Wolfram|Alpha should win the award for most over-hyped site of the year. Wow. Where can my company buy press like this? So much press, and so many ridiculous headlines.
- Wolfram Alpha: Wikipedia killer?
- Wolfram Alpha v Google: Which is better?
- wolframalpha: move over Google?
- Google rival search tool launched
Spend a few minutes with Wolfram|Alpha and you will probably smile and think, "this is pretty cool". But will your life or web browsing activities change in any way? No. It's a great tool, a neat tool, but it's also a niche tool. Its current incarnation may be useful in an ongoing capacity to 0.5% of the population. It's laughable to suggest this is in any way a threat to Google, Wikipedia, or anything else. The core of Google is unregulated text search. The core of Wikipedia is user-contributed knowledge. Wolfram|Alpha does neither of those things. At best it is competing with a largely unused feature of Google search where it presents answers, images, calculations, tabular data, etc. related to searches performed; good stuff, but applicable to maybe 5% of the searches I do.
Ah well... I suppose this is the equivalent for the tech media of an attractive white woman going missing in the regular media.
I swim like a 12 year old. I try to make every lap a game. Maybe I try to swim all the way across without coming up for air, maybe I swim upside down staring at the wavy reflection of the water's surface, maybe I swim across with my eyes closed, feeling the tiles on the bottom for direction. And I do all this with swim fins, hand paddles, a scuba mask, and my iPhone.
I'm not sure how other people manage to swim their laps without music or fun, but that's how they roll with their beautifully disciplined lives.
If you want to swim with your iPhone I recommend buying the following:
- Aquapac Model 104 (the case is good, the headphones if included are absolutely terrible)
- H2O Audio Surge Bass Amplified Waterproof Headphones
And I put a little piece of absorbent material inside the case with the iPhone, just in case there's a minor leak or some condensation it might protect and/or warn me of impending doom. Ideally I'd like to find some material like they use on diapers which changes color when it comes in contact with water!
And I don't use the included Aquapac armband, since I use my arms swimming, I use the neck cord, tighten it up, and let it rest between my shoulder blades while I swim.
My company, Besiex, does development and graphic design work for the #1 driver, firmware, and PC support site, DriverGuide.com. DriverGuide recently launched a major update to the site geared at radically improving usability! Our goal was to make things simpler, faster, and better. Quite rewardingly, response from users has overwhelmingly confirmed that we achieved those goals! I'm quite proud of the new site update, and pleased because our new MyUpdates site (launching soon) has been designed and developed using the same approach.
A few years ago I discovered something odd about myself, apparently most people are far, far better than I am at facial recognition. I never realized it because the effects are somewhat subtle. I've never failed to confidently recognize someone I know well, and even those I barely know I always recognize, but their recognition often comes with a great deal of uncertainty; I will logically strongly suspect it's the person I think it is, but I don't have that sense of just "knowing" it is. Where I really run into problems is people like actors and singers who I only know in two-dimensions, when they change their hairstyle or appearance, I may not quickly recognize them.
And apparently this minor inconvenience is an under-reported condition called Prosopagnosia. You too can see if you may have it by taking the Cambridge facial recognition test . I took it a couple of years ago and I think I found out I was only better than 23% of the population. (My friend Nora took a similar test the other day and said she scored better than 98% of the population.)
So, here's my funny/odd prosopagnosia story of the day...
The other night I walked my dog, Osita, down to the cafe to meet a bunch of friends and we were sitting and talking and this guy comes out to sit down about 10 feet away with some of our other friends. I was pretty sure I knew the guy, but I didn't have that transcendent sense of just "knowing". The reason I was confused? First some background on Adam. I've seen him probably 30 times, and talked with him 1 or 2 times, but never directly for long, just part of a larger group. Every single time I've seen him (without exception that I can recall), he is wearing a dark brown leather bomber jacket (with nametag affixed), a golfing-type hat, and 90% of the time he's smoking a cigar. But, the other night he was wearing a baseball cap, a light tan cotton jacket (w/ fighter squadron name and patches), he was not smoking a cigar, and he seemed to be smiling more. Now clearly I'm not an idiot, intellectually I know a pseudo-airforce-y jacket means it must be Adam, I've met no other people in my life who hadn't fought in WWII who would wear such a jacket. And his face did not look inconsistent with the Adam I can semi-"clearly" see in my memory, though oddly that guy has slightly darker skin complection. But even though I'm observing this guy for 30 or more minutes while talking to my friends I still can't "see" this guy as the Adam I "know". But, next time I see him wearing something different, and the more times that I do, the better I will have generalized the concept of Adam such that I will then "know" it's him, regardless of outfit or circumstance. So, that's sort of what my experience is. I need to observe a person enough to create that general model of them so that I can recognize confidently in any situation.
Next on my list of personal peculiar brain abnormalities to reveal... my inability to sing along to songs!
Early last week our new iPhone app "Spirit Board" went live in the iTunes app store. This first free version has already been downloaded about 4,000 times, gotten 125 reviews (average rating of 2.5 stars, which isn't actually bad). And according to Apptism, we're the 69th most popular app right now (which seems oddly high, but I'll believe it because I want to). Try it out and rate us well, please! We're launching a new version soon with many improvements.
This week I travelled to Toronto to sit on the board of Helping Hands Uganda, a child sponsorship organization created by a friend of mine, Erin. The group operates primarily in Eastern Uganda, and specializes in helping the most at risk children and their families. Aside from the traditional model of paying for a child's school supplies, medical needs, and food, the group is also involved in some innovative experiments to make families self-sufficient, including a "goat program" where livestock is purchased for a family and they are taught to raise, care for, and derive ongoing revenue from the livestock.
I've been helping them out and sponsoring some of the children since last summer. The organization was officially registered a few months ago and already has 17 children under sponsorship. With various fundraisers planned for this year we expect to rapidly increase that number.
You can help us! Sponsor a child, today!
If you had asked me six months ago what activity would I be least likely to participate in, skydiving would have been top of the list. Yielding the illusion of control, no matter how safe the thing may be, has never been something I've enjoyed. I have enjoyed years of motorcycles, hang gliding, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, and other things that have been far more likely to kill me, but simple amusement park rides like roller coasters have been unthinkable.
But one grows weary of self-imposed limitation and from time to time one needs to stretch their perception of themselves. So this week I decided to see if I could find a navigable path through a seemingly impenetrable fear and jump. And, I did.
So this is me leaping back to earth from 12,000 feet up, strapped to the front of a Brazilian named Lelo.
And thanks go to:
- Arvin the vegetarian lawyer skydiver who began skydiving last year and who I met shortly thereafter, the fact that he was doing it, and repeatedly not dying was an inspiration (also his gentle prodding and my gentle resisting made me realize I should do this).
- Anjali for answering an emergency call yesterday to help me prepare for today's jump by riding with me on the Santa Monica Pier's mini roller coaster (yes, I used to be afraid of that, too), and going on the Ferris Wheel (which I wasn't afraid of, but it was a nice view).
- Dan for a last minute pep talk last night, which was very well intentioned (but spooked me more than helped me).
- Rick for not thinking I'd do it (which was itself a bit of a challenge), but being proud of me when I did.
- Marita for worrying about me.
- And Osita for being happy to see me return home.
Not sure what my next self-imposed challenge will be, perhaps public speaking...
to my most precious (as yet unknown)
your smile i have seen on other's lips,
your kindness i have seen in other's acts, your spirit kept mine company in darkest times.
i know you only as the parts of others i now can't imagine being a lifetime without.
(what is your name? i have pet theories.)
Poet Taras Zaitsev, 1973
Translation by Quinxy von Besiex, 2009
Few would argue, I'm a "nice guy". I prefer to and go out of my way to do good things. I don't think I've ever done anything malicious or mean. But I may perhaps have a little bit of evil in me yet, because when I read about Vince Shlomi, the ShamWow promoter extraordinaire and SlapChop chef, and his recent fracas with a prostitute in Miami, I was gleeful. I wonder what that says about me? Hopefully nothing too terrible.
Obviously there does tend to be a certain delight humans seem to take in the tumbling of an iconic figure. Often that may stem from a subconscious jealousy of any other person's high success that gets resolved in the instant of their downfall, I can imagine that resolution would delight. Related to that, but not quite the same, it may be that we all carry a certain burden for wanting to achieve more than we have, and those who do often appear to us as infallible or at least far more perfect than we, hence their ability to achieve what we have not, and the discovery that they are instead more flawed than us could provide us some relief, a greater acceptance of ourselves; particularly if we accept that their huge flaws are often indirectly part of their huge successes. And then there's also a more benign possibility, the recognition and delight in pseudo-irony. ShamWow guy is this bigger than life character, this super animated squeaky clean guy whose whole mission in life is to save you labor, time, money, the planet (no wasted paper towels!), etc. and now adjacent to that notion of him is this super seedy guy so desperate for companionship that he resorts to a prostitute, but that doesn't even go well for him and she apparently bites his tongue and won't let go and then they start punching each other.
I'm hoping my delight stems more from the last, the blend of ironies...
Whatever the case, I can forgive myself these very rare delights.
Flight Control is in a sense the perfect game. The game is elegantly simple, a beautiful less is more. Take away anything and the game would suffer, add anything and the game would suffer. I generally prefer the complicated, it feels deeper, richer, more real, but rare gems like this come along and show me there is another way, perhaps a better way (at least in moments)...
Fantastic Contraption is a physics puzzle game, but unlike others I've tried which give you too little, this gives you just enough. You can make elegantly complicated machines with connecting rods and driven and non-driven wheels. And what's most impressive about this little game as a platform is that there's a level editor built in, and the ability to share and download levels other people have created. After a few hours of play my machines are getting more and more complex in surprising ways, and I can begin to suspect just how fiendishly clever they may become as I learn and re-use the building concepts I'm discovering.