Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Free Speech - Well, That Didn't Last Long

If you're interested in freedom of speech, (a relatively new political innovation and quite valuable to us,) then you need to be interested in the e-book reader war. Note that so far every e-book reader includes a way to delete books, either (as Amazon proved) remotely deleted without warning, or with the Sony, by expiring content after a specific time.  Whether they tell you that time or not.

Neither inspires confidence in me for my freedom of speech, because at least when one published a book in the past, one could be sure that the person buying it would still have that book, barring gross mishandling, fire, or rising damp, for the next decade or even century.  Now, one can't even be sure someone who pays money for one's book will still have it the following day.

No help if one wrote a self-extracting e-book for an iPhone - there's every chance it won't even make it into the App Store.  And don't even get started on the stumbling-blocks thrown up if one was writing a text-to-speech application for the book or producing it as an audiobook...

Freedom of speech is a powerful thing, a power we should not lightly let slip away.  Support the most open e-book readers where possible, and hopefully that gesture will be seen as what it is, a protest against censorship.  Only a government that doesn't trust its people removes their defenses and tightly controls the information it allows that people access to.  In this case, the word "government" can also be replaced by "multinational" and the word "people" with the word "customers."

Remember to keep the bastards honest!

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Just Caught Up

... with some friends from way back and long ago, thanks to the power of Facebook.  Now looking forward to catching up for a coffee and a long long long conversation because it turns out that these people have been within a few miles of me for years.  If only one knew hey?

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Monday, 17 August 2009

Amusing Thought Of The Day.

If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that truly inventive and creative people are ultimately stupid.  They invent and create things that would be of inestimable value - and then give it to stupid people...

"What's that?"

"The geek wiz built it and gave it to me.  He said it was a solar powered mobile powered food production unit that can feed a small village.  Here - you use this laptop to direct where it goes."

"Ah okay.  So what are you doing with it?"

"Oh, I use it to chase the cat."

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

THE Ultimate Gadget?

Having been in high tech industries for most of my working life, I've always had a bit of a grasp of what's possible with technology, and what sorts of advances are most likely to occur in technology given the existing state of play.  I love my techie stuff, and I have for years (since the 90's) held a view that what we were using back then (and are still using in one form or another, highly developed as it is) is an interim technology. There will soon be devices and gadgets that will raise the bar by orders of magnitude.  (If Global Warming doesn't put paid to technology beforehand, that is.)

I'm thinking about converged devices, in a way.  And about (paradoxically enough) about single-purpose devices.  We're seeing, over and over, that nothing in isolation is really Ultimate Gadget-worthy. Your mobile phone, with camera, streaming video, Internet access, and GPS? Is a lovely converged gadget but would quickly become a picture-taking brick without some serious horsepower in the form of fixed-purpose devices backing it.

GPS is useless without satellites. Wi-Fi triangulation is useless without wireless access points, and access to servers that have geospatial information available. All the video streaming in the world is useless unless you have servers somewhere and infrastructure servers routers and networks to stream it along.  The phone itself becomes a glorified walkie-talkie without the cellphone towers, data routers, and miles of fibre and copper in the ground.  Oh?  You can still take pictures?  That's great, but somewhere there will have to be a photo frame, a PC, or a printer to actually do something with those photos unless you're happy showing off your 512 favourite photos (or whatever capacity the phone has) on a 2" screen.

Almost two decades ago now, I was introduced to the idea that technology wouldn't be useful until it was so universal and ubiquitous as to be invisible like pencil and paper was.  In other words, you picked up a pencil and a piece of paper without thinking, without worrying about how to use it, where it came from, or how it worked.  it was just - there.  Like picking up a rock to throw at something.  It's there, never mind geological forces and aeons of shaping.

And we're at this point now.  Gen X and Y don't consciously worry about assigning an IP address, subnet mask, and broadcast address to their netbook, they just turn it on and use it.  Boomers and some Gen X'ers with a penchant for how things work might poke around under the hood a bit and manually set packet and window sizes, but generally this stuff just works.

You don't worry about where to save your pictures, many apps already just send them to your Flickr or Picasa account, and your mobile phone photos can be sent to your or blip just like any other message.  Your GPS seamlessly downloads relevant maps and points of interest as you move around, and when you switch to movie mode and sit down in front of your favourite restaurant and give a vox pop review of the place, you don't have to worry where it's streaming to, it just happens.

About ten years ago I realised that there'd never be one Ultimate Gadget.  There'd be unobtrusive single purpose devices that you'd never see, gadgets that you carried with you or used without thinking about much, and which would do the hard work of interconnecting and interoperating for you.

So I'm thinking that your next gadgets will be things you don't think about, that you pick up and use in the same way you pick up your keys to drive or open the door, and that, like keys and paper, perform specific actions - maybe more than one specific action, maybe a whole gamut.  But you wouldn't be thinking about that specific function or how to make the gadget perform that action.

Oh and very small and very ubiquitous.  We're at the stage where circuits are being embedded in plastics and paper.  We're at the stage where the gadget becomes foldable, bendable, rollable, where research is ongoing to make devices that can change their shape depending on the function they're performing, and the flipside of that, where the gadget changes function depending on how you fold bend roll or twist it, which way you orient it in space, how fast you move it.

Back when I was forming these opinions, the average PC was an AT class 286 PC and it too all its brainpower to recognise a handful of words after days of training to recognise a single voice.  Nowadays, it's common to speak to an AVR program over a telephone and speak menu choices in a wide range of accents and be recognised, even with background noise and telephony-quality audio.

Back then, I predicted that enough computing power and memory could be put into a device the size of a packet of cigarettes and recognise it's one user's voice with 99% accuracy, when in fact it's turned out that those electronics can be packed into something the size of an inline earphone dongle for an iPod Shuffle and recognise any user's voice with that much accuracy...

So I'm predicting that when the next revolution in converged, multipurpose, highly miniaturised and highly powerful gadgets comes along - you won't even realise it...

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Spied: Your Pre Has Just Violated You

Amusing T.o.t.D:

Over the last few months of Pre hype, I think I'd prefer some other phone.  No, really.  Aside from not being The Answer for me, I don't think any mobile phone will ever be the answer.  In a future article I'll put down some thoughts on what will be.

Sad that Palm are lawyering up over Pre skins for other phones, because while they mightn't be a real one, they probably wouldn't trample on your privacy like the real Pre.

This puts Palm firmly into Amazon Kindle territory now, on a par with where the Evil Empire Microsoft was a few years back with their "call home" reporting spyware running in the Windows OS.  Actually, it's worse.  Because these hooks exist, you just know they will get abused by some form of malware.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Cumulus Granitus

Having worked in PNG in the same airline that has just crashed, and in fact on those exact aircraft, I can say that yeah flying up there is scary seat of the pants stuff... What most of the "pilot commenters" on various TV programs aren't explaining properly is the relationship that mountains, clouds, and airplanes share up there.

Aircraft are generally VFR (Visual Flight Regs) and limited to remaining in sight of the ground. In most places, that means you stay beneath the clouds because the ground stays underneath the clouds..

In PNG though, the base of the cloud and the terrain intersect a lot, so you can often be above the clouds and still in sight of the ground, thus technically flying VFR. The problem arises when you're flying along following the ground, and suddenly find yourself above a blanket of rapidly-moving cloud.

Well, actually, the problem arises when you look for a hole in the cloud to get back in sight of the ground, drill down into it, and you suddenly find that the cloud has terrain in it. The pilots that flew our aircraft in the 70's had a word they coined, "cumulus granitus" which you can loosely translate for yourself...

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Thursday, 6 August 2009

Random Brainphart

I remember when a Twitter outage didn't affect all the world, and as this author reports, it was in fact de rigeur to find Twitter down.  Now I'm seeing a large chunk of the population chewing their nails and nerves all a-jangle because Twitter, Facebook, Gawker, and possibly LiveJournal are all down. Unimaginable...  Well, today it is...

I remember...

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Apple Diplomacy

I know - it's not good to tar all of a particular group with the same brush.  And I'm certainly not going to be visiting any Somali in my neighbourhood and chalking swastikas on the footpath or anything, either, because logically and reasonably, I know that terrorists are terrorists and know no racial boundary, they can be everywhere.

The problem is that we humans are a visceral species, our gut feelings (whether we admit to it or not) rule our logic and reason, putting that split-second hesitation into our voices before we reply to someone else, makes our eyes narrow slightly.  We do that because we're still primates underneath it all.  We know that if we have one barrel of apples from Somalia and another one from Tasmania, and we find ten bad apples in one barrel but none in the other, well, we'll stick with the "safer" apples.  Even if we later find a rotten apple or more, at the beginning, the ape in us all will pick what it considers the healthier barrel.

The problem with that is that there are a lot of perfectly good apples sitting there in the barrel and currently needing to find acceptance with us, saying "pick me! give me a chance!" and meanwhile the rest of us are slightly averting our eyes, slightly standing closer to the apples in the "good" barrel.  Tensions will be elevated in this way, and the best thing we can all do is to fight the reflex, realise that it exists for an old, long-past-useful survival reason.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to work hard to meet everyone's eye, not just a select few people I consider to be "good apples..."

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Not Going To Do This

Testing - this should seriously be annoying %)

And it was - no subject/title, and no more than SMS length messages. Will post these snippets to a private blog instead, and then collect them in the evening I think.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bastard Marketing Inc #2722

Today's "special offer" designed to precisely and exactly be as oxymoronic as possible and sell sell! SELL! their product, while not caring one whit whether it makes them look like total dinkwits or not:

"Get your Sleep Number mattress for a great night's sleep, and for a limited time, get a free 21" LCD TV so that you won't ... actually ... you know ... sleep ... because you'll use this TV in your bedroom won't you?"

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Bastard Marketing Inc #2721

I can imagine the scene.  The air in the boardroom is tense and thick with flop sweat.  The product has tanked badly in the last year, the CEO's not pleased, the CFO's wringing her hands, and the shareholders have sent sharply worded letters saying that they want their dividends.

"It's the economy! I swear, this downturn has caught us all by surprise!"
"Don't be stupid man! The economic downturn is still in our future, this is 2007!  Don't fall apart on us now!"
"But people wear closed shoes much more now, and that means our product is less in demand.  And that is a factor right now."
"... the problem is how do we create a demand for the cream?"

"Hey!  I've got it!  We package our cracked heel cream with a free pair of thongs!"

Sometimes, I swear that's the entire thinking process behind a product promotional offer.

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Winning Lotto, The Easy Way.

Noises.  In the kitchen.  So I'm only half listening to the TV, while some dimbulb reporter is facing the camera and trying to impress with wiggling eyebrows and wide open eyes that they are a goddamn statistical specialist dammit and - hang on.  Did she just really say that?  Replay that in my mind, and yes she did.  "The odds of winning Lotto are 54 million to one."

We are a nation of some 22 million people.  Of those, you can discount at least a third, either they are kids or in nursing homes, or they live out beyond Black Stump, or their religion doesn't permit gambling, or they're just skeptical of games of "luck and chance" in general.  The point is that the most number of people that will be playing any particular Lotto game will be 15 million.  Or less, maybe down to 10 million.

So if the statisticians are right, that means that the Lotto should by rights jackpot for four weeks at a time.  because if only one in 54,000,000 people wins Lotto, and 15,000,000 people in total are playing, that means the chance of one or several winners each week is1 in 3.6 at the very best rate of people playing.  If there are fewer players than my back of the napkin guesses indicate, then the winner rate should drop to as rare as 1 in 6.

Does Lotto in fact jackpot for 4 to 6 weeks every time?  I don't have figures to hand but I am guessing not.  Say ten million people play, that's one hundred million dollars worth of tickets, a one in six chance that the prize will go off, so at the end of six weeks of minor prizes only there will have been six hundred million dollars paid into Lotto.

But in fact I think the prize goes off more often than that statistic would indicate it should, so that brings me to another interesting observation:

One in twenty million people wins a major prize in Lotto.  There.  In one fell swoop, I've doubled your chances of winning.  And now that I've put you in there with a chance, I'll go out on a limb and say that I can probably improve your chances of winning Lotto even more - by an amazingly huge factor.

See, there are only two outcomes - either you win a prize or you don't.  So in fact your chances of winning a prize in Lotto are one in two, 50/50.  Now go out there and when you win, remember me and my Paypal link! %)

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