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mathematics, music & the golden ratio

A Long, Long Time Ago, I was having a conversation with a supergeek that took a wild tangential swing into the subjects of mathematics, music and the Golden Ratio.

Apparently, the relationship between a standard ‘break’ and rebuild, in tracks that are considered hits, is phi. This correlates strongly with something known as the ‘Amen Break’. Immerse yourself in a delightfully geeky and slightly subversive journey through teh interwebs, starting here.

Posted in thinking aloud.

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linux revisited

In an earlier post I rant about the usability of Linux distros in general.
Let me use a real world example to illustrate my case.

I’m endeavoring to switch a friend over (at her request) from Win 7 to a netbook flavour of Linux.

  • Totally reasonable logic #1: It comes with a slew of free software.
  • Totally reasonable logic #2: It’s more secure.

By jingo – she’s right! However, what she will not see behind the scenes is me attempting to get said Linux OS onto a USB pen drive to hand to her, to ‘effortlessly’ play as a live environment or install. I have lovingly handcrafted a diagram that sums up the experience so far:

Posted in rant.

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thought for the day

BBC News Magazine. Alain De Botton on why more information might mean we know less:

Posted in quicklinks.

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operating systems

Here is an ambition of mine, to help create a Linux Distro that’s actually properly useable. There is a space for this:

Posted in rant.

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readability vs recall

I heard an interesting article on the radio today about readability, and recall:

Neuroscience blogger Jonah Lehrer discusses his own gut feeling that we remember ugly fonts much more easily.

Which got me thinking about where ‘depth of processing’ as an effort/recall phenomenon ran into ‘extraneous cognitive load’, as you do.

In summary: Jonah was thinking aloud about how information presented with a serif typeface is easier to recall than information in sans-serif;  as our mind has to ‘work harder’ to process the information – and that ‘work’ may imprint the information deeper. There was a fun, unscientific test with the interviewer which supported Jonah’s feelings.

Thinking aloud – there must be a sliding scale where cognitive load moves from lowest/shallow processing, to highest/cognitive overload – with an optimum/learnable sweet spot inbetween:

It also made me ponder whether the ‘kindle effect’ as Jonah describes may also have something to do with our learned screen-reading behaviour – which is primarily to hunt, to scan. We’re learning to skip across large amounts of data to find relevant points – and it’s only natural to assume the brain becomes accustomed to dumping most of what we skim – or we would be overloaded.

How much of what you read on paper persists longer than info on-screen, I wonder?

Posted in thinking aloud.

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My recent holiday had one pitfall. That is, when I packed my bags I had grand plans for sketching some beautiful scenery on a Greek island, and I packed a ‘kit’ that had every type of pen and pencil I could possibly need, and a pad.

That kit was retrieved from the luggage halfway through the holiday, and used twice. This was a cause for immense frustration and embarrassment.

Why? I’m so rusty, so out of practice, that my sketches seemed naive and clumsy, full of errors. Like the kind of thing that wouldn’t even pass GCSE art. A sketch of the boat I hired the previous day was attempted twice. The first was scratchy and over-corrected. The second (in ink) bled into the paper and was uncontrolled.

Another – of a rocky coastline – was so half-hearted I didn’t even finish.

It’s terrible when you try and get back into this. So much over the last 5 years has been directly into software using a tablet, that I’ve slacked off from the traditional. This needs to change.

I just read an article by Jason Robb on UXBooth. This led me to buy Bill Buxton’s book ‘Sketching User Experiences’, but this paragraph by Jason struck home:

If you’re avoiding sketching because your sketches aren’t pretty, rest assured you’re not alone. I recommend breaking the habit by making 1 sketch, every day. Pick an object in your environment and draw it. Don’t erase and don’t be too critical. Do that for a month, and I guarantee you’ll be a better sketcher in 30 days.

I’m seriously considering accepting this challenge.

Posted in art.

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Paxos municipality wifi

Brilliant. Out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. On a small Ionian island with 500 inhabitants and 4 million olive trees. An ex-Venetian fishing village.

And we have wireless broadband that puts Virgin Media’s poxy 50mbps to shame. In every small village. Free of charge.

Should that be encouraging, or sad? I’m forcing myself not to update my facebook status every day, and my wife has asked me to stop uploading gloat photos of white beaches and fishing boats.

Ah well. Back on Tuesday. At least the Blackberry doesn’t work out here.

Posted in relaxation.

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the WordPress API key

In a ‘speakaloud’ approach to blog creation, I just wangled my way through a potentially confusing aspect to setting up a blog.

If you want decent stats (my hosting provider’s dashboard is overkill) and choose to use the wordpress stats plugin – or if you want to use the Akismet spam plugin – you need an API key.

So where do you get that from? Is it in the wordpress welcome email (like it should be)? No. Is it hiding somewhere in your settings, or on the dashboard? No.

You have to create a account, and it’s given to you. That’s right – a separate account on the wordpress-hosted domain you avoided by self-hosting in the first place.  This is only a mini-rant, I’m sure there are good reasons why this is the case, but if you want to understand the whole picture, save yourself a Google and read all about getting an API key here (Thanks Jeff).

Posted in setup.

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2 years away from mainstream? Not for us.

I’ve heard a lot of chatter on and off twitter about its usefulness and relevance. It’s one of those channels that’s polarised opinions, like Bebo (for kids), MySpace (teens and unsigned bands) and Orkut (no-one in particular). It’s yet to bed down, right?

Maybe. The Gartner Hype Cycle 2009 puts microblogging right on the precipice of the Trough of Disillusionment, ready to slide into a tide of negative press before being adopted by the mainstream:

So, 2 years in and it’ll have established itself? I think these time-frames are way off.

For instance, I’m nearly at the point where I’ll turn to twitter before any traditional news channels, and even before my RSS reader – for specialist news. Millions have already woken up to it’s exciting immediacy for breaking news. Any subsequent Big Events are going to see floods of viewers – and subsequent adopters – around on-the-ground gossip, reporting, pics & video. This is where the hook is.

I’ve been preaching “that social media is nothing without context” to whoever will listen for a while. Some media are tighter than others, in that the pretexts are more clearly defined. LinkedIn has a powerful focus – Facebook less so (dilution of purpose) – Twitter is a mechanism to:

  • Follow gossip around a topic
  • Follow the thoughts of <insert person or organisation of choice>

They’re nailing it. The premise is so simple. Where else can you so immediately and so easily tune in to the notions of the most relevant thought-leaders in your industry? The feeling of being right on the bleeding-edge of the latest developments is palpable, as is a feeling of intimacy and empathy – as domestic and informative tweets blur.

Clearly the Gartner Hype Cycle is the time it takes the median corporate adopters to find their tone of voice, and their proposition. 2 years may be realistic. Some may never get it. Marta Kagan and her presentation: “What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later” is a frankly realistic call for traditional marketeers to:

“stop thinking campaigns,
start thinking conversations.

The businesses with the clearest notion of how they should apply these tools to solve real problems (as opposed to using them for the sake of it) will emerge onto the Slope of Enlightenment ahead of the rest.

More on this later, I’m still forming my thoughts, but the best advice I have for you is get involved – if only as an observer… and choose who you follow carefully.

Posted in media.

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