Monthly Archives: January 2008

Politics Zero

Politics always made me tune out. From my earliest memories of adult conversations at table, the pattern that emerges is a series of blanks. My parents and their friends spoke of far-away things and none of it had any bearing on my small world. Could I please be excused to play outside?

Later I made a stab at formulating political opinions of my own. Having paid so little attention to any issues larger than my own small world, all I could do was restate what I’d read or heard. Analysis hadn’t begun for me yet and so I forwarded hearsay to fill the vacuum with beliefs I pretended were my own.

Inevitably there is talk of politics. Digging around for something to add to the conversation, all that appeared had already been said. In my better moments, I remembered that it was wise to remain silent rather than advance an opinion that I could neither justify nor defend.

Very recently I struck something solid: I actually believe something! I’ll write about what it is when I have a clearer idea of it.

[Update: I don’t believe in anything after all.]

Where to use audio books

There are many places where you can listen to recorded books. When considering a potential listening location, a common concern is distraction: the world around you making it hard to follow the world in the book. Last weekend I discovered a complimentary combination: my physical environment augmented the reality of the book.

I listened to the first two hours of the unabridged 9/11 Commission Report (Chapter 1, “We have some planes”, details the events of that day) while traveling on a domestic flight. Imagine that.

There must be a great many interesting combinations of content and location. Have you ever run into anything like this by accident?

What I want in a computer

Fact: We all want more from computers. Some of us also want less.

I want less time wondering whether the computer understood my input.

There is a long interval between the moment Windows first responds to the mouse and the moment it is ready to follow input from the user. I can click to run a program and count seconds before Windows even shows me an hourglass. Let’s set a threshold at ten milliseconds (or whatever seems reasonable after enumerating the hardware) and if the computer doesn’t respond in that time it sends a bug report to somebody who will fix it.

I want less aesthetic economy with only historical limitations as justification.

Long ago a great mind took up tools (think of a chiseling the first golden rectangle into a block of stone long before atoms were in evidence [nevermind whether Euclid preferred quills]) and hand-bitmapped an hourglass that now ubiquitously stands as the polite graphical machine jargon for “working, please wait” in two hundred bits or less. Now we can spare kilobytes, nay, megabytes!, for sparkling sound effects but the old mouse sprite merely dons an alpha shadow. An hourglass is far, far more comforting when its sands march into the cavern of time pleasantly to indicate that we are experiencing computational difficulty and to assure that we are still on track to complete the task in a predictably terminating manner. Follow in the steps of a great mind: make every shortcoming pleasant.

I want less being expected to communicate with computers on their terms.

Waiting for some greedy program to release resources while my clicks and keystrokes go unacknowledged is worse than waiting in line behind the willfully indecisive in the cafeteria line. I want entire systems dedicated to making me feel like the computer understands my every click, gesture, word, and sigh. It’s going to take all the power in a modern personal computer just to handle graphical input. And then it will take more to deal with my voice and my face and my eyeballs and my brain stem.

I want less obtrusive presence of computers around me… and more of the one within me.

That’s what I want in a computer. There is a lot that I like and I’m happy with the pace of advancement in general. Just let me see the one that was built with me in mind. What is on your long-term future-tech wish-list?