Friday, December 31, 2004

Pelican Pics from St Croix

Today I'm posting a lot of St Croix pelicans (and other birds). The 12x zoom did come in handy. For these pics, you'll want to start on this one and keep hitting "prev" to go backwards.

Arthur C Clarke is still alive.

Roger Ebert once again proves his scifi geek roots. He wrote to Arthur in Sri Lanka to check if he was still ok. In email back, Clarke describes some of the devestation and suggests some charity organizations to help Sri Lanka.

Arthur C. Clarke from Sri Lanka.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Photos from my trip to St. Croix, being put up a handful a day on my photo blog. You can expect a lot of rundown textured buildings, some pelicans and lizards, and people lounging.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Club Med: An escape from hell?

The last time I was in the Caribbean was 1996, I think. It was sometime around when I finished my dissertation; a friend who needed a vacation then talked me into a hastily-chosen Club Med getaway for singles on Turks and Caicos. I didn't love it, because it was basically summer camp for adults. They kept hassling us into party games and get-to-know-you activities of the type I loathe. I eyed the empty beaches at the other resorts hungrily the whole time. Now I see on their website that T&C is rated closer to the "most active" end of the scale, rather than the "most serene." Uh huh.

They made you sit in groups at the dinner table. I got into a lot of interesting conversations with the camp counselors. One had been a fashion industry work-a-holic in Toronto, and had come to Club Med on a last-minute stress escape. After the week package, she was climbing the stairs to the airplane and froze at the door to the plane. "No, no, I won't go back!!" she screamed. She turned around and fled back to Club Med where she begged for a job. She was still working there, years later, doing the only work that was going begging: teaching wind-surfing under the brutal midday sun. She was as dark as a raisin, but seemed happy. Happier, anyway.

When I went snorkeling one day, I discovered whilst bobbing in the water that my snorkel partner was the kitchen baker who made the bread. It was truly awesome bread, I can still remember the texture and flavor. I had a lot to ask him about it, but it wasn't really the right time. I do remember him saying, "It's pretty easy to get work down here, everyone needs a boat captain or a cook." And he had off for most of the day. Too bad he had to get up at 3am, which I could never do.

If you're wondering how the "singles" thing went -- someone made a pass at my friend (the guy who taught trampoline) but I dodged all human contact apart from the help staff and a badly discordant earful of William Gibson reading Neuromancer to me via tape during long walks on the beach. I was ready to ditch him after the first sneering chapter, but didn't have enough paper to read.

See you all when I get back. This time I'm going with Neal Stephenson in book form -- we'll see if it goes any better.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A camera that knows where it is

I followed this link from Photography Blog, and expected to hear there was finally a camera for sale in the US that does this in one unit. Instead, it's an article in the Register-Guard from Eugene talking about a German guy's vacation photos, and not giving his website. I dug it up: On the Road in Northwest Scotland.

Also, there's a a South African doing a similar thing in the Boston area. It's a little less scenic, but then I live here.

Bill's Self Interview

Since everyone needs a laugh this time of year, and this made me cackle madly: Sarah Weinman linked to Bill Crider (a writer whose work I haven't read) interviewing himself on his own blog.
The Blog: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

Me: I've always wanted to write. In fact, I wrote my first novel at the age of five, a hardboiled tale of violence and revenge called The Velveteen Rabbit Takes Names and Kicks Ass. It would have been a blockbuster, but all the major publishers rejected it. "We don't do fanfic" was the typical turn-down.

It's at Bill's Blog: Interview!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Kudzu Covered Houses

I got this off Fodor's travel blog page... a collection of creepy pictures of abandonned houses in Georgia and South Carolina being eaten by something called a "kudzu." It's a vine, I guess. Or a green leafy alien invasion.

Kudzu Covered Houses in North Georgia.

Bird Snaps

Birds in snow... I've been having a good time with a new Lumix camera and my bird feeders. Here's a few on the photo blog in the snow storm this morning.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Refined Beauty, for hire.

I have that paranoid worry that I'm the last to know about this, but I have no idea why. Check out this and tell me if you think it's for real:

Lara is a sophisticated young woman who acts as a travel companion to discerning gentlemen who appreciate beauty, elegance and intelligence. When she's not traveling, she shares her time between her house in San Francisco, NYC and her birthplace in Europe.

Her personality and looks combine European sophistication with the American adventurous spirit. She holds an advanced engineering degree from a top tier California university, is bilingual and an avid world traveler. In order to balance the needs of her career with her other activities, she sees very few and select individuals every year and prefers sufficiently advanced notice for travel.

Lara is a chameleon, a living contradiction. She is known to equally enjoy hiking the Na Pali or relaxing at the Punta Mita Four Seasons; exploring the St. Ouen flea market in Paris or dining at the Tour d’Argent; savoring a home-made Fondue Savoyarde in the French Alps, or attending formal events in Geneva.

It continues with her measurements.

It could be real or someone's elaborate fantasy life. I don't know which I'd prefer it to be...

Don't forget to check out the entertaining FAQ, one of which is "Do you really have an engineering degree?" All at Lara: VIP travel escort- Discreet, educated, elegant, stunning luxury escort for travel. And there's her LJ, of course.

Update on 12/20: Lara writes to me and says she's for real :-) (She must read her logs regularly, so maybe she really is an engineer too!)

The curious side of the travel biz...

Gotten off Sarah Weinman's blog, an odd travel blog from the New Haven Register website, by Karen Olson (also now a mystery writer, according to Sarah). Her blog is frankly one I wish I wrote for: weird visits to places like prisons, the Mike Weaver Drain Tile Museum, and a 2.5hour tour of Paris for fans of the Da Vinci Code. (The Paris tour has to be far more fun than reading the book itself.)

Going Places: The curious side of the travel biz.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Software Functional Specifications: What's the Point?

Well, I've become pretty opinionated on this one recently. It's been on my mind as I think about what constitutes good design, the role of usability, and the process of team problem solving.

Cutting away to a separate essay page this time, so you don't get spammed without asking for it.

Life Does Imitate Art: Ebert's Answerman

An odd story, about a guy inspired by Before Sunrise, who meets a woman on a train and ends up kicked out of law school because of it. Who says real life isn't interesting?

Roger Ebert's London Calling, and it's Daryl.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Windhouse in Shetland, from the other side.

Windhouse on Yell, Shetland -- 2002.

The Most Haunted House in Scotland (on Yell)

I've just hit an article in the BBC News about the sale of the most haunted house in Britain, Windhouse on Yell in Shetland. I visited the site myself in 2002 whilst staying in Shetland for a week; I took enough notes and did enough research to write a mag article. Here's what I wrote up at the time, right after my visit:

... Despite the island's general lack of press -- people only go to Yell to get to Unst, famous for a bird preserve -- people from Yell are "passionate about Yell," according to the guy at the archives who gave me some of the ghost stories. Some of them are also storytellers, which might be why the house is still famous.

There's one story about the house that's one of the best-known of all Shetland folktales, "The Trow of Windhouse" or "Trow of Yell." Trows are the local fairy folk, but the trow in the tale is nothing like the normal ones. Unlike the little people or slim types capable of passing for human, this one is a huge mountain of gelatinous blubber.

[Linguistic note: "ow" is usually pronounced "oo" in Shetland. Cows are "coos" and Windhouse is "Windhoose." The archive guy said "trow" not "troo." No idea what the actual rule is, I gave up linguistics years ago.]

This one goes back to the mid-1800's at latest. The versions all agree on this: Christmas Eve a shipwrecked sailor makes his way to Windhouse, and finds the family packing up to spend the night elsewhere. Every Christmas Eve, horrible things happen and someone ends up dead. [That's MY family holidays, hey!] They invite him to go with them, but he stays in the house without them, not being scared (and maybe interested in the silver, just my theory). A giant monstrous creature attacks the house in the night, and he grabs his faithful axe (with him since the shipwreck? isn't it heavy?) and gives chase outside. He buries his axe in the giant and kills it. He finds on the ground a shapeless mass. The family is happy to see him alive Christmas Day, and he points out where he killed it. The heather there turned bright green and the spot is still known to the locals (in one version, there's an actual fence around it).

The archivist found me transcriptions of Edinburgh folklorist interviews with one of the storytellers. They read like this:

This man cam te Windhouse, te de Spences, an dey wir at tea, is I referred. An dey asked him if he wid pertake, an he said he wis hungry fer dey wirna tasted food -- ot wos all been watter logged for so many hours. An he took dis tea, and dey teld him dis story aboot de eruptions it wis ite da house, an de house bein haunted, an dey wir goin te dir cousins in Mid-Yell, an dey waanted him te come with dem. An he said he wisna fightened for no trows, ir nothin like it an as well, he didna believe in it.

After the blob is dead, the interviewer says in spectacularly lame academic style: "I see. It's interesting that sometimes in these stories that the use of cold iron could drive away the supernatural." Our innocent storyteller starts to say, "Very much so, bit dey wir..."

The interviewer ploughs on with his undergraduate, man-on-a-mission collection method: "Have you heard any other stories like that --[ Storyteller says, "No" over him] where cold iron like an [Storyteller: "No."] axe or knife could drive away the--"

Here in the transcript [I am giggling into my wine in the bar that night as I read it, btw] the poor storyteller finally gets in a complete line: "Steel. Dey mightla been steel ina yon."

The crushed interviewer, knowing this is being transcribed: "Yes."

And the storyteller pounds it home, with a long paragraph about how much more useful steel is, get off your lame old-fashioned "cold iron" academic folklore kick and let me tell you what we think up here.

Ahem. There are a bunch of other, less well-documented ghost stories, ones I was actually more interested in but didn't have much access to. There's one about a "lady in silk" believed to be a housekeeper or mistress who fell down the stairs and broke her neck. There's an unsubstantiated rumor of a woman's skeleton found under floorboards at the foot of the stair.

There's another one about a tall man ghost in a long black coat, possibly connected to the actual substantiated body story. I found it in microfilm from 1887:

Human Remains Found.-- While some workmen, who are engaged repairing the manor house of Windhouse, were removing some debris from the back of the house, they came upon the skeleton of a human being. It had apparently been that of a man of large stature, as the bones measured fully six feet long. It was lying in the position it had been put down, the arms folded over the breast. It was only a small distance under the ground and there was no evidence of their ever being a coffin, which gave rise to an opinion that it had been a murder; but if it has it is not in the memory of any of the inhabitants nor does any remember any person ever being missed.

One of the archive transcripts says it was thought to be someone who disappeared at a workmen's party. There's another report of a baby's skeleton found in a kitchen wall, but I couldn't find a date to verify that story in the paper.

The house had a pretty strange history even without the bodies. There was an earlier house higher up on on the hill in the 1600s, owned by a series of pretty nasty men (lying, cheating, beatings, hangings). The current house was the reconstruction of the old one in 1700-something, done by moving the stones down. Supposedly the foundations of the original are still visible, but I didn't go up to see. The gatehouse by the road is now a camping lodge where you can stay for 5 pounds. The farmhouse on the land opposite across the road was occupied by one of the amateur Yell historians who wrote an 8-part history of the 1600s house and its owners in a local magazine 2 decades ago.

In the 1930s, the last owner sold it and it is now on land owned by the RSPB (bird society). There are supposed to be otters nearby, which is why I was there at all. It's now a ruin that kids dare each other to spend the night in and adults told me they get an uncomfortable feeling there. I certainly did, too. I considered going back after my first view of it from the road, to actually look closer at the ruin, maybe walk around and look for the old house foundations, but I talked myself out of it.

The house was put up for sale and according to the most recent newspaper blurb (July 02), "It is the reputed haunt of many ghosts and skeletons have been found in the walls and beneath the floors of the imposing old ruin." There were interested parties inquiring from all over the world, and the new buyer is from England. I called the paper to see if they knew anything more, but they didn't. I never reached the local RSPB in Shetland, although I had a contact number and name. (Eventually I decided I had bothered people enough for details that I probably couldn't use in any ordinary travel article.)

....And I never wrote it up for any article, beyond the text you see here.

Teamwork and Teams

One of my favorite reads of last year was Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong. In a nutshell, they found that effective teams share the same characteristics:
  1. clear, elevating goal;
  2. a results-driven structure;
  3. competent members;
  4. unified commitment;
  5. a collaborative climate;
  6. standards of excellence;
  7. external support and recognition;
  8. principled leadership.

The two things that most often screw up effective teamwork are personal agendas that conflict with group goals and politics. Trust is a big issue as well; trust lost is hard to regain, if it ever can be.

I just looked around for a good review of this book, since I seem to have lost the one I wrote for my previous company newsletter, and I hit instead some interesting pages on group behavior in developing teams. Big Dog's Amusingly Titled Leadership Page pretty accurately describes the meetings of a group I'm in now as it tries to organize to solve a problem together. It even characterizes the personalities in my meetings!

The team's transition from the "As-Is" to the "To-Be" is called the Storming phase. All members have their own ideas as to how the process should look, and personal agendas are rampant. Storming is probably the most difficult stage for the team. They begin to realize the tasks that are ahead are different and more difficult than they imagined. Impatient about the lack of progress, members argue about just what actions the team should take. They try to rely solely on their personal and professional experience, and resist collaborating with most of the other team members. Storming includes these feelings and behaviors:

  • Resisting the tasks.
  • Resisting quality improvement approaches suggested by other members.
  • Sharp fluctuations in attitude about the team and the project's chance of success.
  • Arguing among members even when they agree on the real issues.
  • Defensiveness, competition, and choosing sides.
  • Questioning the wisdom of those who selected this project and appointed the other members of the team.
  • Establishing unrealistic goals.
  • Disunity, increased tension, and jealousy.
I think Someone inviting all members of the group to lunch instead of just some of them might have helped with that last bullet, but hey-- I'm just playing my role in the evolving team process with a little tension and jealousy!

Luckily, one of the group is a "Driver or Controller, a take-charge person, who exerts strong influence to get things done, focuses on results"; so we might get to the accomplishment phases soon. And the textbook strengths and weaknesses apply here: "Gets things done. Determined, requiring, thorough, decisive, efficient, direct. In-attentative behavior when listening to others. Dominating, unsympathetic, demanding, critical, impatient."

And no, I'm not going to tell you which group role I'm playing.

Robot workshop

This Robot Workshop in Sweden sounds like a lot of fun. Which means of course Lars Erik Holmquist, an attendee of the long-ago games workshop I co-organized at CHI, is one of the instigators. He's involved in everything that's cool right now.

Interestingly, Luc Steels is also involved -- the former boss of a a long-time friend of mine. They worked in Paris on language-evolutionary game theory stuff that was somehow illustrated with internet-connected small robots. It was quite weird, but colorful. I think we ran into him (Steels) in a bar in Belgium when he was entertaining Rodney Brooks, whom we later took on a bar crawl. I do know we took Rodney on that pub crawl, at least. Ah, those were the days (of much more serious hangovers and now rather distorted recollections).

Thursday, December 16, 2004

PC Mag Picks of 2004: Digital Imaging

This list had a few things I hadn't heard about and can't personally vouch for -- like a fairly cheap DVD slideshow authoring tool from Arcsoft (anyone who's done this knows you could benefit from a dedicated piece of software); their video editing pick was Adobe's suite (yay!), but surprisingly, the High-End Effects pick was not After Effects, but Apple Motion (what?!); and DVD authoring pick was MyDVD Studio 6 (I've heard nothing about this, but I stopped investigating after finding DVD Lab a year ago).

Feature from PC Magazine: Digital Imaging

Photos by Location: Stanford Project

As I keep telling everyone I know, I proposed this as a research project once (to a lab in Seattle that shall remain unidentified); but at the time there was only one camera I could find that really integrated GPS data with the picture's metadata (and it was only for sale in Japan). Stanford apparently has a research project looking at display software for photos like this. I guess I'll look into this further, when/if I ever get a camera that's location-aware.

Dynamic Cartograms for Navigating Geo-Referenced Photographs

Earthsea in Clorox, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursala speaks about the abominable SciFi version of her books. (I just shook my head all the way through the 4 hours. Why did I keep watching, I have no idea. Maybe because there's not enough new SF on right now?)

Earthsea in Clorox, by Ursula K. Le Guin

"Well," I said, "you do realise that almost everybody in Earthsea is 'those people,' or anyhow not white?" I don't remember what their answer to that was -- it may have used that wonderful weasel word "colorblind" -- but it wasn't reassuring, because I do remember saying to my husband, oh, gee, I bet they're going to have a honky Ged.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tree-hugging Topics

I was accused of being a tree-hugger today, and then someone else told me squirrel and oak tree stories, so I'm digging up a bunch of related stuff. (Plus I'm avoiding writing my Xmas cards that have to be done.)

Apparently it's been a bad year for acorns, so the winter might be lean for the squirrels and chipmunks. It seems that squirrels are choosy about which acorns they eat right away (white oak acorns are the dark chocolate of acorns) and which they cache away (the red oaks'): Researchers Tackle The Nutty Truth On Acorns And Squirrels. Hiding them does plant trees, as you might expect, since they forget about some of them. Or maybe it's intentional-- they need these trees too! I find it endearing that squirrels are crafty and paranoid and resort to tricks to hide their stash, including pretending to bury stuff -- for any watching nut-predators-- and then running away with the real loot.

And here's the Op-Ed piece in the NY Times by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who relates democracy to environmental concerns and suggests we all plant a tree. "But today in Nyeri, as in much of Africa and the developing world, water sources have dried up, the soil is parched and unsuitable for growing food, and conflicts over land are common. So it should come as no surprise that I was inspired to plant trees to help meet the basic needs of rural women."

Info Visualizations

A bunch of cool tools for doing visualizations of net stuff that I ripped out of Christina Wodtke's presentation on the importance of Information Architecture:

Grokker, a visual web data-mining thing involving zooming and paying money to use it; Newsmap (based on the treemap technique, applied to Google news--I like this one!); Kartoo, a visual meta search engine (I tried "MOO" and got a lot of bovine stuff; I'm not sure I immediately get the display's info intent).

thermotiles on designboom

This is really cool, and a good example of how materials can be slightly smarter without being "smart" with circuitry and brains. These thermal tiles won 2nd in a design competition sponsored by designboom.

thermotiles : "Thermotiles two-dimensionalize heating systems into a functional and graphic representation on the wall by silk-screening thermally conductive paste onto ceramic tiles. A copper spacing cross connects the metallic prints at the corners, continuing the circuit and therefore serving as an electrical and constructive element in the heating system."

Go check out their how-it-was-done page (p2) and their page of potential silkscreen designs (p3).

Micro Robot

(Gotten from The sequel to Monsieur, which was a handheld little robot from Epson, this model flies. It looks like a small helicopter or a large bloated dragonfly. The video shows it sitting in the palm of someone's hand. And then a Japanese model eyes it warily as it flutters near her (but the video doesn't really show it doing anything intelligent).

Epson Newsroom: "To top it off, Epson added an image sensor unit that can capture and transmit aerial images via a Bluetooth wireless connection to a monitor on land, and they also devised two LED lamps that can be controlled as a means of signaling."

The Paris Review - Interviews

Thanks to Erik for the news, the Paris Review is putting its author interviews online. We're still in the 1950ies, but it's got Capote, Isak Dinesen, TS Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Parker... well, the luminaries.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Fox Valley, Wisconsin: HAUNTED!

This was pretty amusing: a book on Wisconsin hauntings turned up so much on Fox Valley that they're doing a second volume. But most of the people interviewed for the article about it claimed to have no idea about these ghosts.

Book cites Fox Valley as a favorite haunt of supposed spirits: Shawn Reilly, Chilton's community development director, said he passed the entry on Chilton's supposed haunting around the office, and no one had ever heard of it. That entry includes supposed sightings of an elderly woman, a large orb of light, and one account of a woman entering an altered state of consciousness at the site. "If this will bring people to Chilton, maybe we can do something -- a whole marketing campaign around this blue orb," Reilly said. "Have everybody hang blue orbs outside their businesses."

Remote Viewing in India

From the Anomalist, where I went to patch up a bad day: The India Daily report on using remote viewing techniques for counterintelligence. (Note: The English is a little interesting in places.)

"The reason for the success is attributable to traditional Indian cultural richness over spirituality and paranormal activities. The remote viewing activities are nothing new for India. Indians traditionally have been doing it for thousands of years. But now India is doing it for a reason."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Ken Perlin's homepage

It's worth exploring the applets for his character animations, in the grid at the bottom of Ken Perlin's homepage. Too much fun.

Update to add: And his story about his trip to the Amazon is pretty amusing too. Whatta guy.

Random Images

Keith Handy has been making pictures with random functions, as part of an effort to visualize music.

Which made me remember Ken Perlin, whom I used to see at the more interesting conferences (when I went to them), along with his NYU posse. I dug up his site on his Academy Award for his noise generation function that has revolutionized computer graphics and animation; and then he has a nice online slide presentation called Making Noise that explains the whole history. I remember thinking that we needed a similar noise function for social activity in modeling of social network behaviors, but I don't know if anyone has done this yet... Chris Crawford, in his game engine design efforts? (Whatever happened to Chris, anyway?) The Maxis guys?

Smart and Dumb Furniture

I'm not even sure how I got here, but I was intrigued by the need Adam Greenfield had to rant that dumb furniture might be a better idea than "smart" furniture. In the dumb furniture manifesto, he recaps previous folks saying that "smart furniture" is "that which uses information processing to significantly change its properties and affordances: objects that react and adapt in real time to the demands of their environments and users."

This is what's generally meant by "smart" in AI/agent/ubicomp circles, sure. And as he suggests, smart is usually way dumber than the average yeast cell, so it never is "smart" enough to be useful.

What I wonder is why we don't have just slow-learner furniture, or even "educationally challenged" furniture that nevertheless takes direction well. I'd prefer to tell it what to do than have it try to guess and get it wrong or irritate me with misplaced self-confidence. Or else I just want very small, quite low IQ improvements in current furniture behavior. I want my chair to pull itself out from under the table when I pause by it with a plate and glass in my hand; I want the couch to straighten its own rumpled cover when I get up; I want a window that turns one-way reflecting outward when it gets dark and I haven't pulled the curtains, so people on the street can't see me inside.

Everything I own could be just a smidge brighter without actually being "smart."

Update on Dee thefts: Elizabethan Artefacts Stolen

Thanks again to my friend oursin's LJ, the latest on the Dee thefts: Elizabethan Artefacts Stolen From London Science Museum.

Short Times article too.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Egad: "no-tech culture" usability experiment

I'm appalled. Found on Digital Photography Blog, an article in the Seattle Times: Digital world set to invade no-tech culture.

The isolated Huli Wigmen of Papua New Guinea don't know it yet, but they are about to land in the digital world... The excursion is the brainchild of Richard Bangs, a Seattle adventurer and travel promoter, who persuaded Hewlett-Packard to provide digital cameras and a printer for the trip... No, Bangs won't ask the Huli to invent. Rather, he'll ask them to take pictures of what they consider to be beautiful. His crew will do the same. The work will be posted on along with a travelogue.

"The holiday retail season is an opportune time to demonstrate how easy our digital photography products are to use," Mary Bermel, an HP global-brand advertising senior manager, said in a written response to questions. "If villagers in remote communities can use and enjoy our products, so can the average consumer."

This is wrong on so many cultural, research, and social levels, they can't even be enumerated in a clippings blog.

A gift shop in Concord, MA. The Puritan ethic conflicts with the holiday spirit a little? A few other recent pics on the photo blog.

John Dee's Stolen Stuff and the Voynich Hoax

Posted (locked) by oursin on LiveJournal, a report in the online Scotsman on the theft of a scrying crystal of John Dee's and some of his papers from the Science Museum in London.

The crystal, used as a tool by mediums and for curing disease, belonged to maverick philosopher, mathematician and astrologer John Dee, a consultant to Elizabeth I. He lived between 1527 and the turn of the 17th Century, becoming a leading authority on “angel-magic” and beliefs that man had the potential for divine power. Also taken was a statement about the crystal’s use by author and pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper, written on the reverse of ancient deed manuscripts in the mid-1600s.

Here's an entertaining report on Dee from the "occultopedia": John Dee, the Queen's astrologer.

Unrelated except to Dee-- Searching the Guardian for Dee articles, I hit on a cool piece about an attempt to decrypt the Voynich manuscript's code:

"The Voynich Manuscript, bought by Rudolph II of Bohemia in 1568, mystified cryptographers and linguistics experts alike. Until, that is, a senior lecturer in computer science at Keele University found a solution through a test run of a technique he intended for research into Alzheimer's. Dr Gordon Rugg's suggestion is that the manuscript, a handwritten book in a unique script that contains features found in no known language, was a hoax. It is probable, on his account, that the author was the 16th-century "con artist" Edward Kelley."

Kelley was a clairvoyant of Dee's, it seems. "There is evidence Dee had the manuscript in his possession for a long time - a leading authority on Dee has attributed the numbers on the pages to him."

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ten Questions with TiVo's Director of User Experience

Just AFTER I did a talk on TiVo and quality at work, this appears in my blog reading list: The PVRBlog Interview: Ten Questions with TiVo's Director of User Experience, Margret Schmidt. Margret started after I left the first time (although I did work with her when I was contracting there 2 years ago); I'm relieved to see so much similarity in what she says and what I said in my talk at my company. At least most of my experiences look still "relevant" for the current TiVo. (FYI: I'm planning a web summary of my talk for posting here.)

How Creatives Work

This is a very entertaining list to dip into: a bunch of short pieces on creatives at work, and their methods/kinks/tips/oddities: rodcorp: How we work. Includes folks like Francis Bacon, Scott McNealy, Virginia Woolf... many others.

The Economics of Happiness

After a lunch conversation about topics like the old gem finding that "incompetent people don't know they're incompetent" (here's the link to the full journal report: "Unskilled and Unaware of It"), I went looking for the article that came out a year ago about a study illustrating human inability to predict (or act intelligently on) what will make us happy or unhappy over the long-term.

Whilst looking, I hit this great site of some talks on social policy and the psychology of happiness. The difficulty of separating measurements of happiness from the impact of income level is discussed at length. Also, the observation that happy people may not be the best for some jobs, like power plant safety monitors. They're more likely to be feeling positive and not expecting the worst: "It was alright yesterday, why should it be any worse today?"

Look for the link at the bottom to the panel talk transcript: Informing Policy Choices Using the Economics of Happiness

Sunday, December 05, 2004

More from Will Shetterly: The honorable hack

Will S follows up with another post on writing, this time on being an honorable hack producing good stories for money, or "commercial art." Go read "The honorable hack, my proposal, and why I blog".

PS. I admit I want to read what he wants to write, from this paragraph here: If I'm going to enjoy writing a potentially commercial project, what do I want? Brash young protagonists. Locations that I would love to visit and locations that I would hate to visit. Cool clothes and cooler dialogue. Secrets, misunderstandings, intrigue. Love, death, and midnight meals in diners.

Confess in LA traffic?

It's probably a joke art piece, but maybe not. From

Mobile experiences: The scenario of the Mobile Confessional is as follows: When you see the vehicle (called projectCAR) while stuck in traffic, you can call in to hear the message: 'Welcome to the Mobile Confessional. Our service provides callers a safe and anonymous place to confess their sins to the world while commuting in Los Angeles. Your confession and an appropriate penance will be scrolled across the electronic sign in the back of the mobile confessional vehicle. Please, take a moment to share your sins with the world, so that all may forgive you.'"

Clutax, a Drug for Cleaning House.

Oh GOD, I wish I had this. It's the one drug my mother needs most.

From Apartment Therapy: Ssssh! Clutax is here: "...She told us that Clutax is a Canadian drug that makes it easier to focus and deal with decisions surrounding what to keep and what to throw out. "

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Will Shetterly on Characterization

Erik reminded me that I hadn't looked at Will Shetterly's blog recently, and on it I found this cool post about characterization and Philip Pullman. Also, it makes me want to read books about girls' boarding schools.

If characterization daunts you, you can achieve decent results with minor characters by mixing and matching faith and works. Tolkien likes that, so you get an elf with a bow and a dwarf with an ax. Pullman doesn't bother; the only way you can tell his little insect-riding people apart is to remember their sex. The witches are even tougher to tell apart, since they're all female. He has a human kid who should have a distinct personality since he's the heroine's best friend, but he just stays some kid through all three books.

I wonder if some writers are bad at characterization because they're bad at thinking about people... not to slam Pullman for this, but if you're someone who thinks all women truck drivers are macho lesbians, how interesting can your characters be? And that's even a case of mixed "faith" and "works"!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ebert on Life and Movies

Roger Ebert's reviews have always been important to me. He lets himself be moved by science fiction and silly comedies when they're good -- and when he's unhappy with something, you can usually understand if it's just him having some overwhelming bias or something fundamentally wrong with the film. He's a clear writer, full stop. But that doesn't really capture all of why I enjoy him; he's a real, solid, unpretentious guy, someone I think I would kind of like. He's not usually very flowery, but he often moves me anyway, just from his simple accounts of how something made him think hard or feel differently. He makes me think about entertainment and how it relates to life. In a personal essay about this last year, during which he went through major surgery and radiation treatment, he muses on work, movies, and mortality. It's very worth a read.

When I was 15 and starting out as a sportswriter at the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, I would labor for hours over my lead paragraph. Bill Lyon, who was a year older than me and would later become a famous columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, advised me, "Get to the end of the piece before you go back to revise the beginning. Until you find out where you're going, how can you know how to get there?" I took his advice and have never looked back. It condenses into a rule most writers discover sooner or later: The Muse visits during the work, not before it.

What I am trying to say is that I love my work. I love movies, I love to see movies, I love to write about movies, I love to talk about movies, I love to go through them a frame at a time in the dark with a room full of people watching them with me and noticing the most extraordinary things. On the Monday at Boulder, we showed "The Rules of the Game" all the way through and several people confessed they found it disappointing. Then we went through it for the rest of the week, a shot or even a frame at a time. By the Friday, they embraced it with a true passion. On Monday, we looked at it. By Friday, we had seen it.

I am embarrassed to admit I haven't finished Rules of the Game yet, and feel I need his help with it.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sandro's Portrait Photography

An interview with Sandro, on NikonNet. I have no idea how to shoot people, but he sure does. "I always try to light the subject and frame the image so that I draw the viewer into the eyes, into the soul, of the people I photograph," Sandro says. "I want the viewer to see where that person has been, or where that person is going." Legends BBehind the Lens: Sandro give and take.

Our Tuareg Guide...

My friend Ellen went camping in the Sahara for Thanksgiving. It seems to be impossible to take a bad photo in the Sahara. This looks so romantic, despite the lack of toilets, privacy, or water. See her stream on flickr: Our Tuareg guide in the desert

Berkeley's Lego Class

Found on BB, but followed up to a specific page: Lab Notes: Lego My Robot, a course in programming Lego robots using "leJOS, an open source bit of firmware that that enables the Lego Mindstorms robots to be programmed with Java."

If anyone out there has done this themselves, is it fun and easy? I'm pretty tempted myself.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Alleys and Byways of London, a survey.

A Guide to the Alleys, Courts, Passages, and Yards of Central London. The navigation links are on the left frame. Under "Additional Alleys" at the end, I learned they have Dunkin Donuts (mispelled) in London, which I hadn't realized.

"New Turnstile and Little Turnstile: New Turnstile, named because it was more recently built than Great turnstile, was one of the gates erected for the passage of pedestrians at the four corners of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Adjacent, to the east, Little Turnstile was the predecessor to New Turnstile. It presumably fell into disrepair and was replaced. There are no great thrills to be had from either of these little passages but perhaps Little ‘T’ has the edge. It is heralded by a solitary telephone kiosk where the passage branches from Holborn in the corner of a triangular patch set back from the line of the pavement. There are four handy food establishments each offering their own speciality fare: Dunkin Doughnuts, Bagel Express, a Thai restaurant, and a sandwich and snack bar. Ladbrooks, bookmakers, have an office in New Turnstile and just around the corner in Gate Street is Bernies Grills. A specialist in luggage repairs has his shop here and to complete the picture, the Ship Tavern is at the end of the passage."

"Twisty Little Passages"

A book review: Twisty Little Passages, a book on interactive fiction, from the old Adventure and Infocom days to the more recent, including the IF archive and their annual contest. The author is a true fan of the form, and this sounds like a really fun read.

"Montfort's book provides an indispensable guide for a journey into the past of computer literature. Like any good travel guide it points out the roadside attractions, but it also teaches you to appreciate their often bizarre beauty. We are so used to the eye-candy that our graphics cards spew forth so abundantly, that the experience of interactive fiction threatens to be disorienting at first - but once our eyes have adjusted to the dark screen with its scarce spattering of bright alphanumerics, we are likely to feel like we are returning to a place we haven't ever really left. The effect is exciting and soothing at the same time -- like the wave of remembrance that washes over Marcel as he dips the Madeleine into his tea -- and Montfort deserves praise for reviving this lost world for us."