On Sunday I learned the dance from Thriller from a humanist on the 4th plinth as part of Gormley’s “One & Other” project. One hour wasn’t quite enough to get it all in, but you can see the final run through by skipping to 55:14 in the video here (or watch from the start to learn the routine yourself!):
[Link no longer works, video cannot be found – always remember, the internet is a temporary medium – T.M. 24/07/11]
This week’s puzzle
Mars has just 11% the mass of the Earth, but on its surface gravity is 37% that which we are used to experiencing. Without invoking specific gravitational formulae, how come gravity isn’t a lot weaker on Mars?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation have an excellent white paper on the huge issue of what they term ‘Locational Privacy’. The gist is this:
a) We are moving into a world in which, as they put it, “Information about your location is collected pervasively, silently and cheaply”
b) It’s much easier to build devices and services that use location data without privacy, but privacy is possible to implement
c) If we’re not careful locational privacy will become a thing of the past
1) Things has become longer over time despite still retaining the same basic format: a video, a link, a quote, a puzzle, and a picture (and also sometimes a film section). So I’m going to try leaving out one of those sections each week.
2) Things has recently accidentally become biweekly due to holidays and busyness. The intent was to be weekly. The intent will continue to be weekly. The result will continue to vary.
A slightly different format for Things this week, as I have two things to heavily recommend and also realised I had gathered a nice set of quotes from ffffound.
The Hide&Seek pervasive games festival takes place from Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August  in and around the Royal Festival Hall, and is free. See the games they plan to run across the three days here.
I definitely plan to attend, so let me know if you are interested. It’s like a more polished version of the Sandpit event that I went to a few weeks ago. To get an idea of what it’s like, see my blog post.
[Do note that this is a re-posted blog version of an old email. At the time of posting, the next Hide&Seek Sandpit event will happen on Thursday 4th August 2011 – T.M. 24/07/11]
I saw Evil Dead 2, which like Evil Dead is less like a horror film and more like a nightmare you have after watching a horror film.
I saw Coraline, which was very beautifully made, but somehow not quite as neat and satisfying as the novel.
I saw Tokyo, which was a collection of 3 very strange short films about Tokyo, and is the kind of thing I would like to see a lot more of even though I only really liked two of them.
But more importantly, I saw Sita Sings the Blues, a feature-length animation by Nina Paley, which is a) good and b) free to download.
It covers a certain episode from the Hindu epic Ramayana, uses a range of animation styles, some songs from the 1920s, and includes debate between storytellers about different versions of the story, which I particularly liked. You can see some of this in the trailer:
Different ways to watch it can be found here, including just watching it on YouTube:
“FFFFound!” is an invitation-only site where select graphic design types post up images they like (warning: NSFW about 5% of the time). Sometimes the images simply depict a quote. Here’s some of my favourites, alongside some other quotes:
1) “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Einstein
I think the fact that the source of this quote is unknown strengthens it. As soon as you attach a name to it, the question of that person’s own mortality suddenly clouds the quote’s otherwise clear, zen-like nature.
4) (Actually this one is not from ffffound, or particularly a quote). In a discussion about the technological singularity (advances in technology accelerate, we invent self-improving AI which improves itself at an accelerated rate, until a day comes in which so many advances are made it is impossible to predict what might happen after), Vernor Vinge suggested that the super AI would not consider humans to be worthless and wipe us out, since it should see us as a useful backup.
When Steward Brand of the Long Now asked how long a dangerous intermediary period might be during which AI’s would be “smart enough to exterminate us but not yet wise enough to keep us around”, Vinge answered:
About 4 hours.
So watch out for that.
6) Georges Perec:
For the full quote go here. [You may notice that many questions/puzzles that appear on Things are in this spirit. – T.M. 24/7/11]
Last week’s puzzle – CC list issues
Given the lack of response on this issue and no fully satisfactory solution being evident, I’m going to go with the least bad solution as I see it: one CC list for people at RAPP, one for everyone else. We’ll see how that goes.
Last week, Things was once again postponed due to time pressures burning my midnight oil candles at both ends. However, now that both my IDM evening course and my PhD are over, I theoretically have more time, and I’ve also made progress with my answer to the puzzle from Things 46 on how to get things done at sub-weekly intervals (see puzzles section below), so future updates may return to regularity.
I finally caught Synecdoche, New York. Imagine Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) doing a ‘Memento Mori‘ piece. It’s like that. I think it’s the best film I’ve seen since Speed Racer, which is a statement almost entirely devoid of utility or cogency.
It’s been quite a while since I featured a ‘cute animal’ video. Here’s three pug puppies demonstrating the comedic value of turning your head on one side when confused, an action which, as I understand it, is referred to as ‘baroo’ in cute animal watching circles.
Location based services – most commonly applications on your mobile that help you do things by knowing where you are through GPS or mobile phone mast signal interpolation – are on their way. (In terms of the hype cycle I think they are currently falling from the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ to the ‘trough of disillusionment’ before finding genuine utility). Mathew Honan tested a bunch of these services and wrote about it in Wired, in a long but important article.
My personal take is that most of the services he tries are like MySpace in that they work okay when the only other people on there are People Like You, but in order to scale they will need Facebook-like privacy control. (Specifically more like the new controls Facebook are adding to the publisher, and I also suspect a time window would be added – e.g. Share my live location with these people, for the next 8 hours only).
I like to think the years I spent in higher education were successful by this rubric:
“Nothing you learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in later life – save only this: that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot. And that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.” – John Alexander Smith
I’m interested in creating useful visual representations of arguments, as I feel sure there is a good way to do it, but I haven’t seen one yet. (I’m currently working on an idea for one which will appear in Things when I have a first draft).
Here’s a version for the same-sex marriage debate by Patrick Farley, based on observed debates on Facebook, which is pretty good (click for big):
This week’s puzzle As the number of people on the CC list for Things has grown, the amount of reply-to-all discussion seems to have decreased. Currently there are 11 people on it, including me.
It seems clear that some threshold has been passed and a CC list discussion really works best with around 5 people.
The puzzle is, how should this be resolved? For example, I could create one CC list for the first 5 people that were on it, and another for the rest. Or I could create one CC list for people from RAPP, and another for everyone else.
Both of these solutions have disadvantages. What do you think?
On a related note, how do you think I should credit people’s answers to each Week’s puzzles? (In the example below, I summarise the answers people gave that matched my own thinking, and cite by first name the answer I hadn’t considered).
Puzzle from Things 46 I asked for good ways to develop routines with time periods somewhere between daily and weekly. My answer was a spreadsheet programmed with the intended goals and frequencies and set to load up when I switch on my PC.
After trying this out for a few weeks it seems to be successful, and I’ve uploaded a demo version. For a given task, a given ‘davelength’ (a portmanteau of ‘day’ and ‘wavelength’, setting the intended number of days I want to elapse between instances of the task), and a weighting factor, the spreadsheet highlights if I am due to do any tasks today, and if so, which one to prioritise. Upon completing the task I just have to enter the current date in the ‘Date last done’ field.
It would probably work well as an iPhone app, which means someone has probably done it already.
Last week’s puzzle Reasons people prefer reading writing on paper than a screen seem to breakdown in to 3 main categories:
1) Visual. Resolution and emissivity of screens are issues. In principle technology should be able to overcome these concerns.
2) Convenience. A piece of paper can be folded and put in a pocket, annotated, pinned to a wall, doesn’t need electricity, and is easily carried around to read in many situations. But once again, technology could theoretically match this in most regards, and exceed it in others – think adjustable font size, editing rather than crossing out, digital annotations (including a social aspect), searchable text, and backed up data, for a start.
3) Cultural Inertia. Even if technology addresses other concerns, people that have grown up reading from paper will be resistant to change. The added convenience factors mentioned above will have to be significant before a real transition can take place. (Thanks to Laurence for pointing out this one).
It’s Christmas and Things has been running for over a year. I’m taking that as an excuse to break with the usual format, and also to highlight what I (and some others) consider to be the best of the year’s Things.
Urgent matters first I bought 10 tubs of Celebrations chocolates, discovered the average distribution of the different types, then created tubs of each kind and put them on eBay for charity to determine their value. I wrote up the initial results in my new blog:
[It’s long over now, read the final results here – T.M. 22/1/11]
Here are some videos that I like.
1) Tim ‘Speed’ Levitch is an extraordinary fellow that speaks in paragraphs that would take most other people hours to come up with. In the following video he holds forth on the New York grid plan and builds to a brilliant conclusion.
To sell you his style just a bit more, here’s his spontaneous introduction to a comment on a homeless person he passes while walking down the street: “[that person], under the white comforter, cuddled up with 34th street and Broadway, existing on the concrete of this city, hungry and dishevelled, struggling to crawl their way onto this island, with all of their machinated rages and hellishness and self-orchestrated purgatories…”
2) Somebody put a few frames of an anime featuring a woman spinning a leek around to a brilliantly loopy sample from an obscure band. A massive internet meme was born. Here’s where it all started (reposted).
Video Acoustic Resonance – rice is used to illustrate standing acoustic waves on what I presume is a metal plate:
Picture Analemma (click for big):
If you don’t know what an Analemma is, try to work it out from the photo.
Puzzle The rainbow paradox, remains one of my favourite and (as far as I am concerned) unresolved puzzles:
Soundwaves can vary in frequency across a vast range, part of which we can hear. The lowest part we perceive as a deep bass, the highest as a high squeak.
Similarly, the electromagnetic spectrum consists of a vast range of frequencies, a small range of which we are able to see. The lowest frequency we can see is what we call red, and the highest frequency is what we call violet.
However, while we perceive the ends of the audible sound spectrum to be very different, the ends of the visible light spectrum, red and violet, seem very close to one another, and we even have a colour we call purple that is a mix of the two yet does not actually appear anywhere in the spectrum between them. In fact, we can draw a circle of the colours we perceive and it is not at all clear where the ‘ends’ are.