Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Re: the influence of Frederic Bazille on Norman Rockwell

If art interests you, you are going to hear about this new computer program that can discover influences among artists. The program has discovered some well-known influences, and it has also discovered some previously unremarked influences, such as the link the algorithm makes between Frederic Bazille’s Studio 9 Rue de la Condamine (1870) and Norman Rockwell’sShuffleton’s Barber Shop (1950). See this page at Medium.com.

I would like to add an observation about this claim of influence:

Bullshit.

Both pictures have an angled line setting off a subset in the lower left. I'm sure that is unbelievably rare in paintings, oh sure. Both pictures have an old-fashioned heating stove (and they are quite different.) I never imagined that people would want to keep warm in paintings, these must be the only such examples.

Bazille has a violinist playing with a pianist in the main room. They are remarkably far apart. Rockwell has a few musicians playing in the back room. They are acting more naturally, with the clarinettist(?) and the cellist sitting down while the violin stands, and they are all close together.

The computer program also found that both pictures use a wall-corner to divide up the picture, and both have a low "front" area that is not—as in many paintings—loaded with tchotchkes. Otherwise, one can see tons of differences in the pictures. I'l say it again? Did the Bazille painting influence Rockwell? Bullshit.

Monday, June 02, 2014

EA To Pay College Athletes Up To $951 Each ...

EA will pay college athletes up to $951 for using their likenesses - without permission - in computer games.  Their lawyer seems happy with this settlement, saying that it rights a "huge wrong".

Well excuse me, but if the athletes are being PAID, they are no longer amateurs, right? The colleges who utilized these professionals in their games ought to forfeit them all.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Tyrwhitt's lovely shirts: no nasty pins!

I'm not a squeamish person, but I fear shirt pins. Every time I buy a shirt, I know that I will get pinstuck if i fail to hunt and hunt and find every last oe of the 5, 6, 7 or even 8 sharp pins.

But not now! I have been buying Tyrwhitt's shirts, and they come beautifully packed with nary  a pointy pin. What a pleasure they are to unwrap and wear. I recommend them: good quality, and good for the price. You can deal with the online store, or find their brick&mortar stores in the USA, the UK (especially London) and at a few international locations.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Talisman, the fine board game, has arrived on the iPad!


I was lucky to receive a copy of the IOS Talisman game that I can review. There is already an informative and positive review at BoardGameGeek, so I will not repeat what their reviewer covers. And here's a link to the iTunes store, if you are ready to buy. (To be precise: there exists a "Talisman Prologue" game that we are NOT discussing here. The good news is that we get an app for the full Talisman.)

Talisman is a remarkably imaginative treatment of RPG in a board game, and that game has been faithfully reproduced in the IOS app. As usual, the app frees you from a lot of counting that the board game requires, and the app prevents you from making illegal moves. Also, there is a tutorial built into the game, so you do not have to know Talisman to enjoy playing the app.

Talisman belongs to a category of games that I’m sure you are familiar with: it is a game of skill (considerable skill in fact) with a large element of luck. Almost every game turn offers a chance to make a tactical decision, and there is deep strategy in deciding whether you are ready to go for a win.

Games of this type are wonderful to play in social settings. Everyone has a good time, and none of the novices notice that you are playing the game better than they are. They have a reasonable chance of winning, but that won’t bother you, because you know that in the long run, your skill will carry the day.

A Talisman game can last a long time. When the iPad first came out, one of my first reactions was: Wouldn’t it be great to play Talisman on my iPad? I imagined the iPad Talisman game saving the state of the game so that I could return to it several times a day for some rounds of play. Talisman on the iPad allows me to do exactly what I want, while the game’s AI plays one, two or three oponents. (Of course, several actual people can also compete, using this app.)

There is already an expansion set (and apparently, more coming) that I expect to buy, with – among other things – many more fascinating player characters. Talisman, among RPG games in general, is highly unusual in offering a stupendous variety of different kinds of characters to play with. There’s much more variety than the usual human/elf/dwarf+fighter/mage/thief.

Talisman, I’m glad you’re here!

A simple way to fund the U.S. Post Office:

This afternoon I collected all the junk mail (and even a piece of real mail) that the postman had left for us, and realization struck:

Suppose the Post Office threatened to triple the amount of mail I receive unless I agreed to pay them one dollar per week. That's a significant amount of money, but I would cave in if I could possibly afford it. Many of us would.

Think of it this way: snail mail comes to us through a sort of conduit, and the USPO could establish a slow lane (choked with ever more junk mail) and a fast lane.

Monday, May 05, 2014

"Three, please!" (I'm afraid you had to be there.)

I blogged recently about my feeling that an elevator that moves between only two floors needs one less button. I entered the same elevator that inspired that blog entry today (on the second floor), along with two women deep in conversation. The woman nearest the control panel pressed the button for floor #1 while they continued talking.

I could not resist saying, "Three, please!"

The same woman turned to the control panel and extended her finger to press the nonexistent button. And then, fortunately, both women laughed and laughed.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There ought to be a word: Literally!

Now that the word "Literally has come to mean "figuratively", it would be nice to add a word to the English language that literally means: literally. Here is my suggestion:
Li2terally.

The digit 2 is added to the word in place of using the word twice. Compare:
My friend literally died laughing last week; literally!
My friend li2terally died laughing last week.

Li2terally is pronounced the same as Literally. In speech, we can generally rely on emotion and context to decide which word is intended.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Word Clues (Word Clues 2):

I've been playing Zynga's Words With Friends (a juiced-up version of Scrabble). There's a site called WWFSTATS.COM that ranks WWF players and makes it easy to find opponents. One of my current opponents (he's a good player) goes by the handle GL-13. GL-13 happens to be a game designer (see the Kindred Games website). I just had to try out his current game. It is called Word Clues 2, but in the iTunes store, it is simply titled Word Clues. You can find it in the iTunes store here.

The game has a clever mechanism. You are shown part of a word with some blanks, like this:

 _ _ _ _ _ bank

You score a lot of points if you can guess what word the game is hiding. If you can't, the game shows you another partial word with the same missing letters. Now you have two clues, and if that's not enough, you get more clues to the missing partial word.

That missing partial word doesn't have to be five letters. So far I have also seen 3, 4, 5 and 6.

There are also "bonus" rounds in which you decide how many points to risk in order to see more letters, and then you get one guess at the word.

If you are good at games like Wheel of Fortune, I think you will find this game a pleasant challenge. If you are, like me, not very good at this sort of game, then it becomes an incredible teaser. On a half-mile walk, I thought hard/hard/hard, and was happy to figure out one of these words with only three clues.

Check it out!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A lesson in Proofreading:

I am currently proofing a page-proof of my second novel. This is not nearly the last page proof. My current efforts to proofread include such matters as checking for conflicting or illogical plot elements or actions, and making sure that my characters always stay in character. I am proofing backwards (starting at the last page), but there is so much on my mind as I proof, that I know I will not catch every typo. I expect, in the next round of proofing, to look only for typos.

Here’s an example of how thinking about my character’s speech almost caused me to miss a typo. On one page, I read this line of dialog:
“Why did she do that?”
I decided that in this situation, my character ought to say:
“Why would she do that?”

I took out my pen, preparing to cross out ‘did’ and replace it with ‘would’. However, I found that I could not cross out ‘did’. Here is the line's actual text:
“Why she do that?”


What a convincing way to remind me that many typos remain to be found.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

TSA Wants Armed Police Stationed At Airport Checkpoints?

The TSA wants armed guards at their checkpoints. There will be a considerable expense: to hire, background, train, and manage all these guards, to buy their equipment, and to keep replacing all that ammunition. And every dollar of this expense can be avoided. Let’s all stand up against this total waste.

All we have to do is encourage states to keep loosening their gun-carrying laws. Some states have recently voted to allow people to carry their guns inside airports. We need every state to pass such laws.

Then the TSA will simply ask for volunteers. Who won’t want to spend time toting his gun at LAX or EWR, or any fine airport? And what a deterrent they will be.


Terrorists will know that the moment they are detected, bullets will fly from every direction. They will have no cover, and their dying wish will be that they had chosen instead, to rob a bank.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The IOS SSL Flaw: Hard to Spot? Bad Programming?

Bruce Schneier asks today whether the recently discovered IOS SSL programming flaw might have been intentionally inserted to cause a security weakness. This is a legitimate question, although the error is likely to have been caused by an accidental extra keypress. Apple should be able to determine exactly who inserted the error, and chances are that they will clear the developer of malice.

As a software developer, I wish to take issue with one of Schneier’s comments. He felt that the error would be hard to spot. I disagree. An experienced programmer ought to see the error at once. The only question is whether the code would ever be reviewed.

But this error could also be flagged by a program that examined source code for unexecutable lines. There are many such test programs, and they might, while checking millions of lines of source in Apple’s repository, notice this problem. It ought to be routine to run such a test.

Here is the source code. (I’m quoting it from the Guardian, and my formatting might not match the original.) Below, the duplicate “goto fail” lines stand out as a stark error. (I aded the red to make it easy for you to find it.) The “if” statement below the duplicate “goto fail” lines, which is needed, will never be executed.

static OSStatus
SSLVerifySignedServerKeyExchange(SSLContext *ctx, bool isRsa, SSLBuffer signedParams,
uint8_t *signature, UInt16 signatureLen)
{

OSStatus err;

...

if ((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &serverRandom)) != 0)

goto fail;

if ((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &signedParams)) != 0)

 goto fail;

 goto fail;

if ((err = SSLHashSHA1.final(&hashCtx, &hashOut)) != 0)

goto fail;

...

fail:

SSLFreeBuffer(&signedHashes);
SSLFreeBuffer(&hashCtx);
return err;

}
There’s another issue. I showed this code to my wife, who has suffered through my life-long romance with software development. She knows little about programming, but I thought, correctly, that she would understand this error. She did, and she had another comment:

“I thought ‘goto’ programming was a thing of the past.”

And she’s almost right. “Goto” programming has been recognized as bad, hard-to-read and hard-to-get-right. Most programming languages offer much better alternatives. But in many programming languages, the “goto” continues to be supported because it is still the best way, even the clearest way, to unravel some complex progamming situations.

The “goto” statements are completely unnecessary in this case, and if the developer had written the code in a gotoless way, it is more likely that the result would have been error-free. For example:
if (((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &serverRandom)) != 0)

|| ((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &signedParams)) != 0)
|| ((err = SSLHashSHA1.final(&hashCtx, &hashOut)) != 0)))
{
// process the fail here ...
}
          ... etc...



Friday, January 24, 2014

Cuisinart Compact Juice Extractor: The Pros Are the Cons!


Please read my previous blog entry first. It is also about my Cuisinart Compact Juice Extractor. Thanks.

The juices I have made in my new juicer taste delicious, and – so far – they seem worth the effort. The most remarkable thing about my Juice Extractor is that whatever you might consider a Con is also a Pro:

CON: The ingredients are more expensive than I bargained for. PRO: I can afford them in my current budget by not buying cookies.

CON: I need time to use the juicer. It’s not a five minute snap. I’m sure I’ll get better at it, but I need 15 to 25 minutes to prepare my ingredients and clean up. PRO: I’m pretty sure that spending time preparing food is an aid to dieting. When food requires time to prepare and eat, I'm sure it seems more satisfying. But CON: Who has this kind of time in the morning? PRO: I often do, because I’m retired. But seriously: CON: Often, my morning is a rush, like everyone else, and I won’t have time to juice.

CON: All that pulp is a terrible waste. PRO: I fry the pulp with a few other veggies, some cheese and/or a veggie burger, and I eat it. The pulp shortens the time I need to make my fried veggie dish. There’s no waste at all.

PRO: This juicer is easy to clean. Many of the reviews say so. But they don’t tell you what that means. CON: There are seven parts that are each easy to clean. Those easy-cleaning times add up.

PRO: One of my goals in buying a juicer was NOT to use our wonderful hand-held blender. That blender is 250 Watts (hard to find these days), and my wife requires it for some recipes. Using the juicer will extend our irreplaceable blender’s life. CON: No more banana shakes for me! But PRO: When I get hungry later, a banana plus a glass of soy milk makes a healthy snack.

Here's to Juicing! For now, at least.




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Bought a Juicer. Lifestyle change?

I’ve been thinking about a Juicer for a few months. Good juice extractors cost around $100, and there’s a mighty chance that after using it a few times, I will exile it to a forgotten shelf. But when my diet is working, I start off the day with a plate of fried veggies and protein, with a milkshake. The base of my shake is soymilk or buttermilk plus a banana, and I add many ingredients and spices for variety. I thought that a juicer would enable me to add kale and other healthful tastes to my milkshake. But that fear of wasting $100 held me back.

Last week, the local supermarket offered the $100 Cuisinart Compact Juice Extractor for a mere $40, and I bought it. My lifestyle has changed. I wonder if I will soon abandon the juicer, but for now, I am definitely enjoying it.

In my next blog entry, I will assess the Pros and Cons. But to give you a heads up:

  1. Apparently, I cannot put bananas in my juicer. No recipes call for them. I might experiment with a banana, but I suspect it will goo up and gum up the works. I’m making delightful juices, but I have to eat the milk and banana separately.
  2. The veggies and fruits that I want to juice cost money! I think these are the most expensive parts of a decent diet. I did not consider this cost when I dreamed of buying the juicer.
  3. The juicer produces an extraordinary amount of pulp waste. It’s painful to look at all that $$pulp$$.

Tomorrow I’ll show you how these concerns fit into the Pros and Cons, which – for me – were full of surprises.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Fedex Seemed Creepy Today:

Fedex notified me that a package would arrive at a bad time, so I went to their website to put a hold on the delivery. In order to do that, I registered an account at Fedex.

The first registration screen asked for the usual info: address, phone number, password, etc. After I supplied all this, the website explained that I had to verify myself. I think this is a good idea. I would not want someone, impersonating me, to hijack my deliveries.

In order to verify me, Fedex asked me a series of multiple choice questions, and this is where things got creepy. I had to identify a town my son had lived in. Many of the questions concerned an address that I have not lived at since 1974. I even had to identify a person, not related to me, who had lived at that address for an overlapping period of time.


Fedex, you know too much about me! I hope you are keeping this information well-guarded, because a person who wanted to steal an identity would love to have this kind of in-depth info. (By the way, I had to select an answer for a security question during the registration process. I know how to answer when Fedex asks for my mother’s maiden name, but my answer has nothing to do with my mother.)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Too Many Buttons:

Lately, I've been using a few elevators that shuttle back and forth between the ground floor and the second floor.

When I get into one of these elevators, I see two buttons: 1 and 2.

Now I admit that before I press one of these buttons, I usually have to think. (I'm not too good with East/West or Left/Right, either.) Still, it seems to me that these elevators have unnecessary buttons.

If we are on the first floor, the elevator can only go to 2. If we are on 2, the elevator can only go to 1. Therefore, the elevator needs only one button, labeled: GO.

Do you agree?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Close the dam* barn Door!

I swim laps for exercise. For a long time I have worn resistance gloves, which build up my arm strength. My gloves were wearing out, so I bought new ones online yesterday. I also, after a few web searches, bought novice fins, hoping that they will help my leg strength.

Today, my random web pages are chock full of ads for swim gloves and fins. Enough already! I'll be buying them again in about 15 months.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Blended Peanut Butter Coffee, recipe:

I invented a wonderful, delicious drink today. Other people have invented it before me (e.g., see here), but I have nice, clear instructions for you. Here is the suggested ingredients list:

2 T coffee grounds.
1 scant T peanut butter
Sweetening, such as two sugar cubes, or two packets of Necrtresse.

I use creamy peanut butter. People on the web advise that it is dangerous to use the crunchy variety.

Make about five ounces of coffee, using the amount of grounds (probably two Tablespoons) that you would normally use, and a little less water. Don't use really good coffee for this purpose, there's no point. (For example, do not use George Howell's marvelous Terroirs coffees.) I used Martinson's decafe for my first experiment.

When the coffee has been brewed, pour it into a cup suitable for use with your hand-held blender.  I poured the coffee over the peanut butter (held in a spoon) to weaken the thick consistency of the peanut butter. Use about one tablespoon of the PB. (I used slightly less. Other people suggest using much more.)

Add the sweetening.

I suggest a variable speed hand-held blender. Start at a low speed. You have two goals:
(1) Not to splash yourself with hot coffee. Be careful!
(2) To throughly blend the PB and the coffee. A "crema" will develop.

Coffee has the ability to mask or destroy many flavors, but it makes the PB taste more subtle, adding a hint of chocolate. Pour into your favorite cup or mug, and enjoy!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Better Funding for the NSA:


You may not have realized it, but sequestration and the desire to cut back on federal spending have placed a lot of pressure on the NSA. The NSA’s self-appointed goal is to monitor every possible means of communication, everywhere, just in case those means are used by terrorists. Old methods of communication never die, but we are always creating new ones. Thus the NSA needs to increase its budget by leaps and bounds to keep up with new channels that might be subverted by terrorists. How can that be done on a fixed budget?


I am pleased to announce that help is on the way. In fact, the NSA may soon be self-supporting. Their best heads have cracked this walnut, and even now, just like other websites such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Snapchat and Twitter, the NSA is determining how to monetize the data they have.

Friday, December 27, 2013

I recommend the Dan Jerusalem Hotel:

My wife and I have stayed at a hotel near French Hill in Jerusalem, many times. From the hotel one has a marvelous view of the Old City, including the Golden Dome, and one can pray facing South (instead of the usual East).

The Dan company took over this hotel about three-plus years ago, and it is now the Dan Jerusalem.  Originally it was the Hyatt Regency, and then it became just the Regency hotel, but now it is operated, very nicely, by Dan.

The Dan company has improved the hotel in many ways. We stayed there for almost two weeks. We enjoyed the hotel's many perquisites, and we appreciated how well the hotel staff dealt with Jerusalem's record 18" snowstorm.

The hotel has over 500 rooms, and they cater to many tour groups. One of the pleasures of staying there is talking to visitors in these groups. The hotel make subtle adjustments to its immense breakfast smorgasbord to accompany the needs of some of its visitors. The hotel is within walking distance of a small shopping center that includes a supermarket. Altogether, the Dan Jerusalem is a fun place to stay.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hey! You called me!

I received a phone call this evening that I found quite offensive. I wonder if anyone will agree with me.

First, let me establish the ground rule: if I call, say, a bank, and want to do business with them, then they have the right to verify who I am. That makes perfect sense.

Tonight, I got a phone call from a person who said they were calling from CVS Corporate about a prescription of mine that was due for renewal. "Okay, I said, what is this about?"

"First," she said, "I have to ask you to identify yourself."

And that's where I ended the phone call. She called me. She called my home phone number.  If that's not enough identification information for her, then I think she should not call me at all.

By the way, let's not assume that this is a story about CVS, because I forgot to ask the caller to verify herself.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What is a "Public Place?"

You have probably all seen the video in which a policeman threatens to ticket a guy for washing a car in the driveway of his own home. In the course of the video, the policeman explains that the guy's violation is: washing a car in a "Public Place". But what is a public place?

You can find several legal definitions of  "public place" on the Web, and some of these definitions happen to agree with what the policeman said: A public place is any place visible to the public (I am paraphrasing). Most definitions of Public Place are more intuitive: they define a space in which public activities occur, because the public has direct access.

Obviously, what matters is how Garden City, NY defines "Public Place". (I understand that Garden City is where this video occurred.)  I found their legal definition on the internet! Here it is, and Garden City's definition implies that the policeman was wrong, because the car washing did not occur in a public place. Here's a copy of their definition:

PUBLIC PLACE
Any public street, road or highway, alley, lane, sidewalk, crosswalk or other public way, or any publicresort, place of amusement, park, playground, public building or grounds appurtenant thereto, school building or school grounds, public parking lot or any vacant lot.

I wonder whether all this viral publicity will make Garden City change their definition of "public place" to make car-washing in a driveway illegal.

A terrific phone rental service for trips to Israel: unlimitedIsrael.net:

We have just returned from two weeks in Israel. We needed to be in contact with friends, and we needed a GPS for our rented car. UnlimitedIsrael rented us an iPhone 4 at a very reasonable price. The phone came loaded with software, including Waze, a mapping application that knows Israel's roads very well and gives good driving directions. The phone made our trip a lot more pleasant, and Tani at unlimitedIsrael was always there to answer our questions. (I'm an experienced iPad user, but this was my first exposure to a smart phone.)

There was no extra charge for calling people in Israel and the USA. There was no charge for using data with apps on the phone. Altogether, a very nice experience.

I traveled Zen Class, in Style!

I have a Zen class bag (by Nirvana). Here’s the Amazon page for it. On an airplane trip, the bag hooks over the folding-down tray on the seat in front of you, and its many pockets place a remarkable number of items at your finger-tips. (On the trip home, there was no seat right in front of me. Instead, I hooked the bag over my TV monitor, and that worked just as well.)

I usually try to put everything I might need in the Zen Class bag: magazine, book, deck of cards, earplanes, medicines, vitamins, pen, etc., etc. And I was lucky. On the plane trip out, as we were walking down the corridor to the actual plane door, we encountered a dragonlady who forced almost everyone, at this last moment, to check their carryon bag.


“Just let me take one thing on the plane,” I said. I took the Zen bag out of my rolling case, and also took out my iPad 2. I slipped the iPad into the Zen bag, and that was all I took on the plane. And for an 11 hour trip, it was more than enough.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

26. … b2! What a Chess Move.

Young Magnus Carlsen now leads Viswanathan Anand 6 to 3 in a 12-game match for the world chess championship. Carlsen will become the next world champion if he draws or wins any of the remaining three games, a likely conclusion. I’ve been following this match. The games begin too early for me, so I joined today’s decisive ninth round at about 7 a.m., in the middlegame.

Carlsen made a defensive move that looked desperately ugly, 25. … Ne8. It seemed obvious that Anand had a simple mate in four with his queen and rook. I eagerly went to the live commentary. Was there any way Carlsen could avoid mate?

The first words of the analyst I heard were, “I don’t see how Carlsen can avoid checkmate.”

We watched and waited, and then Carlsen played b2, threatening to queen his pawn if Anand’s attack persisted. Anand could have withdrawn his pieces to defend against this pawn, but if he did, a victory seemed unlikely. Instead, Anand moved his rook up to proceed with his mating plan, leaving his first rank undefended, and Carlsen queened his pawn with check.

There are many exciting games in which a player sacrifices his queen for a mating attack. This was different: Anand allowed Carlsen to have two queens on the board while he proceeded with his attack. Carlsen’s defensive tactic was obvious: if he could sacrifice his extra queen for any of Anand’s four attacking pieces, he would blunt the attack. This exciting chess position deserves a lot of analysis, but so far it appears that with best play, the game should have been a draw. Sadly, Anand, twice Carlsen's age and suffering both physically and mentally from the stress of this match, blundered and resigned.


26. … b2! What a move.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Here’s how IBM can take Watson to the Next Level:

Today’s New York Times has an article by Quentin Hardy about how IBM has beefed up its Watson program (the computer system that defeated two humans in Jeopardy on TV). The general idea is that Watson will be a powerful computing application in the cloud. The article suggests that IBM is unsure how to profit from Watson-in-the-Cloud, but by making it available, they will find out.

I can tell IBM how to take Watson to the next level. Make a deal with Facebook! Here’s how it would work:

Facebook users could make a single query, or buy a few minutes of time for queries. The price would range from, say, $1.99 to $29.99, depending on the number of queries and the user’s level of privacy. IBM would charge the least amount for a single query that was accessible to all Facebook users along with its answer. And of course, Watson would get access to the Facebook user’s own data, if they agree, to help Watson tailor the answer to the questioner. And of course, IBM (and Watson) would be able to save all the Q’s and A’s, anonymously, to improve their system.

Here’s how IBM would benefit:

First, I’m sure that hundreds of scientists have worked on this question: what do people want to know that Watson can tell them? Well, after the Facebook deal, an additional 150,000,000 people or so will offer their suggestions. Crowd Wisdom can innovate.

Second, IBM will make money. I’m sure you can imagine the trickle of funds coming from this arrangement, but it’s better than that. Some public queries will go viral, and everybody will want to know how Watson will answer them. Thus, some single queries will each be asked 50 million times, yielding nice profits.

Hey, Watson, what are my chance of earning a million dollars in my lifetime?

Hey, Watson, is it time to look for a different job?

Hey, Watson, where should I look for my lost hat?

Hey, Watson, how should I roast my 22 pound turkey?

IBM: Facebook is calling …


WebRep
currentVote
noRating
noWeight

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I am trying to give up football:

I am a fan of professional football. When I watch games on TV, I often rewind to go over plays four or five times. I like to understand how offenses and defenses work, and to appreciate the skills and planning that come together to make a good team. I'm a Giant's fan.

No more. I hope.

I'm well aware of the violence that drives this sport. I know that the more violent team gets a real advantage. I know that teams try to injure key opponents, or to wear them down with brutal tackles and hits. I know that in the locker rooms, the veterans give the rookies an unconscionably hard time. I've known all that for years.

Now I know about the concussions. I know that hundreds of thousands of kids are playing tackle football and rattling their skulls, imitating the professional players whose league is still trying to pretend that concussions aren't all that serious.

I can't, in good conscience, get my enjoyment from a game, however deep and fascinating, that brutalizes its humans for my pleasure, and encourages the brutalization of the youngsters whose unlikely goal is to make it to the pro level and earn millions.

Frank Bruni summarized the issues very well in an editorial on pro football today, a column called Violence, Greed and the Gridiron. What he wrote was my last straw.

I really ought to stop. And I'm pleased that I didn't see a single game today.

I'll let you know if I backslide and start enjoying pro football games again. But I think I'm through.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Welcome to the New York Tech column, David Segal!

David Pogue has left the New York Times, and - apparently - the weekly Thursday Tech Column is now being written by David Segal. I think we are very lucky to have Mr. Segal take over this column. He has been a very fine writer for the Times, and I look forward to some stimulating Thursday columns.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Jakob Nielsen's website offers articles about usability in computer user interfaces. The recommendations are based on studies of people trying to use apps and websites, as well as common sense. There are many articles here worth reading, but I wish to point out a new one about the rather horrendous user interface that people must navigate in order to sign up for insurance. The author is Jen Cardello, and the article's title is:

HealthCare.gov’s Account Setup: 10 Broken Usability Guidelines

The bottom line here is that users who find the interface frustrating will spend much more time on its screens (contributing to overload of the system), and many will give up and overload the support staff with phone calls. The developers of the healthcare website seem to have made many bad decisions (please read the article!), but two are particularly fascinating:

There is an enormous image atop the first screen. Users with low resolution CRTs may not realize that there is anything they can do on this screen, because the instructions are lower down. Many users will have to figure out they must scroll to get started.

Users must supply a unique ID, but they cannot use their email address as their ID. Email addresses are unique (although I must say people's email addresses can change, and that could be a problem). The instructions, and the process, for selecting one's ID and password are unnecessarily complex and confusing. Why? 

Why wasn't there a good user interface specialist to help the developers design this website?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Conference Call: They Are Not Listening!

I have retired, and I no longer work in a business world that has irrevocably changed.

I recall many long, dreary conference calls. The essence of a conference call is that too many people, at too many locations, have an interest in some greatly wounded but still thrashing project. Some part of the conference call will involve us, so that we must stick the phone to our ear, listen, and wait.

Brian Brushwood, on a TWIT show, brought the utterly new business world to my attention when he exclaimed: “Those people on a conference all: they are not listening! They are playing Candy Crush!”


Oh, I wish I had had an iPad in 1986.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Robison Predicts!


When the auto companies began competing with each other to sell cars by offering the best computer user interface, I predicted that within ten years, they would give up and offer a standard connection that car buyers could use with their own IOS and Android (etc.) devices. Some of the auto companies have made a great step in that direction already. They are trying to standardize a programming interface for a version of Linux to be used in all cars.

The software that automakers write for cars must be hugely expensive. Among other things, every version of their software has to be tested and tested, to avoid bugs that will crash a car or cause major, public, black eyes. You can divide the cost of development by the large number of vehicles sold, but you will still have a painfully large number that drives up the retail price.

Now here’s a new prediction, unless GPS manufacturers have already gotten on top of this one: When I check the distance to a “favorite” location that I have stored in my GPS, the device shows me the distance to that location as the crow flies. (Let us assume straight-aiming crows.)

I travel often from my home to some of my “favorite” locations. The GPS could easily remember my ACTUAL driving mileage, and show it to me as my “last time” mileage when I select a favorite. I’m sure that GPS devices will add this feature; it’s too useful, and pretty easy to add.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Another of Parkinson's Laws, and Apple:

We are fond of quoting Parkinson's best known law, but he proposed other laws as well.

My personal favorite from his book, Parkinson's Law, seems unlikely at first. He argues that when a corporation, or any large organization, builds its ideal building, that the organization is in the throes of death. Here's why: a vivid, active organization has no time to plan its ideal building. It is expanding, fighting fires, scoring exciting victories, changing direction, etc. When at last, the organization has a clear sense of itself and and time to plan exactly how it should be housed, it has left all that useful excitement behind; it is dying.

Here is a sneak peak at Apple's plan for its ideal corporate headquarters. Enough said.