3 december 2004: instant flattery
flipsockgrrl @ gmail .com
Instant flattery: go on, give yourself a pat on the back. You know you deserve it. (thanks, Max)
The word 'blog' was the most looked-up term on the Merriam-Webster dictionary site this year. (thanks, Paul)
Frighteningly talented (and hard-working) Flipsock friend Ian Musgrave was chuffed this week to find that his astronomy site for amateurs, Southern Skywatch, won the Astronomy Australia 2005 Almanac's bronze medal for personal web site. Yay, Ian!
Ian also wrote a chapter in the recently-published book Why Intelligent Design Fails - A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis. Yay again!
Reckon you could do a better job of editing the shower scene from Psycho? Give it a whirl online, using the original footage. (requires Flash) (thanks, Trevor, who commented: "Maybe I'm a bit slow on the uptake, but why did Marion Crane only fight her attacker off using only one hand?")
As others see us: the BBC reports that "Locals in eastern Australia ravaged by a plague of locusts could now take the ultimate revenge - eating them. Two government workers have responded to the crisis by producing a specialist cookbook of more than 20 locust recipes called Cooking with Sky Prawns. Co-author Edward Joshua said the 'home delivery bush food' was nutritionally superior to beef." (thanks, Paul)
Perhaps I've not been paying attention, but I didn't know we had a locust plague at the moment. There was much more hype about the May infestation in Washington DC: see the Washington Post's web site for news stories, science articles, videos, recipes, animations and lots more about cicadas.
This quiz asks you to guess from photos whether each of 10 men is a computer programmer or a mass murderer/serial killer. (Shockwave/Flash and sound) (thanks, Trevor)
If you love your books, set them free. Then track their progress as other people pick them up, read them and pass them on to strangers. (thanks, Trevor)
3 December 2004 | top of page
In Canada they've been experimenting with Citizen Deliberative Councils, temporary groups "convened to deliberate about public concerns (either about a specific issue or the general state of the community and its future) and to provide guidance for officials and the public."
In January last year, China had about 2000 bloggers. Now googling "bo ke" (a neologism for blogger) will return more than two million results. Authorities still try to suppress certain news stories and topics, but there are simply too many blogs for the Great Firewall to be effective any more.
Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency chief Kevin Roberts has written a book about brands that "inspire loyalty beyond reason." It may be a whole new paradigm for advertising; more probably it's a recipe for imitating and marketing the qualities that make admire a product, place, service or idea.
Jaw-droppingly intricate and handsome origami patterns: make a lion, a sea urchin, a dragonfly, an octopus, a minotaur, a mermaid...
How to write better headings and summaries for your web pages.
Interview with James Ellroy: "I like wholesome, homogenous, peaceful surroundings and amenable people."
Spring flowers in the Arizona desert. Aaawww.
Someone's been spraying Afghanistan's poppy crop, and the Afghani government is not happy. It's not only the money: aerial spraying causes health problems for people on the ground.
Fun with Flash: the Zoom Quilt is a collaborative art project that lets you zoom forwards and backwards through through endless surreal and fantastical scenery. (Flash, AVI, HTML or Windows screensaver versions)
Pharmaceutical companies routinely keep their research data to themselves, and they have been criticised for not allowing independent peer review of their results. University academics are also implicated: they often sign confidentiality clauses in exchange for research funding. (New York Times article, registration required. Username = flipsock, password = sneedle)
"In the genial world of university fund-raising, clashes between donors and beneficiaries are rare... But in recent years a few noisy disputes at major universities like Yale and Princeton--where US$600 million is at stake--have had a powerful effect on the fund-raising game, prodding donors to become more vigilant and universities to become unusually careful about accepting gifts at a time when institutions are particularly hungry for them." (New York Times article, registration required. Username = flipsock, password = sneedle)
Australian universities are learning from Americans about how to win friends--and funds--among their alumni.
"Our [high-tech] marketing ventures, despite normally promising starts, drift off course in puzzling ways, eventually causing unexpected and unnerving gaps in sales revenues, and sooner or later leading management to undertake some desperate remedy..." Moore's 'chasm' explains why this happens, and how to avoid it by communicating with the right people at the right time.
Matt Jones is tired of technology conferences rehashing the same old (if worthy) ideas: copyright, social software, weblogs, web services et cetera, et cetera. Where are the "genuine outbreaks of the future"?
Only a few weeks until New Year... what do you want to do with your life? The 43 Things creators say: "by writing down your goals you greatly increase the chances of actually completing them. Part of it is just knowing what your goals are. Another is being able to hold yourself accountable. Here’s a place to write down some things you want to do with this life, look at what other people want to do, and generally think about what makes life exciting for you."
University rankings make good newspaper copy. They're hardly objective, though: the criteria tend to reflect trends in thinking about higher education, and points are awarded differently in each list.
One of the best ways to understand the challenges of making a good game is to study board-game design. Clive Thompson did that, and found a good game design is an intricate balance of psychology, philosophy, sociology, graphic design and engineering.
"The Australian" newspaper has announced the winners of its annual university teaching awards.
The genetic code was cracked 40 years ago, and we still don't fully understand it. "Why this particular code, rather than some other? Given 64 codons and 20 amino acids plus a punctuation mark, there are 10^83 possible genetic codes. What's so special about the one code that--with a few minor variations--rules all life on Planet Earth?"
BBC World Service has promised to deliver RSS 1.0 (RDF) feeds for content syndication in 30 languages.
Powerpoint makes designing a business presentation very easy. Too easy, say some: it encourages intellectual laziness in the author and boredom in the audience.
The Goethe Institute opened a branch office in June; now pictures of the Beloved Leader are being removed from public display. What's going on in North Korea?
"Usability culture has unquestionably made the Web a much more usable place. Given the way the Web generally worked just five years ago, the role of usability and related disciplines to the evolution of the Web was vital," says Dirk Knemeyer. Now the 'usability culture' is well established, it's time to make room for other design elements.
"Every time someone makes a list, be it on a blog like Kottke’s or a list of groceries, content is aggregated. The act of aggregating content... makes it more understandable. Instead of looking at a whole field of information, you choose smaller, more logical subsets of it in the hopes of understanding those." Whether it's a weblog or a database-driven web site, when you join together bits of content it has an effect on how users navigate through the site.
The Fairfax media company is getting the hang of aggregation: taking a cue from Google News, Fairfax Online has started providing links to headline stories from its own and other newspapers.
2 December 2004 | top of page
In the new Robert Zemeckis film, "The Polar Express", Chris Van Allsburg’s "dreamy illustrations are animated by way of a new three-dimensional CGI technology called 'performance capture.' Chris van Allsburg's site has examples of his beautiful black-and-white drawings, information about his books and (for the true fans) a treasure hunt. (Flash and sound) (thanks, Tania)
Pixar's witty, demented parody of celebrity hero-worship, "The Incredibles", doesn't use performance capture. Instead, says Jessica Helfand, "What’s incredible about The Incredibles is the art of design capture... special effects are only half the battle and, at Pixar, they’re the second half... at Pixar, the play’s the thing."
In The Steamroller of Branding, Nick Bell "mounts a provocative attack on the encroachment of branding into the world of culture, where museums and performing arts centers increasingly present themselves using the same visual tactics as major corporations and consumer goods companies." He identifies two types of designer, the "agents of neutrality" who are complicit in the sell-out and the "aesthetes of style" who resist.
Branding the British university: a market researcher's report on how universities market themselves.
The 'branding' disease continues to spread: "When the vocabulary of a nation's foreign policy is the vocabulary of branding, then it is, in fact, selling Uncle Ben's Rice. This transaction, with the vocabulary of the supermarket counter, is not how I envision my country speaking to the rest of the world."
The web designer's lament: "I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR." Open source products and coding standards need better documentation.
There's a danger in making interfaces too simple: we could forget how to think for ourselves, or miss important nuances.
Faceted navigation helps users to easily find what they’re looking for, while also helping you manage large collections of information. Faceted navigation organises information in multiple dimensions: for example, it allows you to search for an expert by facets like name, project, company or date, or by some combination of those facets, selected in any sequence. It's a surprisingly efficient way of organising information: in info-management speak, "Four facets of 10 nodes each have the same discriminatory power as one taxonomy of 10,000 nodes."
Griffith University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis gave a speech at Melbourne University this week (full text is available as a PDF). He says the Dawkins era of single-tier higher education is coming to an end and "are on the threshold of radical change." Three things will significantly change the Australian university sector over the next few years:
"National Protocols for Higher Education Approval Processes," a report by Gus Guthrie, discusses how to let private companies provide education in Australia. It was released earlier this month by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, with indications that private providers will be able to start enrolling students sooner rather than later.
Former education minister John Dawkins agrees with Davis's proposal that some universities should be allowed to focus on teaching without the research obligation.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne has ranked Australia's 39 universities against six broad measures of 'international standing'. "The Australian" newspaper is delighted, and says 'useful rankings are here to stay'. Part of the delight comes from the credibility a newspaper gains from trumpeting such rankings, not to mention the possible PR spinoffs for The Oz's line of "Good Unviersities Guide" publications.
RMIT University has sacked its chief finance officer, and predicts up to 50 non-academic staff will be made redundant.
Too many unread items in your mailbox? Get organised, and you'll feel much more relaxed.
"A government agency unveils its new logo. A geometric abstraction, it intrigues some but baffles many. Eventually, the inevitable question: my tax money paid for this?"
The popularity of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" arises from a collective "desire for a kind of meaningfulness to life that is missing for most of us... Through this novel we express our fundamental disgust with our institutionalised lives, and we suggest shocking things that we might previously have imagined were unsayable."
As a child, Richard Dawkins never cared for science or the natural world--until he encountered Hugh Lofting's "Dr Doolittle". Stephen Jay Gould credited a museum exhibition of Tyrannosaurus rex for his entry to the world of palaeontology. We all tell our own creation myths about the things that matter in our lives.
The Museum of Modern Art set out to "celebrate the shaping machine, the template, the big production run... All were parts in the great symphony of a new culture, the total Gesamtkunstwerk (phew) whose very existence proved the uniqueness of Modernity... And now that we have no living figures analogous to Picasso or Matisse, and the heroic (not to say pious) legends of modernist creativity have receded into the storybook past, can the idea of 'modern art' be maintained in a museum's name?"
"The daemons of the monotheisms are essentially self-less. They have more authority than mere 'messengers', but a marginal kind of autonomy. Above all, they have no long-term relationships, no contract, no covenant, no faith. They are metaphysical butterflies, essentially promiscuous."
A national US study finds only about 11 per cent of full-time students say they spend more than 25 hours per week preparing for classes--the amount of time academics say is necessary to succeed at university. About 40 per cent of students say they earn mostly A's, with 41 per cent reporting that they earn mostly B's.
"Scientific research, like other cooperative endeavors, requires trust to flourish," says Caroline Whitbeck, and trust depends on how you behave towards others as well as how well you do your work. "Scientists should be concerned with being both good people (ethically concerned and involved citizens) and good scientific investigators (proficient investigators who do good science)."
Even the most profound accounts of World War I "can leave one feeling drained and confused. Something about the horror of the event--its sheer bloated repulsiveness--produces a cognitive impasse, a scrambling of mental circuits... We can't think too hard about what the war was because to do so is also to think ahead: toward our own dissolution. The corpse in the mud... is always one's own."
Think of any piece of music you know and 'play' it in your head. Where in the brain is the music playing? What is it doing to you?
A digital atlas of New York City shows population, ancestry, income, adult education levels, household types and commuter behavior.
It sounds easy... but do you really know how to fold a t-shirt neatly? Click the picture to see a demonstration of how to do it in three seconds.
Beware the dodgy excuse, the fudging of truth: words are "our tools, and, as a minimum, we should use clean tools: we should know what we mean and what we do not, and we must forearm ourselves against the traps that language sets us." (via JOHO the Blog)
The dao of web design: "Now is the time for the medium of the web to outgrow its origins in the printed page. Not to abandon so much wisdom and experience, but to also chart its own course, where appropriate. The web’s greatest strength, I believe, is often seen as a limitation, as a defect. It is the nature of the web to be flexible, and it should be our role as designers and developers to embrace this flexibility, and produce pages which, by being flexible, are accessible to all. The journey begins by letting go of control..." (thanks, Yun-Joo)
Web development mistakes, and how to avoid or fix them: span-mania, non-semantic markup, bad forms, old-skool HTML... (thanks, Yun-Joo)
Wow, those computer engineering students at University of South Australia get to do all the cool projects. Real-life Quake, anyone?
26 November 2004 | top of page
17 Dec: the
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