sneedle flipsock

21 May 2004: incompitnce [sic]

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This week:


Neil Gaiman is so cool

Proving that he's a really nice guy, Neil Gaiman has posted a Sandman script for free on his web site, just so that some twerp can't rip you off by selling it for a fortune on eBay.

20 May 2004 | top of page

Miss Otis regrets

I can't come to your party because I have athazagoraphobia.

thanks, Claire

20 May 2004 | top of page

Macromedia boards the Cluetrain

The Cluetrain Manifesto is about the radical idea that, in order to be successful in this networked world, organisations need to talk in real human voices to their customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders--business as conversation, in essence.

These days three of the four Cluetrain authors--David, Chris and Doc--are high-profile webloggers themselves.

Many BBC staff, like Martin Belam, maintain private blogs, as do staff at software company Macromedia:

"For Macromedia, the benefits of blogs are not just an opportunity to announce that, much to popular disbelief, we do try to bake our own French bread and eat it too. Blogs give us the fantastic opportunity to mass communicate directly and quickly with our customers, in an easy-to-read format, without going through slow corporate processes. While Macromedia's online forums are also a very popular method for discussing our products, the blogs give our community managers centralized areas where they can each point out the top topics that they're seeing in the community on a daily basis."

Kudos to Macromedia for understanding that its organisation and its geeky audience are both made up of real people who passionately love their work and want to communicate constructively about it. More power to 'em.

Once upon a time, in the olden days of the 1990s, Sun Microsystems developers used to talk to external programmers via Internet forums. In an episode that became a classic illustrative tale for knowledge management experts worldwide, some bright spark in Sun's upper echelons decided the developers should concentrate on developing. Interaction with programmers (that is, potential customers) would be handled more professionally by experienced communicators from the sales/marketing area.

Result 1: Sun lost lots of goodwill among its customers, along with a lot of market intelligence about what its new software product (Java) would need to deliver in order to be successful.

Result 2: Customers' complaints, and conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for the new product and the corporatespeak marketese that came with it, convinced Sun to reverse the original decision. Java has since become one of the more successful programming environments for large-scale, complex computer systems.

I'm retelling the Sun story from memory, and may have a couple of finer details wrong: let me know if you need an authoritative source, and I'll dig up the relevant book.

via martin belam

20 May 2004 | top of page

Looking at the big picture

Reviewing a book about string theory and cosmology, Freeman Dyson makes some observations about the broad area of 'communicating science' and when it's OK to be wrong:

"I recommend Greene's book to any nonexpert reader who wants an up-to-date account of theoretical physics, written in colloquial language that anyone can understand. For the nonexpert reader, my doubts and hesitations are unimportant. It is not important whether Greene's picture of the universe will turn out to be technically accurate. The important thing is that his picture is coherent and intelligible and consistent with recent observations. Even if many of the details later turn out to be wrong, the picture is a big step toward understanding. Progress in science is often built on wrong theories that are later corrected. It is better to be wrong than to be vague. Greene's book explains to the nonexpert reader two essential themes of modern science. First it describes the historical path of observation and theory that led from Newton and Galileo in the seventeenth century to Einstein and Stephen Hawking in the twentieth. Then it shows us the style of thinking that led beyond Einstein and Hawking to the fashionable theories of today. The history and the style of thinking are authentic, whether or not the fashionable theories are here to stay."

When it's done well, the practice of science often produces theories that are later found to be wrong. That doesn't make them bad theories, only less-informed ones than the improved theories that replace them.

Being wrong about the *data*, on the other hand, is bad science and should be exposed, criticised and corrected at every opportunity. (cf the continuing controversy about Bruce Hall at the University of NSW)

20 May 2004 | top of page

Incompitnce [sic]

On the Science-Matters list, Peter recommended Sorry, You Forgot To Give Me A Lobotomy With My Nametag, the sad (and hilarious) story of what happened recently to an employee an American supermarket.

(Note to self: remember the sock-puppet idea, it may be useful...)

Lest you think the above story is fiction, note this article in the Washington Post, January 2004. Summary: Schools in Nashville (Tennessee, USA) have stopped posting the names of high achievers on honor boards, because some parents complained that kids who didn't make the list might feel stupid.

See also the "And another thing" section of today's "The Age" letters page, where one Noel Butterfield of Box Hill South says, in toto:

The Premier's VCE Awards are obscene (The Age, 19/5). As a Labor Premier and former teacher, Steve Bracks might have chosen a more comprehensive range of criteria than just academic excellence--including acknowledging the achievement of the underdog.

A short version of the original article is available. Of the five students profiled in the article, three were from public schools and two were from the country (Horsham and Wodonga)--two factors that are not normally, or necessarily, indicators of privilege in secondary school. Achieving near-perfect assessment results in five subjects is not easy, no matter how brainy one is. And NB: the VCE uses a combination of assessment techniques over two full years, not just 'academic' exams at the end of Year 12.

Yet Butterfield feels justified in applying the word "obscene" to the awards these kids won, and by association smearing the kids themselves with his assumptions and prejudices.

I've just inhaled Rob (Red Dwarf) Grant's very funny 2003 novel, "Incompetence", which is about much the same sort of subject matter. He postulates a Kafkaesque European Union where it's illegal for employers to discriminate against people who are stupid.

Complications ensue, as does hilarity as secret agent Cardew Vascular tries to track down a spykiller while retaining possession of his leather shoes (a rare commodity in a world where footwear is more typically made of carrots or zucchini.

Grant's book *is* fiction. Sadly, this next story is not:

"George W. Bush's January 14 speech at NASA headquarters, in which he set the manned space program on a new trajectory, was an oddly dissociated event... The President, adopting his customary tank-window squint, briefly praised shuttle astronauts for conducting 'important research' and helping to build the International Space Station—and then enthused about the 'stunning images' from NASA space telescopes and the investigations being conducted by its probes of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The odd thing was that aside from Bush's tip of the hat to the shuttle and the station—whose death warrants he was signing—all the triumphs he cited were the work of unmanned robotic spacecraft... It is as if sixteenth-century Spain, three decades after Columbus, lacked a single ship capable of venturing out of sight of land."

I fear the stupidity disease may spread, to the detriment of us all.

20 May 2004 | top of page


Students in regional areas fear going to university because they are worried about accumulating HECS debts and cannot afford to live away from home, a report commissioned by the Howard Government has found.

A rare success story: last year the University of Queensland's successful commercialisation company, Uniquest, set up a subsidary, QRx Pharma, which is on the verge of breaking into the US drug market. They're probably well aware of the 10 types of innovation available to any company.

20 May 2004 | top of page


Patricia Piccincini's mythical beasts are the stuff of Big Name Contemporary Art.

A Worth100 competition for Photoshop amateurs shows Piccincini has some serious competition when it comes to creating strange, intriguing, disturbing and beautiful chimeras like the Triaviorum Grandorum (pictured, right), the horned fishbird and the emperor seamonkey.

Some sort of frog has decided its preferred evening entertainment is to sit in the shrubbery under my lounge-room window and sing a few old favorites. The recital seems to start at about 7.00 pm and finishes at around 11.00 pm and, as far as I can tell, is a solo performance. Rather lovely :-)

Its call is similar to that of the southern brown (Ewing's) tree frog which, despite the name, lives in marshes and wetlands. I live at the top of a hill, so there's not much moisture around my place. The nearest wetland is about 1 km away, at the bottom of the hill.

This frog is definitely *not* living in the water-lily tub out the back of the house, and there are no other ponds or pools in the immediate vicinity (ie my or my neighbors' gardens), so where the frog comes from and where it goes after the show is a bit of a mystery.

I suspect this frog watches ABC TV through the loungeroom window: it turned up a couple of days *after* the ABC's backyard wildlife survey closed, and so will remain forever anonymous.


19 May 2004 | top of page

Saint Pantone

Meet Saint Pantone, patron of pretty colors and office pets, and of the Flemish city of Cmyk.

In Melbourne, Stephen Banham has a reputation as the man who hates Helvetica. He's better known to some Sneedle Flipsock readers as the creator of the RMIT logo with the pixellated dot. His new book of true and tall stories about typography sounds like a hoot.

19 May 2004 | top of page


Feeling nerdily smug this morning, having completed the first step in fulfilling a 2004 New Year's resolution. I resolved to learn how to do cryptic crosswords, and have been buying The Age every day, attempting the cryptic and then the next day checking clues against answers to find out how the various compilers think.

And this morning I filled in all 52 answers, all by myself. Yay :-)

The next part of the challenge is to successfully complete the Age cryptic crossword on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday--all by the end of 2004.

Onward ho!

19 May 2004 | top of page


"I noticed how outraged you were to not get a writing credit on 'Cable Guy' until it came out and was panned. You dropped that cause like the showbiz weasel you are." So there.

Bunnies re-enact Kubrick's "The Shining" in 30 seconds. (Requires Flash and sound) (Thanks, Warren)

"All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn," said Virginia Woolf, "...for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she--shady and amorous as she was--who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits."

Something about the romance genre brings out the worst in book designers. (Thanks, Fraser)

Proust is literature, VC Andrews is not. They read trash, you read fiction--I read literature. Is it useful to think about games as a form of storytelling?

19 May 2004 | top of page

Webby winners

The Webby Awards have happened again. The industry and audience awards for best 'humorous' web site both went to The Onion, a university student newspaper that went national and then digital and continues to inspire undergraduate-style laughter around the world every Wednesday.

Other old faves collecting yet more awards include Google (best practice and services) and eBay (commerce). The BBC picked up gongs for education, news and sport. The Apple iTunes online store collected three awards.

Surprisingly, given that the Webbies are mostly voted on by Americans, Aljazeera.Net was nominated in the news category.

Holding up the Antipodean reputation, Brisbane City Council was nominated in the government and law category and Lonely Planet was the people's choice for travel. Pure New Zealand was nominated in the latter category. won both the judges' and people's awards in the weird category. The site is a gallery of photos of skinny long-haired women (you know, the model type) pretending to have gotten their cars stuck in a variety of bogs, snowdrifts and other tricky situations. It's the cleanest porn/fetish site I've ever seen.

via Poynter's E-Media Tidbits

18 May 2004 | top of page

What was that?

Eighty per cent of American adults lack enough knowledge to understand a science report in a mainstream newspaper. It's a rare scientist who's able to translate quantum physics into a metaphorical goldfish bowl and thereby effectively communicate science to lay people.

via Poynter's E-Media Tidbits

18 May 2004 | top of page

I'd like to thank the auteur

"Becoming famous, as anyone who watches the Academy Awards knows full well, means being gracious about thanking your many wonderful collaborators while making absolutely sure the spotlight stays focused on you." When it comes to handing out gongs, screenwriters and graphic designers alike tend to be lost in the background scenery.

18 May 2004 | top of page

First editions

The architecture book "Learning from Las Vegas, as designed by Muriel Cooper, was a deeply layered experience befitting the underlying argument of this text. Whatever we think of postmodernism today, this book was a fundamentally radical design in 1972 — one that quite literally upset the apple cart of Swiss modernism."

The book's authors were criticising 'monumentalism' in architecture; some readers believe Cooper's design for the first edition of the book also critiqued the monumental mindset (and the irony that the book was destined to become a classic in its genre). Yet the authors so hated the design of the hardcover first edition that they insisted on designing the paperback edition themselves.

The first edition is now worth about US$3500 as a collector's item, and debate continues about whether its design was appropriately developed and implemented.

Aside: in designing a literary magazine "The challenge is to use design as a beacon and framing device, then to let good writing cast its spell."

[While we're mentioning monumentalism, do visit Biscuithenge if you can spare a few minutes.]

18 May 2004 | top of page

Web renovations

The word 'redesign' can strike fear into any web manager’s heart, especially as budgets shrink and ambitions continue to grow. If time is not pressing, consider taking a 'renovation' approach, redesigning the site in sections and introducing tools that will make future redesigns easier.

Richard McManus reviews the evolution of corporate web sites. I expected his article to finish with some clear predictions about where current trends are taking us: using the web as an interface between ERM systems and staff, for instance, or as a way of accessing staff training and 'knowledge management' resources. Everywhere I look, it seems there's somebody playing with a new portal product, or writing an API so that system A can talk to system B, or looking at other ways to create value by linking independent IT systems together.

18 May 2004 | top of page

In search of a word

Troy is wrestling with ideas about marketing and futurism, and reckons we need a new word to describe the grey area where they overlap.

Meanwhile, in India, the BJP proves that having a big campaign budget and rebranding a country won't necessarily attract the votes you need to stay in power. How very Cluetrain.

18 May 2004 | top of page

Skiffle kittens!

They're rather good :-) (Requires Shockwave and sound)

18 May 2004 | top of page

Powerful searching made simple provides a simple way to take advantage of Google's powerful web searching capabilities. With a simple form you can search for different document formats, pages within a site or images; target French or English pages; translate a page or browse through a directory of "the best sites selected by humans".

This last concept is interesting: instead of providing you with a long, multi-page list of search results, arranges links in a single, multi-column page. See, for example, the page on Douglas Adams (in the literature section), where 117 relevant links are displayed on a single page. That results page is itself searchable using a search box at the top of the left-hand column. As well, you can use the menu items at the top of the page to sort by popularity, title or freshness, and to select the number of columns you see on the page.

Egoboo: I found CBEL's Douglas Adams page while Googling for Sneedle Flipsock. Apparently my review of "The Salmon of Doubt" is among the 117 'best' pages about DNA :-)

18 May 2004 | top of page

Pingu's headache, your entertainment

Last month (1 April) we brought you the orca penguin splat game (requires Shockwave). Now Katherine with a K has found a whole floe of Pingu games: it's the Yeti Sports World Tour 2004.

Thanks, Katherine with a K

18 May 2004 | top of page

Travelling incognito

As well as being lost, this semi-fluffy cat seems to have some identity problems.

Thanks, Trevor

18 May 2004 | top of page

Danger, Will Robinson

The seventh annual MLaw awards for wacky warning labels was won by a bottle of drain cleaner that includes this instruction on its label: "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product."

18 May 2004 | top of page

last week's stuff



2004 flipsocks:

17 Dec: the sock has flipped
10 Dec: anything anywhere any time
3 Dec: instant flattery
26 Nov: the steamroller of branding
19 Nov: fried v rice
5 Nov: the page with no name
29 Oct: and then there were none
22 Oct: filled with naughty laughter
15 Oct: get souls and disconcert the public
8 Oct: ooh, aah, ooh
1 Oct: pinch and a punch
24 Sep: design is the new art
17 Sep: footsteps of Aeneas
10 Sep: slow art, viral aesthetic
3 Sep: I can see your house from here
27 Aug: forever blowing bubbles
20 Aug: jargon for the digital age
13 Aug: beautiful plumage, the Norwegian blue
6 Aug: brokenated terribility
23 Jul: Alice underground
16 Jul: color-coded
2 Jul: for so long treated as nouns
25 Jun: looking for love, echidna-style
18 Jun: joy-to-stuff ratio
11 Jun: fun's fun but a girl can't dance all night
4 Jun: pink dinosaur
28 May: two people every minute
21 May: incompitnce [sic]
14 May: zygomatic smile
5 May: mailbox
30 Apr: bananaguard
23 Apr: mmmmmWAH!
15 Apr: playtime
8 Apr: googlewhack
2 Apr: we wish to inform you...
18 Mar: daffy dills
12 Mar: echo chamber
9 Jan: refund profologies


Also on this site:

about this site
home page

who is geoffrey ebert?
testing for the fun factor
chicken at the (higher education) crossroads
crawford's theory of interactivity

home-page real-estate wars
the eagle has landed

must-reads for web people
recent reads

pop-culture quotes

they shoulda been words

lemon and rosemary risotto

Written In Blood by Chris Lawson
The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams

Without whom (web):

frankenstein journal (Chris)
tbn97 (Troy)
webster's encyclopedia [sic]
science playwiths (Peter) (Neroli)
Maverick IT network consultants (Rick)
Look! There's a castle! (Brent)
Cairns Corporation (Gerald)
Homosapien Books (Julie and Bruce)
Southern Sky Watch (Ian)
Panda's Thumb (Ian again)
ABC Science-Matters (official)
science-matters (unofficial)
Bovios (Alex Burns)
Lee Battersby
Little Malop Gallery
Digest of Usability Resources and News (Dey)
WooWooWoo (Andrew)



Without whom (also):

Ramona P Lovechild
Katherine with a K
Katherine (no relation)
Claire (no relation)
Toby and Jann
Paul, Warren, Dr K and The New Reality


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