“Useful” Russian Words With No English Equivalent

I am not so sure how ‘useful’ these examples are. Is the fact that most of them have negative connotations a reflection of the person who curated them or of the Russian language?

This was one of my favorites:

переподвыподверт (‘per-e-pod-‘voy-pod-‘vert)
Reddit user deffun on /r/doesnottranslate defined this noun as “to do something in a complex, incomprehensible way.”

The word kind of embodies itself, as it has four prefixes including one that repeats itself twice.

Thoughts on APIStrat Panel on The Future of the Internet

About a month ago, I attended the API Strategy and Practice conference in San Francisco. Overall, a pretty good conference and, as always, much of the value was in connecting with people between and after sessions.

One panel discussion was concluded with the question ‘what is the future of the internet?’. The responses seemed to fall into two categories 1) code/APIs everywhere and/or 2) intelligent consumption and composition of the available APIs.

I wanted to point out that the first category of thought reflected the view of a (now defunct) little technology outfit just down the highway who voiced the credo of ‘the network is the computer’. They had a great spec/implementation for a technology called JINI that very much reflected the philosophy of ‘be a node and not a hub’ – inherently scalable and cluster-able running practically anywhere.

The second group reminded me of the great AI gold rush in the mid-90s, when ‘intelligent agents‘ were going to manage all our personal data and book travel and plan meetings based on all of the metadata that we surround ourselves with. Companies were funded and failed trying to deliver on this vision (General Magic anyone?). Perhaps it was an idea before it’s time and enough has changed and opened up that it might work this time. We shall see.

Women And Tech Events

Not even sure where to start with this psycho-babble rant I just read.

To me, the whole thing reads like an insecure individual trying to justify their warped world view by blaming it on everyone else. Sure, I know that there are bad things that happen to women at tech conferences (and elsewhere) and that is stupid and inexcusable. But, to use that as justification for the view that *all* men are rapist/gropers/whatever is also stupid and inexcusable. The simple fact is that if you are looking to be offended, you will find offense in everything and everybody around you. Especially, if you play both sides of a situation: if someone engages with you, it is for strictly sexual purposes and if they don’t then they are *obviously* denigrating you because you are a female. There is no good way out of that spiral other than recognizing that the premise is setup for self fulfilling distrust.

Being guilty of whatever darkness is in another person’s head is just raw prejudice with a unhealthy dose of over-generalization/labeling. Sure, lets play the game (fill in the blanks): All ______ are lazy. All _____ are cheap. All _____ are bad drivers. And all men at tech events are misogynistic predators. Right.

I have some recent evidence on this front. I was at a tech conference in San Francisco last month and had some fantastic conversations with some of the female attendees there (and the male ones as well). Topics ranged from privacy, genetic testing, pregnancy(!), hypermedia, security concerns for services, agile practices, gardening, coding standards and whisky. No one was groped or molested or talked down to. Oddly enough, at the drinks reception on the last night, I did have a woman approach me several times and try to invite herself back to my room (which I gently but firmly declined). Do I think all women at tech events are horn-dogs because of that? No, not for one minute.

For an excellent exploration of learning to be offended, see this article at NPR. The referenced article is coming at this topic from race rather than gender, but I think it resonates with many of the points I made.

Internet of Things

I am a little wary of the vague but hype-intensive discussions around the Internet of Things (IoT). I am particularly leery when I ask a pundit in the area ‘what *specifically* is IoT going to have the biggest impact on?’ The answer tends to meander along the path of ‘it will change everything’ and ‘there isn’t anything you can’t do with it’. Right. Sort of reminds me of the 90s-era hyperbolic proclamations about Object Oriented databases and how they were going to change everything. As one wag rightly summarized that hype: ‘Object oriented databases are a billion dollar market with no customers’.

SCADA, RFID, SNMP, RPC, etc – didn’t all of these come with the same set of snares and delusions that seems to surround the IoT piper? I fear the only thing that is different this time around is that IoT is paired with the equally rabid running mate ‘Big Data’ that is desperately trying to find a problem to solve and in so doing might encourage the accumulation of whatever data from IoT that it can take on.

Irrational Consumerism

Yes, it is that time of year, when people go shopping, because, well, they are supposed to shop. New York magazine has a great article that explores just how crazy this is Why Black Friday Is A Behavioral Economist’s Nightmare:

The big problem with Black Friday, from a behavioral economist’s perspective, is that every incentive a consumer could possibly have to participate — the promise of “doorbuster” deals on big-ticket items like TVs and computers, the opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done at once — is either largely illusory or outweighed by a disincentive on the other side. It’s a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on.

It then goes on to explore the retailing ‘tricks’ that are employed:

The doorbuster: The doorbuster is a big-ticket item (typically, a TV or other consumer electronics item) that retailers advertise at an extremely low cost. (At Best Buy this year, it’s this $179.99 Toshiba TV.) We call these things “loss-leaders,” but rarely are the items actually sold at a loss. More often, they’re sold at or slightly above cost in order to get you in the store, where you’ll buy more stuff that is priced at normal, high-margin levels.
That’s the retailer’s Black Friday secret: You never just buy the TV. You buy the gold-plated HDMI cables, the fancy wall-mount kit (with the installation fee), the expensive power strip, and the Xbox game that catches your eye across the aisle. And by the time you’re checking out, any gains you might have made on the TV itself have vanished.

Implied scarcity: This is when a store attempts to drum up interest in an item by claiming “limited quantity” or “maximum two per customer,” which makes us think we’re getting something valuable when we may not be. It’s a staple of deceptive marketing, and at no time in the calendar year is it in wider use than on Black Friday. (There is also actual scarcity on Black Friday — when stores carry only a 50 or 100 of an advertised doorbuster item — which also introduces a risk that you’ll be 51st or 101th in line and waste your time entirety. Both are bad.)

I spent Black Friday at home, with my family, working through my to-do list. Aside from lunch, we didn’t venture out to buy a thing.

What If We Reviewed Movies The Same Way We Review Tablets?

What if we reviewed movies that same way that we review tablets? That is, don’t rate them based on their own merits but always relative to some other popular movie, allow lots of subjective, unsupported assertions and conclude that popularity equals quality. So if we assume that Spiderman was the benchmark du jour, it might go something like this:

Avengers had quite a few popular characters in it, but the fatal flaw was that there was no Spiderman. However, everyone noted that many of the characters closely copied Spiderman in having an alternate identity, special powers and a snazzy costume, it was clear that these were to make the characters more like Spiderman, who is the leader in the super hero space. While the movie was entertaining, it just didn’t have the same flow and ‘ease of watching’ that Spiderman did. And while we paid less to see the Avengers at a matinee, the quality of Spiderman clearly made it worth the extra ticket expense because everyone knows that Spiderman is just a higher quality product. We are sure that the Avengers might appeal to some people; we still believe that Spiderman is the best movie there is.

Application Privacy Over-Reach

The amount of attempted privacy over-reach in mobile apps is approaching appalling. The number of mobile applications either out of the box or via subsequent updates that require the privilege to access (and in some cases upload) your contacts from your device is growing. In most cases it seems the same reason is given for this invasive action: it is for *your* convenience. Meh. It is unnecessary, plain and simple. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Linkedin, Path, Gowalla and others all do this – with or without your permission or knowledge. I mean, why would an application that is supposed to serve as a remote control for you TV need access to you contacts?

Second to the contacts grab is the gratuitous need to have fine grained location information for no apparent reason. For example, why would an application that identifies music need your fine location to work? What does that have to do with music recognition? It seems to be just collecting data for the sake of collecting it.

It is beginning to get even more obnoxious. Some web-based services are not allowing users to create their own username and passwords. Rather they try to force you to log in using your Twitter or Facebook accounts. And with few exceptions they require access to your contacts and other inappropriate information. Some applications (typically browser) are taking this approach. This is even more heinous as now not only do they have your contact information they have a record of every site you visit and every keystroke that you type into every site that you visit. Think about that before you run something like RockMelt.

Be aware of what permissions sites and applications ‘require’ and don’t be afraid to say no. After all, it is your data that is being given away. And once it is gone, chances are you’ll never get it back or get it deleted.

Holiday Shopping And The Sheeple

I am a bit amazed at the manufactured frenzy that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It seems that each year the press does their very best to hype something that really doesn’t have a need to exist any longer (and probably doesn’t for the majority of people).

There really is no reason for people to be pitching tents in front of retailers the day before Thanksgiving so they can be first in line for the big ‘deals’. Is this really more of a social thing than a necessary thing? Do this people not value their own time? Or do they (the sheeple) do it because the press tells them that is what they should do? Are the press trying to justify their repeated (if not specious) claim that the day after Thanksgiving is ‘the busiest shopping day of the year’ when actual facts (something that journalism in this country seems to have only a nodding acquaintance with of late) show that the weekend before Christmas is typically the busiest shopping day. The only thing that I bought on ‘Black Friday’ was a couple of pints at the pub – well away from the shopping mayhem.

The ‘Cyber Monday’ hype is another head scratcher. I could see how this might have been significant a decade ago when most people didn’t have high speed internet connectivity at home and availed themselves of their employer’s internet pipe after returning from Thanksgiving holiday. But now most people *do* have high speed connectivity at home. And not only that, they have high speed connectivity at home the other 364 days of the year as well; so there is no practical need to wait for a specific day to do their online ordering. In fact, quite a few folks I know begin shopping online as early at October to insure that they get the selection they want and have plenty of time to deal with backorders and special orders.

Figure it out folks. Don’t believe the hype.

User Interfaces Need To Evolve

This post titled Don’t Mimic Real-World Interfaces really resonated with me and reminded me of a post that I had done a while ago titled Evolution Of The Mobile Experience.

There have always been those few apps that insist on looking like their physical, real world, equivalent. Calculator apps, date books, calendars, note taking apps, “stickies” — you know what I am talking about. Despite there being better options out there, better ways of displaying the data, designers stick with the known representation of the tool.

Now, though, Apple is taking it too far.

If you have seen any of the screenshots linked across the web about the new iCal interface you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t seen those, iCal is looking a lot like it does on the iPad right now in Lion’s developer preview. It’s ugly, and we should be way past this style by now.

Ugly and harder to use than it should be. Designers need to focus on how to allow the user to fluidly access and manipulate their data not slavishly stick to the limitations of physical items.

Another dimension of this is how poorly developers/designers have approached the touch interface. The industry seems to be mired in button-driven-pull-a-menu-to-do-anything paradigm. Interfaces really need to take better advantage of long-tap context options and gestures to make the interactions more fluid. This is one of the things that drives me bonkers about the iPad – it is so modal; I have to close one app to do something in another. I guess I have gotten used to how easy it is in Android to just share data between apps without having to change apps.

Speaking of Android apps, I think that Feedly is the first really usable news reader that I have encountered on Android. I subscribe to a lot of feeds and that seems to be the death of most readers on mobile devices because the developers thought it would be a good idea to download all your feed updates at once. This typically results in the app going away for a long time. Feedly does it more on demand. And they are clever about using gestures in the app – swipe down and to the left and I have marked that page of articles read and moved on to the next. Brilliant. Much better than ‘pull menu, select mark read, select next page, close menu’ annoyance of other apps.

Why Are Downtown Cincinnati Bloggers So Bitter?

I spent a little time this morning browsing the blogs of people who live in downtown Cincinnati. After about 10 minutes I had to stop. Why do they all seem so bitter and angry? On one hand, they spent a fair amount of time talking about how great it is to live downtown, then turn and belittle people who come down from the (evil) suburbs to partake of the urban greatness. Leaves me wondering why I should hang out downtown with such cliquish bitter crowd.

They also seem to love to hate on people who have chosen to live in the ‘burbs (apparently all they we do is drive SUVs and go to the mall). We have nothing entertaining to do, nothing interesting to eat and nothing worthy to see. Look, downtown folks, it is all about choices; I made mine and you made yours – it doesn’t make either one of us right or wrong.

Does the anger and bitterness come from a perceived lack of awe at the downtown living decision? Should there be weekly articles in the local press about how wonderful the people who live downtown are? Do they not feel vindicated by their decision, don’t feel revered enough that they chose to live downtown? And where is the line? I am sure it exists. That is, the line beyond which you are no longer ‘downtown’ enough to be part of the in-crowd. Yikes, now I am doing it to. Downtown folks, here is what I have for you: respect. Care to share?

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to live downtown; especially if I worked downtown. But I don’t. I work in the evil suburbs (Blue Ash) and live in the even more evil exurbs (Union Township). I enjoy being able to commute to work on my Vespa. I enjoy being a few miles from the fantastic Little Miami Bike trail; my wife and I love to cycle down to Loveland for brunch on sunny Sundays. I am sure I enjoy a pint at the Brazenhead just as much as I would at the Lackman. I like that my daughter has a fantastic school system to attend. I enjoy having the largest YMCA in the country a few mile from my home. I enjoy not being able to see my neighbor’s houses. I enjoy having a large vegetable garden that feeds us through part of the year. Besides, looking at what condos are going for downtown I would pay about twice as much for what amounts to a two bedroom apartment as I paid for my three bedroom house on five acres of land here in the heart of evil-dom.

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Aberrant Behavior Online vs Real Life

I’ve been thinking further about my previous post on social media. In particular how some people behave very differently online that they do in person. Looking back at the example from my previous post, I have my doubts that the parties involved would have behaved the same if the online communication channel wasn’t available. In the one case, would a person exchange physical postal mail for months and then fire off a grudging missive? Probably not. Or they would skip right to the missive. It is probably the same thinking that motivates spammers – if they had to physically address and postal mail letters hawking boner pills and fake watches they likely wouldn’t. Put the ability to electronically send this same junk to thousands at a push of a button is just too easy.

Another example that comes to mind is a former co-worker who began following me on Twitter and Facebook. He stands as the only person (so far) that I have had to ban/block online because of continual obnoxious behavior. In real life he is a likable enough guy and very opinionated. He is ultra-right wing, but claims to be a Libertarian. I always suspected that this was just cover so that he could support the most radical aspects of the Republican agenda but claim ‘I’m not one of them’ when they get caught in their inevitable lies and corruption.

As I said, in person he was fine; online it was just a constant torrent of right wing talking points and Fox News propaganda and spin. The really sad thing was, he couldn’t defend or explain any of it – only parrot the shout radio spew. I debated him a few times and buried him every single time because there were no facts or logic behind his diatribes. This just made him even more radical. Not liking his online shellacking; he began posting lies/distortions about me and what I said in other ‘safe’ forums where he knew he would get no challenge from his other right wing buddies. When he made some pretty overtly racist statements on my Facebook wall, I was done. It would have been one thing if there was some intelligent debate or discussion. Instead this was just tedious, willfully ignorant, offensive, poorly reasoned noise on his part. Banned.

If you need further examples of online bad behavior take a look at the sewer that is the comment section on most posts on the Cincinnati Enquirer site. Maybe I have too much faith in humanity, but I am fairly certain that in real life a person would react with ‘they probably had it coming’ upon hearing that a person had died in a car accident – yet you see this sort of response almost daily on that site. You’ll also see the full regurgitation of the shout radio sloganeering in response to any news posting with even a hint of politics in it.

I guess the anonymizing effect of being online seduces some into the most outrageous behavior. Of course this effect also exists offline as well. As I have pointed out: “there is never a line for the toilet at the public pool”. Yes, people will do the pretty obnoxious things in public if they think they stand a chance of getting away with it – least of which is peeing in a public swimming pool.

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Thoughts On Social Media And The Real World

On a recent trip I began reflecting on social media and being social ‘in the real world’. What follows is a somewhat rambling capture of those thoughts.

While there are varying degrees of concern that people who habitually play violent video games are more inclined to violence, there is no similar concern that people who IM or update Facebook constantly are going to become more loquacious and gregarious in real life. In fact it is the opposite that seems to be the case – the IMers tend to be withdrawn and somewhat socially inept. Why is this?

Both LinkedIn and Facebook attract people who don’t really understand the intent of social media but who seem to just be compulsive list makers or collectors. My LinkedIn inbox constantly sees requests from vendors who apparently are just dumping their contact lists into LinkedIn and requesting to network. Sorry, no. I am pretty strict in LinkedIn at only accepting connections for people I have actually met and could provide a recommendation for (isn’t that the intent of LinkedIn anyway?). Facebook hoarders seem to just send out friend requests to everyone who share a common school or workplace or surname. Again, I only ‘friend’ people I have actually met and care to hear from. I recently got a friend request from a co-worker who in real life won’t look me in the eye or respond when I greet them in the hallway. Anti-social in real life, but what to be my friend online? No thanks. It is also kind of creepy to get monthly friend requests from people I have never met – what do they want? And why don’t they get the message.

In recent years I have had old acquaintances approach me via social media and my blog. In most cases, it works out very amicably and it is nice to catch up with the individual. In other cases, it seems to start out fine and then goes amiss. A few examples:

A former co-worker that I hadn’t heard from in probably a decade left a comment on my blog about catching up. I responded in kind and exchanged several emails with her about the interval between our last contact. She announced that she was going to be in town and wanted to meet up with me and another co-worker for lunch. We met and had a nice conversation. I sent a followup email and got a very terse response. A few weeks after that, she deleted her email account, changed her LinkedIn status to ‘peon’ and moved away, never to be heard from again. What was the point of that whole episode?

In another case, a woman that I went out with briefly in college contacted me via LinkedIn. She seemed kind of depressed at having just lost her job (and not having luck finding a new one) and seemed to want to connect with the past for some reason. We emailed back and forth with me trying to be supportive and not getting too entangled in her venomous tirades against being single, jobless and largely friendless. Then, a few days before February 14th, I got a scathing email missive from her about how I ruined her life by not sending her flowers for Valentine’s Day when I was in college. Really? Not that I was living off of about $30 a week and eating meals out of a vending machine. If I had the money to spare, I probably would have – but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. After the VD missive, no further word from her. Was that really the purpose of contacting me? To blame me for every bad thing that has happened to her in the last two decades? I don’t get it. I am no saint, but I also don’t think I have that kind of influence over people or events.

The last example happened on Facebook. Another woman I dated in college sent me a friend request that I accepted. After the usual quick history exchanges, we would regularly comment on each others postings on Facebook as we share a number of common interests and a similar sense of humor. This went on for about a year, then suddenly not only did she unfriend me, but banned me in FB. The only reason that I can think of is because I told her (via a private message) that she looked great in her new profile photo, but that quality of the photo was low. Seriously? What kind of vanity or insecurity does that reveal? I would have never thought that paying someone a compliment would create that sort of response. But as the previous examples show, people can behave erratically online as in real life. Disappear here, indeed.

When I travel, I like to try to connect with fellow travelers. Trains seem to be an excellent ‘social medium’ for these conversations. I’ve had some great conversations with folks from Uruguay, Chile, New Zealand, and Wales (to name a few) to pass the time while on the rails. But sometimes, there is a bit of a disconnect. On a recent trip, two women sat down next to my wife, daughter and I on a very full train. They were speaking English and the conversation I was having with my daughter made it clear that we shared a common language. The older of the two women didn’t say a word to us, sat down, crossed her arms and stared off into space. The younger one sat across the aisle furiously updating Facebook, sending emails and reviewing photos on her phone. After about an hour of silence I asked her where she was from and she looked at me in utter surprise that I had spoken to her. Again, social online, deer-in-the-headlights in real life. After a while, I let her to most of the talking about what she had been doing in Spain since August (apparently not a lot).

Photography is another shared interest that has led to some real life encounters. I have been using Flickr for years and at one time there was a very active ‘Living In Cincinnati‘ group that would occasionally have meetups for fun and photo ops. One member of the group even arranged for some of group members to have their photos exhibited at a local coffee shop (me included!). I actually wound up selling one of my prints because of the exhibit. My observation about photographers in the digital age: the ones who think they are really good aren’t; the ones who really enjoy taking and sharing images are a delight to hang out with. I’ll take laid-back and playful to the ‘You can tell I am an awesome photographer because I have a $5K camera that I never take out of auto-mode’ and ‘I spend hours in Photoshop tricking up an image because I don’t know what composition is’ annoyances. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have the time to visit/contribute to Flickr as much as I did previously. From what I can tell, the LiC core members seem to have moved on as well as there is little or no activity on the group RSS feed.

I am an avid Vespa rider and participate in both the local and international scooter discussion sites. These are a great way to keep in touch with folks that you might only see a handful of times a year at a scooter rally. These are really not much more than old-school bulletin board systems and perhaps the simplicity of it is what makes it work so well. Maybe someone will come up with a social media site for riders – Scootr, perhaps?

One thing I observed in Spain is that Spanish women will look you in the eye when they walk down the street. I like that. Beats the ‘hundred yard stare’ that most American women sport. Dunno, somehow it makes them seem more alive and engaged rather than always merely on their way somewhere. This made me think of what could be the future of social media/real world interactions. What if there was an augmented reality application like Layar, but people focused rather than building focused. So you could hold your phone up in a crowd and using face recognition or some sort of near field technology you would get an overlay of the interests, language, etc of the people in the crowd. This would be a cool way of tying online social profile to real life interactions. I’d buy that app!

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Changing Online Channels

Yesterday, while prepping the Thanksgiving meal, I began thinking about how I interact online has changed over the years. In the early days, it was primarily read-only consumption of Usenet groups and BBS forums (this was before spammers made these outlet unusable). Then AOL opened up its walled garden version of the Internet with slightly easier, but in many ways more-cumbersome access. AOL also served much the same function that Facebook does today – a place where everyone went to find/connect with people.

I quickly grew tired of AOL spam and set out to get my own dial up Internet connection through one.net. This made FTP and gopher much more workable and provided my first non-corporate Internet email address. At some point the guys who were running one.net lost their minds and got greedy so I dumped them an went with a national provider. Things then evolved from dialup to ISDN (!) and eventually to DSL.

Well, that is the connectivity side of the story. Now for the interaction side. In the beginning, I was also very careful to keep my name off of the Internet. Around 2005, I decided to try out this ‘blogging’ thing that had been going on for a few years.

The original intent of the blog site was to answer the question that I was getting more frequently regarding what I was doing, reading, listening to, etc. The Blogger site had very limited customization, but I customized it as best as I could. Then one day Google decided that to lock my blog for no reason and with no explanation. Shortly thereafter, I when with the self-hosted site that I use now.

As is typical, I suppose, blog postings were a mix of re-posted links with commentary and longer essays and/or rants on various topics of interest (to me anyway). I created a Facebook account about five years ago and didn’t do much with it until the last 18 months or so. Most of my online ‘presence’ was via the blog. I created a Twitter account in 2007 and experimented a bit with that off and on. I also had a Jaiku account and tended to use that more as it had a better interface (and a mobile client).

Of late, I have noticed that my online channels have begun to shift (or at least stratify). Links that I would normally post on the blog, I put into Facebook. Links that I would normally share via email, I began putting into Twitter. Email is for much more directed communications. I have never been much of an IM person. The blog is seeing fewer updates as a consequence – which may be for the better. My plan going forward is to create longer ‘essay’ posts for the blog and shift more of the straight link sharing via Facebook and Twitter.

I have been toying with the idea of using things like Pixelpipe to update multiple channels at one time but that almost seems a bit too indiscriminate, like a form of spamming. Rockmelt promises to make it easer to share on Facebook and Twitter in particular, but I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet to know what it can do.

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Slow Reading

As the internet has become more and more mainstream, I often wondered if there my be some sort of impact to the way that people absorb data. Apparently, there are some that are of the opinion that the internet is having a pronounced impact on reading habits. The reaction to this is a ‘slow reading’ movement.

So are we getting stupider? Is that what this is about? Sort of. According to The Shallows, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next – without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content; our reading is frequently interrupted by the ping of the latest email; and we are now absorbing short bursts of words on Twitter and Facebook more regularly than longer texts.

Which all means that although, because of the internet, we have become very good at collecting a wide range of factual tidbits, we are also gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and relate all these facts to each other. And so, as Carr writes, “we’re losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion”.

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Easy Fix For Postal Woes

I was listening to a report on the radio the other morning about how postal rates in the US are going to increase and how this was going to cause issues for some people. I had to laugh. To me it seemed that if they did it right, they could solve two problems at once.

The obvious solution to me was to eliminate the ridiculously cheap ‘bulk rate’ (aka corporate welfare) that businesses have enjoyed and abused for years. Bring this to parity with the ‘first class’ postage rate that the private citizens that fund the postal service have to pay. The net effect of this should be two fold: 1) less junk mail being sent out 2) less junk mail being thrown away. Those who wish to continue to send me 4 catalogs a month from which I have never ordered a single thing may continue to do so — only now paying their fair share.

And while we are at it, require all those tax-dodging corporations who have incorporated offshore to pay international rates for all of their domestic mailings. After all, for tax purposes they are a ‘foreign’ company, they should be for postal purposes as well.

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Is Reason Always Right?

Several years ago I committed to myself to try to trust my intuition more and (perhaps with a bit of bias) I would say that commitment has served me well. This essay from The Guardian explores the topic a bit more.

Albert Camus said that the body is as good a judge as the mind. We know what he means. When we meet someone for the first time the whole of us responds to that person. Later the mind may reflect on the encounter and think that they were likeable, or not, but that first meeting will be an important element in whether we want to follow up the relationship or not. Yet, though there is a great truth in what Camus said, I believe that in the end the mind must be the final judge. The body, with its instinctual response, can orientate the mind in a particular direction or nudge it in another one if it feels it is going wrong, but in the end the mind must decide, using rational criteria.

The same point can be made in relation to what is called conscience. Some people think of conscience as an inner voice making them feel guilty, or telling them what to do. But conscience, as Thomas Aquinas said, is the mind making moral judgements. It is a matter of the mind, not any inner voice. In short it is the considered judgment we make when we weigh up all the pros and cons in the light of our values and overall perspective on life. This is not to say that guilty feelings, or intuitions are unimportant. They are. Sometimes they can stop the mind going down a wrong track altogether. When we make a rational decision it is very good to take into account the totality of what we are feeling. But in the end we must try to think as rationally as possible.

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Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

So maybe the recent crazy for anti-bacterial everything is not necessarily a good thing? From Science Daily:

Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

What next, the discovery of midichlorians and their impact?

Also previously Cut Down On Infections By Cutting Down On Antibiotics

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Gestural Interfaces – Bad For Usability?

Question is whether this just seems awkward because it is a new way of doing things or whether it is truly a bad thing. In any case, the iPad certainly takes it’s knocks in this discussion:

In a recent column for Interactions (reference 2) Norman pointed out that the rush to develop gestural interfaces – “natural” they are sometimes called – well-tested and understood standards of interaction design were being overthrown, ignored, and violated. Yes, new technologies require new methods, but the refusal to follow well-tested, well-established principles leads to usability disaster.

Recently, Raluca Budui and Hoa Loranger from the Nielsen Norman group performed usability tests on Apple’s iPad (reference 1), reaching much the same conclusion. The new applications for gestural control in smart cellphones (notably the iPhone and the Android) and the coming arrival of larger screen devices built upon gestural operating systems (starting with Apple’s iPad) promise even more opportunities for well-intended developers to screw things up. Nielsen put it this way: “The first crop of iPad apps revived memories of Web designs from 1993, when Mosaic first introduced the image map that made it possible for any part of any picture to become a UI element. As a result, graphic designers went wild: anything they could draw could be a UI, whether it made sense or not. It’s the same with iPad apps: anything you can show and touch can be a UI on this device. There are no standards and no expectations.”

Why are we having trouble? Several reasons:

· The lack of established guidelines for gestural control

· The misguided insistence by companies (e.g., Apple and Google) to ignore established conventions and establish ill-conceived new ones.

· The developer community’s apparent ignorance of the long history and many findings of HCI research which results in their feeling of empowerment to unleash untested and unproven creative efforts upon the unwitting public.

After cataloging some of the issues with gestural interfaces in a bit more detail, the article attempts to conclude on a positive note on the ‘promise’ of GI. It comes off a bit mixed (if not mildly scolding):

The new devices are also fun to use: gestures add a welcome feeling of activity to the otherwise joyless ones of pointing and clicking.

But the lack of consistency, inability to discover operations, coupled with the ease of accidentally triggering actions from which there is no recovery threatens the viability of these systems.

We urgently need to return to our basics, developing usability guidelines for these systems that are based upon solid principles of interaction design, not on the whims of the company human interface guidelines and arbitrary ideas of developers.

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