Friday, September 3, 2010

Surviving project cancellations

Contrary to Civilization II, you don't need a habitation module to have a non-zero chance of success in space.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Useful Keyword Quick Searches

Chrome's default location bar behavior is the closest I've gotten to the mythical 'do what I want' in a browser.  While there are extensions for Firefox that can mimic this, I instead have it set up to do something even more useful.  When I know exactly what I want to find, I can specify what domain I want to search to get better results than letting the browser, or Google, figure it out.

For the uninitiated, the magic of keyword quick searches involves typing out a keyword - a few letters or a word - before your search query in the location bar.  The keyword tells your browser which site's search you want to use.  I'll run through how to set them up in Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, then offer some keywords that I use.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Power of Ten

I consider myself pretty good at getting a sense of scale from facts and figures, even when the reality is that it tends to get really hard over around 10,000 and break down over a million or so.

This infographic at visualeconomics really drives home how thoroughly it breaks down.  I know $100 billion is really a lot of money.  I know in my head that just 0.1% of that is $100 million, which is still a ridiculous amount of money.  But I don't think I really knew it at a gut level until scrolling through that image.  And it reminds me that there are probably a lot of other things where that's true.

On the flip side of things, this slide remains the worst infographic I have ever seen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Project Kickoff Tips, part 1

I've helped kick off a few software consulting projects lately, and thought it might be helpful to share what I've learned so far. For the first article in this series, I'll focus on what we've found useful to bring in on the first day.

First, make sure to have the essential information ready. It seems obvious, but I'm going to go over a lot of things that sound obvious in this series. They can be so obvious that it's easy to overlook them, or they may not be obvious to everyone. You should have the initial story list, location, and contact information prepared. One thing I've sometimes found helpful is to meet up at an external location before the first day, talk strategy a bit, and walk in as a group.

Then there's the meeting box. It's a convenient way to keep track of all of the things you want to bring along at first. You can also easily carry it to any meeting rooms, so you're never without your tools. Its typical contents, in rough order of importance, are:

Monday, August 2, 2010

As We May Realize

Vannevar Bush's post-war article that introduced the concept of hypertext, As We May Think, was published in Atlantic magazine in 1945, sixty-five years ago.  I'd heard of it, but never sat down and read it until today.

Like many good futurist predictions, it can be eerie how much it gets right, and all too easy to gloss over how much it gets wrong.  For example, he's convinced that microfilm, rather than CRTs and their descendants, will be the medium of choice.  Speech recognition and generation being 'easy' problems to solve is another common mistake.  It took nearly fifty-five years to make generation start sounding natural, and speech recognition is so hard that its first practical application is the nascent Google Voice.

In fact, that's the thing that strikes me the most about this article.  A significant amount of his predictions didn't come true until this decade.  Hyperlinks may have gotten their start in the nineties, but camera phones, e-readers, Wikipedia, online shopping, and social networks only took off recently.  It amazes me how much of a different experience it would be reading this for the first time in, say, 1997, when hyperlinks and pocket calculators were the main predictions it got right.

Friday, January 8, 2010


As a fan of dilapidated building pictures in general, these photos of the dilapidated Biosphere 2 were a real treat.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves this time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


A Gothamist link alerted me to an interesting blog post about a photographer in the '40s. But to me, the highlight was this 1947 New Yorker article describing the television in its native habitat. The social niceties surrounding a nascent technology still far from mass adoption. It's an interesting medium to consider. All it really offered was a combination of movies and radio, which were certainly entrenched by then.

I was fascinated by what they thought could be done with this new medium, and how early the major concepts arose. Made-for-TV movies, game shows, nature documentaries, cooking shows, and live sports broadcasts, constantly interrupted by commercials. Broadcast in New York by NBC, CBS, and... ABD? The author probes at calling it 'telecasting', although the word 'broadcasting' is already in use, probably by radio. Why bother selling a new term when you can co-opt the old one?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


What are Jesse keys? Jesse keys refers to remapping default keybindings to other keys that are more convenient, but less intuitive. The phrase originated from people's frustrated exclamations when they tried to play games on my computer. This is from when I was in school and my computer was much more public than it is now.

The canonical example of Jesse keys is the use of ESDF to move around instead of the standard WASD. There are many good reasons for doing it this way. For one, your index finger rests on the F, just like when you're typing. It also frees up your left pinky to easily hit the A key, and adds G, T, and V to the list of easily reachable keys. The major downsides are a brief moment of confusion when switching to a game that doesn't support remapping keys, and about five minutes setting up the keys for a new game.

There are other themes common to Jesse keys. For example, 'map', 'inventory', and 'quest log' tend to sit on M, I, and L, respectively. They are typically used often enough that I move them closer to the movement keys at the cost of the mnemonics.  (I usually move quest log to Q.  Why isn't it Q by default?  Because Q and E are almost always 'strafe left' and 'strafe right' in the standard WASD layout.)

The principle also extends to work. However, given the meta-key-laden bindings of an IDE, the typical remap looks more like moving 'run context configuration' from Ctrl+Shift+F10 to the one-handed Ctrl+Shift+A.  And instead of removing the old bindings, I leave them intact so that it's easier to use my computer without special knowledge.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do you like my hat?

I bought a hat the other day. I found a nice display of them while browsing some after-Christmas sales. When I tried on the ones I liked, I was surprised to find one that both looked good and fit me. My head's pretty big and my hairstyle isn't one that often works well with hats, so that was a rarity. In fact, I haven't regularly worn a hat since a misguided interest in baseball caps when I was a kid.

Wearing it has been interesting. I'm not used to wearing a hat, and this one changes my silhouette strikingly. People look at me more. I also expect people to look at me more, causing me to look at people more. I try to be armed with a smile for when people look. Some combination of the more frequent, positive casual interactions and the smiling is making me happier. It's also causing me to make eye contact more often, an area I wanted to improve on. The best part is, the side effects were purely serendipitous; I wasn't expecting anything like this to happen.

And now that the idea's been planted in your head, you don't even need to randomly stumble upon a secret to more social confidence. When you want to try it out, start regularly wearing something that makes you stand out in a small, pleasant way, and go with it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Future Soon

Something about ringing in a new decade brings the prognosticators out of the woodwork.  "Here's what life will be like ten years from now!", they say.  If they're really ambitious, they might project twenty, thirty, or even fifty years ahead.  (Futurism has gone in an interesting direction lately, with predictions split cleanly between post-apocalyptic and singular.)

But given the unbelievable rate of change over the last century, looking a hundred years into the future feels like a fool's errand.  That's part of why it's so interesting that we can peek into the minds of the futurists of 1900 through this article.  To those who rightfully have their doubts about its authenticity, here's a scan of the original; it's also available via microfiche.

There's a lot of eerily prescient predictions there, plus a lot that get a concept right but miss the implications.  There are also a few that are way off due to the public rejection of eugenics.

The one that really stood out to me, and made the article ring false to some, is predicting the average life expectancy increasing from thirty-five to fifty years.  Near as we can tell, it was already fifty by then.  Regardless, it still boggles my mind that at the end of the average lifespan two centuries ago, a person today hasn't entered "middle age" yet.  The increase in how much a person can do within their lifespan is staggering to consider.