Standard deviations

Gah! I’m trying to sort hotels in Las Vegas, for which Trip Advisor is critical – how else would I know, for example, that the reason the Monte Carlo is cheap at the moment is there’s a big construction project going on in their car park, with overnight pile driving?

However, the traveller ratings are still tricky to interpret – take the Imperial Palace, for example. I’ve found a fantastic deal, but is it any good? Well… Trip Advisor’s reviews vary greatly. It’s clear that some people have had an awful time, but does an average 3/5 rating mean it’s broadly OK, or so variable it’s risky? 3±1 is more reassuring than 3±2.

If more people understood the maths, it’d make perfect sense to quote standard deviations for this sort of thing. To get around that, I wonder if we should start drawing a distribution curve something like Tufte’s sparklines above those five star rating things. That would convey how grouped the ratings are, right?

Production blanket

Scope is, I believe, a ground-breaking series in several ways. Perhaps chief amongst its many innovations is… the production blanket. It’s electric, underlay, and of the all-night variety – highly sophisticated.

It all started when the pellet boiler in the house in which I’m staying ran out of, well, pellets. After a couple of days, the house bottomed out about four degrees above ambient, which in a Dublin December turns out to be – very precisely, mind – ‘ruddy cold.’ Miraculously, the blanket appeared in the production office, a talisman against the frosty onslaught.

I, however, being a doughty sort – not to mention, you know, living in Glasgow and everything – left it to slumber peacefully within its box. It remained in the office as a last resort, an emergency… well, blanket.

Over the weekend, sadly, poor Niamh the PA discovered that she too had an inadequate heating system within her domicile. Bravely, the blanket sallied forth, intent on warming her toes. I shall report back on its efficacy.

The production blanket. I think we should write a line into the budget for it.

Six degrees of Nike+

A fun day, today. We’re trying to do a show for Scope based around the ‘six degrees of separation‘ idea, which seemed like a good idea at the time but has turned into a recurring logistical nightmare. Plus, all the subjects we’ve managed to loosely tie into the theme have resulted in us utterly failing to find precisely the right interviewee in Ireland.

I lucked out, however, with an item ostensibly about Nike+, the instrumented running shoe thing that uses an iPod as a data store and allows all sorts of cunning interactions via Nike’s website. I had hoped to interview Panic’s Cabel Sasser via Skype or similar, since his excellent review of Nike+ as a massively multiplayer online game was what got me thinking about it in this context in the first place.

Cabel, sadly, proved a tad elusive or busy (or maybe his spam filters are set to stun?). Where do you turn next? Euan, durr. Who kindly put me in touch with Bernie Goldbach, who merrily rocked up at a gym on the outskirts of Dublin today and did the honours for us. And very interesting he was too, about all manner of things including – happily, in the circumstances – Nike+.

(I’ll have more to say about Twitter anon, incidentally, given that I simply hadn’t heard of it a week ago and it’s suddenly coming at me from all directions. Ironic)

Joe the director romped through the rest of the stuff, Danann didn’t complain when we made him run a couple of kilometres, bless him, and off the crew merrily went to Galway, on the other side of the country. Tomorrow, they’re trying to get themselves introduced to a plasterer called Kenny. Run with it, it’ll make sense in the end.

First, however, they’re going to have to find a camera, since they left one in the gym. Which is, I think, the first time I’ve encountered that particular bit of stupidity. Oops.

(not as bad as it sounds, though – they have a DigiBeta with them, but for odd reasons they’re supposed to be shooting on the little Z1 they left in the gym. Durr.)

MacHeist background

Amidst the general ruckus created by MacHeist – not least due to John ‘Tell me what to think, John!’ Gruber’s posts – I’m surprised people haven’t noted the one thing that makes sense of it all.

To recap for the unawares: MacHeist bundled together a bunch of Mac OS X apps, some of which are rather well-known, for the princely sum of $49. There’s a charity contribution involved, but there’s been a bit of a hoo-hah about whether the developers are getting a fair deal or not. While there isn’t a consensus per se, one significant perspective is that they’re being fleeced for ongoing support costs while the MacHeist organisers rake it in.

So: for whom does it make sense? Developers whose products are approaching the end of their shelf lives, that’s who. Developers like Delicious Monster, who sold oodles of Delicious Library licenses early on, will likely have seen a fall-off of late, and are waiting for Leopard to release version 2. Or like Macromates, whose editor TextMate (a.) thoroughly rocks, and (b.) is due for a major upgrade along with… er… Leopard.

These developers will already have sold the bulk of what they might make off their current versions. Take a lump sum in exchange for getting word out to users who might otherwise not know about their application? Sounds like a deal, and potentially a very astute one on their part.

Me? I bought the bundle. RapidWeaver is probably useful to me, I should technically have a second TextMate license, Delicious Library I’ll likely use, and DEVONThink Personal I’d like to play with more before I decide between it and Yojimbo!. Pangea Arcade is plain fun; the rest I can live without, but might just use. It wasn’t a shoe-in, but worthwhile overall.

‘The number you have dialled is not in service’

Well actually, I’m pretty sure it is, thanks, given that the owner of said number called me only an hour ago demanding to know where his script for tomorrow was. But now that it’s on its way back to him, I seem to be living in a weird little telecoms black hole, wherein no phones work. It’s just about possible that Ireland’s phone system has entirely crashed, but I suspect something more bizarre. My (UK, roaming) mobile won’t talk to anyone in Ireland… though will call the UK just fine, thanks. The landline here doesn’t seem to work either. Clearwire ‘broadband’ [cough] is about as rapid as ever, meaning that the 5k/sec it seems able to sustain is woefully inadequate for Skype.

Thus, I find myself unable to call poor Joe to tell him to check his email. And yet, I can evidently blog about this. Thus, potentially, the whole world can know of the situation… except the one person who actually matters.

How… thoroughly crap.


Christmas Lectures 2006

On the subject of the Christmas Lectures, there’s precious little up on the web about them yet. Five’s site lists only the press release announcing mathematician Marcus de Sautoy as the lecturer; the RI’s site has booking information (they’re fully-booked, natch), and the official christmas lectures site currently redirects to the pages for Sir John Kreb’s lectures from last year.

The RI does, however, have a note giving transmission times: 7:15, from Christmas Day. Excellent.

Off-camera demos

It occurred to me, the other day, that this time last year I was sleeping under my desk at the Royal Institution, frantically trying to keep abreast of rewrites of the Christmas Lectures scripts. I still haven’t really told that story here – perhaps over Christmas – but suffice it to say that while I’d love to work on the lectures again someday, I’m currently rather relieved not to be part of the circus.

But anyway, I dropped an email to a couple of people, wishing them well, and this afternoon received a response from the exec:

Two down – three to go – and so far everything is going alarmingly well…

apart from vision mixer desk blowing up yesterday!

Yikes. And to think, they normally worry about the stuff Andy’s doing on the lecture bench. Plus: bet they’re glad they’re not live, this year.

Coming to Five, on Christmas Day, I believe.