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Things 116: Cloud Phase Time-Lapse, 3D Map, Better Tube Map

Video
Point a camera at the sky, create a time lapse video of the clouds. Do the same thing every day of the year. Play back all the videos simultaneously in a grid. Voilà: a kind of phase-diagram visualisation, with seconds representing minutes and space representing seasons. Brilliant.

More detail here. Via Data Pointed.

Link
This is apparently pretty old, and with Google Earth and Street View already taken for granted it’s difficult to appreciate how impressive this is: in-browser 3D maps of major cities by Nokia. A plugin is required, and the sad thing is that I imagine that small barrier is enough to vastly reduce the number of people that will actually try it out.

Picture
Various incarnations of the London tube map regularly feature in Things: in the past I’ve posted about a to-scale tube map, a curvy tube map, and a travel-time interactive tube map.

Unsurprisingly, I rather like Mark Noad’s version, which is an ambitious attempt to make a tube map that is not just interestingly different but actually better than the current canonical version. By retaining the simplicity of design but improving geographic accuracy, I would say it succeeds.

Puzzle
This week, a very first world problem. If voice recognition software fails to understand something you say (e.g. Google voice search, xBox 360 Kinect voice commands, or Siri), what do you do? Having had this happen a few times now, I’m very aware that the natural human response of just saying the same thing but louder might not actually be the best thing to do. (I also imagine my neighbours don’t need to hear me shouting “Xbox go back! Xbox! Go! Back! Xbox go frickin’ back! Fine, don’t then!”)

For example, other approaches to ensure your input is recognised could include: reduce background noise; enunciate more clearly; speak in a monotone; move closer to or further away from the microphone; use a different phrasing; or attempt to put on an American accent.

Which of these is most likely to work? Is there a better approach that I’ve not included here? Is just speaking loudly actually the best approach after all?

Or is the failure rate of voice recognition inevitable and unacceptable in most contexts, and the whole notion flawed from the outset?

@metatim

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Things 104: Power of Music, Misleading Impressions, Two Envelopes

Video
The effect of music on the brain is a very interesting thing that varies tremendously by individual. Last year I discovered a track that has an incredibly powerful mood-altering effect on me: Olympians, by a band with a potentially offensive name. It took a couple of initial slightly bemused listens before it properly seeped into my brain, but now as soon as I hear this track, I feel unbelievably positive, and become filled with an absurd confidence.

Unfortunately I suspect the fact that this track is so resonant for me also suggests that it’s very specific, and it will seem really quite boring to most others. But I find it so amazing I just have to share it anyway. So first, here’s a short version with a video to slightly entertain you while you wonder what on earth I’m going on about:

And if you are so inclined, here’s the full length version:

Tim Link
I saw The Lion King in 3D at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and reviewed it here. The short version of my review would essentially be this:

Quote special: Misleading Impressions
Thanks to Last.fm recommendations I discovered Brian Transeau (BT)’s album This Binary Universe, which turns out to be a bit different to his other albums. As I listened to his back-catalogue I thought I detected an incredible sense of optimisim and positivity. When I later found Brian Transeau was on Twitter, I found this impression was entirely correct. Sample tweet:

5am and time for our first ever sunrise, father daughter bike ride. Today is already #WIN Good Morning!

My favourite musician is probably Jon Hopkins who I now listen to instead of any other Chill Out music since for me he somehow trumps pretty much the entire genre. He is behind some of the most relaxing and beautiful tracks I know, so I was curious to see what he was like on Twitter. The answer: actually a bit different. Brilliantly, this was the first Tweet of his that I read:

I wish one of James May’s Big Ideas was to FUCK OFF

Finally, moving away from music, I referenced Mitch Hedberg’s famous escalator line in my Lion King 3D review:

An escalator can never break – it can only become stairs.

Realising I was unfamiliar with his work, I ended up reading through his Wikiquote page, and found much to like, such as:

My belt holds up my pants and my pants have belt loops that hold up the belt. What the fuck’s really goin on down there? Who is the real hero?

and:

When you go to a restaurant on the weekends and it’s busy they start a waiting list. They start calling out names, they say “Dufresne, party of two. Dufresne, party of two.” And if no one answers they’ll say their name again. “Dufresne, party of two, Dufresne, party of two.” But then if no one answers they’ll just go right on to the next name. “Bush, party of three.” Yeah, what happened to the Dufresnes? No one seems to give a shit. Who can eat at a time like this? People are missing! You fuckers are selfish. The Dufresnes are in someone’s trunk right now, with duct tape over their mouths. And they’re hungry. That’s a double whammy. Bush, search party of three, you can eat when you find the Dufresnes.

So after that I naturally looked him up on YouTube, and at that point discovered him to be completely different to what I had imagined:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2491LucLa1g

Gone, try this one:

Picture
A lot of infographics annoy me, but I like the idea of bringing together the data that drives this one so much I don’t mind its shortcomings.

Puzzle – The Two Envelopes
I can’t believe I haven’t put this one in Things before.

In a standard abstract setting with no distracting details, you and another person are presented with two envelopes. One envelope contains some money (but you don’t know how much). The other envelope contains twice as much money. You get to select an envelope, and you get to keep however much money is in it. The other person gets the other envelope. There isn’t anything to go on, so you choose one of the envelopes for arbitrary reasons.

Before you get to open it, you are offered the chance to change your mind, with the following reasoning:

You don’t know how much money is in your chosen envelope, but for the sake of argument let’s say it’s £10. That means you either have the envelope with twice as much money (so the other contains £5) or you don’t (so the other must contain £20). So if you decide to swap, there’s a 50% chance you get that £5, and a 50% chance you end up with the £20. Since you currently have £10, that means there’s a 50% chance of effectively losing £5 and a 50% chance of gaining another £10. Imagine if the universe split into two at the moment you made that decision – one of you loses £5, the other gains £10, so on average you gain (£10 + (-£5) )/2 = £2.50. Since the average gain is positive, clearly that’s a gamble worth taking, and you should definitely swap.

This is of course a strange conclusion. You effectively chose an envelope at random, so how does swapping it improve your odds of getting more money? The paradox is even more stark if we consider the fact that the other person could be convinced to swap by exactly the same argument.

Previous Puzzle – Co-operating with yourself
Last time I asked how well you would get on with yourself.

Xuan said:

They say that people you dislike/hate are likely to be people who’s characteristics are most like yours. People are most critical of what they see in the mirror. My clone better not have the same taste in clothes.

Which reminded me of a problem the sci-fi stories don’t tend to go into – if there’s suddenly two of you, you’re going to need some more clothes, and one of you will probably have to find another job, and probably somewhere else to live. Marriages get complicated. Phil suggested David Gerrold’s time-travel sci fi story The Man Who Folded Himself for an in-depth dissection of this kind of problem.

Richard observed that he tends to like people with whom he shares attractive personality traits, and dislike those that share his negative personality traits, suggesting that the latter may be because they serve as a reminder of these aspects of himself. This potentially makes the question even harder to answer, although one might guess that a negative would trump a positive and ultimately lead to the kind of confrontations that usually crop up in sci-fi versions of this problem (and endorsing Xuan’s observation).

I think the question raised by The Man Who Folded Himself of co-operating with a version of yourself in the future is a clue to how we can actually ask this question of ourselves. In a very real sense, we really do choose how much to co-operate with our future selves every day: will you do a chore now, or will you force your future self to do it instead? Will you eat all of the cake, or will you save some for your future self? If you know how you generally answer those questions, I suggest this gives you an idea of how well you would get on with yourself.

In practical terms, just thinking of these kinds of questions in this framework makes me more likely to co-operate with my future self, which is probably a good thing. Well, I’m glad that my past self thinks that way, anyway.

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Things 97: Vertical Ship, Climbing Game, State of 3D

Video
A brilliant solution to the problem of stability at sea:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQxQfQU_hsk

Link
GIRP, a really nice little climbing game (probably easier to get to grips with if you know from the start that feet are not involved).

Quote
Chris Lake, in his self-referential post 10 Reasons Why List Based Posts Work Well Online, makes the key point:

We are all cognitive misers

Question
What is the oldest evidence of your own activity on the internet you can still provide a live link to now?

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked if it was true what they say, that 3D can never work. I think there are two compelling clues towards an answer here.

First, Box Office Quant takes a good solid look at what the money in 3D cinema is looking like. The conclusion is that after two years of 3D cinema being a serious consideration, it’s looking pretty solid. There’s lot of great data and visualisation of it over on the original post, but I’ll just reproduce the weekly revenues by dimension here:

It’s clear that something is working, anyway.

On the other hand, there was this development with Nintendo’s autostereoscopic 3DS by its producer Hideki Konno:

“We want to get software out to as many people as possible, and there are some people who just can’t see 3D […] We’re moving away from any stance that says if you don’t use the 3-D functionality you can’t play this game.”

While I’m yet to see some solid data, the picture that seems to be emerging is that a significant minority (10%?) really do have an issue with the convergence/focus conflict that Walter Merch identified (and which is, incidentally, the underlying science behind the apparent paradox highlighted in this XKCD), to the point that watching a full-length 3D movie or spending a significant time playing a 3D game is an uncomfortable experience for them. Naturally there’s also a small proportion of people that for various reasons do not perceive 3D in real life, for whom a 3D film/game has nothing to offer above a 2D one (and I suspect they are being used as a kind of smoke-screen to hide the bigger concerns about the former group in Hideki Konno’s quote above).

It seems that minority is small enough that 3D cinema revenue remains robust, but large enough that Nintendo don’t want to undermine their universal appeal by allowing 3D to be a barrier to participation.

Incidentally, I find it an incredible sign of the times that we now have three dimensional full-colour moving image experiences at a fully commercial scale, which is really quite an amazingly neat trick, and yet so many people I’ve spoken to seem to feel it’s not particularly worth having. Or in Louis CK’s words, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy”:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk

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Things 96: Rocket Path-Dependency, Lipstick Animals, 3D Doesn’t Work

Link
When speculating on the subject of extraterrestrial space-faring life, it’s all too easy to forget the many development factors that are likely to be local to us, and to assume that too much of what we have done will generalise to other life forms out there. This article puts forward a compelling argument that our rocket-based space-faring only arose because of certain very specific and not particularly likely events.

Quote
While I don’t think it could be objectively assessed, I rather like Arthur Koestler’s observation on originality:

The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.

Picture
This is one of the things that makes me think of that Arthur Koestler quote: lipstick animals.

Lots more here.

Question
Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.”
Roger Ebert quotes Walter Merch, as a Man Who Knows What He’s Talking About, who presents several arguments as to why 3D cinema can never work.

I’ve heard a lot of bad arguments on both sides of this debate, so it’s nice to see someone with a deep understanding of the medium draw out their arguments clearly. My question is, is he right?

Previous Puzzle
Last time I asked how a mouse could fall any distance and survive.

As Phil pointed out, the statement is strictly false: “a mouse certainly can’t fall further than the size of the universe, for example.” So instead we restrict ourselves to consider mice falling off things that are attached to the earth, and no higher than the point at which the atmosphere becomes too thin for a mouse to breathe, and that the survivability criterion is assessed upon landing, and that the landing area itself is not deadly to mice.

First we must address the idea some people recall from school that all objects fall at the same speed, as per Galileo’s thought experiment and his apocryphal dropping-objects-from-the-tower-of-Pisa experiment. This is clearly false as a feather falls more slowly than a hammer, and the confounding factor is air resistance. Rather excellently, the hammer-feather experiment was conducted on the moon to show that in the absence of significant air resistance, they will actually fall at the same speed:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE81zGhnb0w

When air resistance is introduced the shape and particularly the downward-facing area dimensions of the falling objects matter, and although it’s hard to have a good intuitive feel for this when comparing such random objects as animals, I find it’s much easier to imagine a kind-of equivalent parachute with a weight attached.

A small parachute with a big bag of hammers attached will be pulled down more quickly than the same parachute with a feather attached. Alternatively, if two parachutes have equal weights attached, but one parachute is much bigger than the other, it’s easy to imagine that the bigger parachute has greater air resistance and so will fall slower.

Now if we imagine a parachute the size of a mouse, with a weight attached that is the same weight as a mouse, we can imagine it will fall pretty slowly, particularly compared to a parachute the size of an elephant with a weight attached the same weight as an elephant. So we can intuitively understand that the mouse survives.

Or perhaps we can’t? I realise that wasn’t very scientific, but I tend to prefer thought experiments of this kind as they seem to help most people grok ideas better than formulae.

This article over at Everything2 also has some concise words to say on the subject of falling animals.