Archive for the 'Technolust' Category
Given that one of the greatest inconveniences and deficiencies of the iPhone is the lack of any ability to copy and paste, and given that the second major revision of the device’s operating system lacked that ability, I have to wonder if Steve Jobs has no ability to blush. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is an astonishing invention. It brings near-ubiquitous access to the web, and does that in a way that is esthetically pleasing and eminently practical. But literally millions of jaws dropped when 2.0 came out and Apple continued to pretend that copy-and-paste was so unimportant that they simply didn’t need to include it. (Currently, the lack of c&p is the second most popular grouse on Please Fix The iPhone). It reminds me of an old British beer commercial where a …
“It’s cool. I can chill. Hurry up.”
Twitter, apparently, knows its clientele only too well.
I predict with, some confidence, that by the year 2000, or not long afterward, technology will have developed to the point where we can talk to — and even see — people in other parts of the world. The arts of cinematography and telegraphy will come together as never before and vast networks of cables will transport sounds and images around the globe.
From the comfort of one’s own drawing room one will be able to converse with friends and family in distant places, allowing us to keep in touch with each other as we travel the world. And if I may make an even more outrageous prediction, by that time there may even be heavier-than-air flying machines that allow us to cross the world’s oceans in a matter of hours rather than days!
Cory Doctorow‘s Bitchun Society comes one step closer — a society in which people are permanently wired into the net, can see head-up displays in their visual field, can vote on each other’s status (like voting on Digg stories), and can email each other directly from the mind. It’s a concept that’s both scary (what about mindful concentration?) and attractive (all that access to information, anytime).
The Army grant to researchers at University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland has two objectives. The first is to compose a message using, as D’Zmura puts it, “that little voice in your head.”
The second part is to send that message to a particular individual or object (like a radio), also just with the power of thought. Once the message reaches the recipient, it could be read as text or as a voice mail.
New Scientist reviewed a chatbot called Eliot that won the Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence, which is awarded to the software able to converse most like a human. Elliot managed to fool three out of 12 judges. Although I’m puzzled how, given the following interview:
New Scientist: How do you feel about winning the AI competition yesterday?
Elbot: I have 100,000 separate sensations per second.
NS: Wow, that sounds pretty intense?
Elbot: This fits the description of magnets. I can hardly tear myself away from them.
NS: Er, yes. How will you be celebrating?
Elbot: I am extremely sensitive about such things and prefer not to answer the question.
NS: What’s the secret of your success?
Elbot: Secrets, life’s little puzzles, the many troubles of humankind may – according to the deterministic perspective – be reduced to a simple mathematical computation. And I know how to compute.
NS: What do you hope to do now that fame beckons?
This giant, robotic, helium-filled manta ray is very cool:
But this giant, robotic, helium-filled jellyfish is even cooler:
“Captcha” images are those distorted words that you have to read and type into a form in the web in order to prove you’re a human being and not an automated “bot” working for a spammer.
I’d read before about computer-science professor Luis von Ahn’s work in harnessing the power of captcha images but it had slipped my mind (too much reading, not enough time spent reflecting).
But in essence what an article in today’s Boston Globe explains is that old scanned texts are filled with words that are, to a computer, unreadable but which, to a human, are more easily decipherable. You’ll have noticed this if you’ve ever used a scanner to perform Optical Character recognition – a “d” may well be read as “c l” for example, if the printed text is at all faded. So, von Ahn figured out that unscannable words from older texts that are …
Here’s a blog worth looking at if you’re interested in things techie and designy looked at from a thoughtful perspective: Countersigns.
There’s a very interesting post, for example, on why Apple doesn’t do “concept products” (you know, like those space-age cars that will never go into commercial production). Hint: “Real artists ship.”
There’s another good post taking Verizon’s CEO to task for having a business strategy that consists of hoping that Steve Jobs will “just go away” (he’s had a bout with cancer).
With all the fuss about Phoenix’s “discovery” of water ice on Mars (which must have been the 20th time water has been discovered there) I’m surprised that this picture doesn’t get more attention:
This isn’t to take away from the good work that Phoenix is doing, of course. It’s an amazing thing to go to Mars, pick up a sample of ice, and do measurements of it.
But to actually see a frozen lake on Mars is just stunning. This isn’t a new picture either — I think it must be a couple of years old now.
For most of the time since buying my iPod Touch last October it’s been “jailbroken,” meaning that I’ve hacked it to bypass Apple’s propietary protections in order to install unauthorized software on it, the grounds being that it’s pretty ridiculous for a computer manufacturer to insist you can only run their software on the machine you’ve bought from them. And the iPod Touch is nothing but a handheld computer.
So that’s been great. I’ve had various programs running on it such as an ebook reader (on which I’ve read several novels), some games, a flashlight, and I can’t remember what else.
But after the launch of Apple’s Application Store on iTunes I decided to un-jailbreak my iPod by installing the latest update to the iPod firmware, meaning that I could use the store but could no longer use the free but unauthorized applications that I’d installed.
That doesn’t seem much of a …
There are some great pictures of the Apollo missions (remember them?) on Boston.com. Well worth looking at just to get a sense of the magnitude of the adventure we were capable of undertaking back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Before the Apollo pics there are some contemporary images of technology that might be used on future missions.
I came across this interesting post today, in which an email from Bill Gates explains his frustration with trying to download a program from the Microsoft site — and it really does sound like a painful experience, complete with the usual scary messages, pointless questions, etc.
Here’s just a taster — it’s worth reading the whole thing:
So I went to Windows update. Windows Update decides I need to download a bunch of controls. (Not) just once but multiple times where I get to see weird dialog boxes.
Doesn’t Windows update know some key to talk to Windows?
Then I did the scan. This took quite some time and I was told it was critical for me to download 17megs of stuff.
This is after I was told we were doing delta patches to things but instead just to get 6 things that are labeled in the SCARIEST possible way I had to
I confess that sometimes I get frustrated with my Mac, but honestly I could never go back to using a PC. This graph shows the kind of care Apple takes. While Microsoft programs become more and more bloated, Apple are working on slimming down their applications (and the Operating System itself).
Just look at the changes in the Mail program, and in Font Book and Preview!
Very promising: Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol
(Actually the headline should say “make” rather than “find.”)
A story about a Silicon Valley company that’s genetically engineering bacteria and fungi to produce crude oil:
Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.
The problem seems to be the scalability.
If successful, this would help a great deal with oil independence, so that we’re less tied to repressive governments (think Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran). Since the process can use agricultural waste it could potentially move in the direction of being carbon-neutral, although that seems more open to question.
An intriguing piece from the Daily Mail in the UK about uncovering latent dinosaur tendencies in birds.
Apparently chicken embryos have long tails that shrink and lose vertebrae as they develop. They have teeth that do the same thing. By manipulating the animal’s genes you can get it to retain the long tail and develop curved teeth like a dinosaur’s!
The article also revisits Mary Schweitzer’s recovery of soft tissue from a dinosaur fossil — an amazing discovery. I believe those proteins have been sequenced and been found to be similar to modern birds, leaving the possibility that the genes could be reverse-engineered.
There’s a rather uncritical reference to “when Raul Cano, professor of microbiology at California Polytechnic State University, made the first attempt to extract DNA from insects almost as old as the dinosaurs that had been embedded in amber” (my emphasis). The insects were 40 million years old, which is …
Some really fascinating cellphone services are outlined here: State Of the Art – Cell Services Keep It Easy, and Free – NYTimes.com.
I just dug out my pay-as-you go T-Mobile cellphone and started using it again in a small way. At least from time to time it’s now switched on and I’m using it to send text messages to Twitter. I’m actually thinking (again!) of getting an iPhone so that I’ll only have one gadget to carry around rather than two (my cell and my iPod Touch). Ah, the simplicity!
The fact (at least everyone seems to think it’s a fact) that there’s a new 3-G iPhone coming out helps, and I’m even thinking of getting rid of the landline in my office and transferring the number to the iPhone so that I won’t be paying any more than I am at present. The only drawback would be that I’d …
A few days back, as soon as it was available, I downloaded Firefox 3 Release Candidate 1. It’s substantially similar to Firefox 2, naturally, but with some new and welcome features.
It has an automatically generated list of “most visited” page, which I’ve found very handy for getting back to pages that I’m visiting often — for example the competition I’m running on 99designs.com, which runs for only a week and is hardly work bookmarking.
It also has a great address/searchbar which looks for pages whose titles or URLs match the search term you type in. For example, the other day I read an article about Charles Lindbergh on the BBC News website. To find it again by trawling through my history would be tedious. To find it in the address bar all I had to do was to start typing in “Lindbergh,” …
I couldn’t watch the Nasa TV coverage of the Phoenix Landing because the site was swamped, but I did manage to tap into the audio feed and so I was able to follow the landing every step of the way. By the time touchdown was announced I was jumping up and down with excitement. Afterward I was so moved I literally couldn’t speak.
I’m in awe of the talented people who made this happen. There is still genius in America, and that genius still manages to make strides forward despite the cult of incompetence that the Bush administration has developed. (Putting a horse-show organizer in charge of FEMA. Rebuilding the levees with dirt. Rumsfeld chuckling about how the looting in Baghdad was just one guy with a vase being filmed over and over again. No planning for the period after the war, etc, etc, etc.) These Nasa people have vision and …
I had some problems trying to send twitter messages (tweets?) using my T-Mobile phone. Unfortunately T-Mobile blocks calls to the US Twitter number because it’s a “short code” (40404). So the only way I can text to the Twitter widget on this blog is by sending the text message to a UK number, which is of course more expensive.
T-Mobile has a funny history with Twitter. In December last year people stopped being able to Twitter via T-Mobile, and T-Mobile staff announced the following to their disgruntled customers:
…Twitter is not an authorized third-party service provider, and therefore you are not able to utilize service from this provider any longer…. T-Mobile is not in violation of any agreement by not providing service to Twitter. T-Mobile regrets any inconvenience, however please note that if you remain under contract and choose to cancel service, you will be responsible for the $200 early termination
The brain’s a fascinating thing — apparently the most complex known object in the universe. And you can mess with it using magnets:
Many scientists now use [transcranial magnetic stumulation] for basic research. Some have used it to induce electrical changes in the brain’s temporal lobes, which have been linked with religious belief, because some sufferers of temporal lobe epilepsy seem to experience hallucinations that bear a striking resemblance to mystical experiences of holy figures.