climb trees, and spend the rest of their lives on the ground. Do they know?)

"The beard can be a very important part of your disguise and is always a very good supplement for masks. Beard or no beard? This is not only a question of what's in vogue or of social differentiation, at least not exclusively. The beard is rather a sign of masculinity, partially religious commandment, a sign of ethnical affiliation or political avowal or simply a status symbol. In addition the beard has many faces, virtually as there are many ways to dress it. To be beardless is only one of many choices - all the others you can find here on".

Today's question. How does a grasshopper know where to jump?


So I've been looking a little at biotech, having quit my job last week in the worst fit of post-holiday blues I've experienced. I figure it must be a really easy industry because basically it's all about text patterns, which means Perl plus regular expressions and I can do that. What's more, genetic code only needs four characters, so they're not even going to be hard regular expressions. You know, I've no idea why the Human Genome Project took so long.

Yoz responds to a bunch of my recent posts. He puts me straight on kosher cannibalism -- there's a whole lot more to it than not mixing milk and meat, so I wouldn't be okay eating dead people lactating or otherwise. Pretending for a moment that I were Jewish, which I'm not. (Actually his list of reasons is better than that: "Another is oh for god's sake". An admirable argument I'll use myself in the future.)

The geek badge of honour thing is interesting. I agree whole-heartedly: "an always-present useful tool which the travelling geek can both be identified with and called on to use. (I want a samurai sword with which to help ease the plight of bandit-plagued villagers.) Anyone can carry one, but you have to know how to use it".

In a way I'm thinking of the AC-contact from Isaac Asimov's The Last Question: "He stared somberly at his small AC-contact. It was only two inches cubed and nothing in itself, but it was connected through hyperspace with the great Galactic AC that served all mankind".

Like a persistent Google connection. Oh, which leads me neatly to The Last Query, a cheap-shot global search-and-replace that I couldn't resist, which is only funny if you're an Asimov fan, and not really even then.

The Intruder, telling a Borges story over eight tiny Shockwave games [via Purse Lip Square Jaw]. An interview with the creator: "...looked like a game but in fact was a critical commentary on computer games and patriarchy".

(Now that's what I call ergodic literature.)

(Versus: Library Bookbomber!: "Set in the Library of Babel, you play Borges the nearly-blind Librarian battling a non-denumerable infinity of foreign-speaking janitors while hopping from low-ceilinged hexagonal room to low-ceilinged hexagonal room".)

On whether literature can [should?] change the world, and being true to the story, Philip Pullman on What is the relationship between art and society? An argument I like: "Taking care of the tools also means developing the faculty of sensing when we're not sure about a point of grammar. We don't have to know infallibly how to get it right so much as to sense infallibly that we might have got it wrong, because then we can look it up and get it to work properly. Sometimes we're told that this sort of thing doesn't matter very much. If only a few readers recognise and object to unattached participles, for example, and most readers don't notice and sort of get the sense anyway, why bother? I discovered a very good answer to that, and it goes like this: if people don't notice when we get it wrong, they won't mind if we get it right. And if we do get it right, we'll please the few who do know and care about these things, so everyone will be happy".

The question being, can you have Halal necrophilia? Just wondering. On a related note, and incidentally, cannibalism ain't kosher.

There's a lot of good stuff in Paul Graham's Hackers and Painters. A fast [readable] romp through hacking, sketching, day jobs, open source and user empathy.

On a different note. In some hotel bar in San Francisco, I was lamenting the lack of a badge of honour for geeks. And not like gadgetry or clothing but a specific tool essential to the job that takes knowledge to use properly: a harmonica, a tuning fork [a code fork...]: something that could be worn in a battered leather pouch on a belt around the waist, whipped out, unfolded and it's an ssh window in thin air -- reach in and fiddle around with the machinery.

- So you want something to keep hacking exclusive? said Cory (I paraphrase). And yes okay, that's what I was saying and it's a really bad thing.

But there's another way of looking at it. The tools for expert users needn't be the same as the tools for novice users. Or at least, for the same level of cognitive friction, the tool can mesh better with the way the expert user thinks (I find BBEdit grows well with me like that). The point being, you're only a first-time user once.

The Lost Art of Seduction [via iamcal]: "Of course, an alert girl will probably spot the deception if you get her into bed, but by then it'll be too late. I think there's a rule that if you manage to trick a woman into going to bed with you, she's not allowed to change her mind once she sees what you look like without your clothes on. I think the rule is once she's completely lying on the bed with one arm flung back behind her head she's yours and she can't back out, but as long as she keeps one foot on the floor she's barley. So remember, chaps, no undressing until she's got both those feet up".

Gridcosm [via As Above] is pretty damn good. "The way it works is that each level of Gridcosm is made up of nine square images arranged into a 3x3 grid of images. The middle image is a one-third size version of the previous level". What that means is the video flythough of over 1000 levels (5mb mpg) is really worth a watch.

Some interesting desktop innovations in Microsoft's Longhorn Alpha Preview 3 (the new Windows): Libraries, pivot views, Carousel view and stacks.

  • Libraries. "In this build, special shell folders have been replaced, sort of, by a new construct called a library. A library is a virtual folder that intelligently gathers information about files on your system and presents them to the users in a collection. [...] Note that libraries don't actually contain anything physically; instead, they are a special collection of shortcuts, similar to the Control Panel in XP. The files themselves could be anywhere on your system, though most libraries are limited to searching particular folders for performance reasons. As I understand it, the objective here is to transparently shield the user from having to worry about physical disk locations, and it seems like a good idea. [...] Longhorn includes the Document Library, Game Library, Music Library, My Contacts, and Picture & Video Library. [...] The Document Library will logically replace My Documents and is, naturally, a collection of all of the documents on your system. By default, the Document Library collects documents from My Documents, the desktop, and Shared Documents. It does not collect pictures, videos, or images."
  • Pivot views. "In Longhorn, libraries can be filtered to display only certain types of content. When dealing with libraries, a filter (or view) is called a pivot. So, for example, you might display all pictures and videos in the Picture & Video Library, but you might want to filter the view by various criteria as well (size, date, whatever); this view of the data is a pivot. You can also modify the default view, or pivot, for each library and determine which physical folders it links to."
  • Carousel view. "The My Contacts Library features a new Explorer view style called Carousel. [...] Graphically, an icon representing your user sits at the center of the carousel, and lines, or spokes, branch out from the center towards your contacts. In Carousel view, items can be grouped by various criteria, such as relationships. In the relationships concept, you might have people sorted by family, friends, work, and the like. So you'd see lines radiating out from your icon toward these groups. Items that are logically further away from you (alphabetically, those items that are further from the letter A) will graphically fade as they move further from the center of the carousel (you)."
  • Stacks. "In My Contacts, you can arrange contacts by Name, Email, Work Email, Personal Email, Home Phone, Work Phone, or Online Status, but you can also utilizing a new feature called Stacks. Because you can't actually work with stacks in 4015, it's unclear what the feature does, but you can stack contacts by the same list of criteria by which you can arrange them, and you can also unstack them. Stacking and unstacking might be related to the Carousel view but, again, that's unclear right now."

(Enormous quantities of text copy-and-pasted above because I'm never very optimistic about OS preview commentary staying on the www for long.)