December 2006 Archives
December 22, 2006
Modeling protein structures with Pick-Up Monkeys. Not something I can recall ever doing, sadly, which suddenly makes me feel like there's been something missing all my life.
December 19, 2006
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?
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.
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.)
December 18, 2006
Christmas Day. Evening. 7pm, BBC1: Doctor Who Christmas special. 7:15pm, five: The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
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.
December 17, 2006
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.
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.
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.
Colin, in Skype chat just now:
It's what sundays are for. On the 7th day God looked at the scripts and decided they were good.. but needed just a little polishing.
Oooh, nice. A Dashboard calculator that works like calculators should, rather than emulating a twenty year-old electronic calculator or pissing around keeping nutty HP-loving reverse-Polish holdouts happy: PEMDAS. That it's beautiful to look at is merely the icing on the cake -- this has instantly displaced the Calculator widget from my Dashboard.
For reasons too subtle (read: 'dull') to go into, I'm reading last week's Observer magazine. Page 81, if you must know, featuring Lucy Siegle's 'Ethical Living' column. Which is rather interesting about eggs: when I'm finally back in the UK, I really must get more serious about recognising all the various food labeling schemes. The same author's feature on fish (ibid, page 24) makes much of the Marine Stewardship Coucil's branding, of which I'll confess to never having heard.
Back to page 81, however, where I find the 'Green Gauge' (ho ho) column, listing things going up vs. things going down. Hey, it's a Sunday colour sup, they're still allowed such clichés.
Listed as 'going down':
The term 'experimental' when applied to 'reactor' -- as in the new $12.8bn international thermonuclear experimental reactor to be built in southern France -- is always disconcerting.
Oh, for heaven's sake! It's not a fission reactor taking big n' heavy Uranium and firing neutrons at it to make other shit that's horribly hot, it's a deuterium-tritium fusion device. And ITER (Wikipedia) is no longer an acronym, precisely to avoid this sort of knee-jerk stupidity... though one could say that as PR people, the physicists should stick to physics.
Sure, there are problems with fusion in general, and with ITER in particular, but saying 'it's nuclear therefore I'm against it' -- aren't we past that sort of naïvely-simplistic nonsense?
I forgot to mention the other day -- Flossie texted to say that David Tennant was at her workplace, as the Doctor. Which was, we concluded, more impressive than somebody who might have been Matt Lucas sitting on the wall outside her house the same evening. That turned out to be just a props guy -- Lucas was sitting across the road.
Apparently all BBC TV shows are being made in South Wales, presumably as a cost-cutting measure.
Modern Life is Rubbish has a lovely post on the fonts used by Web 2.0-ish companies. A ground-up rebuild of The Daily Grind is long overdue, but one thing that's rather likely to stay is the use of a serif face for my blatherings. All that stuff about sans-serifs being more legible on screens is as out-of-date as that nonsense about using two spaces after full stops.
For those of you not on Macs, by the way: the body face here is Baskerville, which arrives with Mac OS X and is much under-used. Besides, I love the story of its origin. However, I've never quite got the sizes right, with my blockquotes in particular being somewhat hard to read. When time permits, I shall enjoy a merry weekend playing with the glorious new CSSEdit 2.
December 13, 2006
Wikipedia lists six expansions of the acronym 'KBS,' tragically none of which are the one I seek. Anyone happen to know the etymology?
Previously, on The Blogosphere: at Les Blogs 2 last year, Ben called Mena's speech 'bullshit,' so she called him an 'asshole'. This year, at the successor conference Le Web, French presidential hopefuls showed up and lots of people got annoyed, including Sam. But Loic (who works for Mena, and organised Le Web) called Sam an 'asshole', then Michael fired Sam. And now, The Blogosphere continues...
OK, I've officially gone from eye-rolling 'oh-for-heaven's-sake' to 'fetch-me-the-popcorn-this-is-unreal.' I feel bad for Sam, whose posts at Techcrunch UK read as being quite measured to this non-attender, and I'm appalled that Loic's contentious comment on Sam's post has apparently been removed.
Perhaps most significantly, I'm seriously reconsidering my use of Six Apart's products. This isn't a new thought, in that I've been watching WordPress with envy for a while, wondering when some of the gloss of TypePad and Vox would pay off for Movable Type, stuggling against the strategy that has me moving to TypePad. But I've not seriously considered shifting allegiance, until now. Six Apart is a small organisation, and how its key staff comport themselves in public says a lot about the goals and aspirations of the company. There's no benefit to me in using tools that are being developed by people who get it so wrong.
This isn't the first video to show each note being played in a separate video clip, I'm sure -- but it's very nicely put together. 1.7 million views, too. Wow.
December 12, 2006
Woohoo! My PowerBook G4 has an 80Gb drive, which was as big as they came when it was new, and still as big as they came until earlier this year. But my PowerBook is three years old, sheesh -- paging Gordon Moore, your Law may need tweaking!
I was beginning to wonder if the next MacBook Pro would feature 80Gb iPod drives in a RAID 0 array, but now it looks like sanity will return and save me from daily sweeps for free disk space.
I'm quite serious, by the way: one of the things that's kept me from considering a replacement laptop is that even 160Gb isn't enough for a full install of the dev tools, iLife, Final Cut Studio, a decent iTunes library, a series of Studio 60, and 300,000 documents I've accumulated over the last fifteen years. Well, it isn't if you want space for media, anyway.
It's a little hard to work out exactly what happened amidst the piles of debris, slowly-settling dust, and general confusion, but it looks like Paris-based web conference Les Blogs 3 Le Web has been hijacked by French Presidential hopefuls. Which is... er... weird. But hey, if David Cameron (…'s handlers) runs a video blog, I guess there must be some sort of reflected-glory thing involved and oh I can't be bothered working it out, actually. There's a view of the festering corpse of whatever pre-event excitement had been generated at Tom Morris' blog. Euan's take is interesting, however, in part because it's remarkably considered given the general amount of flack that appears to be obscuring matters in Paris.
One odd theme that strikes me from the fall-out: there seem to be plenty of 'new media' types who still want to know if 'old media' (which now means TV and radio along with print, do keep up) is 'dead.' They may have an agenda there (*cough*), but if they do, then it's just as simplistic as old media's often-patronising perspective on the web.
Bits of TV are dead, sure. Some of those bits may not have noticed yet, but they're dead all the same. Bits most certainly have plenty of life left in them, as the bloggers would notice if they stopped watching Battlestar Galactica for a minute. But none of this is really very interesting, because it falls under the heading gets tagged as 'bleedin' obvious' and 'divisive.'
What's interesting, surely, is how ideas are relayed to, and between, audiences. Television was one early transmission protocol, that has serious technical limitations (one-way real-time communication, huge latency on the return path), but also unparalleled reach. Plus, you know, pretty moving pictures. But structurally, it's really no different to newspapers and magazines (discuss, 20 marks); there are many other forms of transmission, other interaction models, with which we're finally able to play. And hey, guess what? We really don't know much about them, because committees and presentations and working groups and colloquia and symposiums and coffee mornings don't scale to thousands of people, so we've just never done this sort of thing before and gosh that's really exciting and gee, who knew thousands of people sharing pictures with each other would be, like, fun, and hey, what about a bunch of us get together and write an encyclopedia, and... and so on.
Our challenge is to work out which approaches are useful, productive (and/or entertaining), and can be explained to people in words of less than four syllables. Which was, I thought, rather what Le Web 3 was going to be about. It's certainly why, once upon a time, I rather fancied being there.
December 11, 2006
...Aer Lingus gave to me:
- Six stags hung-over
- Five minutes' delay
- Four bawling babes
- Three snoring gents
- Two mad women
- …and a flight attendant who could not smile
It's a damned sight more pleasant than Ryanair, though.
December 6, 2006
What, did nobody behind this ghastly thing at Argos see The Godfather? It gets worse: it ships as a kit, with a plastic horse's skull into which you stick pins 'to give flesh depth', then lay on modeling clay to sculpt muscles. There's also a 'skin-making jig, eyeballs, and ears.'
What were they thinking?
Via the magnificent Ben Craven: the officially-mandated cleaning regime for international standard platinum-iridium kilogram prototypes (2Mb PDF download). You have to read this in order to appreciate the subtlety of the process, which begins by scrubbing the thing with a finger wrapped in a solvent-soaked chamois. Genius.
(file alongside 'ISO standard for making tea,' which was, I think, the story that got Kevin Marks reading The Daily Grind. Gosh, fame. etc. Oh, and while you're at it, take a look at Ben's magnificent never-turning gear train. Double genius.)
December 4, 2006
Web 2.0 technology or Star Wars character? I scored 37/43, which would scare me silly if I had any clue which ones I got wrong.
One of the guilty secrets of the glossy world of broadcast TV is that, behind the scenes, it's all far more shabby than viewers realise. We're highly adept at designing, building, lighting and shooting everything so it looks glossy, and then somehow it all looks better on your TV at home anyway. Hence one of the running gags of TV: come the age of high-definition, we're screwed, because you're all going to notice that the glamorous world of TV is, in fact, scrappy as hell.
I've always thought of this as it related to studio sets and things like presenters' fingernails in extreme close-ups, both of which will have to be prepared to a higher standard for HD (and, thus, would be prohibitively expensive). Reading a review of Miglia's natty little TVMini HD off-air HD receiver, however, I stumble across an altogether more significant worry: Evangeline Lilly has laughter lines (scroll down for a particularly well-chosen frame).
Now, this is interesting. Suddenly, all those impossibly beautiful television personalities and actors are revealed to be exactly what they are: human. And, frankly, a whole lot less gorgeous in person than one expects. In many ways this isn't a great shock, but some of the implications perhaps are:
Firstly, maintaining current levels of implausible perfection will require either cinema-grade make-up, lighting, and photography (prohibitively expensive), or a new generation of digital post-production make-up artists to almost literally paper over the cracks. Now, one hesitates to describe rotoscoping as 'potentially cheaper' than anything, but perhaps it can be. If so, one can envisage some celebs insisting on being post-produced only by their named artist, just as they currently insist on particular make-up and hair personnel. but this is still the high end of the market we're talking about.
The only alternative I can see is that we'll all come to realise just how ridiculous the whole situation is, and accept people more for what they are than for what crappy PAL/NTSC has previously presented them as. Which would, I think, be a Good Thing all round in terms of body self-image, and all that.
Finally, one wonders if the final refuge of true cinematographic glamour will be not high-definition at all. Working on the principle that it's what you don't show that counts, could it be that the home of the perceived-beautiful will become... YouTube?
Huh. Fancy that.
Fed up with .DS_Store crap appearing all over shared (Windows) drives? Think it's a bit steep to cough up for BlueHarvest to fix something that arguably shouldn't happen anyway?
Try this. It amounts to:
defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores true
Seems to work for me.
(If this makes no sense to you, just ignore me).
December 3, 2006
Incidentally -- and apropos of diddly-squat -- the other week I found out what happens when Mac OS X runs out of hard disk space. Not, I hasten to add, on my machine, but on a colleague's five year-old iBook running 10.3, on a 10Gb drive, bless.
The short answer is: not a lot. It refuses to save anything, obviously, and everything goes veeeery verrrry slooooooowwwwwwlyyyy, but it basically keeps running. Which surprised the hell out of me.
The owner was marginally less surprised, but then, she had been clicking 'OK' every morning on polite little dialogue boxes telling her that her startup disk was terribly terribly close to being full. For six months. In the end, we managed to reclaim 3Gb simply by shifting all her music off, backing up her Entourage mail database, then letting the poor iBook crunch away for three hours repairing and compacting said mail database, and finally putting all the music back on.
Yes, 30% of her drive was taken up by fragmentation in Entourage's monolithic database. Nice as it is, I remember why I stopped using Em@iler all those years ago...
December 1, 2006
Lovely use here of a digital stills camera, a time-lapse controller, and a very slow-panning automated tripod head: 'Lapses in Light' by Ollie Larkin.