Archive for June, 2011
Unfortunately, my first and last names are “Runsawayfrom” and “Likealittlekitten”. But I can get that changed by deed poll now. I have proved my manhood.
So what fine, brave, reckless thing did I do? Perhaps you should sit down, or else these words might make you stumble. Gentle reader, I drove in Galway City.
I’d been putting that one off. Encircled by roundabouts, fiercely peppered with student bicycles, crammed up a one-way system rumoured to be based on the French horn, Galway is famously difficult for the inexperienced. And I am certainly that. Though I have in fact driven in Galway traffic before, it was twenty-five years ago when there were hardly any one-way streets and no roundabouts at all. The good old days, before the planners ruined it. By planning for all the cars people went and bought.
My only real experience with the traffic circle therefore was in our ecclesiastical capital Tuam, where they’re mostly of the mini variety. You know, those marked-on-the-ground ones that you can drive straight through if you’re not in the mood. Did I mention I failed my test? Anyway the ones in Galway City are big, with two or – for one particularly confusing segment – three lanes. To someone ignorant of the simple principles involved, they seem impossibly dangerous. Six months ago, I was that someone.
It was OK, he said nonchalantly. Not easy, but not the ballet of knives it appears to be either. Mirrors are your friends. No wait, they’re not your friends. They’re your enemies. Watch them. Basically the town driving is about the constant swivel-headed vigilance. All you need to do is look in as many directions as possible simultaneously.
I did get tooted, but just once – not bad for a first time. I deserved it too, I cut someone up. And yet somehow I don’t feel too bad about this. Possibly because it was a white van.
This is a good one. Michael Healy-Rae, the son of one of our finer politicians, won a ‘reality’ TV show thanks to a public phone-in vote. Several thousand of these calls, it turned out, came from his father’s place of work. As his father is a lone-wolf independent, not exactly popular with other TDs (representatives), it is beyond belief that this was a spontaneous outpouring of support by his fellow deputies. Government phone lines, which are free for representatives of course, were used to call premium numbers – were used in what can only be honestly described as an orchestrated attempt to cheat.
On his father’s retirement at the last election, thanks in part perhaps to the publicity received from the TV show, Michael Healy-Rae took over the seat.
He has now agreed to repay the cost of the calls. Not, he wishes to emphasise, because he admits any liability or responsibility for this wonderful outpouring of support from government offices. Rather, simply so that the House can get over this and go back to concentrating on the country’s real problems.
What he does not understand, or wishes to pretend not to understand, is that the contemptuous abuse of position and privilege to get an advantage over everyone else is precisely the country’s real problem.
Still not quite finished with that attic, would you believe. Right now I’m cleaning and repacking my old darkroom equipment. Not sure why. Did anything ever become so suddenly and so profoundly obsolete?
Maybe one day it’ll be retro-chic to take analogue pictures. After all, it had so many aspects you just don’t get with digital processing. Like handling poisonous chemicals in the dark. The gear seems OK, mostly. A few negatives chewn¹ by rats who apparently thought film was still made out of cellulose. No harm really, they were of a band I’d covered for a magazine in about 1984. Goth, but with lingering traces of New Romantic. Robert Smith Hair and Simon Le Bon pants. What I’m saying here basically is that the tooth-marks of rats have improved these images.
I wanted to be a photographer for several years. Right up until the day in fact that I finally understood it was real work. You’re running around with a box that has about fifteen knobs on it, trying to capture the moment. Set one wrong, and you lose. This is stressful.
And the costs! The film costs money, the developing costs more money. The printing costs really fantastic amounts of money. Eventually I did my own developing and printing, but it didn’t save much and it was even more hard work – especially as I’d had to settle for the cheapest, crappiest equipment going. This LPL 3301D enlarger didn’t even cast an even light, which is really the least you should expect. Possibly the worst thing ever made in Japan.
I don’t think of myself as a photographer any more, yet ironically I take far more pictures these days. Because I can. Since my camera turned into a phone the cost has become too small even to quantify – plus I actually have it when I see something worth photographing. And whether doing it more has improved my eye or just the odds, I think I get better results. Take that one up at the top there, from last April. That’s closer to being a good photograph than anything I ever took with a proper roll film SLR.
This is a new golden age of photography. And it happened so fast. Imagine if I’d appeared in my darkroom and said to my younger self “Some day soon you’ll take better pictures with a telephone.”
Actually I did, but at the time I just put it down to the chemicals.
A few days ago I suggested that Nokia’s lovely N9 might be the last as well as the first phone to use the MeeGo operating system. Now it would seem that speculation is confirmed. Well, it is if you want to go by a single short article in a Finnish daily paper, but that’s the sort of scrap of information people are grabbing at – particularly people in the MeeGo development community, who of course are desperately invested in this.
It isn’t true. Not on a literal level at least, because there are in fact two MeeGo phones. And though the N950 will be available to developers only and not the general public, why would they be releasing a phone to help people develop apps if they don’t plan to have anything to run them on? I think CEO Stephen Elop means only to counter the opposite rumours – that the good reception the N9 received was going to make Nokia switch back to MeeGo as its main strategy. That was only ever a fantasy.
I strongly suspect however that Nokia plan to keep MeeGo going as a little back-burner project – much as it was until quite recently. Remember, MeeGo is not a new thing but just the latest in a line of semi-experimental products based on Linux: the 770, N800, N810 and N900. These were never big sellers either, but Nokia is a company that has done well in the past by fielding a range of niche products.
Is there any point in buying one though when, no matter how good the hardware is, it lacks the ingredient that makes or breaks a phone in the world today; If MeeGo isn’t going to be a commercial product, who’s going to make apps for it?
Well they don’t necessarily have to. Don’t forget that all software for Symbian phones – which are going to be with us for some years yet – is actually built for Nokia’s Qt framework, also used on MeeGo. Maybe Symbian apps haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but good recent phones like the N8 have revived them somewhat. Then of course, under the MeeGo skin the OS is basically Debian Linux. The Open Source community will be able to provide many heavy-duty applications, just as are currently available for Nokia’s earlier Linux devices.
And, it has Java. OK, big whoop. Java on phones has always been a should-have-been. Except… Android apps are basically Java, aren’t they? Running on a version of Linux too. With that similar basic structure, it should be fairly easy to port Android apps to MeeGo.
Easy, or even trivial – if an application that rejoices under the name of Alien Dalvik fulfils its promise. This is not an emulator; it allows Android apps to run natively under MeeGo. Now that would be something; the vast supply of Androids apps, on mobile Linux, on Nokia hardware. The user would have to assemble it themselves I guess, but they’d get a combination that could easily rival the official Windows product. The only question, I suppose, is whether it will be allowed to happen.
I’ve been looking out for people using these things in unexpected ways – and finding surprisingly few. There’s this fairly effective decorative example. Or this portrait made up of thousands, each of which is a link to a video. Or the guy who proposed via code – God would he have looked like a loser if she hadn’t accepted. But I think the prize goes to the Netherlands, which to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its royal mint is circulating €5 and €10 coins with codes on them that link to a *surprise*.
I’ll save you the trouble of pointing a phone at the screen (yes, that works), it goes here. Though to be honest, the surprise isn’t all that.
But the coins are kind of funky, even if they’re not really Euros in that they aren’t legal tender outside the Netherlands. (Perhaps just as well. How would you react to finding that weirdly realistic image of Queen Beatrix in your change?) And even at home, the €10 ones won’t be seeing a lot of circulation. Made of gold, they’re worth more than their face value.
Naturally there was a brief insta-panic about having ‘tracking codes’ on money that might secretly be scanned by vending machines, etc. But as every coin has the same code, all it actually tells you is that €5 has been spent. Which, let’s face it, you probably knew already. So it’s a rather pointless and gimmicky application of the technology really. Now if all the coins had a different one you could have some fun. Prizes maybe. Or say one in ten thousand links to a really fierce porn site.
Just one thing still bothers me. If the Dutch Royal Mint is only a hundred years old, what the hell did they use for money before?
- QR Code (i.doubt.it)
- The Dutch are Making QR-Coded Coins. Seriously. [Money] (gizmodo.com)
Yesterday I was discussing QR codes, and the possibility of turning the actual text in magazines or on posters into links. I see no reason why in the very near future you couldn’t go to a Web page, video or other online resource simply by pointing a phone at a printed URL. These methods could help revive the flagging newspaper and magazine industries, by introducing a much greater integration between the printed page and the Internet. For example you could easily share a magazine article with Facebook friends.
An idea that I can see supplanting even this though is a form of steganography – that is, encoding links and other data into pictures, in such a way that they can be read by machine without being visible to humans. Actually this is already used for anti-forgery systems; Adobe Photoshop for example will refuse to handle scans of Euro notes because it recognizes a pattern hidden in the design. The same method could turn photographs into clickable links when you look at them through your phone.
And print designers will absolutely love this. Not only do they not require blocky codes or funny fonts, they can make tired elements like www and .com finally vanish from their pages. So these I think will be with us pretty soon. Until they’re eventually replaced by RFID ink.
Rosita Boland wrote about this picture in the Irish Times the other day. It’s from a schoolbook she had as a child.
The article is well worth reading. I just wanted to add that the image has gone viral. I’d missed the story in the Times but was alerted to it by Laughing Squid, an “online resource for interesting art, culture & technology”. Shortly thereafter, a friend in the States posted it to Facebook.
People around the world are intrigued and somewhat horrified at God’s strictly hierarchical love. Myself though, I think most are missing the philosophical depth of this little puzzle. To the uninitiated it might seem obvious that the Church wants you to select the baptised baby, but the baby is not there to be encircled! Clearly Catholicism is a lot more Zen than I thought.
I think as a child I would have resolved the conundrum by drawing in the baby. Maybe that’s too linear, but I liked drawing.
I don’t know in fact if I had this actual book in school. My brain is telling me I’ve seen it before, but I don’t trust my brain. I reckon I’m older than Rosita Boland though, but much, much younger than that drawing style, so it’s theoretically possible. In my recent trawlings through the attic I did find books from the same series, one of which I now have in my hand. And here’s something interesting – they’re not from Ireland.
They were reprinted here by Fallons and, according to the flyleaf of this one at least, “edited and revised by a panel of Irish Catechists”, but they were actually written by American nuns – mainly a Sister Maria De La Cruz of an order called the Helpers of the Holy Souls – and originally published by W.H. Sadler in New York in 1969. Look at the spelling of “baptized”.
The One Cent Catechism? My world is rocked.
When I posted yesterday about QR codes, those little symbols used to put Web links on real-world objects, reader Azijn made this thought-provoking comment:
I find QR codes a bit weird. Why not have an app that can simply recognize a certain default font in which advertisers will agree to publish their URLs? Humans and phones alike can recognize that!
Indeed, I can find no such app. How come? Azijn’s idea would surely work.
But then you have to remember that most design actually happens by accident. QR codes are prevalent for this purpose mainly because they’ve been around long enough to catch on. They were invented by Toyota for labelling components and it was in Japan that they were first used on phones. But that doesn’t mean of course that they’re the best solution.
QR codes did have a couple of advantages. They were designed expressly to be read by machine and have built-in error correction, so they were easier for simple devices to process. But now that phones are very powerful computers they should have little trouble handling text recognition – I doubt if there’s even any need for special fonts¹.
I can think of one way to speed things up though: A typographical convention to indicate where a website address begins and ends, such as putting it between two easily recognised symbols, so that the phone doesn’t need to scan whole pages. Example:
Any such text will be highlighted on your phone’s screen, showing you that it’s clickable.
Can I get a patent on that?
- There have been fonts designed to be easily read by machine since at least the 60s, for example the hardcore OCR-A, the more friendly OCR-B, or the space-age classic Westminster – which I had always thought belonged to NASA or IBM or some such but turns out to have been created by a British bank. These days though Optical Character Recognition software is so good that they are no longer really necessary, though obviously plainer, less ornate fonts are likely to get better results.
See that? That’s a QR code. You find these things everywhere now; in papers and magazines, on business cards and posters. If you’ve been wondering what the hell’s going on, they’re a similar idea to barcodes. They can contain hidden messages, contact details, dirty limericks – best of all, links to websites.
Scan one with your phone’s camera, and its browser will open the page. (You’ll find a free QR reader for most recent phones here.) The one shown is for this very blog. Now real-world objects like printed pages, even buildings, can have clickable links.
But why stop there? I’m growing a vast privet hedge maze in the shape of this code. Soon you’ll be able to come here by clicking on satellite photographs.