Wulf's Webden

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Sunday 30 April 2017
by Wulf
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Zoom, Enhance

Do you remember that scene in Blade Runner (1982) where Deckard instructs his computer to zoom in – and in and in – on a photo of an apartment, allowing him to reveal hidden details that help the story along? It always seemed impossible (as if replicants, etc, were not) as it has done when repeated in other films and shows since. However, it looks like another bit of Science Fiction is turning into science fact.

Google has been working on a system to guess – using computer learning techniques – the details of an image from a pixellated version. It isn’t infallible but could guide where to look again… or lead to miscarriages of justice. Fire up those sci-fi engines again for further stories!

Saturday 29 April 2017
by Wulf
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Quiddling

I assume that means playing Quiddler, although I’m not sure I’d get away with it in a game. I still smart from not being allowed oranger last night (it should mean ‘more orange’, on the pattern of redder, greener and bluer) but it wasn’t in the dictionary being used for adjudication. Shame I didn’t have a spare Y to sweep up with orangery.

On each round, players get dealt an increasing number of cards with either individual letters or various pairs, like QU, CL and IN. All the cards are beautifully illustrated in the style of Celtic and Old English illuminated manuscripts but you don’t have much time to admire them. The challenge is to assemble one or more complete words. When someone decides to lay their words down, all the rest of the players have to follow and scores are totted up.

In some ways it is a bit like a card version of Scrabble but feels more relaxed. You are at the mercy of the letters you draw, with scope for lexophiles to prosper, but you don’t have to also figure in where to lay the words (although there are bonuses each round for the most words and the longest word). All good fun and a new favourite.

Friday 28 April 2017
by Wulf
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Other Countries

What is the difference between countries? What colours in between the invisible lines on the ground? No matter their national identity, humans all breathe air, consume food and drink and need shelter and sleep. However, there are plenty of tangible differences.┬áSome of these are hard-wired – literally – like the different types of sockets and voltages of national power systems or unmissable, like different languages. Others are more subtle, such as the way words are used in a ‘common’ language – people walking around in their pants or perking after church, either of which sounds odd in British English but less remarkable in various places on the other side of the Atlantic.

Beyond language though, there are plenty of other differences. Often these are in the form of subtle assumptions. Do you tip in a restaurant, and how much? Will your drink get refilled for free? Should you build a fence around your property or put up curtains? For what things do you say please or thank you?

That said, these things shade from region to region and are influenced by migration. Mind you, perhaps the same could be said of nationhood too?

Thursday 27 April 2017
by Wulf
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AutoDraw

After my recent posting about Quick, Draw, I have been looking at related tool called AutoDraw. This is another Google tool that uses AI. Rather than trying to draw something the machine can recognise, here you draw something and the machine offers to turn it into a much neater looking icon or sketch. I imagine it is using similar technology but putting it to a different end.

This isn’t the acme of sketching but, as an experiment with a visually orientated search engine for finding little bits of clip art, it is potentially useful and certainly fascinating. I wonder how far it will go though? Perhaps one day someone will come up with a guitar that you can “play” just by waving your hands over the neck (or a functional air guitar)… although that will beg the question of how much is really “you” in the playing.

Still, while there are levels where it falls short of what can be achieved by a human with a bit of gumption, I am sure there are other applications where such tools will let us reach further than we ever could before.

Wednesday 26 April 2017
by Wulf
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Norman Design

One of the tangents that came up on the TU812 Managing Systemic Change course was a discussion of Don Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things. A fascinating blog post was shared, which focused on what has become known as the Norman door – nothing to do with 1066 and all that!

The theory is that doors are simple, everyday objects but they often illustrate unthinking design practices. Have you had that experience where you didn’t know whether to push or pull a door, or you guessed and got it wrong? It turns out that it might not be your fault. Designers should take account of what are known as ‘affordances’, subtle clues that prompt you in the right direction. Some are related to other physical factors – if you put the handle on the same side as the hinges, it simply won’t work very well. However, Norman suggested, it makes sense to use a flat plate if you should push the door away from you and a grab handle if you should pull it towards you.

There is much more the designer should consider, such as whether you need a window to see if there is someone on the other side, but this is the most basic parameter for many doors. Next time you get it wrong, take a moment to think about whether you are entirely to blame or if the designer gave you false clues.

Tuesday 25 April 2017
by Wulf
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Knowing What to Ignore

Those voice activated systems are proving to be troublesome. Apparently, Burger King recently tried to exploit Google by having the phrase “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” read out at the end of a commercial. Google have now caught that and run an update which can detect and ignore the advert but Burger King have probably got their money’s worth from the publicity budget.

It is similar to the story I mentioned in January, of a news report accidentally triggering Amazon’s Alexa assistant, but goes further down the line of deliberate exploitation. There are times when voice activation is handy but it is like leaving your keyboard out where anyone can type on it! Google and other providers of such tools better get on with voiceprint recognition, although I don’t know how that fares when you catch a cold.

I don’t recall they ever had this problem in Star Trek but it demonstrates the long distance between a cool SciFi concept and making something work well – including safely and securely – in the real world.

Monday 24 April 2017
by Wulf
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The Line of Death

The Line of Death is a web design term, which refers to the areas of your browser which can be controlled by the owner of the server. Bits of the browser belong to your computer, like the buttons to close the window, but a lot is under control of the site but can be manipulated to look like it belongs. Unfortunately, describing where the line falls turns out to be complex – follow that link for a visual guide.

I suppose part of the answer might be to go for a garish browser colour scheme, which a malicious website is unlikely to match. Certainly you have to be very careful what you click. Be careful out there!