Archive for January, 2005

Who knew? Superfast search you already own!

January 28, 2005

You’ve got to watch Jon Udell’s 90-second screencast, mentioned in this great posting, to see him switch halfway through from ‘normal useless boring Windows file search’ to ‘lightning fast instant results’ with one keystroke, using an undocumented feature of Windows search…. duh…

Jon credits Simon Burns’ astonishing finding, from which I’ve grabbed a few juicy snippets:

… In a smack-your-forehead-and-say-‘Doh!’ piece of software design, the standard Windows search feature doesn’t automatically send your search terms to the indexing service, it just carries on searching in the same old way, by examining every single file on the disk. And woe betide WinXP users if it stumbles across a compressed ZIP file while searching, because your PC will grind to a halt while it decompresses the file to peek inside.

To actually use Indexing Services as it was originally intended, you need to…

Heh… I don’t want to spoil the party but telling you how it’s done… but it’s stupidly simple… go to Simon’s original article.

Like Jon says at the end of his screencast, “Who knew?”

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Advertisements results: “Whoa!”

January 27, 2005

The first big batch of results, published in this week’s Nature, are just in from the world’s largest climate simulation: (in which our lab has had a very modest role, and which will form the backbone of a forthcoming Open University course).

Figure caption: The maximum degree of global warming, as predicted by 95,000 home computers. © D.A. Stainforth et al., 2005

The results are even scarier than you might have thought, and timely given the ongoing G8 Summit. Here’s a quote from the covering Nature news story that precedes the scientific report:

The greenhouse effect could be far more severe than experts had previously predicted, according to results from the world’s biggest climate-modelling study. In the worst-case scenario, doubling carbon-dioxide levels compared with pre-industrial times increases global temperatures by an average of more than 11 degrees C.

But as well as a predicting a bigger maximum rise, the project has also increased the range of possible temperature changes.

The results are the first from, a project that harnesses the world’s desktop computers to predict climate change. More than 90,000 people have downloaded software that uses the spare capacity of their computers to run global climate simulations.

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Linky screencast

January 24, 2005

Jon Udell’s Weblog: Linky in action

Today’s screencast is a 90-second short showing how I use Linky, one of my favorite Firefox extensions. As the movie explains, Linky is a power tool that opens a set of links found on a web page into a corresponding set of browser tabs.

Nice tool: click on the screencast link for a nice short movie of Jon’s increasingly-adept use of this concept, as coined by him recently.

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Roving Friends: Cooperative Asynchronous Gaming

January 24, 2005

Just over 3 years ago (autumn of 2001) Marc Eisenstadt met a couple of a couple of awesome games programmers and graphics designers: Jason Reeve and Chris Kiveal, from a games/animation company called Arereal Ltd. By the end of December 2001 we put together a fantastic (IMHO) little concept document while searching for some funding. We’ve all gone on to other things, but I figure that it’s pointless to have this thing gathering dust. What with semantic web crawlers, FOAF, and co-depiction photographs populating certain corners of the blogosphere and research worlds, someone may well want to latch onto this and run with it (or, for that matter work with us on it). If so, please get in touch.

Roving Friends – concept document, December 2001

by Marc Eisenstadt, Jason Reeve, and Chris Kiveal

Game concept headline: Artificial Life meets rare collectible cards in the form of autonomous, net-roving, data-collecting bots scriptable by schoolchildren.

Research issues headline: Can we create a motivating and challenging set of cooperative games built on asynchronous technologies, while still offering the appeal of the competitive/synchronous games that are so popular today? [We think our scriptable bots may be the ‘missing link’.]

Fig 1: Rare holiday snapshot of two remote bots, emailed back to child as proof of ‘sighting’. This concept artwork was created as a prototype for this bid, based on existing Arereal animated characters.

‘Roving Friends’ is intended to be both a new gaming genre and an experimental testbed: with it, children will be able to create their own autonomous net-roving ‘bots’, designing both physical appearance and behaviour. The bots will be ‘sent out into the world’ to traverse a child-friendly sub-part of the net via ‘safe islands’, and will meet other bots, interact with them, and report back to their owners (via ordinary email) with status updates, news stories, travel logs, and ‘holiday snapshot postcard attachments’ that will include evidence of having encountered other bots (see Fig. 1). The Roving Friends ‘apparent network topology’ will mimic physical geography, so bots can be encouraged to travel to remote locations and foreign lands and report back with their findings. Children will be able to update their own bots remotely via emailed attachments containing ‘repairs’. Bot-bot interactions will promote cultural diversity and ethical trading, while the Roving Friends main website will publish league tables (e.g. most popular bots, most active bots, classrooms with most children taking part, schools with most classes involved, etc.) and ‘rare bot sightings’. Children will be able to undertake simple geophysical experiments by logging bot-supplied data, and even social psychological and anthropological experiments by logging bot-bot interactions.

End of comment spam

January 23, 2005

I’m currently experimenting with default option of no comments / pingbacks / trackbacks (can be over-ridden as necessary), since regrettably the frequency of spam-blog-comments and spam-blog-trackbacks is too high. Even though these can be mass-deleted pretty quickly, it’s become too annoying. Anyone with a quick fix for this can email me (after obtaining this pop-up image of my address, for obvious reasons).

UPDATE: a tip o’ the hat to Gordon Smith who emailed me to suggest Spam Karma which I’m now testing. Googling for: wordpress comment spam led me to lists of many interesting plugins, but I’ve gone for Gordon’s suggestion. Why? Because he took the trouble to email me, and a quick perusal of the list suggested this was pretty powerful and fit my needs.

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Tablet PC NewsFeed Opportunism

January 18, 2005

I’ve posted before in The Truth About Tablet PC and More Truth About Tablet PC concerning the virtues of the Tablet PC as an output medium, i.e. for casual reading. My comments were based on lots of use, and I couldn’t resist posting this photo showing me a few moments after I discovered the Ross Mayfield article that I point to in the posting immediately below this one (i.e. the immediately preceding entry). I was browsing my NewsGator feeds in my living room armchair: in fact I had the WiFi switched off to preserve battery power, though I’ve now got it on (and have moved over to the couch) to post this story.

Why am I telling you this? Because there’s simply too much for any of us to keep up with, and a quick perusal of newsfeeds, whether offline or online, in a comfortable viewing position, makes quite a lot of difference to me. I don’t browse that many feeds anyway – a few dozen perhaps, feeling that the key is to pick a handful of ‘islands of expertise’ that are not too close to one another, but just enough to give me a sweeping coverage of the things I need to be aware of (picking those islands is a tough judgement call, of course).

Click here (or on the photo above) to see a 50%-reduced screen grab of my Microsfot Outlook NewsGator view. A very comfortable read at full size.

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Technorati tags – now live

January 18, 2005

Many good postings about this:

The tag search will automatically take advantage of category labels in the most popular blogging tools, but I think I’m going to prefer putting in the Technorati tag link at the bottom of my postings in order to generate more ad hoc tagging – which is precisely the point! This will also provide a potential route for the duelling blog scenario that Stowe Boyd and I were discussing a while ago, and the semantic blogging argumentation links that Bertrand Sereno, Simon Buckingham Shum and I have been brainstorming about.

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Auditory debugging

January 17, 2005

Stowe writes in Accentus: Real Time Blinking Through Music some nice remarks about Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink, and “our ability to ‘thin-slice’ the world around us: to rapidly make judgements at an intuitive, almost instantaneous level”. In this context, Stowe refers to a recent Wired article on Accentus, which assists traders with auditory snapshots of live market data.

Stowe then adds

Years ago, when I was a researcher, I could could tell if my compiling of a program had been successful or not by the noise that the Unix hard drive made. Our ability to make sense of subtle auditory feedback cues will be a huge area of growth over the next few years.

In fact, ‘detecting successful compilation via sound’ is a fantastic phenomenon, and definitely for real. As luck would have it, there’s a story about this very phenomenon that was sent to me when I was collecting the data for a paper that eventually became: Eisenstadt, M. “My hairiest bug” war stories. Comm. ACM 40 (4), Apr. 1997. [HTML version; Word version.]. The full stories, available via ftp in this appendix, included this fantastic one from someone whom I chose to call U27 (the 27th respondent via Usenet, as it turns out). Below is his story in full, with bold emphasis added by me:

Here’s a debugging tale from the old days.

In 1970, the same semester when campuses all over the US were erupting
due to Kent State, I took my first computer course. It was conducted on
an extremely primitive mainframe: an IBM 1401 with 8K (sic) of memory,
no magnetic media, punched cards only, at Roosevelt University in

The math professor who taught the class was good. He introduced
computer science in a “genetic” way, showing us first the miseries of
machine language, then the slight lessening of misery encountered on the
switch to assembler. But when he wanted to proceed to FORTRAN and the
glories of high-level language he was stymied, for the compiler failed.
He ended up directing us to an IBM service bureau to do FORTRAN.

A year or so later, I was a programmer in the university computer
center. I chanced upon the FORTRAN compiler. It was a deck of cards
in a drawer. When I keyed in a simple FORTRAN program, of course the
compiler failed in exactly the same way.

However, I happened to have a copy, at that time, of John A. N. Lee’s
book, The Anatomy of a Compiler. This had some details on 1401 FORTRAN
in an appendix and so served as an introduction to the mysteries of this

I discovered a subroutine in the compiler deck…to do multiplication
and division. This was puzzling, for although hardware multiply and
divide were extra cost on the 1401, I knew from actual experience that
we had these features. It dawned on me, however, that this was very
possibly why the compiler failed, for Lee’s book specified that the 1401
Fortran compiler required at least 8K of memory. I removed the
subroutine and replaced calls by hardware opcodes, and the compiler
successfully ran my code.

Whenever a FORTRAN program compiled successfully, it printed out the
object code (actually code for an interpreted FORTRAN machine) on our
line printer in a peculiarly compelling rythymic pattern. The operators
and I had a little dance to go with this pattern, which became known as
the “successful compiler dance.”
Since I was a long-haired punk kid (in
1970) and since this computer was in a glass box visible to the public,
our compiler-dance was strange, to say the least.

A debugging story from the ancient history of computing!

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Smile – it’s the Mac mini

January 15, 2005

So much will be written elsewhere, so let me just add a different take:

How often does technology really make you smile when you open the box? My first Macintosh in 1984 did that; my SliMP3 did that in 2003, because of its simplicity and true ‘internet appliance’ nature (2 hi-fi inputs and an ethernet port, that’s it!). And how ’bout this Mac mini? What can you say, other than: holy smokes, I’d better order a small truckload of these! Heck, as far as the eye can see there are aging PC’s kickin’ around that have decent screens, keyboards, and mice, so let’s just think of this as a ‘cheap and politically-correct makeover’…

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BitTorrent, eXeem, Meta-Torrent, Podcasting: “What? So What?”

January 12, 2005

The index that facilitates the sharing of files on a large scale is also the Achilles heel of peer-to-peer file-sharing, because it is vulnerable to litigation and closure. So what happens if the index is itself distributed? I try to get my head around the latest in peer-to-peer file sharing, and explain a bit about what I’ve learned, including the fact that BitTorrent’s power rests in its ‘swarm’ distribution model, but not necessarily in your end-user download speed. What has this got to do with podcasting? (Answer: invisible P2P plumbing helps the podcasting wheel go round).

Read the entire story in the full posting over at my guest slot on Get Real.

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