Archive for the ‘scitech’ Category

User interface to reality

Tuesday, January 4th, 2005 asked 119 scientists and futurists: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Two answers impressed me deeply. The first is by Donald Hoffman of UCI (picture), which I excerpt here:

The world of our daily experience—the world of tables, chairs, stars, and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds—is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm.

He goes on to point out that the nature of user interfaces is to simplify and symbolize:

Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.

Nicholas Humphrey, a psychologist at the London School of Economics, contributed this:

I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-improtance—so as to increase the value we each place on our own and others’ life.

Indeed. If we realized our true significance we’d just walk in front of a bus and forget about it.

Neurobiology (II) — why people hoard

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

Now the New York Times reports that obsessive hoarders have decreased activity in the anterior cingulate, the “brain structure involved in decision making and problem solving, […as well as the] posterior cingulate, an area involved in spatial orientation, memory and emotion.” The theory is apparently that these poor guys worry about losing track of their stuff so they keep it piled up in the living room.

The Rise and Fall of Google

Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

Google can do no wrong. It’s forthcoming IPO will be the most successful in history. It will completely own the search market and then mail and whatever else it tries its hand at. It’s the Microsoft of the 21st Century. Its corporate culture is an open geeknoid ideal to which we can only hope to aspire. It will create the humongous centralized personalized computing infrastructure which will set the next stage for the evolution of mankind.

I’ve never seen quite such a perfect contrarian play. Although as usual, the contrarian scenario will probably take at least several years to unfold. (Disclaimer: the writer passed up an opportunity to buy MSFT at $14 in 1988, thinking it overvalued.)

Search is going to be much more competitive than it looks. Advertisers have a limited number of dollars and are going to deploy them where they are most efficient. Meanwhile, there are already dozens and dozens of sponsored listing brokers that will be fighting tooth and nail to get their piece of the business. They’ll compete coming and going.

Mail is not as big as it looks. The privacy issue won’t go away. More basically, the Google business model for mail will fall apart when advertisers realize that people don’t want to click on ads while they’re trying to read their mail. The 1GB of storage is nothing special; Yahoo! can do that tomorrow. Searching all your mail is a very nice feature, but there are a number of other ways to do that that don’t involve keeping all you mail on one company’s servers; an interesting one is Zoe.

And the Fortune article that painted Google as basically being unmanaged chaos was probably being generous to them. Someone I know recently applied for a job there and was finally contacted five months later. Google then spent two months taking him through an opaque, unstructured interview process that eventually went nowhere. That’s no way to run a company.

Google has a lot of international revenue—but that’s just because search, when done right as they did, is pretty internationalized out of the box. The same won’t hold for any of their newer services, such as zip-code search, which will require huge effort to roll out internationally, and face much stronger local competition—and Google doesn’t even have people on the ground in some major markets.

Google will be fully-priced as of the IPO. There may be some upside as they experience good growth over the next few years, but I’d get out sometime in 2006.

Magnatune — on-line music the way it should be

Monday, April 26th, 2004

Just found Magnatune, a fabulous on-line music store; or perhaps on-line publisher is a better description:

  1. Nothing is DRM-encumbered.
  2. Everything can be listened to.
  3. Any format can be downloaded, up to and including WAV if that’s your multi-hundred-megabyte cup of tea.
  4. You can choose how much to pay for an album.
  5. The artist gets 50% of the purchase price.

I downloaded an album by Jeff Wahl, who plays some great acoustic new age guitar, for $8. The FLAC download was 342MB.

Scientific proof that men and women are different

Sunday, February 29th, 2004

The New York Times reported with a straight face that Pfizer has given up testing Viagra on women, having discovered after eight years that, quote:

  1. men and women have a fundamentally different relationship between arousal and desire
  2. arousal and desire are often disconnected in women
  3. with women, things depend on a myriad of factors
  4. the brain is the crucial sexual organ in women

Umm, gee, duh, wonder what gender of people they had running those labs.

How Zen promotes human cloning

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004

Drs. Hwang and Moon, the Korean researchers who recently succeeded in cloning human stemcells, said that their success was due partly to the “Zen-like” ability Easterners have to sit perfectly still for 10 hours in one spot while manipulating the eggs, almost like a meditation.

Of course, Dr. Hwang also attributed part of their success to the fact that Korean fingers are so dextrous due to use of slippery metal chopsticks since childhood.

Doctorow on e-books

Saturday, February 14th, 2004

Cory Doctorow gave a speech at an O’Reilly conference on Emerging Technologies called Ebooks: Neither E, nor Books.

But I don’t think he’s got it figured out quite yet. He says, “The distinctive value of ebooks…revolves around the mix-ability and send-ability of electronic text.” But that’s not the disinctive value. The distinctive value is that the experience of reading them on the computer can be richer, more engaging, more educational, more impactful, and more fun. Assuming you have the right technology to do so, such as Infowalker.

Speed-reading, a word at a time, on the web

Monday, February 9th, 2004

Trevor F. Smith has put up a speed reader version of Cory Doctorow’s new on-line novel Eastern Standard Tribe. This is an ultra-cool technology based on some Xerox PARC research, which flashes the book, one word at a time, in large type, up on the screen. I just wish there was a pause button…

Gadget report (III) — Treo 600, luckily no flip cover to break

Monday, January 26th, 2004

The Treo, of course, is Palm One’s little PDA phone. The latest version, the 600, is smaller and cuter than previous versions.

We won’t be buying any Treo’s though. Sakiko bought the very first one when it came out two years ago, the model with a flip cover (the second version, the 270, had this flip lid, too). It wasn’t a bad device, although a bit bulky. Unfortunately, one side of where the flip cover was connected broke about two months ago. But the brain-damaged design is that you have to unflip the cover in order to have a phone call. There’s a little wire going through the plastic connection that broke, so it’s still connected, like someone’s hand where the wrist bone got cut off but is still hanging on by the tendons. The phone is essentially now unusable.

What idiot designed a product with inferior materials at such an obvious point of failure? There’s no way to fix it, except to pay Palm hundreds of dollars, more than it would cost to buy a new phone. I find it absolutely irresponsible that Palm would not cover the cost of fixing a problem like this which was so obviously a result of its own design mistakes.

Jumping through hoops, or getting WMA files into MP3

Friday, January 9th, 2004

I made the mistake of downloading a couple of albums from MusicMatch, which of course come in WMA format. Then I bought my fabulous new Squeezebox home media integration server, which only knows how to play MP3s (actually, it can handle AAC and some other formats as well). So I needed to convert the files—but how? I discovered the hard way what a lot of computer music aficionados certainly already knew.

I had to burn audio CDs of the WMAs I had downloaded. Then I had to re-rip those into MP3. That worked. But what’s the point of making users jump through these hoops? And who knows what happened to the quality of the CDs during the burning and re-ripping process?