Last February I went to a three-day retreat at the Insight Meditation Society’s campus in Barre, Massachusetts. I enjoyed it and I recommend the experience. I knew it was going to be a silent retreat, so I was prepared for that. But I was a little surprised to find out that we couldn’t even look one another in the eye.
I wrote about it on Medium: Paying Attention Camp.
Thanks to Google we understand the power of a text search. All I have to do is search for “name of Alexander the Great’s horse” and I’ll quickly be reminded that it was Captain Crunch. I’m sorry, wait a second… I mean Bucephalus. But the success of textual searching has caused us to forget other kinds of searching. Google actually has a “search by image” feature, but it’s a little cumbersome to use, since you have to upload the image that you want to search for (unless you already have a URL for it).
The new site called Terrapattern introduces a new and extremely efficient form of searching: if Google Maps is essentially one great big image, why not just click on something and tell it to “find me more stuff that looks like this”? It’s a good example of something that’s nontrivial to think up, hard to implement, but brilliant to use.
Right now they’ve only got a few cities. I’m looking at the New York dataset, and it’s terrific fun to, for example, click on a golf course and have it instantly find you every golf course in the New York metropolitan area. Football fields, soccer fields, baseball fields… sports fields are especially easy and entertaining targets. But you can try things like airports and sewage treatment plants.
You have to consider that Google and Facebook can already do this with faces, but they are prevented by good taste and the promise of legal trouble and a public relations nightmare. But the implications are far reaching. Click on a house you like, and you’ll see a dozen more just like it. Click on a Mayan ruin and the computer might just find you a ruin unknown to science. Or maybe by the time you get there, some robot anthropologists will already be digging.
I began writing on this site in 1996 and I continued until early 2014, a span of something like 18 years. I took a long break from 2014 to 2016, and during that time I thought it would be fun to print out everything I wrote as a book. I found a good service, called BlogBooker, to take my blog text and turn it into a book form suitable for publishing with Lulu.
Then I went to Lulu and printed the whole thing in four separate books. More than a thousand pages, as it turned out. I don’t expect them to sell, but Lulu, as a standard thing, puts your book on sale. So hey, if you’re interested, you can look at them and buy them here!
It’s very satisfying to see all that thinking unrolled on paper. Think to Ink. Bit to It. Word to Flesh. It’s all there. Except for this. This part is not in the book. But it will be.
This is a terrific short video on the information pollution we will soon be facing in a mixed reality world. Freeze the frame every now and then and admire all the details they put into this. There’s a lot of depth here.
We’re all familiar with the annoying load-time lag and stagger of a mobile website as ads and images drop into place. This video gives a sense of how it will feel in the future. If you’re augmenting reality, then reality itself will be the thing that feels glitchy and slow. A computer virus may make you feel as sick as a biological virus.
HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.
It’s a great time for bite-size learning. Our collective attention span is waning. We have little appetite for paying close attention to one thing for long periods of time. This observation isn’t novel, but most observers forget to mention something else: there’s never been a better time to be a impatient learner. My 13-year-old daughter watches almost no television, but she watches plenty of YouTube videos. She watches the goofy ones and the cat videos, but a lot of what she watches (and a lot of what I watch) are remarkably well made informative videos created by passionate individuals. Here are a few, just off the top of my head.
If you sat down and watched all the videos made by just these four people, I promise you would learn a lot.
Here’s one that just caught my eye: LangFocus. I noticed it because I have a fascination with languages, and Basque is well-known as a bizarro language. So I landed here:
Basque – A Language of Mystery
As I watched it, I asked myself this question: is watching this video any more informative or any faster than reading a Wikipedia article on the same topic? The script for a video like this is actually quite short. Wikipedia will deliver more data, and more quickly too if you read it top to bottom in one go. But that’s just the problem. We won’t read the article from top to bottom. We’ll read the first paragraph and then skim down the headings and look at a few pictures. The video, on the other hand, has the ability to stick us in place. It’s a better babysitter for your pathetic attention than a book. A well-crafted video can lead us through the material in such a way as to be inspirational, or at least arresting. It’s a “point of entry” for learning. If you get engaged, then you may become willing to do more strenuous forms of research. It’s a vector for learning. The mosquito that delivered the knowledge disease.
Beyond all this is the presenter’s voice and personality. Once you get to know someone like C.G.P. Grey, you appreciate more and more his odd take on the world, and you’re happy to follow him to unusual topics that you wouldn’t ordinarily seek out.
So what about Basque? Nobody has any idea where Basque came from. LangFocus auteur Paul Jorgensen steps us through the basics, but what I really like is when he carefully breaks down the grammar for us word by word.
I get to hear it pronounced and then explained. That’s good stuff!
Now I’m a fan of LangFocus, and I plan to watch a lot more of them. Time to get busy. Those YouTube videos aren’t going to watch themselves.
The prolific Yonatan Zunger pointed me to this page: a cartoon treatment of how an engineer thinks about the ridiculous traps that show up in movies. In it we see a consulting engineer offering practical advice about the Giant Boulder Trap that Indiana Jones must escape in the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I’ve always believed that Batman was way ahead of the game here. Consider the Bat Turn, in which the speeding Batmobile is slowed by two parachutes before executing a 180 degree turn. The parachutes are released as the Batmobile speeds off. But what happens to the parachutes? This is an engineering consideration. Very pragmatic. And the writers of Batman come through.
There’s a Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service! Did you get that? A Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service! There needs to be such a thing, and the Batman writers put it in. Blessed closure!
Not surprisingly, it’s also a hit with the fans. You can learn how to make your own. Or you can watch this video on the history of Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service.
If you use GMail, then I recommend that you also use Unroll.Me. It does some clever management of your folders to keep out the clutter. By clutter, I mean email that is just above the level of spam, but still not worth reading. Unroll.Me helps you either unsubscribe from specific mailings altogether or put them into a special “RollUp” summary message.
Google has attempted to solve this problem with their special Inbox tabs, like Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. This works well for my wife, but not for me. I turn all those special tabs off. I can barely keep track one mailbox, let alone four or five. Once mail starts getting automatically channeled into another folder or tab, I’ll never see it again. Unroll.Me solves this problem. There is no new special tab to worry about.
Where Unroll.Me really shines is the unsubscribe feature. They keep an exhaustive list of everything you’re subscribed to, and it’s so pleasant to click the big “Unsubscribe” button and be done with Auto Warrant Direct emails forever. Ahhh. Notice that I’ve unsubscribed from 286 different mailings so far. I look at that and smile. I used to spend a good chunk of time trying to find a message’s Unsubscribe link and making sure that it functioned properly. Now it’s somebody else’s problem.
Unroll.Me was recommended to me by word of mouth, and I’m happy to pass that recommendation along to you.