22 February 2007

Palindrome Riddles

Let me introduce you to a sub-genre of word puzzle which I call the palindrome riddle. You are given a clue, often in the form of a question, the answer to which reads the same backwards and forwards, excluding punctuation and case. The answer may be one or more words. For example: What kind of beer does the king drink? Regal lager, of course. Or, what innovation helps older arthritic doggies climb up onto truck beds? The pet step.
That should give you the idea so here you go.

1) What do you have to do to avoid an encounter with the Late Night talk show host who's looking for you?

2) Dance productions inspired by a character from A Streetcar Named Desire.

3) What do you call the appointed official in charge of Reggae affairs?

4) Cats with Alzheimer's.

5) What do you call the person who comes to collect you and all your effects and take you to the '60's theme (or '70's, western, Victorian era...) resort?

6) Peruvian city questions its identity.

7) The chihuahua is out. Do you know the name of the fast food chain's new mascot?

8) How did the rude customer address the young man who was stocking some tropical fruit at the time?

9) Vulcan law enforcement.

10) Impersonate a renowned fabulist.

11) What the groupies realized when they discovered that their favorite New Wave band no longer resided at the same address.

(and my favorite)

12) An owl perches on the branch of a tree on a very balmy night. Another owl flies up and lights on the branch next to him and asks,"Why are you so quiet tonight?" The first owl responds, "Oh, man, it's --------".

Have fun with these. I didn't include any of the more obscure ones but answers can be made available.


19 February 2007

Crossing the Uncanny Valley

I'm always alert for neologisms and phrases of the moment. So when I heard the term "uncanny valley" recently I knew I had to blog about it. In case this isn't already part of your lexicon, I'll give a brief description, but the wikipedia article goes into much greater detail.

I encountered the term with regards to a new android built in South Korea: EveR-2 (the pictures may take some time to load, but it's worth it). The Uncanny Valley is not a physical place, but rather a "valley" on a graph. Specifically it's a graph for how humans respond to human-like creations. Along the x axis goes increasing human verisimilitude. Up along the y axis is increasing favorable emotional response. The idea is that as robots (or other human creations) acquire elements of human appearance we tend to respond more and more favorably to them. The graph starts to rise as it goes to the right. But at some point a sharp inflection is reached, and suddenly we begin to see the robot as grotesque and even monstrous. Thus the curve falls steeply below the baseline. However, as even more humanness is added to the creation, it becomes human looking enough to rise out of the valley, so to speak, and again we have a favorable response. The wikipedia article referenced above illustrates the curve and gives several examples.

What's interesting is that since this phenomenon was first described (1970!) it has expanded beyond robotics. Characters from modern films (ex: Gollum from LOTR), TV commercials, and video games can be examined in light of the uncanny valley hypothesis. Pixar, for example, has used the uncanny valley to make their villains seem especially grotesque. Several ideas on what causes the uncanny valley response are listed in the article. The one I find most compelling is from evolutionary psychology.

When I'm hit with a feeling of the uncanny valley I note that it is a strongly emotional response that simply wells up from some part of my brain. I can't really reason out why I have that response. One thing that does it for me are the Burger King commercials. For some reason the King character is extraordinarily horrid to me. But why? It's just a mask. The evolutionary psych explanation suggests that it is some very primitive part of my brain alerting me that there is something "wrong" with this being, and I should avoid it.

As many of this blog's readers and writers know, I spend more than a bit of time in Second Life. One would think that such a place would be deep in the Uncanny Valley. Surprisingly though, I find that this isn't the case. SL avatars rarely evoke that deep grotesque reaction, and in fact usually evoke favorable responses. There are, of course, exceptions. Every once in a while my avatar will do something that looks nasty. Usually this happens while standing on uneven terrain and one of my av's legs will suddenly shoot out sideways at a physiologically impossible angle. Or perhaps my av's knees will buckle and even bend backwards briefly. Then there are self-inflicted trips to the valley which are more funny than grotesque. Like when a newbie acquires a vehicle and doesn't know how to use it, so selects "wear". Suddenly they are wearing a full-size car around their head. This is especially hilarious if they do this in a crowded room. As their head turns the cars smacks everyone nearby.

I'll end with a link to an Uncanny Valley Expo for Second Life avs. Here the focus was on making your av give a very humanlike expression, coming up the far end of the valley back into the good zone. I didn't learn about this Expo in time or I would have sent in an entry myself. Many of the entries use a simple "emoter HUD" to create the facial expressions, and then rely on framing the shot and avatar position to convey body language.

-- Per

The market is Open.

16 February 2007

(Uninformed) Thoughts on GUIs

Unlike other members of this blog, I have little to no actual technical knowledge. But I'm still a techie of sorts (early adopter, and so forth), and since this is a blog I figure my credentials matter not at all. So here are recent musings on user interface design.

It strikes me that when I read about UI as something people are thinking about on the meta level, the writing tends to take a rather narrow perspective by trying to judge which particular UI is 'better', 'easier to use', 'more efficient', or 'more intutive'. Those are all important questions to ask, but I was struck this week by a different dimension of UI and UI design. Putting aside what UI is 'better' there's still the question of what the UI encourages you to do and what it encourages you not to do.

This musing came about when I was sitting on the sofa earlier this week and thought, 'damn OS X rocks!'. This spontaneous head-thought came about because at that moment I was doing the following:
  • ripping a DVD in Handbrake, which requires intense video encoding
  • copying a huge file over the WLAN to the Mac mini
  • copying another file over an SSH tunnel to my office computer
  • exporting a Video clip from MPEG Streamclip
  • working on a huge Keynote presentation (filled with video clips)
  • checking my email in the background
  • actively typing something in Pages
(Of course there were a dozen other apps open that I wasn't using, and quite a few *nix processes running of which I almost always remain happily unaware.)

So by 'OS X rocks' I meant to express how impressed I was that both the OS and the processor could handle all this, and not make me think for a moment that I'd have to wait for the machine.

But, of course, this is complete OS X chauvinism: any modern multithreaded operating system (OS X, XP, Vista) running on the Intel Core Duo processor could do all of this. It was not necessarily something special about OS X.

However, I then got to thinking about how my XP friends and colleagues actually use their machine, and it seems to me that they are very unlikely to really take advantage of their Core Duo chip or their multithreaded OS. Indeed, just the day before I watched as my utterly computer literature colleague interacted with his XP machine. Seriously, this guy understands computers far better than most. But like everyone I watch use XP he interacts with every app in full-screen mode. And he never really switches between apps; instead, he constantly clicks the little icon that sends the window down to the bottom of the screen, but the idea of leaving an app with 5 windows open just sitting there while sliding over to a different app is just a thought he's never had. In this particular session we were looking at a few different word files that I had emailed him, and then working out a structure in a different word Doc. We'd be working on the main doc and every time he needed one of those other word docus he would do the following:
  1. Switch to MS outlook
  2. Find the email I sent him
  3. Click on the Zip attachment
  4. Answer yes to unzipping each of the 6 files
  5. Select the file he wanted and have it open in word

My very much speculative point is this: isn't it the case that the set-up of XP encourages this type of time-wasting behavior and discourages more sophisticated multitasking? Every window wants to be full screen. App switching (as in, through the dock or command-tab in OS X) doesn't seem readily available that I can see. Users are encouraged to think about their computer the same way they thought about it in DOS. That's sad.

11 February 2007

Furtherafield reviews Amazon Noir



About one year after the release of Google Will Eat Itself the artists PAOLO CIRIO (PC), ALESSANDRO LUDOVICO (AL), Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx (both UBERMORGEN.COM (UC)) out foxed Amazon.com, the second global Internet player. The results of the Media/Art-event Amazon Noir - The Big Book Crime were presented to the public on the 15th of November 2006. In the following interview the Amazon Noir Crew talks about the framework of the project, its coding and art historical background, the official feedback and copyright issues."

06 February 2007

The Musæum at Alexandria

"Hello! Welcome to the Museum. Are you here to view a full exhibit, or are you just browsing? Not sure? Well, no problem at all. Just take your time. We've got literally billions of exhibits from which to choose here. That's why I'm here, of course, to help you narrow down your choices. Ah, you say you're not familiar with the Museum at all. Walk with me down the halls and I'll point out the highlights.

"As you know, new techniques in Quantum Historical Reconstruction have enabled us to more or less perfectly model arbitrary events from the past. Give us a time, place, and...what? Yes, more or less perfectly. Obviously it's not completely exact, but we're able to smooth out aspects, elements, or people about which the information might be incomplete. Anyway, like games and other sims, we're able to image that reconstruction on the QComp and jack you straight into it. Want to see Michaelangelo's David? Of course it and the entire city of Florence were destroyed in the Great Conflag, but we can do better than the Accademia ever could anyway--we'll reconstruct the Palazzo della Signoria on September 8, 1504 and put you in the body of a retro-human peasant wandering by for the unveiling. No, the effect is complete. We jack you in full neural--you use the peasant's eyes, ears, neural impulses, all of it. Nothing compared to our current sensory abilities, obviously, but that is the drawback of Quantum History--we're limited by the aptitude of the observer, so to speak. But as long as there is an observer, we can show it to you--any event, any time, anywhere in the past. The signing of the Magna Carta. The invention of fire. The Second Life Incident. You want to see the impact of the comet that killed the dinosaurs? We can show it to you--through the eyes of a small early rodent-like mammal, but we can show it to you.

"Well, you stay in as long as you like, obviously. Five minutes, an hour, a year if you're curious. What? No, it's not instantaneous. Please, this isn't Deep Space Nine. No, sorry, that was a reference we Quarkavists like to throw around. Obviously the QComp is able to play back historical images at nearly infinite speed, but our cortices are somewhat limited. Still, you can view a standard exhibit, about five minutes of history, more or less instantly. An hour of historical experience will take around a minute here. You could experience an entire retro-human lifetime in a couple of years here..."

"Yes, an entire retro-human lifetime. Well, of course we post-humans are online for as long as we wish, and immortality has its drawbacks. At times in our lives we are left with long stretches of...free time. Others of us spend many epochs of our time online in a search for meaning. Spending a year or two here with us is nothing compared to the experience you gain...ahah! That is why you're here! I thought so. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, the search for meaning is as old as life itself--at least so far as we've seen.

"The process is simple. You choose a particular period and place, or a particular life, and we jack you in at the birth of the entity and jack you out at the moment of death. In between you experience every moment of that being's life as if you were him, her, or it. Always admired Michaelangelo? Be him. Or Albert Einstein. Or Zarf VIII, the inventor of the neural coupling techniques we use to jack you in to the historical image. Whom have others chosen to be? Well, of course trends change from time to time. We used to get lots of, you know, Fan Boys who wanted to be their favorite artist, musician, actor, virt star. Of course, they always came out existentially disappointed when they discovered the being they'd idolized to mythic levels turned out to be an ordinary man, woman, or construct, with ordinary problems and banalities of day to day existence. They came out quite shattered. A couple of them...well, anyway, that's not common at the museum now. Most people just choose a time and place and jack into a being that hasn't been heretofore historically noted. Some come out uneffected, some come out quite changed. They might jack into a life of ease or one of great torment and suffering, of power or penury. Then of course they walk out of the exhibit and it all becomes just one more memory in their neural network.

"Now obviously there are some parts we can't quite reconstruct correctly--the quantum resolution isn't high enough--but we cover those so you don't notice. Usually with the presence of retro-human chemical narcotics or...what? Oh, no no no. Obviously I haven't made myself quite clear. As I said earlier, the life you experience is limited by the aptitude of the observer, and retro-humans had no capacity for the type of consciousness we post-humans possess. As long as you're jacked in, your consciousness is limited by that of your retro-human host. You'll have no awareness of your post-human self. Oh, I've heard anecdotal evidence of retro-humans in the midst of an historical sim somehow expanding their consciousness enough to realize the truth of their greater selves, but I've never seen any scientific evidence for it. No, for as long as you're jacked in, you are, for all practical purposes, the retro-human whose life you're living. What? What do you mean does that cause any confusion? What kind of confusion? For whom? What is there to be confused about?"

Next: Ripping off Borges in some slightly less obvious way!

05 February 2007

Merciful Zeus!

Last month I discovered a story which pitted a group of revivalists against the Greek Orthodox Church. The object of the revival was ol' time religion -- or in this case ancient time religion. For these worshippers hold to the twelve Olympian gods of ancient Greece. The controversy began because they wanted to worship at Temple of Zeus, whose ruins are now a tourist spot. There's actually not much more to say about it: they were denied; they held their ceremony anyway.

So then what's up with this post? Well, it gave me the idea for a game. To play you need either Google Earth or NASA's World Wind. It's simple really, like scavenger hunts. Here's your task:
Find the Temple of Zeus. Here's a site with some photos: http://ah.phpwebhosting.com/a/OUTofBFLO/greece/ath/zeus/

Use the info in the site, and the photos (backgrounds are particularly useful) to help you locate the ruins of the Temple of Zeus from satellite imagery. For a baseline, it took me about ten minutes. Your mileage may vary depending on what tools you avail yourself of (and whether or not you've actually been to Athens).

If you have any ideas for other geo-hunts please post them. Oh, and for extra points you can identify the TV show in which a character utters the words that title this post. No, it's not Battlestar Galactica --- but, by the gods, a good guess. Cheers!


The market is Open.