EcoBot II

December 30th, 2004

The EcoBot II is a robot which powers itself on a diet of dead flies and similar yummy stuff.

Ecobot picture

Wonder if they’re also doing a VeggieBot?

Follow-up: we talked about this at lunch today, and decided that the veggie version should probably be a TofuBot, tofu having no other obvious use.

Perspectives

December 30th, 2004

The numbers which are coming in of the casualities in south-east Asia are just incomprehensible. I have tried in the past to put the September 11 attacks, terrible as they were, in perspective by pointing out that twelve times as many people die every day from starvation. Current estimates are that nearly 40 times as many died last Sunday.

Now, I’m very proud that my country has pledged more than any other country to help with disaster relief for the tsunami victims. The UK, at nearly $100M, is offering more than twice as much as the rest of the EU and nearly three times as much as the US, for example – astonishing in itself.

But it’s still a small amount of money in global terms. Estimates of the cost of the ongoing Iraq conflict run to more than that per day. Wouldn’t it be good if our governments spent even a tiny fraction of the amount of money on saving innocent people that they spend on killing them?

Klogs

December 29th, 2004

In my new company, we’re using blogs internally as a sort of lab notebook; it seems to be working quite well. I call it a ‘Klog’, short for ‘worklog’, though that word has been used by others for ‘Knowledge Log’, typically meaning the same sort of thing.

It’s catching on. From this Fortune article (which may now need a subscription):

Google’s public relations, quality control, and advertising departments all have blogs, some of them public. When Google redesigned its search home page, a staffer blogged notes from every brainstorm session. “With a company like Google that’s growing this fast, the verbal history can’t be passed along fast enough,” says Marissa Mayer, who oversees the search site and all of Google’s consumer web products. “Our legal department loves the blogs, because it basically is a written-down, backed-up, permanent time-stamped version of the scientist’s notebook. When you want to file a patent, you can now show in blogs where this idea happened.”

Bathcast

December 29th, 2004

In a silly mood, the other day, after listening to some of Adam Curry’s ‘Daily Source Code’ podcast [?], I recorded a bit of audio on my iPod while I was in the bath, and sent it to him as ‘the first ever bathcast’. Sure enough, he included my silly comments, with appropriately silly responses, about 25 mins of the way through his podcast on the 27th. So I have now been heard by hundreds, maybe thousands of people, broadcasting from my bath. Which sounds like the sort of thing decadent emperors might do. Please don’t listen to it… it will spoil that picture completely.

Email notification

December 29th, 2004

Thanks to Brian Groce’s email notification plugin for WordPress, you can now ask to be notified by email whenever there’s a new Status-Q post. Just fill in the little box on the bottom-right. All email addresses will, of course, be kept completely confidential.

The Graphing Calculator story

December 29th, 2004

Ron Avitzur’s story of how he kept working at Apple when he was no longer working for Apple. [Thanks to Seb Wills for the link]

How to build a better web browser

December 28th, 2004

This article by Scott Berkun is a splendid discussion of things that have been done and that could be done to improve web browsers. I found the link on John’s blog, and, like John, I’m more of an enthusiast for RSS feeds than Scott is. But I have often wondered why.

Scott is right in pointing out that RSS has many similarities with push technologies such as Pointcast, and Netscape’s ‘channels’, and other flotsam & jetsam in the internet bubble. It’s an amazingly crude technology – inferior in many ways to good old Usenet news, for example, which I’ve hardly read for years… why is that?

Well, as Robert points out, the rise of RSS is completely dependent on the rise of the ‘blog. And the rise of the blog comes from the fact that the best way to handle information overload is to use humans, not machines, to filter it. Similarly, Google used the human decisions involved in the creation of web pages to build a more useful search engine. For a long time we’ve decided what news we read by relying on newspaper journalists and editors we trust, and what music to listen to by picking a radio station & DJs with similar tastes to our own. Bloggers do just the same for us with web pages. But bloggers aren’t as regular in their habits as radio programmes or newspaper front pages, so we need a way to find out when they’ve written something. Hence RSS.

The older ‘push’ technologies such as Pointcast were impersonal. You were signing up to read whatever a faceless organisation decided was appropriate to throw at you.

Usenet news still exists, of course, though many people now think of it as ‘Google Groups’, and it’s still useful. But there, your decision is to read whatever anybody has to say on a particular subject. Some of it may be useful. A lot of it, often the majority of it, won’t. And we humans would, in general, rather find a person, or a group of people, that we trust, and listen to their opinions, even when they’re off-topic. In fact, a lot of the value of a newspaper, or a blog, is the things you learn about that you wouldn’t have gone looking for, just because they are off-topic.

It’s essentially the human element, the ability to exercise your choice to say to an individual, ‘yes, I’m interested in what you have to say’, that has made Blogs and RSS succeed where earlier systems have fallen by the wayside.

Sente

December 26th, 2004

Going to have a quick play with Sente. There are a couple of bibliographic programs on the Mac which are challenging the very long-lasting but very pricey (and reputedly rather buggy) EndNote. I’ve seen good reviews for both Bookends and Sente, but the latter got their advertising right:

“It’s like iTunes for academic literature”

Well, how could I resist…?

Address Book to CSV

December 24th, 2004

There was some discussion on Mac OS X hints in recent months on how to export your Apple Address Book as comma-separated values for importing into things like Thunderbird.

I did some tweaks to Sean’s AddressBookToCSV script, and have since tweaked it a bit more. You can grab my current version here:
AB2CSV.zip

Apple Mail tip of the day

December 23rd, 2004

I’ve written before about one of my favourite features of Apple Mail – the ability to select multiple mailboxes at once and see a merged list of messages which you can sort, search etc. If I’m looking for all my correspondence on a particular subject or with a particular person, I’ll often select all my (6) inboxes, sent mail boxes, and probably a few archives as well, and then type into the search box. I’ve never seen this merging of mailboxes work so well on another mail viewer; it’s the main thing I miss when using the otherwise excellent Thunderbird.

Once you’re working within some search query or other particular view of your mail, though, how do you get back to your normal view to make a quick check on something else without losing your current setup? It’s easy, I’ve just realised. On the File menu there’s a ‘New Viewer Window’ option. This gives you a duplicate of the main window in which you can work completely independently, so you can pop up a new window for a particular search, have separate windows for working in different email accounts etc.

Streetmap UK Address Book Plug-in

December 21st, 2004

Mac users in the UK should like this; a plug-in for Address Book that lets you pop up a map of the location using Streetmap. Much nicer, in general, than the MapQuest ones, I think.

Honour

December 20th, 2004

Hey – after my post on Clerihews, Jim posted one about me! I’m honoured! I don’t think anyone’s written a poem with ‘Quentin Stafford-Fraser’ in it before. The nearest was my friend C.D. Happel, who, perhaps aware of my occasional attempts at dieting, came up with an anagram:

Feasters ain’t fun for Dr Q!