Category Archives: Old

Things 66: ChatRoulette piano, Tube Door Challenge, Free Will

(Originally sent March 2010, maybe)

Video
ChatRoulette is a fascinating site whose mission is simply to connect you to a random person to video chat with. This is just as good and bad an idea as it sounds. I don’t recommend visiting (particularly if you have a webcam active as it will attempt to throw you into a random encounter immediately) but I do recommend reading about it.

It turns out to be a great environment for improv performance as shown in this video (sound essential, 5’28” long but the first 40” gives you the idea):

I’m fascinated by the extent to which people respond silently – and contrast this with how we usually provide feedback to a musical performance. There’s some very interesting human-machine-human interface stuff going on here.

Link
Sometimes an aesthetic is a byproduct of technology – high contrast in over-reproduced 6”x10” glossy star photos, inconsistent speed in old black and white film, the depth and colour range in Polaroid photos, or the way 80s TV series look rubbish. Digital processing grants a whole new level of control over colour and the ability to choose from a vast range of possible palettes, but the result seems to be that everyone is doing the same thing. This is quite likely how films made in the last ten years will reveal their age when we look back on them ten years from now.

Quote
(via Tim Connor)

Marin Alsop: “Tradition is simply the last bad idea”

Picture
Free Will
.

This weeks’ puzzle
Many years ago Nick challenged me to work out how to tell where the doors of a London Underground tube carriage would stop on the platform so that you could optimise where to stand to improve your odds of boarding first and so getting a seat. I came up with an answer that didn’t work terribly well but assumed that was what he had in mind (without ever confirming it). Only now after 5 months of catching 4 tube trains every workday have I realised a much better solution.

What do you think my first and second solutions were?

Last week’s puzzle
Why are calculator and phone keyboards laid out oppositely? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, but there are a few very likely suspects.

The original decisions that led to 123 being at the bottom for calculators are unclear. Thomas suggests it’s a matter of “where your attention is coming from” – combined with Benford’s law I suspect this could be a key factor driving the layout of the first common mechanical number-entering devices, cash registers, and how devices evolved from there.

When it came to phone pads, it seems (remarkably for this kind of thing) that AT&T actually did some user testing and found the 3×3 grid with 123-at-the-top was the easiest for people to master. As letters were also a consideration in those days, putting ABC with 1 (and so on) made most intuitive sense, and would have looked pretty bizarre had 123 been at the bottom.

My preferred write-up of possible answers comes from The Straight Dope.

Various other attempts to answer this question are curated here.

Richard also points out the following (my summary of his words [my comments in square brackets]):

Handedness is a consideration for other aspects of the layout; in particular computer keyboard number keypads, which sit on the right-hand side, are supposed to be operated with the left hand [a revelation to me after years of feeling slightly odd using my little finger to press the return key], and an interesting challenge emerges when one keyboard is used for both data-entry/calculation and telephone operation, as with Skype today, or the over-prescient One-Per-Desk in 1984.

Things 65: Trololo, Animation Analysis, Numerical Keyboards

(Originally sent March 2010, maybe)

Video
What sort of old TV clip would spawn a dedicated site whose main purpose is simply to play it on loop? (Sound is essential)

Link
I did a bit of analysis on the data that went into Disney’s decision to give up on 2D animation, including the correlation between how good a film is and how much money it makes:

Quote
Bad guy to henchman:

“Don’t you know what a rhetorical question is?!”

(From Leroy and Stitch)

Puzzle
Why do the numbers on phone keypads read left to right and down (so 1, 2, 3 are in the top row) whereas calculators and keyboards run the numbers left to right but upwards (with 1,2,3 in the bottom row)?

Picture
I think we’re just scratching the surface with the kind of art Photoshop helps us create.

Things 64: Videoshop, Censorship, Shirky on Newspapers

(Originally sent February 2010, maybe)

Video
The use of Photoshop to ‘enhance’ imagery of models is now well-known. I suspect the more sophisticated use of similar tools in videos is much less well-known.

Bonus video
This seems to be everyone’s favourite ad right now:

Puzzle
While walking somewhere on a route that takes you past a lot of cars, you have a great opportunity to memorise something that involves numbers/letters by using each numberplate as a quick test.

1) Numerical position of letter in the alphabet (A=1, Z=26, etc)

Come up with ways to remember each number/letter pair (e.g. 15 = O, think tennis), then try to come up with the numbers corresponding to each letter on the number plates you pass. This can come in handy when you need to come up with a PIN, or when you want to read a secret message in a movie (the majority of which seem to use this basic code).

2) Phonetic Alphabet / Morse Code / Semaphore / any other alphabet mapping

This one requires preparation. Print or write down the key, then try to learn it as you walk while testing yourself on each numberplate you pass.

This is a fun way to pass time walking (for people that find the same things fun as I do).

The puzzle is this: What other things could you teach yourself while walking somewhere?

Picture

Link
Much has been written about the Newspapers vs Internet battle, but this (now year-old) article by Clay Shirky is the best I have read. Pretty much every paragraph contains a powerful, succinct insight into a complex aspect of the situation.

Some choice quotes:

“When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

“It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves – the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public – has stopped being a problem.”

[On the print revolution of 1500] “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread.”

Incidentally, my favourite experiment / small change right now is Flattr.

Things 63: Avalanche, The Universe, Russian Ablum Covers

(Originally sent December 2009, maybe)

Video
This is what it looks like to cause an avalanche, get buried in it, struggle to breathe for four long minutes, and then get dug out. Now that’s what I call reality television.

Link
An awesome bit of flash to help you comprehend the scale of everything in the universe. I recommend zooming out by scrolling to the right, then slowly zooming in all the way to the left, in order to really comprehend the insane smallness of the Planck length:

Quote
From the transparently sourced Twitter account @ShitMyDadSays:

“It’s never the right time to have kids, but it’s always the right time for screwing. God’s not a dumbshit. He knows how it works.”

Puzzle Answer
Last week I asked how a day could last 48 hours. It’s not really much of a puzzle because if you can follow the reasoning in the initial statements it’s pretty clear what’s going on. I just thought it was interesting to meditate on!

Pictures
In a wonderful tribute to cultural differences (and similarities), here’s a great gallery of album covers from Soviet Russia.

Films
Everyone should go and see The Princess and the Frog. Here’s why.

Pixar worked incredibly hard to prove the viability of CG as a storytelling medium, and as a result had a string of huge successes. Meanwhile Disney made some pretty bad 2D animations from 2000-2004 and were making serious losses (failing even to create characters that made for good merchandise). Making a classic confirmation bias correlation/causation error, Disney execs concluded that the public preferred 3D to 2D (when in fact everyone just prefers good films to bad), and officially gave up on it in 2004.

John Lasseter, a driving force behind Pixar’s creative success, became ‘Chief Creative Officer’ for both Pixar and Disney animation when Disney purchased Pixar in 2006. He understood what was happening and reversed the decision. The first real fruit of that realisation is The Princess and the Frog, which has been out for a couple of weeks now.

I highly recommend everyone goes to see it. Not just because it’s a good film (and a superb showcase of the strength of the 2D medium), but as a vote for the very medium itself.

[I later expanded on this argument, with charts, over on Tower of the Octopus – T.M. 8/10/11]