Monday, February 28, 2005

'inside the bathroom' competition

After designboom's "Kitchen of the Future" competition winners, I was afraid to look at the Bathroom results. They are scary. The Winner isn't so bad, although I had to squint a lot at the picture and text: it's the Fizzy Bubble, a unit combining bath and shower and lighting in a kind of space capsule that seats 3! Not bad, as long as you can open the hatch from inside and there's air available too!

fizzy bubble pic

The Honorable Mentions just disturbed me. The first one, from the U.S., is one of those designs you see from tech folks -- just because you can do it doesn't make it a good idea. Most people when looking in their mirror aren't happy to see how much they've aged, thanks very much. And the second honorable mention doesn't get the concept of affordances, if you ask me. Why should we remove all physical design grace from our faucets, just because mobile phones require controls close together in small spaces? I mean, really!

If you dare: designboom's 'inside the bathroom' competition results.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Butterflies playing tag.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Stone's Public House

This is why I love Massachusetts. I went looking for a place to sit and have a drink whilst doing my biology homework and ended up at a pub the next town over. Just inside the door was a sign announcing a "Haunted Happenings" Investigation Dinner tonight (pre-reservation only, alas). I later overheard another patron in the bar explaining that it had been featured on the SciFi channel for being infested with ghosts.

Their website says this: Stone's Public House History (scroll down for the ghost stories). If I'd known then, I would have gone upstairs to see what it felt like! Here's a post by the guy who seems to be having the dinner party: The Mysterious Haunting of Stone's Public House.

More practically speaking, they do live music including Irish seisuin (drat, it's the night of my class), with blues on the weekend, and they have a nice fire and parlor open all day for lounging with a pint.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer

And in the "crushing another dream" category for today, The Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer. Apparently they don't get all expense-paid trips or make enough to live on, and most editors don't care about their gastrointestinal travails either. Ok, maybe I suspected all this...

Shkin's Pics

In the "I wish I were him" category, this guy's photos of NYC always blow me away. His LJ is full of Russian text interspersed with really striking photos.

Go admire Shkin's Journal.

A Rape in Cyberspace

While I'm on memory lane, and while I'm worrying about people reading my old stuff, here's something better written and more interesting that meant a lot to a lot of people for a few years: A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society, by Julian Dibbell. This Village Voice piece kind of started it all off, in a lot of ways. (Julian has gone on to do and write about many interesting things since, including making a living--or trying to--off selling stuff in multiuser games. Also, he's not just a good writer into cool stuff, he's really hot. :-)

My Old Papers

Still sick, and wanting to do some housecleaning or work. Can't, so it's site cleaning. Here's a trip down memory lane for some folks, including me. Here are my old MUD papers and one AT&T paper, finally on a site I actually run: The Ghostweather Papers.

They're not necessarily flattering to me now, but they were important at some point. One of them introduced me to Brenda Laurel; one of them got me a job because it got me to a conference where I met my future boss; and one of them was the result of sitting around talking about stuff like this on the new job. Kind of cool to think back on now. (And since one of the folks who passed on my survey on LiveJournal said "Allegedly she's a published author" (!) I felt spurred to defend my old grad school credentials.)

Set Theory With Genome Databases

This is old, but I'm late getting there, so... It's a good illustration of how large cross-species datasets, good questions, and computational power can help answer questions in genetics. It's all about narrowing down your search, from motivated assumptions. Easy to read version here: SetTheory With Databases on Corante's Living Code. Citation to still easy but more bio article here:'s Gene Maps of Simpler Lifeforms...

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I'm home sick, but still capable of posting, so I'm dangerous today. I just checked in on the list of folks speaking at the conference I'd most like to attend some day (TED), and the guys who created this concept are on the list. It's like a mail-order entertainment kit for creative adults with spare time. A single "issue" is only $399! (cough)

Inventables :: New Materials & Technology Resource for Innovative Design.

Now what about a cheap version for kids? They get a random kit of stuff to play with each month, and a little pullout with ideas to spark them and their parents onwards...

Conversation and market research

Amy Jo Kim linked to a couple interesting pieces on market research and talking to customers.

In The perils of market research on Corante, there's some thinking about fake conversations in focus groups, poorly specified research briefs ("Scratch many research briefs and you'll find a conversation that needs to happen inside the business. An elephant under the table that's not being talked about."), and the power of the face-to-face equal conversation over coffee: "When we go out and actually talk with customers, cutting out the middleman, we expose ourselves to more than just an exchange of information. We allow ourselves to be changed, to be moved, perplexed, provoked, saddened, cheered and to experience a real connection."

Access to those conversations is often gated by marketing or sales, which is a pity, when you're trying to make products that really work.

And there's another one on market conversation over at The Informative Blog. This one links and reflects on the Cluetrain Manifesto, an attitude-full but still worthwhile list of principles to challenge even the most open-minded business today. Some of my favorites:

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked conversations.
48. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
52. Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.
53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
84. We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?

Why do I like this... because it reminds me of one of the implicit quality principles at TiVo: the employees were our own first market. If we weren't happy, we worried about the product. Check yourselves first, and don't be afraid to listen to what's being said inside. Privileging voices you can't hear outside over the ones you do hear is one mechanism of avoidance of the elephant under the table.

iPod Photo

It's been a long time coming... a really practical sounding solution to how to download photos from your camera while on the road, without needing a full laptop. Yes, there've been expensive portable hard drive solutions out there, but they never sounded quite right to me. Now here's something that will finally make me get an iPod. (Pointer sent to me by Angus originally.)

Apple introduces 30GB iPod Photo and announces pricing: Digital Photography Review

Flickr Social Network Maps

Ned sent me this cool link last night, directly relevant to anyone mapping networks on any social networking tool like LiveJournal: FlickrCentral: Visualizing the Flickr Social Network.

I learned a bunch about the social scene over there just from reading the comment thread about his network pictures.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Working statues in Soho, last weekend.

APOD: Voyage of an Antarctic Iceberg

The Astronomy Picture of the Day (Apod) is one of my favorite feeds, partly because of their gorgeous-beyond-belief photos of interstellar phenomena, and the other "partly" for their sometimes really weird subject matter (like last month's digression on the Voynich manuscript hoax). Today's post shows an animation of the famous iceberg in Antarctica, the size of Long Island, hitting the coast: APOD: 2005 February 23 - Voyage of an Antarctic Iceberg

All of their entries have excessive hypertext, usually multiple links per sentence from words in use. Today I clicked on their link for "penguins" and got to a wacky fannish site about these cute birds, featuring sound effects of penguins when you mouse over the photos. They don't sound pretty.

pic of penguin off weird website

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

HICSS: Persistent Conversation CFP

Some old colleagues and friends of mine run this annual conference mini-track in Hawaii at the New Year. The overall conference used to have a "boondoggle" kind of reputation but this has (I think) gradually changed as more and more good people got on the boondoggle bandwagon. This conference mini-track run by a linguist (Susan Herring) and a system designer (Tom Erickson) is a good example. Some of the more interesting work in what used to be called "computer-mediated communication" (design and data analysis) has shown up here over the years. I was once an invited discussant, and found it a good time all around, and that was when it was on Maui; it looks like it's only been improving over the years. (I might even submit something about LiveJournal, since I seem to have data from that survey now.)

So if you want to go hear an interesting interdisciplinary crowd of computer scientists, anthropologists, linguists, data vis experts, and more: HICSS39 Persistent Conversation CFP.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A few pictures from the weekend visit to NYC on the Photo blog.

deviantART: Grid Game

A little flash game pointed out by Doug Orleans: deviantART: Grid Game by ~Fam. This is a cascading response grid game, in which tiles will interact if they are in the right configuration, and their motion will set off chain reactions as they get into proper configuration with other adjacent tiles. It's interesting to me in that it feels very "biological" and is hypnotic to watch as it self-organizes.

Browse Flickr from your TiVo

The Home Media Engine release from TiVo has resulted in a number of interesting apps already: here's a link to a feature that lets you browse Flickr from your TiVo, on PVRblog. Maybe I should finally get one of the newfangled TiVos myself.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Northumberland Rock Art

Here is a fascinating site for a couple of reasons: the content, if you like prehistoric rock art, like I do; and the weirdly difficult-to-use design, which looks at first glance like it should be really usable, but on inspection proves to be so flexible you can barely get anywhere-- at least not without a thousand clicks you don't entirely understand. Or I couldn't, anyway. I finally picked this as a good way to look at the massively tagged contents: Northumberland Rock Art - Browse by Art Motifs -- if you want spirals, here's where you can find them. morwick rock art, uk  spiral

All in all, obviously a labor of love. Points for passion.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rainy Night in Brittany, France, 2003

I thought of this picture as I passed a local bar in the rain on the way home tonight. Two years ago at this time of year I was the crazy American woman (who allowed everyone to believe she was English, since she's a coward) staying in a farmhouse apartment in Brittany for a week. I'd just finished a European tour getting feedback on my product of the time, which hadn't gone so well. I was a bit depressed; and at night I thought someone or something was moving boxes around in the room overhead -- which was locked and seemed to be just a crowded storeroom when I finally peeked through the keyhole during the day. Muscular squirrels?

Software programs for social network analysis

I'm starting off on tools research for my workshop paper. It's been a couple of years (er, 10?) since I looked seriously into social network diagramming tools, and here's a nice looking list! In case you share the interest: Software programs for social network analysis.

Updated to add: And check out this cool online PDF text: Introduction to Social Network Methods.

Updated again (after this I'm going back to work): I found a nice site with a tool that's been applied in a bunch of domains and has links to articles on its application. Too bad the tool itself isn't available online and neither is the price. Site: See at the bottom the book chapter on voter turnout and voter choice analysed with social network tools: "It's the Conversations, Stupid! The Link Between Social Interaction and Political Choice," by Valdis Krebs, who seems to be the site owner and software author too. (He also has a bunch of white papers on organizational behavior, which look really fascinating.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

TiVo DVD burner review: Humax DRT-800

As some of you know, I used to work for TiVo. I follow their news on various sites (and occasionally get gossip from friends there), but I try to keep myself at a little bit of a safe emotional distance from it all these days. Here, I could post all day about TiVo if I wanted to really go to town, but I try to keep the restraints on. Nevertheless, I'm posting one good long review of the TiVo DVD burner from Humax, with lots of screen shots and detailed description of behavior and functionality. Since I was contracting while they were tuning this UI design, I was pleased to see how it turned out.

The reviewer, Levi Wallach, even finishes up with a note on the new TiVo-to-Go feature (allowing you to transfer content to your computer) compared to the all-in-one DVD burner unit. His comment there made a lot of sense to me: it's slowish to transfer files to your computer, and to replicate the Humax features you'd still have to do your DVD authoring -- which, if you've tried this, you know is NOT simple for the home consumer yet. (It's downright awful, unless you're on a Mac, perhaps.)

Humax DRT-800 review on Twelve Black Code Monkeys

That way sanity lies

From a friend on LJ, a nice piece in the Observer about a guy who is writing about what it means to be sane, instead of screwed up. I'm not a huge fan of psychotherapy, myself, so this one resonated: "He may well be the most sceptical psychoanalysts practising today, and has famously said that, 'for me, psychoanalysis is only one among many things you might do if you're feeling unwell - you might also try aromatherapy, knitting, hang-gliding. There are lots of things you can do with your distress."

Also, the bit about taking time to be bored and see what comes out of it is really nice. The Observer | Magazine | That way sanity lies.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Help Me Do Some Research: a Survey

I am preparing a conference workshop paper, and I need a little bit of fresh data on blogging and LiveJournal usage. It should only take about 15 minutes max.

I'll give out a random prize for every 30 responses I get. Your chance of getting a prize will increase if you pass the survey link along (I'll be weighting people when they get cited by others in the "where did you get this" question). Prizes will be matted photos of your choice from my photo collection (or possibly new ones, by arrangement, on non-people or non-body-part subject matter), or a small amount of cash if you really prefer.

Survey lasts till end of March... please pass it on and help me out! Go here to take the survey.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The old photo blog was taking too long to update, so I've broken off a new one for 2005. I duplicated the Jan posts for safe overlap. The new one is just like the old, only at

Music behind the DNA

Found via boing_boing, Carl Frederick in Analog SF has an article describing how he converted fruit fly DNA to music. It's not bad, if you like tinkly tunes that don't quite deliver a punchline. But you can hear repetitions and patterns in it pretty well. (Note: My Bio class has made his procedure below sound almost sensible. Maybe I'll propose it as a lab to the teacher.)
To keep to 'the spirit of the genome', I did the conversion, not from the bases (adenine, cytosine, thymine, guanine), but from the 'codons'--the sets of three bases that code for an amino acid. There are 64 (4X4X4) possible codons and only 20 amino acids. Amino acids then, are represented by a variable number of codons--from six down to one. I associated those amino acids with the highest number of codon representations with the most common notes of the c-major scale. I also tried to code so that only the exons (the actual expressed gene sequences, as opposed to the introns, the noise) were used. For this, I needed to use methionine and the three codons that don't represent an amino acid, as start and stop indicators. And, in addition, I used them as musical codas (endings of a section of music). One particular amino acid, I used as a flag to indicate that the following codon represented a change of note duration, or a sharp or flat. These two-codon instructions, since they are comparatively rare, do not drive the music out of c-major, and don't change the tempo particularly often.

The Science Behind the Story

Friday, February 11, 2005

Shutterfly job: UI Designer

My former manager at TiVo is looking for a senior Interaction Designer in Redwood City. It's probably a good job, based on what she says and the job ad. Pass it on if you know anyone local to it who's looking: Shutterfly | Career opportunities: Senior Interaction Designer.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Here's the cover of the new tabloid in France, the Anti-American. Sigh.

L'Anti-Americain PRIMAIRE ! And here's Yahoo's news story on it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Not sure what I make of this -- at first I flashed back on the old "Two Sheds" Monty Python sketch-- but anyway: the MetroShed is a shed that you can use for another room, wherever you want to put it. The pictures feature it in a yard or park. It looks neat, if you want a shed in your yard that people can see into while you're writing the great American Novel or watching TV.

Joel's Advice for Computer Science Students

I liked Joel's advice to students in Computer Science, especially the "work on big projects" and "learn to write" items. Not so sure that microeconomics is useful unless you want to run a company, but it's probably helpful to have that exposure so you can better understand the weather around you (and to prevent you from getting too bitter when customers don't automatically think your product is worth a million dollars and you deserve to retire at age 30). The bit about sticking out the boring classes is especially good advice; lots of jobs have boring parts that have to be done anyway when you're starting at the ground level, and it's a good character builder to learn to do well at that stuff even when you don't enjoy it.

Joel on Software: Advice for Computer Science College Students

TiVo & The Big Game!

For the most part I was playing with LEGOs instead of watching the game, but here are TiVo's stats on what commercials got watched during the Superbowl and what got ff'ed through: TiVo & The Big Game!. Guess what, it's all about flashes of skin.

Monday, February 07, 2005

How Much Does a SF/F Writer Make?

Off Tobias Buckell's site, survey results from 74 writers: How Much Does a Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer Make?.

Summary: The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. There is some slight correlation between number of books and number of years spent writing as represented in the 5-12.5 thousand dollar advance shift of an average of 5-7 years. Charting individual author's progressions, which I will not release to keep anonymity, reveals a large number of upward lines at varying degrees of steepness for advances, some downward slides.

Some authors noted that they'd gotten large advances in the 90s but were being paid less now.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

designboom: folding chairs through the ages

Another cool designboom item, this time an illustrated history of folding chairs. They go back to Egyptian times.

folding chairs through the ages

Modern design issues that weren't all touched on: portability to functions with cars or without, weather-related usage (I have garden chairs for summer I would never use anywhere else), size and height when unfolded (floor level is better for some activities), folded size, appearance and whether you can "fix" it with a cover or cushion, drink holder attachment, cost of course...

the kitchen is the heart of the home, the competition

But the heart is a little sterile looking, in the design competition winners from designboom. I love looking at these anyway, since this type of design is so far from anything I do daily. The entries feature concept mockups in gorgeous detail, philosophical position statements, and detail illustrations of the idea at work. The weirdest winner is the 2001 monolith style kitchen in which the entire kitchen is encased in a black block. Trendy types lounge in front of the block in plastic orange chairs and sunglasses. They aren't talking to each other. (Geez, I talk to my cats, when I lack humans, in my American kitchen where the appliances sit on the counter. And we're all pretty happy about it.)

black blockThe Black Block kitchen.

But all that said, the island design winner is pretty cool in concept. I just want to know why it all has to be chrome and black, instead of wood and bright paint.

kitchen is the heart of the home - designboom

Saturday, February 05, 2005

UFOs in the Secret Files

More on the Freedom of Info Act files in the UK, this time 5 UFO sightings in west counties, and 88 total. Apparently the MoD's secret UFO department is called the S4F. I love the UK bureaucracy, when I don't live there.

Western Daily Press: Unidentified Fiery Object. And from another, less regionally-centric article: The area with the most frequent mysterious activity has been West Kilbride, on the southwest coast of Scotland. The MoD received a dozen reports during the year of increasingly dramatic visitations, from “one sphere” on April 2, “five bright spheres” on May 30 to “at least 25 yellow spheres flying in groups of five” on November 26.

The Times Online: How Britain's X-Files Said that UFOs Were Just a Waste of Time.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Social Science Simulations

I'm enchanted. I followed up a book reference on a game theory result on cooperative behavior to this: Robert Axelrod's Home Page. This fellow is an advocate of the use of simulation in social science research, and he's a lucid, intelligent writer. His "Advancing the Art of Simulation in the Social Sciences" discusses the issues of the "field's" dispersion across disciplines and research forums, lack of shared vocabulary, model description and replication difficulties, challenges in reporting of results; and it ends by describing some well-known social science models for the newbies among us.

I especially enjoyed this summary of the possibilities of "reporting" simulation results:

1. History can be told as "news," following a chronological order. For example, a simulation of international politics might describe the sequence of key events such as alliances and wars. This is the most straightforward type of storytelling, but often offers little in explanatory power.

2. History can be told from the point of view of a single actor. For example, one could select just one of the actors, and do the equivalent of telling the story of the "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." This is often the easiest kind of history to understand, and can be very revealing about the ways in which the model’s mechanisms have their effects over time.

3. History can also be told from a global point of view. For example, one would describe the distribution of wealth over time to analyze the extent of inequality among the agents. Although the global point of view is often the best for seeing large-scale patterns, the more detailed histories are often needed to determine the explanation for these large patterns.

I'm even now musing on how to use my corporate software resources for simulation of organizational social network behavior... Stay tuned.

Britain's 10 best-kept secrets

Entertaining mostly for the sheer silliness of calling some of them state secrets, and the annotations on the files-- including "the less said about this one the better" and "as the USA are always so reluctant to part with any of our criminals, let them keep this one" -- here is the BBC NEWS on Britain's 10 best-kept secrets, found in the files following the new Freedom of Information Act.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A9 Yellow Pages: A Photo Bug

Er, on the other hand, they seem to have a few bugs in their GPS data or database retrieval or something -- this fence is not Applewood 2 Go in Menlo Park, as I remember it: Yellow Pages: Applewood 2 Go. It's kind of cool that you can simulate walking along it by moving your mouse over the sequential thumbnails, though.

Picture-full Yellow Pages

It looks like the thing the French did with their online yellow pages is now available on Amazon's yellow pages: Photos of the site you're looking up! It's only live in some cities, but everywhere I care about revisiting since living there is up (SF and Bay area, Seattle, NYC...) And I see they're using a technique I blogged before from intrepid Germans and South Africans: driving around with GPS and digital cameras.

Try it at the Yellow Pages on (I got a little teary-eyed when I looked up my favorite Seattle bakery and saw it there in the cloudy gloom: Larsen's Bakery, 3 blocks from my old apartment. Now, do I dare try Applewood Pizza in Menlo Park and Los Altos, or will it be too much for me?)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry

My friend Angus sent me this book, the cover of which had me howling this morning. I figure that makes it worth a pointer here, and it's well in the travel theme. The bios of the authors include this guy, whom many of us have met:
Philippe Miseree. A professional traveller since his youth, there is not a town or city Philippe has not been recently disappointed by. No matter how obscure the destination you can bet he has been there before you and found it was not half as good as it was in the 1970s. His earlier works include "Turkey Before it was Spoilt," "India the Hard Way," "South-East Asia on Less than You Need," and "Unnecessarily Rough Travel." Philippe helped compile our "Complaints" section.

The inside cover's sequel guides sound worthwhile too, like Surviving Moustaschistan: "Tucked away between the break-away Soviet state of Kalashnikov and the former Persian province of Carpetsan, this arid, inhospitable land will whet the appetite of the most heavily vaccinated traveller."

Check it out: Molvania (a Jetlag Travel Guide).