Tag Archives: time

Things 133: Overreacting, audio history of sampling, internet vs time, meta-meta-analysis

Comics – Overreacting

Jemma Salume has an excellent series of comics about overreacting to things (and also learning to cook, and dating). They’re compact and hyperbolic, which is how I like my comics, and also how I like my toy universe model geometries, hahaha.

Music – Raiding the 20th Century
This remains my favourite mix, and with the ten-year anniversary upon us I was surprised to realise I had never put it in Things.

In 2004, DJ Food (aka Strictly Kev) made a 40-minute mix for XFM chronicling the history of ‘cut-up’ (essentially sample-based) music which he called ‘Raiding the 20th Century’. Shortly afterwards he read Paul Morley’s book ‘Words and Music’ which did much the same thing and covered much of the same material. Paul Morley also coined the phrase ‘Raiding the 20th Century’ twenty years earlier. Taking note of this big flashing fate-arrow, they got together, recorded Paul reading key parts of the book, and created a new hour-long mix of the material.

The mp3 is available over on archive.org, the track listing is here, and you can go ahead and listen to it right here:

It’s about 20 minutes before the ‘history’ really starts, and while Morley’s commentary then explains and introduces many of the tracks and samples, many more are used without comment. Over the years, as I learn more about music history, more and more of them are making sense, which is very satisfying. As one of the samples used states: “every time you listen to this recording, something will happen.”

Links – Time and the Internet
As we build up an ever larger historical archive of material online, the date something was originally published becomes more important, and something we’ll need to become more aware of (assuming we avoid internet decay).

I like the approach of the BBC, which appears to maintain the CMS that articles originally appeared in (for example, this report from September 11th 2001, or the Mammal-of-the-month November 2002). That’s still not quite enough to avoid the confusion that may arise from incautious Googling for events that recur. Also, try to work out when this was written.

Anyway, if you would prefer a cogent discussion of the topic rather than a selection of semi-random BBC links, then I highly recommend Joanne McNeil’s piece on the subject here, in which she says things much more precisely than I have been, like this:

“Digital content appears with minimal visual language distinguishing yesterday from tomorrow and today. Now habits have emerged in which we communicate with the past and even mistake it for the present.”

(Also, see this Cat and Girl comic).

Video – Brett Domino
Looking through previous editions of Things, I was surprised to find I’d never featured Brett Domino, who does a range of silly-but-clever, bad-but-good things with music. I think the most impressive is his medley of the top 10 pop songs at the time he hit 10,000 Twitter followers, which culminates in a surprisingly effective montage finale:

Link – Scientific truth, researcher bias, and parapsychology
In a meta-analysis, the results of many similar experiments are analysed together in order to gain statistical power and shed more light on subtle phenomena. For example, if it’s a very small effect, some experiments won’t yield any results, perhaps causing us to question the experiments that do find an effect; by considering all these experiments together, we can better assess if we’re seeing Type I or Type II errors. Also, if you suspect the result may only come about due to sloppy methodology, you can see if there is a correlation between how ‘rigorous’ a study is and the size of any effect that it finds – if more rigorous studies come up with smaller effects, that’s quite suggestive.

Years ago I read about a meta-analysis of research into psychic abilities, and the results were not clear-cut one way or the other, despite taking a comprehensive overview of the relevant studies. I thought that was very interesting, because it suggested that either psychic abilities were real, or the scientific method wasn’t as infalliable as I had thought (or both).

Many more studies have been performed since, and this problem does not seem to go away. A strong clue seems to be the experimenter’s bias effect: a researcher who believes that an experiment will yield a certain outcome is more likely to end up getting that outcome, even if they are not intentionally manipulating the experiment to that end.

Of course, experimenter’s bias is quite a tricky and small effect to prove, so what you need to do is a meta-analysis across the various studies into it. But when different people conduct this meta-analysis, they reach different conclusions: some find the experimenter’s bias effect exists, and some find it doesn’t!

If you’ve been following closely to this point, you can guess the logical next step: we need a meta-meta-analysis of the experimenter’s bias meta-analyses, to see if meta-experimenters that believe the experimenter’s bias effect exists were more likely to find exactly that result in their meta-analysis! Brilliantly, and also alarmingly, this meta-meta-analysis was conducted and concluded that, yes, that’s exactly what happens: there is indeed a meta-experimenter’s bias effect. So the question now is… does the experimenter’s bias effect actually exist?

I found all this out from a brilliant essay by Scott Alexander, which includes all the juicy references and finishes with an amusingly modified Star Wars quote, so is pretty much perfect.

Puzzle – Sequel Naming
For some media, major new updates are numbered: movies (Iron Man 3), TV series (Game of Thrones Season 4), video games (Call of Duty 4) are obvious, but it’s also dominant in operating systems (Windows 8), Consoles/phones (Playstation 4, Samsung Galaxy S4) and even classical music (Bach’s Cantata No. 140),

Other things don’t seem to work that way, notably books (A Clash of Kings, rather than A Game of Thrones 2) and albums (Björk – Post, rather than Debut 2), but also theatrical productions (admittedly much rarer, but it’s Love Never Dies, rather than Phantom of the Opera 2)

(Of course, sometimes people mix their strategies with hilarious results: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2, BT Infinity 2, Xbox “One”)

The contrast is most stark in TV series versus books. So the question is this: why do we have Game of Thrones Season 2 on TV, but A Clash of Kings in book form?

Tim Mannveille tweets as @metatim, and previously worried about old things disappearing from the internet 

Things 126: Echoes and Bubbles, Time Lies and Lapse, Many Maps

It’s been a while, so I’ve got a lot of links. Hold on to your hats.

Games: Costume Quest, Color

If you or someone you know has never played an RPG-style videogame, I highly recommend DoubleFine’s Costume Quest as the place to start (available on PS3, XBOX 360 and Windows). It’s a really delightful entry into the genre, with a lovely theme, brilliant writing, and it’s also quite short, which is a plus in my book. (via Clare)

Meanwhile, I’d previously linked to Method.ac’s kerning and spline games/competency-assessments. There’s now a fascinating one to do with colour, and by introducing a timing mechanic it’s more game-like than objective assessment-like. Give it a go!

Irresistable Entertainment
Some years ago I remember thinking that technology was just going to get better and better at finding content you’d be interested in, to the point where it would be impossible to drag yourself away from the internet. This compilation video of accidents and unlikely events captured by Russian dashboard-cams is about the closest thing I’ve seen to it, in that it’s 14 minutes long but surprisingly hard to stop watching:

Kevin Kelly worries that this kind of thing will normalise extremely unlikely events:

We no longer want mere presentations, we want the best, greatest, the most extraordinary presenters alive, as in TED. We don’t want to watch people playing games, we want to watch the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing moves, catches, runs, shots, and kicks, each one more remarkable and improbable than the other.

I’m not so sure that’s the natural conclusion, since the tastes of both the collective in general and individuals in particular is evidently broader. I’m also not sure it’s that much of a problem either (or at least not much different to the norm), as storytelling through the ages has always concerned itself with unlikely (or even entirely fictional) events.

(Incidentally, Russian dash-cams are also the first noticeable stage in the development of an ubiquitous public surveillance network, which on the one hand enable us to get multiple videos of rarely-filmed events such as meteorites, but on the other hand demonstrate how crowd-sourcing is a convenient way to get over the installation-problem for achieving a 1984-style surveillance state).

Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles
Another interesting effect of the internet’s ability to show us stuff we like is the danger of ‘echo chambers’ (people only reading the work of those they agree with and passing on links and sentiments from those people) and ‘filter bubbles’ (in which people only follow or get algorithmically shown content that supports their own views, reinforcing confirmation bias). Fortunately a study on Facebook’s data suggests that the echo chamber effect isn’t as bad as we might expect.

Meanwhile this review of the Filter Bubble book on BoingBoing raises the very reasonable counter-argument: “anti-filtering” tools are also developing.

Time Lies
Holly Gramazio of Hide&Seek consistently lies about time in order to make game experiences better. This seems reasonable and useful.

Grand Central train station lies in a similar way, although not by setting their clocks fast as this widely shared article’s headline suggests (which would make people panic and run more), but rather by lying about the real departure time of trains (which is slightly more likely to ease those crucial final seconds of a late boarding attempt).

Of course, both of these effects become weaker when more people know about them. What I’d like is a clock modifier for my mobile which sets the time 1 minute fast most of the time, but on a random, say, 2% of days it instead shows the real time, so I’d know I couldn’t simply factor in that ‘extra’ minute.

T.M. 12/04/13: Richard B adds a local example: “In Heathrow Terminal 5 the information screens in the duty free area lie about the gates opening for boarding in order to control passenger flow and disperse them when the concourse is becoming too crowded.”

Time Lapse
Tsuneaki Hiramatsu took some time lapse photos of Fireflies (with a bit of compositing), which turns out to be just as brilliant an idea as it sounds.

What if you just took a vertical slit of a photo, repeatedly, as something moved past, then composited those pixel-thin images? I’m glad you asked. (A technique along these lines may explain how Rainer Gamsjäger’s video “State of Flux — wave #1″, which baffled me at EIFF 2010, was achieved)

Finally, here’s a different kind of Time Slice by Giuseppe Penone, which incredibly is just what it looks like: an old tree, with parts cut away to reveal its younger self:

Tumblr Tips
Tumblr themes commonly hide the link to the ‘archive’ view, but you can get it just by appending “/archive” to the URL. This is really useful when you want to get a quick overview of a Tumblr’s contents. For example, instead of paging through iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com, you can instead go straight to iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com/archive (and then do something else while you wait for the page to load..!)

Alternatively you can use this tool to automatically identify the top 10 most popular items from a Tumblr by year, based on the number of ‘notes’ (although this can take a little while to process, which is fair enough). For example, you can see the 10 most popular comics from Horse eComics (which are based on a Twitter account that tweets random excerpts from books) here.

Maps: Tube maps, Rearranged cities
A popular semi-regular feature of Things is alternative tube maps (see the better tube map, to-scale tube map, curvy tube map, and travel-time interactive tube map).  So we might as well just cut to the chase and go straight to this site which excellently curates all manner of tube map variations. (via Sophie)

Meanwhile, in the world of rearranging maps based on non-locational criteria, Odd Things Happen When You Chop Up Cities And Stack Them Sideways.

I’ve sat on this link for far too long – a wonderful Gigapan exploreable photo of London. The distant London Eye, at maximum zoom, reveals the individual people in each capsule. It’s like having super powered vision.

Finally, not enough people seem to know about bird’s-eye-view in Bing maps, which provides a really useful mid-ground between Google’s satellite imagery and streetview. Try it out!

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

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.

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.

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.

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?


Things 49: Galaxy Rising, Tube Time Visualisation, Back Flip Variation

(Originally sent May 2009)

Time lapse of the stars at night – be sure to watch to the end to see the Milky Way rising:

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

A simplistic but interesting data visualisation showing travel times from and to different parts of the tube network – this explains why everything in London seems to be about 30 minutes away:

In a self-consciously long and disappointingly poorly argued article titled “In Defence of Distraction“, the following quote made reading it all worthwhile:

“Priorities are like arms: If you have more than two of them, they’re probably make-believe” – Merlin Mann

An animated gif (2MB) showing a fantastic variation on a back flip.

Puzzle: Newspaper eyeball value
We often hear that newspapers are in terminal decline and it’s all the internet’s fault. But much of a newspaper’s revenue comes from advertising, and many have created their own ad-supported websites, and many of these websites reach very large numbers of people. So they are losing eyeballs looking at print and gaining eyeballs looking at a screen, both of which will also see adverts. Why isn’t this helping?

(Perhaps more than other puzzles I have set in the past, there are many possible answers. Don’t hedge your bets – if you have multiple solutions, put them in order of importance! I’ll summarise the results and stick my own oar in next week.)