Defeating the ‘N-Word’

When I was driving home today, I heard a conversation on NPR with Paul Moody talking about how he wasn’t going to use the ‘n-word’ in his comedy routines any longer. This in the wake of the well publicized Michael Richards tirade.

This all made me think of an incident when I was in college. A group of us were hanging out with a young black guy from Baltimore in one of the common areas of the dorm. At some point a couple of hillbilly baseball players got some alcohol in them and starting dropping the n-bomb within earshot. More than likely they were trying to get some type of reaction from him which they thought would be great fun.

Finally one of the guys who was sitting around talking to him asked uncomfortably “Doesn’t it bother you when people use that word?”

His response was priceless. He smiled and said: “It doesn’t bother me at all. I figure he is saying a lot more about himself than he is anything about me.”

Simple, eloquent and to the point. And I have never forgotten the lesson.

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New Flickr Stuff

The flickr blog announced this week a couple of useful new features. The first one addresses a bit gap that I have had with getting people to use flickr — how to post private pictures, but invite a select group to come to flickr to view them without having to sign up for a flickr account. This is solved by the addition of the ‘Guest Pass’ which allows you for any photoset to invite up to 50 people to view that set. You can also at a later time expire the guest pass.

I also note in the link provided for this feature a neat little trick: you can create a flickr URL of the form where ‘me’ would normally be a specific flickr username. The ‘me’ URL will take you to your own flickr sets if you happen to be logged into flickr at the time.

The other two are not as big a deal, in my opinion: they have revamped, which is the scaled down version of flickr meant to be accessed from a mobile phone. I have never used the mobile version to upload photos but find it a good diversion when stuck in an airport or some such place. Mobile allows you to catch up on comments and contacts photos among other functions.

The camera finder seems like flickr just closing the loop on external companies that were using the flickr API to mine this sort of data (as previously posted). Not to miss a trick, er, opportunity, flickr also links the camera info into the yahoo shopping site to make it easy for you to add a few dollars to the Yahoo coffers if you decide to buy.

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High Tech Passport Failure

It seems the UK version of the high tech passport has failed the first hurtle — a writer at the Guardian and a tech expert managed to crack the passport security with relative ease. Seem those who hatched the security scheme made the rather naive mistake of going to great lengths to secure the communications between the RFID reader and the passport, but used information that is available on the printed passport as the ‘key’ to unlocking that communication. Just dumb.

Fatally, however, the ICAO suggested that the key needed to access the data on the chips should be comprised of, in the following order, the passport number, the holder’s date of birth and the passport expiry date, all of which are contained on the printed page of the passport on a “machine readable zone.” When an immigration official swipes the passport through a reader, this feeds in the key, which allows a microchip reader to communicate with the RFID chip. The data this contains, including the holder’s picture, is then displayed on the official’s screen. The assumption at this stage is that this document is as authentic as it is super-secure. And, as we shall see later, this could be highly significant.

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Wireless Power

The BBC has an interesting article on the promise of wireless power — that is the ability to not have to hitch up to a powercord to recharge an otherwise wireless device. Sounds interesting but makes me wonder about adding even more electronic smog into our personal environments.

The concept exploits century-old physics and could work over distances of many metres, the researchers said.

Although the team has not built and tested a system, computer models and mathematics suggest it will work.

“There are so many autonomous devices such as cell phones and laptops that have emerged in the last few years,” said Assistant Professor Marin Soljacic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the researchers behind the work.

“We started thinking, ‘it would be really convenient if you didn’t have to recharge these things’.

“And because we’re physicists we asked, ‘what kind of physical phenomenon can we use to do this wireless energy transfer?’.”

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World Usability Day

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least mention that today is World Usability Day 2006. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the local event, hosted by LexisNexus in Dayton.

I have been a champion of software usability in my own small way over the years and take great pride in having introduced HCI concepts and usability testing to previous and current development projects.

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Semantic Web Enhance Your Blog

I followed the simple instructions found in Frederick Giasson’s blog on Semantic Web Enabling blogging software. As I use WordPress for this site, it was a simple matter to drop in the two required files and activate the plugin. The second step is to setup the blog to pingthesemanticweb so that the newly minted semantic data can be found.

Painless and straightforward. Now I can contribute my banal content to the semantic web. Now what is your excuse?

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You’ve Got Four Seconds

I absolutely agree with this article in the Guardian on how long load times drive away customers and create ill will. In fact, I gave up after about six seconds waiting for the linked site to open. I further agree with their assessment of moronic sites that require Flash for no good reason at all (which in itself sucks down the performance of a site):

Of course, speed isn’t the only thing that matters: it helps if your Web designer isn’t an idiot, like whoever created the Akamai Web site. This site requires users to have Flash installed in order to read a simple press release, which is the sort of thing the Web could well do without.

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The Depressive Brain

I came across this fascinating article that indicates that the brain structure of people with depression is structurally different that the brains of people who don’t experience depression. It seems that depressive people have an area of the brain which handles negative emotions that were 20 percent larger than normal.

Makes me curious where they go with this observation. Is this something that can be screened for an monitored appropriately? How strong an indicator is this of depression (after all, there were only 49 people in the study)? How will this influence future treatment of this condition? More to come, I’m sure.

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