Monday, August 29, 2005

Ghostweather: The HP Scanner Dialog

I found a UI so bad last week that I've been jumping up and down trying to find time to post about it. Finally, here it is:

The HP Scanner "Copy" Dialog, a new low.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hyssop addict in my backyard.

Red Dragonfly, Broadmoor.

History of Social Networks Analysis

Here's a review of The Development of Social Network Analysis, which looks like an entertaining history.
Freeman defines social network analysis as having four key features: a structural intuition, systematic collection of relational data, graphic images, and mathematical or computational models. (I would add a fifth feature that is ancillary yet crucial: a study of the flows through the network.) The first four features alone tend to produce a static network, though in Freeman's own work flows are often important. When flows are added, networks become channels through which ideas, values, friendship, esteem, money, sales, disease, or almost anything can travel. The same network structure may pass flows of different kinds, or different structures may better facilitate different flows. The impact of social network analysis and its utility depends in large measure on which flows are studied. The way the different flows capture the popular and academic imagination determine, in part, the place of network analysis.

There were plenty of kooky characters in this history, like in any academic field: Moreno had dark side: "self-centered, self-serving ... admitted hearing voices, he sometimes thought he was God, and he was convinced that others were always stealing his ideas" (p. 31). Though to gain a full appreciation of his bizarre side, there is nothing like reading Who Shall Survive, available in the original 1934 edition for about $175 (what to give your favorite network scholar) or the even more bizarre 1953 edition that -- oddly -- costs about the same. "For the most part Moreno seemed to be unfocused but, when he was involved with a woman who could serve as a muse, he succeeded in concentrating and was able to write" (p. 34).

Ew. On the other hand, it's probably a fun read.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

TiVo's investor call

I've been afraid to read the news since the end of the DirecTV deal, but the news in yesterday's call with TiVo is actually not bad at all. For the first quarter, they made a profit! And the Comcast deal is coming along.

Yesterday's investor call | PVRblog.

Haunted Korean Airplane

This story details a number of weird experiences on an airplane after a woman hanged herself in the bathroom (the mind boggles -- are Korean airplanes outfitted with bigger bathrooms?). Possibly the oddest aspect of this story is that a Buddhist monk travels by first class. Check it out.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Crossing the canal in Honfleur.

French bulls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

danah boyd: the biases of links

danah boyd has a bunch of observations about blogrolls and linking in an essay here: Many-to-Many: the biases of links.

The dark-- or at least gray-- side of blogging includes the fact that most of the Technorati Top 100 blogs are group blogs or professional blogs, usually aimed at marketing in some way. I suppose it makes good business sense to hop on the buzz-mot-du-jour bandwagon, just like Hagel and Armstrong did with Net Gain: Expanding Markets through Virtual Community. Who people link to in their sidebar, their "blogrolls" (which are often labeled "who we read"), is overwhelmingly gendered, in her sample. And the top dogs all get linked to, but don't link anyone.

It's not a solid quantitative research study, but it's interesting to read.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Levitated | Jared Tarbell

Here's more interactive art from Jared Tarbell, of Complexification: Levitated.

Seriously, go now, and play. Try the walking insect generation or the walking things that change when you click on them or the gorgeous 3-d text space (I just wish it were infinite).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Color Words and Color Products

Two things made me think of each other today:

Martin Wattenberg has a fascinating look at the colors that lie behind the lexicon in his Color Code: A Color Portrait of the English Language. It's really fun to browse and mouse around, like most of Martin's work.

And this guy over on Flickr has Safeway aisles as color bars, abstractions of the colors of products in an American supermarket. They're surprisingly pretty.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Complexification's Gallery is an awesome, hypnotic site. This is Jared Tarbell's art created by algorithms, and it can be drawn in real-time in front of you. As an unusual bonus, you can see the applet source code for the non-Flash ones. The software tool used to create the applets is Processing, an open-source visual and audio art programming language (which I will download after I finish playing with Tarbell's animations).

Update to add: There's some entertaining explanation of the simulations behind the art, especially the robot offspring one: Offspring is a visualization of the pair bonding process of a theoretical robot colony. Each robot is assembled, ages through youth, comes into a reproductive stage, and eventually dies of fatigue. If a robot is lucky enough to find a mate during it's reproductive stage, baby robots may be assembled.

offspring thumb

Folding T-shirts

Pavel Curtis has geek cred defined: with a history working on Smalltalk, Lisp, and Scheme, and then creating internet community before it got cool via the famous LambdaMOO at Xerox PARC, then founding a startup, Placeware, which was finally (ahem) purchased by Microsoft... well, bottom line is, he's got a lot of T-shirts, as anyone in the computer industry does. He has more than most people, in fact.

His most popular blog entry is about how to fold t-shirts. Here's more on the phenomenon: Pavel's Blog: A Very Specialized Website.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Whose Fish?

This is a brainteaser logic puzzle attributed to Einstein.

Whose fish is it?:

There are five houses in a row in different colors. In each house lives a person with a different nationality. The five owners drink a different drink, smoke a different brand of cigar and keep a different pet, one of which is a Walleye Pike. The question is-- who owns the fish?

1. The Brit lives in the red house.
2. The Swede keeps dogs as pets.
3. The Dane drinks tea.
4. The green house is on the left of the white house.
5. The green house owner drinks coffee.
6. The person who smokes Pall Malls keeps birds.
7. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhills.
8. The man living in the house right in the center drinks milk.
9. The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who keeps cats.
10. The Norwegian lives in the first house.
11. The man who keeps horses lives next to the one who smokes Dunhills.
12. The owner who smokes Bluemasters drinks beer.
13. The German smokes Princes.
14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
15. The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water.
According to the home page on Coudal Partners, over 7000 people wrote in, and over half of them got it right.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Honfleur old harbor, Normandy, 2005

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Quantum information can be negative

According to this article, Quantum information can be negative. Science reporting is often iffy. I especially liked this section:
One can also have situations where someone knows more than everything. This is known as quantum ‘entanglement’, and when two people share entanglement, there can be negative information.

I'm pretty sure I've seen this situation, even without quantum particles.

Rob's Amazing Poem Generator

I love semi-random text generation, and especially like it when you can seed it with a good starting sample. Here's an example: Rob's Amazing Poem Generator.

I fed it a few URLs including my own, but the results I like best come from my favorite website for oddities, The Anomalist. I think they're probably better than average because the theme is more uniform.

THE standard gravitational model.
East Kingston Woman Reports a big
Foot. Is overloaded with Big
Bang theory of exploding stars in front of the hydrophone. The
Books and about
three four feet long and
Orkney was
fairly common during hurricanes. And: vibrated.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Groups and Teams and Growing Pains

I've linked before to Big Dog's Leadership page, which summarizes the stages of team development described in Tuckman's classic "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups."

If you've got deja vu because you remember my post, well, so do I, since I'm going through the same phenomena yet again with a new group-- supporting how universal his observations were. Tuckman's stages are these, named with silly names (I'm quoting from here) :

  • Forming: The group gets to know each other. It's non-threatening. The major task functions also concern orientation. Members attempt to become oriented to the tasks as well as to one another. Discussion centers around defining the scope of the task, how to approach it, and similar concerns.
  • Storming (my favorite because it's the one I always notice and hate): Because of "fear of exposure" or "fear of failure," there will be an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Although conflicts may or may not surface as group issues, they do exist. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. These reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power, and authority. There may be wide swings in members’ behavior based on emerging issues of competition and hostilities.
  • Norming: Group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change theirpreconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. When members begin to know-and identify with-one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts.
  • Performing: The Performing stage is not reached by all groups. If group members are able to evolve to stage four, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence. In this stage, people can work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit with equal facility....Members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.

The Big Dog site points out that groups aren't teams, and the above stages really characterize the formation of teams that work towards a known, shared goal.

While teams have an identity, groups do not. It is almost impossible to establish the sense of cohesion that characterizes a team without this fundamental step. A team has a clear understanding about what constitutes the team's 'work' and why it is important. They can describe a picture of what the team needs to achieve, and the norms and values that will guide them. Teams have an esprit that shows a sense of bonding and camaraderie. Esprit is the spirit, soul, and state of mind of the team. It is the overall consciousness of the team that a person identifies with and feels a part of. Individuals begin using "we" more than "me."

The formation of teams requires some special commitments -- everyone knows everyone is on board and working for the same goal; they can be relied on. If some of the members aren't reliable, or have split loyalties and agendas, there's not going to be a real team at the end of the day. There are lots of potential barriers, including prior history; I think I'm currently part of a subclique in the new group composed of survivors of another successful team (where some group members evolved to a real team and others dropped out); we're dubious about whether the new group will become a team, given what has gone before and who we're missing now.

Teamwork is hard to get right, that's all there is to it.

Next-Gen Tools in Global Software Development

Another link from Barney's: Barney Pell's Weblog: VC Taskforce on Next-Gen Tools in Global Software Development. The topics covered with Barney's great notes are the risks of outsourcing, getting requirements wrong (a costly problem made worse in distributed development), and investing in software tools.

Some of Barney's big takeaways from the panel discussion:

  • Individual programmer productivity is always nonuniform. Some programmers are 10 or even 100 times as productive as others.
  • The results of outsourcing are often disappointing
  • A recurring theme in the panel was the difficulty and importance of getting software requirements right. Despite all the improvements in tools and processees for developers, there have been limited improvements in the way people create and validate the requirements in the first place. Errors in requirements ripple through the downstream flow and get more expensive to fix the later they are caught.

I contend that a good user-centered design process that starts during requirements gathering will achieve the results that are wanted, assuming the business has a goal that's addressing a real user need. A good designer helps bridge that communication gap between business analysts and "the IT folks who got it wrong." More of Barney's notes:

"Do your business people and IT people understand each other? Answer to this is usually 'no.' The problem: Missing, ambiguous and contradictory requirements. 60-80% of project failures can be attributed to requirements errors. at the very front of the process. not the arch, dev, or testers! The biz people say you didn't understand, the IT guys say you didn't explain. Scope creep and rework usually mean you didn't find the errors it the beginning; Good requirements are hard. Requirements definition and validation cycle: informal primarily text requirements -> spec -> formal spec documents -> validation -> visual inspection and review of spec for errors -> elicitation. This is a laborious process, with error detection that's bad."

Almost every usability practitioner in industry or consulting moans about "not being involved early enough." That moan is usually because the problem is with the requirements, on a project that's already made it to the point where it's too late to change direction....

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The March of Pies: Gallery of Data Visualization

The Gallery of Data Visualization offers examples of good and bad statistical displays. The Have Something to Say category is especially amusing:
Blind Lemon Jefferson, the great blues musician, was once asked why there were so few white bluesmen. He replied, 'Knowin' all the words in the dictionary ain't goonna help if you got nuttin' to say.'

pie chart

This image, from the graphic design book Diagraphics II, attempts to show the relative market shares of Sotheby's vs. Christies over time. The graphic designer has cleverly used a variety of tricks to show.... What? Well, it does make clear that time is increasing over time. But there surely isn't much else going on.

Faster Browsing: Browster and SNAP UltraSearch

My old pal Barney is working (in a VCish way) on the evolution of search. Here's a post of his about 2 new search engine concepts, all about previewing the hits without requiring you to load pages to check them out.

Barney Pell's Weblog: Faster Browsing: Browster and SNAP UltraSearch

Francis Crick and the Claustrum

I've been thoroughly enjoying the blog on Mind Hacks. It's one of the blogs I read right away and don't let pile up, unlike many others these days. One of their latest posts is on the late Francis Crick's attempt to explain consciousness in his final paper (co-authored with Christof Koch). The claustrum is a thin sheet of grey matter: "Crick and Koch argue that the claustrum is probably connected to all of the cortex, and has a significant role in emotion, suggesting it may be involved in the 'binding' of emotion and the senses into a single conscious experience."

The post is here: Mind Hacks: Francis Crick has left the building.