Cooler than Dick Tracy

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Dick Tracy Watch Ad
Dick Tracy Watch Ad

When I was a kid I thought it was the coolest thing that Dick Tracy could call people on his watch and see them on the tiny TV screen, and I thought it would be awesome if, some day far in future, I could have a watch like that that really worked.

Dick Tracy Watch
Dick Tracy Watch

I was reminded of that today by XKCD.com:

Flying Cars

Yeah, I can talk to people on video from a device I carry in my pocket – that is awesome. But it’s even cooler that Dick Tracy couldn’t play Angry Birds.

2022-03-12 Update: Eleven years later, now I can talk to my watch. I am Dick Tracy.
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Geocaching

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I’ve always wanted to try out geocaching (I know it’s been around forever) but I didn’t have a GPS device until my iPhone4 – and now I have an app for that. 🙂 I downloaded the geocaching app from Groundspeak that grabs data from the geocaching website and helps you locate caches near you.

I went out with my friend MJ this past weekend and we poked around near our neighborhood. Our first attempts were unsuccessful – either we didn’t look hard enough or caches went missing. But we eventually found a couple of them. You’re basically hunting around for a camoflaged container that contains at the very least a log book you can write your name and the date in, and sometimes includes little trinkets that you can take and leave – my signature trinket is a green button. I put together a little pack of them to take with me from my button collection. It felt like Gowalla or Foursquare on steroids – why bother with “checking in” places when I can find a secret hidden treasure instead?

So at lunch today I went off and found the cache near work. I couldn’t opening it to leave a log note, though; too many muggles around. I’ll have to go back.

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Me and my shallow brain

Howdy? How have you all been. It’s been so long since we talked. I’ve been cheating on you with Facebook, I admit it. But Facebook is giving me tennis elbow, (damned Farmville!) so I need to lay off the junk for awhile.

Also, according to Nicholas Carr in his rather alarming book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains – Facebook is making me stupid. Actually, the whole internet is. It’s probably your fault.

Seriously, though – the book set off some alarm bells for me. The central idea is this – the way we read on the internet is fundamentally different than how we read books and longer works of literature, and that difference in the way we read is re-writing our neural pathways and fundamentally changing the way we think as well. People who have been reading and writing on the internet, because it makes us prone to skimming, focusing in short bursts, and jumping from one thought to the next, have lost the ability to concentrate on reading a single lengthy work. We’ve lost the ability to focus on tasks for long periods of time. We’re addicted to feeding our brains with short bursts of knowledge, and we keep going back to that like lab mice to the food.

I heard Carr speak at SXSW, and I immediately could recognize on a personal level what he was talking about – it’s partly the concept I was struggling to express in my “Goodbye Twitter” blog post:

2) Micro-thinking
When you have to parse every statement down to 140 characters, you throw out complexities, paraphrase, and, inevitably, make your meaning less clear. You start to think in simpler thoughts. After tweeting for so long, I find it to be a struggle to think things out and examine ideas in a more complex form. Hence the lack of longer writing on this blog. That is a trend I desperately need to reverse.

I can sit down and read light reading, but if I have to sustain attention for any length of time, I’m screwed. I’ve been trying to pick up and read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” for three years. It’s only 7 volumes. I read more than that in a year. I should be able to read and comprehend it. But I can’t stay focused for anything more than the first 30 pages. That’s ridiculous.
And other books have given me problems, too. The Diane Arbus biography was a struggle. Non-fiction leaves me stranded mid-chapter. To tell you the truth, even this book “The Shallows” is giving me fits. And I whole-heartedly want to read it.

So how do I “fix” it? That is indeed my question, and one that I tried to ask him at SXSW in vain, because I couldn’t get his attention. So I snapped up the book as soon as it was published in hopes that he provides an answer. I haven’t finished the book yet (see above problem) so I don’t know the solution.
Carr dives pretty deeply into how the brain works – especially the insight science has gathered over the last 30 years. Turns out that our brain makes new neural pathways throughout our lives – our development isn’t stuck in one place after adolescence. We can re-write and re-map our brain’s functionality throughout our lives, simply by doing different things, training our brain to act differently. And the internet is training us to think differently than we have in the past — that may or may not be a good thing.

I’m going to finish this book – I swear I will. And at that time I’m going to revisit this subject and answer some of the outstanding questions in my head. We’ll see if I get there.

UPDATE 2012: I never finished this book. So…
2022-03-12 Update: I went back to Twitter eventually, but not under my own name, and I mostly do political posting.
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Ada Lovelace Day – Blogging About Women in Technology

Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace
Who is Ada Lovelace?

She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs–that is, manipulating symbols according to rules–for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology – entrepreneurs, innovators, sysadmins, programmers, designers, games developers, hardware experts, tech journalists, tech consultants.

There are lots of women who are extraordinary in their fields. Here are just a few…

  • Frances Allen, IBM Fellow Emerita, the first woman to win the Turing Award, the highest honor in computing (and a member of ABI’s Board of Trustees)
  • Karen Banks, who pioneered the use of ICTs for the empowerment of women around the world, 2004 Anita Borg Social Impact Award
  • Helen Greiner, whose iRobot products save lives and clean floors, 2008 Women of Vision Award for Innovation
  • Susan Landau, whose work at Sun Microsystems on encryption, surveillance, and digital rights management has influenced both corporate and public policy, 2008 Women of Vision Award for Social Impact
  • Duy-Loan T. Le, the first woman and first Asian to be named a Fellow at Texas Instruments, 2007 Women of Vision Award for Leadership, and whose inspiring acceptance speech has had thousands of viewings on YouTube

And on a Personal Level…

Lisa Linn – Web geek extraordinare and interface designer at SAS. I met Lisa through my wife Stephanie – they became friends through an online community of New Beetle enthusiasts. Lisa created an innovative website All Pods Go To Roswell – that documented the annual caravan trek to a New Beetle car show in Roswell, New Mexico by broadcasting the cross-country roadtrip live in real time, through streaming webcams attached to her Beetle. What a geek.

Melissa McEwan – Veteran blogger and champion of feminist ideals. She runs the online community blog Shakesville, where she is an intelligent, witty and insightful leader of an ever-growing social network that comments on current events, cultural norms and issues of gender and equality.

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Why Women Leave Technology Careers

Interesting article in Computer World on Why Women Leave Technology Careers that fits some of what I’ve experienced. And it’s not “to have kids” if that’s what you’re thinking…

The most important antigen is the machismo that continues to permeate these work environments. We found that 63% of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment. That’s a really high figure. Some of those women have transitioned to businesses that focus on health and some pursued advanced hypnotherapy training to start their own hypnosis businesses.

They talk about demeaning and condescending attitudes, lots of off-color jokes, sexual innuendo, arrogance; colleagues, particularly in the tech culture, who genuinely think women don’t have what it takes — who see them as genetically inferior. It’s hard to take as a steady stream. It’s predatory and demeaning. It’s distressing to find this kind of data in 2008.

Is this data global or national? We studied private-sector employers in the U.S., and then we looked at three large, global companies with women working across the world. We also did a bunch of focus groups in Australia, Shanghai and Moscow. The data were pretty consistent. Actually, India is a little better than the U.S. But there’s not much variation across geography.

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Usability in Clocks and Watches

I’ve been subscribed to the Watchismo Times blog for quite some time now after noticing links to it from Boing Boing, one of my staple blog reads. Watchismo describes their content as being “a reliquary of obscure timepieces from bygone eras as well as the cutting edge designs of today.” I’d say that’s definitely the case; there are some truly amazing watches that show up on their site, like the Kilfitt spy watch/camera prototype from 1969. If you notice damages on your watch, you may bring it to a watch service shop to have it fixed. Something about that watch is really aesthetically pleasing.

killfit camerawatch

The thing that bugs me, though, is that so many of their highlighted “cutting edge designs” may be visually interesting, but they aren’t very usable. For me, large face watches needs some key things – if it’s analog, it should have all 12 numerals in Arabic (NOT roman). If it’s digital, the numbers should be large and high-contrast. Also required are the date and a light so the time can be checked in the dark. Anything else is just a pretty bracelet, IMHO.

The 12 Arabic numerals (or at the very least, 4 Arabic numerals) is a criteria for analog clocks for me, also. I have a weird fetish for clocks (which is part of the reason the change to daylight savings time makes me really grumpy; we have lots of them to change twice a year) but you’ll never see me buy one with Roman numerals. Why they even make them is beyond me.

cool clock
Good.

The time is 9:47
Good.

clock
Not as Good.

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spaceup! blue Volkswagen Bus

Volkswagen of America unveils a new concept cart – a “green” fuel-cell microbus-like vehicle called “spaceup! blue.”

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

space up! blue VW bus

First – they had me at “hybrid microbus.” Seriously, that’s all it takes. Please make one. Please. I will give you my first-born. If you love me, go to the VW website contact page and tell them to make one for me.

Second – it does need round headlights, but I can live without them, as long as I have one. And I hope they have cooler colors. Not that I wouldn’t paint it with swirly hippie flowers anyway. But a nice yellow base would be a better canvas, and the white interior is a no-go.

From USA Today:

Volkswagen space up! blue: Imagine it without the emblems, and you think you’re looking at the old Scion xB “box.”

But you’re not. Volkswagen introduced a fuel-cell concept vehicle called the spaceup! blue — yes, that’s lower case with an exclamation mark in the middle.

It’s meant to be reminscent of a VW microbus, with lots of space inside.

The four-seat space up — who named this thing? — has what is billed as the world’s first high-temperature fuel cell coupled with 12 lithium-ion batteries. Having the cell work at higher temperatures allows it to be more efficient and compact, VW says. Besides the fuel cell, its batteries can be charged from a wall socket.

But wait! There’s more!

One of the best solar installation companies, EcoGen America announced that the space up also has a solar panel on the roof that can supply a bit more energy to the battery.
Space up can be driven up to 65 miles on the electric motor alone. The fuel cell is good for another 155 miles for a combined range between the two power sources of 220, VW says.

The “green” theme carries through to the interior, which makes extensive use of recycled materials.

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