Friday, March 27, 2009

What Does It All Mean?

Human beings, or homo sapiens sapiens, as anthropologists jokingly like to call us, are generally thought to be more intelligent than other animals and most vegetables. One side effect of this intelligence is consciousness. This consciousness makes us think that we're some kind of superior beings, destined to build huge cities and dominate the planet. Actually, consciousness is basically a chemical process, like photosynthesis or Alka Seltzer. The only thing remarkable about consciousness is that it thinks it's remarkable. In fact, consciousness is the amazingly unique ability that humans have to think that they're amazingly unique. Of course, this means that at the time of this writing, there are about 6 billion of us all thinking we're totally unique.

Another side effect of our intelligence is that we believe in something called reality, and we have a model of reality in our heads that we use for deciding not to walk in front of buses and things like that. Most of us think of reality as lots of hard physical objects scattered around in space. This is because as children, we bumped into many of them. However, that model is based just on the information we get from our five senses. We've built scientific instruments that can extend the range of our senses. We can see far into space and record microscopic behavior and measure invisible radiation. But even with all those instruments, we can perceive only a tiny fraction of all that's happening out there in the universe. So for us to come to any conclusions about what reality is like is as absurd as peeking through the keyhole in the front door of a huge mansion, and trying to deduce the color of the toilet paper in the master bathroom.

This doesn't mean that speculation and scientific investigation are bad. Intellectual curiousity has brought about some of humankind's most important achievements, like nuclear weapons and lava lamps. Of course we should speculate and investigate and philosophize and come up with theories about how things work and why things are.

We just shouldn't be too smug about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quickie on Safari 4 beta

Ok, Safari 4 looks pretty good speed wise, and the new tab cover flip behavior is sexy looking, if not altogether helpful. But there's some some downright bad news too.
  1. The top tabs are potentially dangerous. Drag a tab in the wrong place, and you move the whole window. To re-order the tabs, you have to grab the active tab by it's little "tread" triangle in the upper right corner of the tab. Annoying. I realize Safari is trying to be a Chrome clone here, but it doesn't work.
  2. The tab-ordering tread and the little close-this-tab-X-thingie don't appear until you actually move the pointer into the tab. That means you can't simply go grab the tab. You have to go to the tab, stop and look, and then do whatever you're going to do. I've only had the beta for a week or so, and already I've closed tabs inadvertently more times than I can remember.
  3. Can we please put the damn bookmarks in a bar on the left side, like every other frigging browser in the world? PLEASE? Even with the tabs above the URL box, and the bookmarks below it, it's still far to easy to hit a bookmark when reaching for a tab. And they're visually confusing.
C'mon folks! This is UI Design 101 stuff. Besides, I've got all these full-wide-screen windows, and even GMail has a limit to how many columns of junk I can display side-by-side.

I'm not alone in this. Yan Pritzger agrees with me.

Whew. Ok, I'm done now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The main problem, and the main benefit, of the Internet is that there are no editors. For little or no money, anyone can create a Web site, or start a blog, or even just join a social networking group, and begin spewing out whatever words, images, animations, videos, or other media he or she wants to. Even producing medium to high quality audio, video and animation is within the budgets of most hobbyists. So producing information is not the problem.

The challenge lies in consuming. Specifically, in selecting what to consume. Web surfers are confronted by vast landscapes of everything ranging from strident political rants to pictures of lolcats, and everything in between. Or as someone (?) once said, "Everything you might want to know is on the Internet, but not in alphabetical order."

So how do we make sense of this? The current term of art is ranking. Some Web intermediaries, such as Google, have closely held secret ranking schemes and algorithms which are, in essence, their primary value added. The basis, as with other popularity measures, is to rank according to recommendations or, in Google's case, links from other sites. More exotic schemes, such as the genome concept of Jinni (also discussed here) attempt to automate the process of characterizing both the content and the consumer's preferences.

All of these are efforts to bring order, or taxonomy, to the otherwise vast and chaotic deluge of content. This is THE NEXT BIG THING. Google's incredible success is almost entirely due to their partial solution, and other breakthroughs will change the landscape for everyone. So it seems logical we should be able to compare organizational, or taxonomic, approaches to information content. I propose the term taxonometry to describe the measurement of taxonomies. It fits semantically, and I like the way it sounds. Remember ... you heard it here first.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So How Come ... ?

In modern programming languages, you frequently see constructs like:

try {
} catch (...) {

But in real life, you have to catch exceptions before you can try them.