Monday, December 20, 2010

Google Trends for History!

Information is Beautiful's caption: "See how big cocaine was in Victorian times."

This is Google Books' new Ngram Viewer tool. Looks like it gives you the prevalence of your search terms over the years in published books.

So... it's Google Trends for history! That's awesome! I don't know why but I've loved Google Trends ever since it came out. In case you aren't familiar, it shows you how often people search for any set of terms you're interested in. So it's a rough, but surprisingly insightful view of the rise and fall of public interest over time for anything searchable.

I use it all the time, but I'm often disappointed at its historical wall of 2004. It doesn't show data from before then. And in any case Google didn't exist before the late 90's so you're out of luck if you're curious when Aerosmith's comeback really kicked in or when people actually started paying attention to Watergate.

So it's not like the Google Books' new tool has that kind of granularity. But the point is, we finally have a tool for seeing the general rise and fall of concepts in the popular zeitgeist.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

yes, Minecraft

**Edit: I've decided that if there's any chance I can create a Google search result for "crafting recipe Olivia Wilde," well then by God I need to take that chance:

"Ever since I saw Notch retweet someone saying that Tron Legacy is actually about a guy's Minecraft addiction gone out of control and the resulting intervention I've been trying to figure out what the crafting recipe is to make Olivia Wilde."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chickens, internets, and biology

This should just be a funny piece of internets.

But unfortunately I'm a biologist and so after I got over how funny it is, I got fascinated. Its head is so incredibly motionless! How? Think about the motions it's performing with its neck and body. We can't imagine coming close to matching that. Why have they evolved this way?

I can only guess it's because birds have an incredibly developed inner ear in order to react very quickly and accurately during flight. I've previously been amazed at the balance of birds. Have you ever seen a seagull or duck with one foot that nevertheless stands effortlessly motionless? Or think whether you've ever seen a bird fail at balancing on a power line and fall off. This image demonstrates exactly how accurate their inertial sensor is and how instantly it provides feedback. I guess that's what's necessary to deal with the split-second world of flight.

TL;DR: Biology is awesome.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Less-controversially awesome things Wikileaks has done

(disclaimer: I really love this thing)

These days most people who recognize the name "Wikileaks" know it from recent hits like "Iraq War Diary" and "U.S. Diplomatic Cables." Unfortunately these well-known works don't suit everyone's tastes and critics are divided on Wikileaks. While I'm still making up my mind on their recent offerings, I thought I'd highlight some of their vintage efforts that might appeal to a wider range of tastes.

Translation: It's a big question whether the recent releases by Wikileaks are a good idea. Not sure what I think myself. But as a long-time fan of them it's troubling hearing so many assessments of Wikileaks and its merits from people (understandably) unaware of the sort of organization it's been up to this point. To help out, I compiled a list of previous releases of theirs that define my impression of them as an organization fiercely committed to free and open information. Then you can judge whether they still do more harm than good.

(credit to Wikipedia for the master list)

2007: Corruption of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi

Wasn't even aware of this, but apparently Wikileaks helped expose a web of corruption led by this Kenyan president who funneled millions of dollars out of the country.

2008: Scientology's secret documents

During Project Chanology, they published highly-secret documents about rituals and beliefs in the Church of Scientology. When the Church predictably reacted with all sorts of rabidly litigious threats (including demanding logs identifying the source), Wikileaks reacted with one of the most awesome statements in the history of free speech: "in response to the attempted suppression, WikiLeaks will release several thousand additional pages of Scientology material next week" (which they did).

2008: British National Party membership list

The BNP is a British political party. All you really need to know about it is that membership is restricted to white people and it's so bad it has to keep its membership list very secret. Wikileaks obtained and released it.

2009: ACMA blacklist (Australian internet censorship)

The Australian government has been considering censoring the internet, originally with the excuse of filtering only extreme and illegal pornography. Wikileaks released their developing blacklist, which shows how it has expanded to a much wider range of questionably "objectionable" material and completely unrelated sites like Youtube pages, Wikipedia articles, and the websites of religious organizations. In an interesting case of how quickly they're falling down the slippery slope of censorship, Wikileaks itself was on the list before the release, because they'd released a similar Danish blacklist.

2009: Congressional Research Service reports

The CRS is an organization under the Library of Congress that produces research to help with policymaking in Congress. Their reports aren't released to the general public unless the office of the congressmember that requested it allows it. These are nonpartisan researchers (an expert called them "even-handed to a fault") and their work is a great resource when trying to find information on national issues. Which is why I think most people could agree that it's a huge benefit that Wikileaks published thousands of CRS reports in 2009.
Read more at the Washington Post.

after the jump:
More-controversial things that may still be more palatable than the war logs and diplomatic cables

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yo Dawg I heard you like blog posts

I really love the evolution of the Xzibit Yo Dawg meme.

It started with simple parodies of Pimp My Ride:
But it quickly became about putting things inside themselves:
Then people stopped even finishing the sentence:
And now it's to the point that you only need the slightest hint of Xzibit's presence to understand that the image is pointing out recursion:
He's become like a symbol in the sign language of the internets.

Or maybe I just like progressions like that. Like awesome nickname evolutions. For instance I know someone named Yotam. Soon after college started his friends started referring to him as "Yotizz." Then it progressed to just "'Tizz." And now his friends will casually refer to him as "'Tizzlet." From Yotam. Awesome.

I digress. Further Yo Dawg internets after the jump.

U.S. performs 1,200 traveler laptop searches per year

TrueCrypt: don't leave home without it.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko:
"Between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009 CBP encountered more than 221 million travelers and of these, fewer than 1,050 searches were performed on laptops."
For those unfamiliar with the border search exception to the fourth amendment, when you are flying internationally, security agents can take you aside and search your belongings without any warrant or reasonable suspicion. Ok, big deal, so I'm going to have to open my bag again, right?

Thing is, this policy has been interpreted to include searching all files on your laptop, phone, USB drive, etc. They'll even confiscate your computer for months, copy the entire hard drive, and mail it back to you.

Now is the first time I've seen numbers on this. That's a rate of about 1,200 searches per year as of last year. And I was already upset about this policy when I thought it was a really rare occurrence.

I remember hearing an explanation for this policy is that they've determined that searching the files on an electronic device is equivalent to searching your current personal effects. This is what gets me upset. I assume that the people who decided on this interpretation of the law imagine the contents of a phone or laptop to be just about the same as the contents of, say, a notepad you bring on a plane.

But many people, especially of my generation, have a good proportion of their lives on their computers. Personally I can't deal with physical things and lose them all the time, so my most personal possessions are files on my hard drive. Search my apartment all you want; there's not much I'd be upset over losing. But on my computer I have personal documents I wrote in 1998 in middle school. I have IM conversations from high school. I have all the texts I've sent since 2006. All emails since 2004. Calendar events since 2008. And 10,000 personal photos.

I know, no one cares about my middle school secrets or the texts I sent to my ex-girlfriend (though I could see them having a good old time back at the office with some of my photos). The point is, it feels as violating as a warrantless search of my home would've felt 20 years ago. Preventing such a violation is the whole point of the fourth amendment.

And it's coming to a laptop near you. So remember kids, if you want to spit in the face of a violation of your rights, TrueCrypt up!

Friday, November 19, 2010

DC crime map - by block!

Ok this should be great, but on closer inspection it actually sucks.

My thoughts on first look: "Wow! I've still been going off this old homicides map because I haven't yet seen anything more precise. But block-by-block is amazing!"

But then I realized it's just a simple count of crimes for each block, not at all taking into account the size or population of the block. Hence universities, whose entire campuses count as one block, seem like the most dangerous places in the city. And then there's more obvious (and just dumb) examples like this pinwheel centered on Thomas Circle.
I don't think I'll be much safer on the small-slice blocks. In fact I think there's a good chance all eight blocks have statistically the same crime rate. If you measure it in a more meaningful way, that is.

So yes, in reality it's not useless. I've seen some interesting things when comparing blocks of similar size. But it's pretty frustrating. Because the DC Crime Policy Institute it comes from gives no info that would help better interpret the data. And because the information they give us is already divided into bins (5-9 crimes/year, 10-25 crimes/year, etc) you can't manually correct for block size with any accuracy.

There's several easy steps they could've taken to produce a better (not perfect) representation of crime in The District. The easiest thing to do would be to simply divide the number of crimes by the area of the block. Then at least they wouldn't have made a map that was near-meaningless.

I guess since that would be so easy, the only conclusion I can come to is that the map was mostly decoration and what they were most interested in was the data in their table showing trends over time. But honestly I found that less interesting than the prospect of seeing the spatial distribution of crime in DC.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

"It was very good humored, and one sensed that the entire crowd loathed Fox, felt queasy about MSNBC, couldn't bring themselves to watch CNN and caught NPR in the commute."

-Andrew Sullivan pegs the mood of the rally

Good photo galleries of the signs (best part of the day) here and here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Died in a skydiving blog accident

Just re-read a nearly 3-year-old xkcd:

And discovered that now the top Google result for "Died in a skydiving accident" is "Died in a blogging accident."

Wait what?

Friday, October 1, 2010

U.S. Government Seeks Backdoor into All Encrypted Services

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet

I really want to see the consensus on this story become, as loud as possible,

WTF is this, India?

Back in August we all* scoffed at this up-and-coming country reverting to its plebeian roots by demanding such a ghastly thing (if the image I'm painting isn't clear enough, let me add a swirling brandy snifter). But now we see our own government thinking India had a good idea with this. But if that brandy snifter-scoffing has any use, please let us use it to recognize how lowly we view this idea at least when put forward by someone else's government.

That's all for now. For further analysis, I'll defer to the EFF (usually a good idea):
Government Seeks Back Door Into All Our Communications

*Yes, be "we all" I mean only the perpetually-drunk-on-tech-news demographic. I'm sorry! It's hard to quit! It's a disease, you know.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Modern spam: I'm not even mad, Baxter. I'm honestly just impressed.

former comment on my post Desert Bus - Penn & Teller, Video Games, and Charity:

viagra online said...
great idea combine video games, magic and charity, in this way is so easy show to rest of people how video games can help and not for destruction or violence.
July 14, 2010 3:37 PM
("viagra online" originally linked to a page on

I'm actually still not sure whether that was auto-generated or whether a human wrote that post. It seems at first that they actually have people looking at blog posts (at least cursorily) and writing comments relevant enough that before deleting them they require a discussion at the level of "Man, what even is spam?"

But my second thought was that hey, I have the terms "video games" and "charity" in my post, right in the title. So they could certainly have a general comment written for the topic of video game charities, then they search for relevant posts.

But then, how does "magic" get in there? I know they can easily relate the term "Penn & Teller" to "magic"; that's not the point. It's about why they insert "magic" into the comment. Is there a special variable in the "video games, [x] and charity" string? Would that even work enough to be practical? Almost seems more likely an actual human read the title of the post and made that comment.

The evolution of spam can get unexpectedly fascinating. It's almost biological in how it mutates in the face of evolutionary pressure from spam filters. It's gone to  the extreme of irrelevance where you get an email that just talks about measuring the drapes on Thursday in order to not appear to your filter as spam, but its status as advertising is questionable. And now I see it's gone to an extreme of relevance where it blurs the lines between undesired spam and desired contribution.

Monday, July 12, 2010

IE 6

Wouldn't that explain a lot?

(some context: DIE IE6 DIE, Bring Down IE6)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Google suggests lulz

Some of these are really great. Also, it's a very easy meme to contribute to. See something funny when typing in searches? Screenshot! Honestly sometimes I'll intentionally type in the name of something to see what people are thinking about it. It's a pretty interesting tool in that way alone, really.

Unfortunately not an awesome Google Easter egg.

That's after typing only "i l"!
#2 ranking too!

Still don't know the explanation for this one.

Sort of reminiscent of recursion?

Even more after the jump!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dear Yellow Pages

We just got ours recently. Several huge books dropped off in front of a place exclusively inhabited by 20-somethings (maybe even an early-30-something), never to be touched again.

FYI, here's some ways to stop them delivering to your house.

(via fuckyeahdementia)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wikileaker update - Hear Adrian Lamo talk about his decision to drop the dime

I've found two interviews with Adrian Lamo on his role in the arrest of Bradley Manning over the Collateral Murder video.

For me the biggest mystery in this whole thing is what motivated Adrian Lamo, the hacker, to turn someone in to the authorities. Lamo has spent so long on the other side of the coin and had his own troubles with the feds. Why did he decide to go out of his way to help them now?

People are putting forward a lot of different theories, and eventually you want to hear how Lamo himself would explain it. Well, here's a June 10th interview from an Australian podcast called Risky Business (it starts around 17:30). Then there's another at where he's pressed a bit harder for his rationale, though the interviewer starts to sound (almost) as obtuse and closed-minded as a cable news talking-head. You can find it waaay at the bottom of this article, conducted by columnist Glenn Greenwald for background but also recorded and posted online.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"can i forward a google voice number to another google voice number"

In trying to find the answer to the above question, I noticed 2 things. First, Google Suggest came up with that exact phrase as I typed my search terms, and second, there was no good answer when you searched it. I'm going to go ahead and assume others are looking for the same answer and also couldn't find it. So then I had to go with the empirical method and just try it myself.

And no. It won't let you.

Hopefully now people can find the answer ahead of time.

P.S. I then tried forwarding to the same number the other Google Voice number forwards to, and that doesn't work either. It'll let you go ahead and add the number, but then it kicks that number off your other account. Adding insult to injury, to get it back on your other account you have to re-claim it and set up voicemail forwarding all over again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weird intrigue between Wired, Wikileaks, two ex-hackers, and the leaker of Collateral Murder

(This post presented in Bold Name-O-Vision to keep track of the Major Characters)

As someone who checks Wired News regularly and will click on any article about WikiLeaks [Wikipedia article here], in the last few weeks I've been treated to a fascinating drama that's developed because of the arrest of Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning as the alleged source of the Collateral Murder video. This is the footage that came out this spring showing American Apache pilots in 2007 eagerly massacring a group of Iraqis including civilians and children.

The brief background is that Adrian Lamo, a famous ex-hacker, discovered during online chats with Manning that he leaked the classified footage to WikiLeaks. Lamo told the authorities and Manning was arrested. Now here's where it starts to get strange. Wired broke the news because Kevin Poulsen, another famous ex-hacker, is friends with Lamo and also now a writer for Wired. In fact he's been reporting on this story continually in Wired's Threat Level blog. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is unsurprisingly unhappy about Lamo's outing of their source but is apparently angry at Poulsen too. He (or whoever tweets for WikiLeaks) has been leveling a twitter war against both of them, assuming they're in cahoots. Assange, who has assumed Manning's legal defense, even sent an email to Lamo requesting his chat logs and giving him some pretty derogatory "advice". And we know about the email because of Poulsen, who got it from Lamo and published it on Wired. Confused yet?

Something that makes this so weird is that each side in this seems complicit in at least some dirtiness. For instance I usually like WikiLeaks but Assange's email and tweets are such unmeasured, defamatory attacks that they betray a defensiveness that overrides his ideals. Then Lamo, of course, looks the villain by gaining the trust of, then outing a whistle-blower simply following his conscience. And Lamo's relationship with Poulsen hangs a doubt over the image of Poulsen simply reporting the events in objective journalistic fashion. The greatest example is Poulsen's acquisition of, then public posting of the email from Assange to Lamo. Even the organizations themselves seem a bit questionable in this whole exchange. It's not what I'm used to, having Wired take part in the drama instead of telling the story from a distance. As for WikiLeaks, I've already talked about their tweets.

In fact, the only one who seems to come out clean in this is Manning, who actually appears to have the purest intentions. Not all the facts are out yet but people are already mentioning him in the same breath as Daniel Ellsberg, a leaker from a previous disastrous war.

(credit: helpful background from this post on "TechEYE")

Saturday, June 12, 2010

You're now watching in THX Surround Sound

(I think it's called "Dramatic Lemur")

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Count to 1,023 on your fingers (spoiler: it's finger binary!)

I just had the epiphany that normal finger-counting is in unary. It's like binary, but lower! For some reason, even though "binary" indicates "2" I never realized there could be a counting system below that. It's not complicated though. Unary is just what you use when you count with tally marks ( or ).

So I realized instead you can use binary! Cause your fingers can represent 0 or 1, right? And that should totally let you higher than 10. Who hasn't run out of fingers sometimes? And then I tried to figure out how high that lets you count. Since you have 10 fingers and each is a binary digit you can go to 210-1, which equals... 1,023. Whoa.

Then I tried it out to make sure and see how easy it is to do. It gets a little weird. Here's an idea:

So there you go! Perhaps with some practice counting this way will be natural enough to be actually useful!

And in the interests of internet ethics, I will credit my source for this idea. A really esoteric source: this comment on a Boing Boing post where a guy mentioned, in passing, counting on his fingers in unary vs. binary.

(For further reading, I'll let you know there's (of course) a Wikipedia article.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Made of Awesome

Best response to anything ever.

Oh, and click the Read more » for obligatory derivatives. Even stupider, and even funner.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Google SSL

Heard of Google SSL? Now Google lets you use SSL encryption on its general search page, meaning you visit "" instead of "". This way the things you search for are encrypted at your computer & decrypted at Google so no one in-between (i.e. your ISP, whoever's running that public WiFi) can snoop. But it's only for the general search right now, so beware: if you click on "image results" for your search term it's not encrypted anymore. You can read a more able write-up at Lifehacker.

The "real" point of this post is that I made Google SSL my default search to try it out and thus wanted to make a favicon to distinguish it in my browser. And I've come to like the one I whipped up: . Yes, it uses the old Google favicon () because dammit it's so much classier than the new one (). Also, that's the silhouette of a lock on top of it. Ok, my icon isn't that fantastic but I've found that the lock is large enough to be a recognizable shape suggesting security while leaving enough of the G uncovered to be clear it's Google.

Just trying to share something I've found useful, in keeping with the spirit of these great Internets.

Hmm, of course it seems to have a little bit of this flavor too:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The internet is actually kinda international now

From what I remember circa 2000, the idea that it's really a "World Wide" Web was more theoretical than actual. Seemed to be just us Americans on there. But lately I've gotten the sense that this time around, we've actually got everyone joining the party. Ok, so obviously it's not everyone yet but all across different forums and media-sharing sites it seems easy to find someone logging on from another country.

And it's not just a vague feeling - I've got data* now!

The exclamation points are because I just realized that over the last several months I'd inadvertently collected a bunch of info on where sampled internet users are from. I did it through, which I wrote about way back at the beginning of this blog (see full explanation there). To summarize it, imagine an online, infinite wall of graffiti, ASCII style. And where do the users come from? The main way (I think) that people end up at my sub-page is through Google's Chrome Experiments, though feel free to peruse Google's list of links to it.

Here's what I'm getting at: on this page I came across a DIY guest book of sorts, meaning someone had written "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" and people started writing their locations and current dates. The reason I say "I collected" the info is that without my effort this list would have been quickly written over or deleted. This version of graffiti is in pencil, and the commenters are a little eraser-happy. So I used my admin-powers to protect the list. And because I can't pre-protect text so I have to come back periodically and do a quick preservation on the recent entries. Over the last several months I made this an almost-daily routine of mine.

And so today I was noticing how a good proportion of the entries are from interesting places. I'll show everything I've collected up to this point to give an impression of how many entries I've gotten. If you're not up for perusing, I'll mention some highlights: Maharashtra, India; Szeged, Hungary; Turku, Finland; Rydzyna, Poland; Wollongong, Australia; and (drum roll..) Thimpu, Bhutan!

(but yes, plenty are jokes, which is to be expected on
yourworldoftext - chromeexperiments - location date signing list (logbook, guestbook) 1 resized

yourworldoftext - chromeexperiments - location date signing list (logbook, guestbook) 2

*I'll be clear: my scientific training balks at any implication that this is properly collected data, with the biases and self-selecting issues inherent to internet surveying.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twitter oops?

Despite how much it pains me to write a post about Twitter, I think I just caught something within 20 minutes of it occurring and that's just too tempting. So, in the interest of more experimentation with Breaking News:

It looks like people just found a bug to force people to follow them on Twitter. Remember when Conan chose to follow just one person and it was a significant (and funny) story? Well now he's forcibly following around 200 additional people.

But! Less than an hour after major blogs found and published the bug, Twitter seems to have taken action by resetting everyone's followers to zero. The Mashable post on the bug went up at 12:45PM today so the reset happened sometime between then and 12:54 when I noticed it.

Now, I'm sure they'll get everyone's followers list back soon. But I can't help but imagine the headlines if they deleted everything and had to set everyone back to zero.

Update: Twitter says the follow system is temporarily offline and the original bug is fixed. Meanwhile, twitter people lose their shit. Rumors abound of a mysterious, all-powerful Turkish hacker. Lulz ensues.

Update Update: Followers are back, but not reset to before the bug. Conan is still following 283 people. Also, The Toronto Sun has done some good detective work on the bug. Shedding light on the rumor of the legendary Turkish hacker, they found out that the bug was first posted on a Turkish site, then popularized by And after a hilarious game of telephone, we have Twitter denizens shaking in their boots at the thought of the Turkish hacker who managed Mission Impossible his way into the Twitter mainframe and steal all their precious followers.

Update Update Update: Conan's deleting his "followees" as I type. Down to 164 now. Kinda funny to watch. (2:30PM)

Friday, April 23, 2010

EU estimates biofuels produce much more carbon than oil does

Allow me to (not so) briefly explain that comment.

A few years ago I was assigned a semester-long class project on energy. I tried to suggest that the group focus on how corn-derived ethanol is not the answer to energy concerns. They liked it and misunderstood it so that we spent a whole semester planning to advocate an ethanol-distribution network. Thus: frustration!

The greatest irony came about when, at the end of the semester, the professors liked it so much they offered me an independent study for the next semester on the same topic. When I raised my hesitations about going through with ethanol advocacy, the arrangement for the independent study fell apart. You'll understand, the professor I was going to be working with was a Capitol Hill senatorial staffer. And all the congress-people were gearing up to support ethanol, a political proposition with seemingly no downsides. Both environmental blue-staters and midwestern/energy-independence red-staters would get beaucoup political points. So this staffer was not about to understand me dragging my feet.

Of course, I may be a bit greedy because irony already delivered me a wonderful I-was-right moment later that very semester. That's when food prices spiked like crazy and the wider public suddenly turned on ethanol, calling it the cause. Of course, it wasn't technically an I-was-right moment since my main concern wasn't about food prices. It was that studies had already indicated that using corn ethanol produces about the same amount of carbon emissions as gasoline.

And now I see this report. It's a study by the EU which found that it potentially produces four times as much carbon as conventional fuels. And by the way the EU's incentive is actually to tout ethanol as a great thing.  They got this by taking into account that raised food prices cause farmers to cut down more rainforest to grow more food. And cutting down rainforest is a big carbon no-no. Very high emissions.

So. On behalf of my kind-of-accidental moment of following my conscience, ahem..


Thursday, April 22, 2010

This Trololo is actually very good and will make you happy

Wait til he starts up again the second time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


(Or, for shorthand, Ironingextreme)

(even more after the jump)

Friday, April 2, 2010

How many third-party sites have their sticky fingers in the websites you visit?

Using NoScript is an interesting experience.

Btw NoScript is a Firefox add-on that disables all the javascript running on any website you visit unless you allow it. What you quickly learn is that a website can (and usually does) run javascripts from other websites, and you have to individually allow each third-party site's script. Which is great for blocking ads from or frivolous social media widgets from But it also lets you peer behind the curtain at how many other sites are, through some deal with the site you're visiting, getting a taste of your patronage.

Now, there are lots of sites with very few or no third-party scripts running. A visit to will expose you only to additionally, which is of course another domain from the same organization. On average you'll see, say, six other sites. But others...

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Briefly seen at 3:13 this morning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wikipedia outage due to cooling failure in European datacenter

Global Outage (cooling failure and DNS) (Wikimedia Technical Blog)

If you tried going to Wikipedia anytime from ~noon today to shortly before now (6PM) you were treated to either an "unable to find server" message or a page looking like html written by a middle-schooler (luckily Google's cache option is always there to save anyone totally without access).

Anyway, long story short there was a cooling problem in a Wikimedia datacenter in Europe and they tried to route traffic to one in Florida but they messed up changing the DNS entries. And because a lot of ISPs don't follow some protocols that speedily replace the incorrect DNS entry with the right one, the guys giving you your internet connection might not have known where Wikipedia's servers are for a while.

Oh, and of course you can already read about this on Wikipedia.

(By the way yes I am using this to experiment with breaking-news reporting. And no, I'm not sure what the point is when people are more likely to find the blog I'm referencing than this one. But why not take a crack at it? Isn't that what this thing's supposed to be for? Experimenting?)

Friday, March 19, 2010

This cooking show I saw once

Aww, poor rage guy. He thought he was going to get some baking tips!

P.s. If you need some backstory, here's why this makes sense:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Google Voice transcriptions - oooh, pretty linguistics

 (Disclaimer: in case you're unaware, he's kidding; computational linguists love this comic)

So Google Voice's voicemail transcription is pretty cool.

I already assume that it learns its voice-recognition by training its algorithms on samples of real speech: videos with captions, people calling automated systems. That's pretty cool in itself, because it means it's not just teaching the software what "book" sounds like by having someone in a studio say "book". Instead it uses real examples of people saying "book" - quickly, imperfectly, with background noise. So it can understand you when you say it quickly, imperfectly, or with background noise.

But recently I've been getting the feeling that it's using another, very different trick to figure out what people are saying in voicemails. I think it's starting to notice what people usually say at different points in a voicemail. For instance, it's very likely to guess that you're saying "Hello" at the start of a voicemail. Here's an extreme example, where my mother left a totally blank message except for some breathing and "clunk"s:
I've seen this happen a few times recently. What I think is going on is that it's not related to the "beginning" "middle" and "end" exactly, but it's taking into account the wider context surrounding each word. As in, it's noticing what words are usually said one-after-another. Computational linguists have been using this trick for a while. And maybe it's taking into account more than the word immediately preceding, and is considering the context of the whole sentence or voicemail!

The cool new thing is that Google Voice's speech recognition isn't just matching individual sounds to words, but is thinking about the whole context of the message and asking what word would someone normally say at X point in the conversation?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why is this not all over the interwebs already?

Once again, internets, you have let me down and I've gotta pick up your slack.

Well hopefully now I'll find something when I google "international exit signs Portal"



Yes, I was snickering to myself the whole Europe trip.

(prompted by Boing Boing)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

UPDATE: Apple swings +6 mace of multitouch at enemies

(followup to my previous note that "Apple can now swing +6 mace of multitouch at enemies")
Apparently multitouch is not one of the patents Apple is suing over! Very strange, though one theory I've seen is that they aren't confident enough that the multitouch patent will stand in court. Because of the obvious prior art. So that's cool. But my ranting about them patenting it in the first place still stands, so on with the show:
(via This Week In Google via Engadget)
Well, Apple has now officially used its controversial patents on multitouch to sue HTC, manufacturer of Android phones. Apparently Google has, since my first post, added the pinch-to-zoom gesture to its Nexus One phone (joining Palm which went ahead with that early last year).

And, of course, I gotta re-outline my opinion that it's a little ridiculous to patent something like the pinch-to-zoom gesture from the iPhone. It kind of seems like patenting the "shift-to-capitalize gesture" after inventing the typewriter. Plus, there's loads of prior art:

The following demo was made in 2006 and presented in a TED talk.
(jump to 0:44 for the money shot)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let's talk about "Ke$ha" for just a second.

Only because I just realized why the "rebellion" she's gotten herself famous for seems so familiar (if you need to rebrief yourself, recall this brief moment in the Tik Tok video and this recent.. thing).

Here's the point. Compare all that to this classic scene from a Twisted Sister video. i.e. "Screw you teacher! Your homework's way lame! Now we're gonna have a rad pizza pool party with Hulk Hogan! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?"

Ok, sorry, got carried away there. But you get the point. It all seems like the same level of throwaway pandering to really young, aimlessly-rebellious kids.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why I actually care about the iPad, aka "Zittrain Was Right"

Yes, there's various critiques one can launch into about the design of the iPad. But there's one problem that matters a bit more than how hot-or-not this new device is. It's that this is one of the biggest confirmations that tech companies envision a future where they decide what you can or can't do with your electronic life.

Let me step back from hyperbole for a moment to explain myself. With the iPad, Apple has tried to expand the iPhone model into personal computer territory. The crucial difference between the iPhone and PC models is that you can make or download a program to a PC and run it, no matter what it is or what it does. You can make your PC do anything. The iPhone will only do what Apple lets it.

I'm really just summarizing Jonathan Zittrain, so for further understanding of what I'm talking about I'll just refer to his explanation:

If you actually want to get the whole picture, I'd highly recommend him in this talk.

Since I'm not saying anything new here and also because I don't have time for a full post, I'll just refer to the best quotes and posts I've seen that get at what I'm talking about. First, a great summary of the big distinction between an iPad and a real computer:
"Interactivity on the iPad consists of touching icons on the screen to change which application you're using.. ..Unlike a computer, the iPad is simply not reconfigurable."
- io9: Why the iPad is Crap Futurism
And here they spot the greater movement the iPad signals:
"This is Apple's big push of its top-down control over applications into the general-purpose computing world. The only applications that will work with the iPad are those approved by Apple, under very opaque conditions. On a phone, that's borderline acceptable, but it's not for something that is positioned to overlap with regular computers."
And then this great reaction from a disillusioned Apple fan, aghast at the fact that they haven't even included multitasking:
"I feel like a person who just un-jacked from the Matrix. I am taking a step back from being “content” in using Apple’s closed products. I’m scared. I am writing this on my Macbook Pro. Is Apple going to take all of my computing freedom on this thing too one day?"
- The Modern Geek: Apple Has Already Redefined Multitasking

Update: Zittrain has now written his official reaction to the iPad, published in the Financial Times: A Fight Over Freedom at Apple's Core"
It's not as "Look! Look! I was right! They're trying to push out conventional computers!" as I'd hoped, though others have now discussed Zittrain's future with the iPad included: iPad to Test Zittrain's "Future of the Internet" Thesis.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Apparently this doesn't show up on Google Images yet, so that's gotta change: