Tag Archives: answers

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

(Originally sent March 2010, maybe)

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.

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.

(via Tim Connor)

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

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 62: 360 video, one word websites, 48-hour day

(Originally sent November 2010, maybe)

I found this pretty amazing – a video in which you can choose where to direct your gaze, a bit like Google Street View but in motion:

I collected some nice single-question-answering websites last year, let me know if you know any others:




Frank Banks:

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse”

Imagine (or remember) standing somewhere in the UK at midday on January 1st .

12 hours ago the year 2010 had just begun in the UK. However, due to timezone differences, some places saw January 1st a further 12 hours ago – 24 hours ago from your current vantage point of midday in the UK.

Conversely, there’s still 12 more hours of January 1st to go. but due to timezone differences, some places won’t reach the end of the day for a further 12 hours – 24 hours from your current vantage point of midday in the UK.

Of course, this means January 1st is actually 48 hours long – or in other words, two days.

How can one day be two days long?

Things 35: Lovefilm, People of the Screen, Chicken Head

(Originally sent December 2008)

I joined LoveFilm last week, mainly so I would know what I was talking about when giving a presentation to them on what I think they should be doing. It turns out they already do a lot of what I had first thought of so I knew to leave that out, and during the presentation I found out that they are planning to do a lot of the stuff I thought of too.

In other words, they do a lot of stuff that I think is good, and are going to do more. My name is Tim Mannveille and I endorse this message.

My Lovefilm profile is here so you can see what I’m doing with the service, and here is my referral link that gives you a 1 month free trial and me a referral bonus!

So, I still don’t have time to see enough films for a Cineworld Unlimited card to be worth it, but the LoveFilm £3.99/month for 2 DVDs is about right. So this week I saw The City of Lost Children, by much the same team as Delicatessen and Amelie. It was visually incredible, inventive and dreamlike, as expected.

IMDb: 7.8/10
RT: 82%

Trailer viewable over at Lovefilm.

A link
While researching quite what is possible in terms of tracking mobile phones, I stumbled upon a bit of real life drama on Google Answers. “I’m trying to locate a friend who has gone missing and may be in a lot of trouble…”

A [long] Quote:
Kevin Kelly knows what he is talking about, and wrote an understated but amazing piece for the NY Times recently. A choice excerpt:

“When technology shifts, it bends the culture. Once, long ago, culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation and rhetoric instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate and the subjective.

Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. […] The distribution-and-display device that we call printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a sentence), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact) and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book. In the West, we became people of the book.

Now invention is again overthrowing the dominant media. A new distribution-and-display technology is nudging the book aside and catapulting images, and especially moving images, to the center of the culture. We are becoming people of the screen.”

A Video
Well, this week’s Things has been very serious so far, so it’s time for a video of someone moving a chicken around while the chicken holds its head incredibly still:


A Puzzle
Last week I asked people to guess why the search term ‘uncertainty’ showed such an odd annual trend. The most likely explanation seems to be students searching for Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – if you put other terms students might be looking up into Google trends, you see the same annual trend cropping up. [Google Insights for Search also helps as it reveals what people tend to actually be looking for when searching for a given search term – T.M. 2/1/11]

This week, the question is: why do chickens keep their heads so still?

It still feels like I’m taking Things too seriously, so here’s an article with pictures of loos with the best views.