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June 30, 2008

Patent as Strategy

CNET summarizes and links to a WSJ report [sub req'd] on Allied Security Trust, a consortium that includes Cisco, Verizon, HP, and more, which is buying patents as a strategy to protect their own patents. Allied claims they're doing this as a strategy to protect against patent trolls [wikipedia], who themselves purchase patents in order to launch legal proceedings against companies they claim are infringing on their (purchased) patents.

Makes your head sort of hurt, doesn't it? On the order of the Crimson Permanent Assurance?

[via CNET News.com]

June 28, 2008

Doug Coupland on Being Visual


Douglas Coupland at Granta on Visual Thinking.

Here’s a personal anecdote. Someone recently asked me what the most beautiful word I know is. I thought about it and the answer came quickly: my father used to have a floatplane with those call letters on the tailfin, ZRF — Zulu Romeo Foxtrot. The way these words look on paper is gorgeous; the images they conjure are fleeting, rich, colourful and unexpected. To savour the look of Zulu Romeo Foxtrot on a page is almost the sound of one hand clapping. The letter forms mean something beyond themselves, but the meaning is not empirical — and it’s pretty hard for me to imagine discussing this at a literary festival. Doug, there’s no verb.

Here’s another question I was recently asked: when I see words in my mind, what font are they in? The answer: Helvetica. What font do you think in? It’s a strange question, but you know what I’m getting at: how do you see actual words in your head as you think? Or do you see words at all? Is it a voice in your head? Do you see subtitles?

[via Daring Fireball]

June 27, 2008

Songs for the Deaf

John Moore reviews a My Bloody Valentine Concert and discusses music-listening as a full-body experience. (The comments section following the article is the expected but still somewhat amusing "If it's too loud, you're too old" versus "Wear earplugs, you moron" debate.

Too proud to reach for the earplugs, I lasted 10 minutes before nonchalantly making for the exit - pretending to have urgent business at the bar, then watched the stream of blasted, disoriented sonic refugees pouring out. I hope whoever is documenting these Roundhouse shows has the presence of mind to shoot footage of this. It would look hysterical speeded up.

[via things magazine]

June 26, 2008

Killing GSM Cellphone Buzz

Another one in the "I haven't tried this yet, but I plan to" category: MacLife reports that the buzz you may sometimes hear in your external speakers when they're too near (i.e., three or four feet) from your GSM cellphone can be tamed by attaching a small hunk of iron to your speaker cables. Many USB cables have a small, cylindrical ferrite bead (which acts as a passive damper on the cable) on them to prevent frequency noise in the cables. Apparently you can either cannibalize the beads from old USB cables or purchase them directly to attach to your own speaker cables.

I'm hoping that this trick can also be adapted to recording equipment, since that GSM buzz is also picked up by either the mic cables or the speaker cables and effectively trashes a recording.

Update: Or, there's the Red Bull iPhone Anti-Radio Interference Shield.

[via Lifehacker]

Applications on Paper

Deeplinking has paper sketches of early plans for sites and applications, including Flickr, Vimeo, Twitter (above), and more.

[via boing boing]

Community Standards in the Age of Search Engines

Google has long been used as a method for gauging public opinion (I use it frequently decide on how to spell a word—the variant with the most hits wins). A trial lawyer in Florida is now using Google search data to defend a client against obscenity by defining community standards based on queries entered into Google by users in the defendent's community. As the New York Times reports,

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

This is why lawyers make the big bucks.

June 25, 2008

CiteMe: Citation App for Facebook

I haven't tried it out yet, but WorldCat has released CiteMe, a Facebook app for generating bibliographic citations in MLA, APA, Chicago, and other styles. (Probably only useful for on-the-fly citations of one or two items; the main WorldCat site supports larger projects.

[via metafilter.com]

Realworld, Realtime Hacking of Pictures

Julius von Bismarck's Fulgurator [Google German to English translation] uses an old SLR camera and a flash gun (among other things) to project millisecond-long light patterns onto objects in synchronization with camera flashes. Von Bismark uses the device to insert images into photos people are taking; the photographers don't see the images in realtime because they're so brief, but they show up on the pictures being taken. Creepy in a cool way.

p>[via Gizmodo]

June 24, 2008

Microsoft Releases Mac Office 2004 Open XML Converters

If you've been dealing with the hassle of opening Microsoft Office 2007 (Windows) or 2008 (Mac) in your older, Mac 2004 version of Office, Microsoft has finally released the free converters you need to open those files.

As c|net points out, the side effect of Microsoft dragging their feet on this likely relates to the fact that they'd rather you upgraded to a new version of Office rather than continue to use your old one. I upgraded last year primarily so I could stop emailing people to ask them to re-save their documents in a compatible format, but I can't say there's any other feature of Office 2008 that I thought was worth upgrading for. (I've started working as much as possible in Pages, InDesign, or Dreamweaver, then sending people PDFs or URLs unless they need to edit rather than just read/comment, in which case I have to resort to Office. Luckily, that's not a common occurrence since my inability to play well with others means I don't collaborate very often.)

[via CNET News.com]

Architecture and Moral Order


Name-checking JG Ballard, TC Boyle, Neal Stephenson, Octavia Butler, and Italo Calvino (in only the first four paragraphs), Joanne McNeil discusses some of the world's strangest housing communities. A community of tiny houses in Virginia, a utopian community in India, a decaying pod city (above) in Taipai, and Sao Paulo's Alphaville:

“People at Eden-Olympia have no time for getting drunk together, for infidelities or rows with the girlfriends, no time for adulterous affairs or coveting their neighbor’s wives, no time ever for friends,” Wilder Penrose says in J. G. Ballard’s Super Cannes. The “great defect is that there is no need for personal morality. Thousands of people live and work here without making a single decision about right and wrong. The moral order is engineered into their lives along with the speed limits and the security systems.”

Ballardian (which links to McNeil's post) has some related links and discussion.

[via Ballardian]

June 21, 2008

A Day in Brands


The ad industry weblog Dear Jane Sample tracks a Typical Friday in Brands of one consumer (herself), displayed as logos over time. What's striking about this (like the 24-hour media diaries I sometimes ask mass media students to keep) is not how large the diaries are—and they are large—but the fact that these diaries are extremely incomplete in most cases—it'd be nearly impossible to actually get through a productive day while still tracking all of the mass media or branded products one interacts with. (The comments to the original post include links to some followup timelines by readers.)

[via things magazine]


Gas Pumps

In the last month, several people have looked at this image and commented not on the striking colors or arty, degraded reproduction aesthetic of Holga photography, but on the price listed on the gas pumps. They have a point.

June 20, 2008


Don't confuse legibility with communication.

—David Carson in Helvetica

AP, Fair Use, Weblogs

Robert Cox at the Media Bloggers Association has some interesting backstory on the whole Associated Press/Drudge Retort issue. Which is apparently a lot complicated than either the AP or the Drudge Retort (or anyone else) have portrayed it so far.

So, Drudge Retort got on AP's radar due to the posting of entire articles with exact headlines which all parties agreed constituted copyright violations two months BEFORE the most recent spate of DMCA Take Down Notices. Technically, Drudge Retort got onto AP's radar because those posts were flagged by software used by AP called Attributor. This is a data mining spider similar to the bots and web indexers used by search engines; content companies can use it to track the use of their content on the web. It is very important that people understand this because it makes clear that the AP is not on some wild rampage through the blogosphere, lawyering up to to go after every blogger who quotes an AP story in any way. Yet that is how this story has been portrayed including by a lot of people who should know better but are having too much fun bashing AP.

[via http://www.thepomoblog.com]

June 14, 2008

Design Basics

Just Creative Design has a nice, short overview of design basics: color, line, shape, scale/size, space, etc. One paragraph summaries and simple examples for each concept plus links to additional material.

[via etc.]

June 06, 2008

Tom Waits

Borrowed Beats: Missing Tom Waits Tour Edition.

[via Super Colossal]

Typewriter Holdouts

BBC News has a story on writers who still prefer typewriters. Most are old-school writers, like Frederick Forsyth:

There was the steel-cased portable he used as a foreign correspondent in the 1960s. "It had a crease across the lid which was done by a bullet in Biafra. It just kept tapping away. It didn't need power, it didn't need batteries, it didn't need recharging. One ribbon went back and forward and back until it was a rag, almost, and out came the dispatches."

I'm old enough to have spent the first part of my college career on a typewriter (at the same time I was learning computer programming, ironically), and I can honestly say that I still occasionally miss the typewriter. The simplicity is useful and, as several people in the article (and the comments) point out, the cognitive process differs because of the amount of commitment required. (Brother still apparently sells more than 12,000 typewriters annually in the UK.)

[via metafilter.com]

June 04, 2008

False Bus Stops for Alzheimer's Patients

According to the Telegraph, the Benrath Senior Centre in Düsseldorf set up a fake bus stop to help keep Alzheimer's patients from wandering too far. According to Franz-Josef Goebel, chair of an association that works with the Centre,

"They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home."

The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.

"We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later and invite them in for a coffee," said Richard Neureither, Benrath's director. "Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave."

Brilliant usability strategy, a distant relative to the reminders and other attention-grabbing artifacts most people create around themselves (post-its, notes on the fridge, marginal comments)—Alzheimer's is an extreme case, but not categorically different from more typical, routine memory loss and corresponding need for reminding.

[via The Morning News]

June 03, 2008

How IT Thinks About Users

From a ComputerWorld article discussing Apple's plans to make v 2.0 of iPhone conform to corporate IT needs:

"I have nothing against iPhone. It's great," says Manjit Singh, CIO at Chiquita Brands International Inc. "But we're a BlackBerry shop, and I don't think iPhone brings anything new to the table. It has a great user experience, but that's all."

Which sort of says it all. (To be fair, other IT analysts quoted in the article are a little more user oriented.)

[via Daring Fireball]