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The Design Planning Commission of the City of Seattle posted this on the side of the MAcGuire Apartments recently. Seems it's one step closer to it's eventual demise. And only 10 years after completion.

  • Ridiculous User Interfaces In Film, and the Man Who Designs Them [Design]

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    Ever wonder why computer interfaces in the movies don't look like computers in real life? >>>

    What do The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible 3, Mr & Mrs Smith. Children of Men, and Agent Cody Banks 2 have in common? Absurd, futuristic, and totally fake software interfaces, designed in part by one man: Mark Coleran.

    Designing a fake dashboard for an imagined supercomputer or a hovering control panel for a worldwide surveillance system is an entirely different process than creating a genuinely usable UI. Your goal is to imply things: that the machine is powerful; that the villain is formidable; that the software is intuitive, but that the breadth of its powers border on unknowable. At no point does real-world usability factor in, and nor should it—this is pure fantasy, for an audience raised on Start Buttons, desktop icons and tree menus. Here's a gallery of some of the most famous interfaces; see how many you recognize.

    Coleran's UIs are a mix of old and newer than new, mingling compact pixel art, wireframes and the solid, militaristic reds, blues and blacks of software from the 80s with touch-free gesture screens and overelaborate visualizations from some vague point in the future. It's the kind of stuff you take for granted in action and sci-fi films, but rounded up in one place, it's a strangely impressive, almost cohesive view of the future of software, as designed by someone with no contraints. [Mark Coleran via Metafilter]

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The web has been chock full of coverage of the new Nokia N900, ranging from Out-Of-The-Box videos and feature-by-feature reviews to narrowly focused usage reports.

So I thought to record my first 24 hours with the device, including impressions, configuration experience, usage tips, and whatever else emerged. This was written down in real time, and includes direct links to download/install a ton of 'first time' apps (so you might want to view this in your N900 if you've got one). Enjoy!

UNPACKING: December 2 11:00am

I collect the box from the lobby of the building, open it on the spot, and am impressed immediately with it's light weight and inky blackness. Back at my desk, I inventory the contents of the box: basic, utilitarian packaging, a variety of cables, and a manual. I attempt to open the N900's back-cover. There's no release button, and you have to dislodge the back-cover from the body with more force than I'm comfortable applying to a new (and very expensive) device. Once installed, I resist the temptation to dive in (work first!), and instead simply plug in the AC Adaptor and let the battery charge. The Indicator Light blinks yellow while charging.

FIRST BOOT: December 2 4:00pm

The Indicator Light turns solid green around the same time I finish work. I remove the T-Mobile SIM and MicroSD chips from my T-Mobile Dash, attempt again to open the back-cover (very tricky, but getting easier). Once open, it's a cinch to install the chips and close it back up again. I push the On/Off button and wait to be amazed. I sure was:

  • The N900 boots to the familiar 'handholding' boot image, seems to detect and connect to the T-Mobile Network automatically, and even displays a '3G' indicator! No network configuration or setup required at all. Take that Windows Mobile 6.5 Connection Wizard.
  • I activate the browser, pick Facebook from the pre-loaded bookmarks list, and attempt to enter my account credentials. It takes a few tries on the slide-out QWERTY. I've used hardware-QWERTY phones exclusively for years, and this one feels solid. But every device has a different set of tactile and user-experience characteristics to get used to. How much distance and distinction between buttons, how much up/down travel on each button, button placement, button function, and the pairing of alpha-numeric with special characters on each button, etc.  I'm sure by the end of 24-hours, I'll have the hang of the N900's hardware keyboard. It feels good, matte, and responsive.
  • Facebook itself, like Google Reader, and other web pages I loaded, were all quick and responsive. I'd never experienced T-Mobile's 3G before (the Dash is a 2.5G device), and the speed seems plenty fast.
  • I open the media player which shows the albums, songs, pictures, and videos on my MicroSD chip immiediately. No lengthy "scanning library" delay experience like Windows Mobile. My content is simply there. I play a song, watch a video of my daughter, listen to a pre-loaded track from Nokia, and then flipp over to a German-language Internet Radio Station.
  • I load Ovi Maps and determine my current location easily
  • I open the Sharing app and configure my Flickr account easily
  • I switch back to Google Reader while listening to the Internet Radio Station, then activate the Application Manager and begin installing apps. The device remains responsive and the streaming audio never skips during this short test.

INSTALLING APPS: December 2 5:30pm

You can download applications compatible with Maemo5 by pointing the device's browser to the site. You can also use the built-in Application Manager front-end, whic by default shows a short list of approved-by-Nokia apps from the default repositoriess. I installed the following (links will download .install files):

TESTING MESSAGING: December 2 9:30pm

I then configured accounts for Sykpe, Hermes (using Twitter and Facebook credentials), Mauku, and Jabber. All worked well. The Phone even displayed my Skype contacts in the Contact list. For any contact I selected, the Phone app displayed a dialog box offering to call them via my mobile network or via Skype. I also configured 3 IMAP4 accounts and was able to download, read, and send email easily using the updated version of the Modest email client. When viewing the top-most screen in Modest, it would be nice if the app listed the number of unread/read emails in each account. Instead, you have to click into each account to see that information. There's also no multi-select (that I could find) to delete a range of emails at once. So I found myself click-and-holding messages one at a time in order to get the Delete menu option to appear.

The integrated IM/SMS application works very nicely. I receive updates from several Twitter users via SMS messaging, and those arrived with a quiet chime, a floating notification screen, and a blinking blue Indicator Light. Combining IM and SMS into the same app was a great idea.

TESTING PIM SYNCING: December 2 10:30pm

I explored the following two PIM-sync scenarios:

  1. Direct device-to-device syncing via Outlook and the Nokia PC Suite software: The software installed and ran just fine on my Lenovo T43p laptop running Windows7.  Pairing the N900 with my laptop via Bluetooth took several tries, and required an updated driver from the Bluetooth component manufactureer. But once it was setup, I could sync Calendar, Contacts, and Notes between both devices using either the Nokia PC Suite software or Windows7's built in Sync feature. I was also able to sync via the N900's sync/charging USB cable. One detail I noticed however, is that when creating a new appointment in the N900's built-in calendar I couldn't find an option to invite others to it (a basic feature in Outlook/Exchange). I was able to sync 1200+ contacts to the device in about 15 minutes, and 200+ appointments in another 10 minutes.
  2. Over-The-Air syncing via Nuevasync to my Google Calendar/Contacts: As a long time Windows Mobile user without my own Exchange Server, I've relied steadily on Nuevasync, a free service that provides synchronizing of Calendar/Contacts info via Exchange ActiveSync to your Google account. I configured my N900 to NuevaSync's service but couldn't get it working past the initial connection stage before it threw an error. NuevaSync appears to be seeking testers with N900's in order to fix this. I've registered my interest in helping them out, and others might wish to do so in order to speed progress towards a workable solution. Also, I have to give a shout-out to OggSync's product, which is how I automate syncing of my Outlook data to Google in the first place.

REAL WORLD USAGE: December 3 7:00am to 1:00pm

Today started pretty busily. I had an early school-run, for which I relied on the fantastic OneBusAway service using the N900's text messaging to find out when my bus downtown would arrive. I was then on a 2-hour walking tour looking at office space, for which I used the N900 to take pictures and check email. The tagging/sharing features with the camera work wonderfully, and are a lot of fun. Also, I love that you only have to slide open the camera shutter to activate. There was also a 1-hour conference call in a noisy coffee shop, for which I used the wired headset while reviewing a PDF document on the phone. Call quality was very good, I could hear the other participants loud and clear, and found the wired microphone very sensitive (i.e. the coffee shop owner sitting nearby remarked that he never heard my voice over the din of other customers). I also discovered that you can set the phone orientation to portrait or landscape, and you turn on a setting so that the phone app activates simply by turning the device to the portait position.

On the bus back to my office, I Twittered a bit, read the news via the browser, and then turned off 3G to conserve battery power. By 1:00pm, the battery was down to 20% or so, and I plugged it in to re-charge. That's about 6 hours of steady usage without any Bluetooth, Wifi, or GPS. The screen brigthness is set to half-power and the screen-off timer is set to 1 minute. I imagine battery power might improve by (1) turning down screen brightness a tinch, and (2) awaiting the promised firmware update (fingers crossed).

NEXT STEPS: December 3 and beyond:

  • Install RootSh for root access to the device (yeah, I got this far without it!)
  • Enabling Extras Development library and see what other apps are ready to try out
  • Enable the Extra Testing Repository - contains pre-release, not-fully-tested software. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
  • Install Telepathy plug-ins for MSN, YAHOO!, and AIM IM protocols
  • Replace PC Suite-based synchronisation with some Exchange 2007-based solution
  • Try out Fring for multi-protocol IM, when it's available

That's it for now. If you've got one of these devices, or have questions, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

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  • Every Single One of Cormac McCarthy's Works Was Typed on This [Retromodo]

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    Cormac McCarthy auctions his word-worn typewriter for charity >>>

    Cormac McCarthy has spent many years bent over this typewriter banging out books and screenplays, including All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road. Now, after many decades, he's giving up his trusty old gadget.

    He's not giving it up because he yearns for a newfangled bit of gear though. He's trading it for an identical model and only because it's not working as well as it should anymore. The original typewriter will be auctioned off by Christie's with all the proceeds going to a charity.

    What got to me about this whole thing though isn't that McCarthy is doing something charitable or that he's replacing a gadget. It's how he describes it in the authentication letter to be given to the winning bidder:

    It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. ... I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.

    Despite the lack of maintenance given to the gadget, it's easy to see that he has a genuine attachment to it, both in his words and in what he's doing. Then again, I guess we've all got some piece of old school tech that we're sentimental over, don't we? [NY Times via Obsolete]

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After 4 attempts at ordering over 3 months from Nokia, Amazon, and Dell, I finally managed to get an N900 delivered today.

It's been charging since lunch time, and now that my work day is almost done, I'm getting ready to turn it on and explore its Maemo5 goodness.

Yay! Turn up the music and open the windows, it's time to play!

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  • Pacific Northwest Earthquakes Could Strike Closer to Home

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    Tectonic movement close to home >>>


    Major earthquakes occurring along the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington state could strike closer to the state’s urban areas than some models have suggested, a new study notes.

    sciencenewsGPS data gathered at dozens of sites throughout western Washington hint that slippage along the interface between the North American and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates could occur as deep as 25 kilometers below the Earth’s surface, says Timothy I. Melbourne, a geodesist at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. That depth, in turn, would place the epicenters of quakes triggered along that portion of the subduction zone — some of which could exceed magnitude 9 —more than 60 kilometers inland, he and CWU colleague James Chapman report online and in the November 28 Geophysical Research Letters.

    Seafloor spreading is shoving the eastern edge of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, which runs from northern California to southern British Columbia, eastward beneath the North American plate. Long-term observations indicate that the plates are converging at an average rate of between 3 and 4 centimeters each year, says Melbourne. “With GPS, you can see plate tectonics happening on a week-to-week basis,” he notes.

    At shallow depths, where Earth’s crust is relatively cool, the tectonic interface is locked, and seismic stress builds up there until it is released during a quake. But deep beneath western Washington, at depths between 25 and 45 kilometers, the two tectonic plates slide past each other for a few days each 18 months or so. These slippage episodes are sometimes described as “silent earthquakes” (SN: 4/27/02, p. 260) but actually do register on seismometers, says Melbourne. “They’re like a magnitude-1 quake but they go on for a couple of weeks,” he notes. The total energy release in each slippage episode, if let loose all at once, would equal that in a quake with a magnitude between 6.3 and 6.7.

    NOAA Ocean Explorer: Submarine Ring of Fire 2002: Explorer RidgeThe long-term GPS data provide information about where slippage is occurring and how the plates are deforming. For instance, while average plate convergence rates offshore are greater than 3 centimeters per year, those along the coast are about 2.5 cm/yr. Convergence inland, near Seattle, only adds up to about 0.5 cm/yr, says Melbourne. These trends, when combined with previous seismic data, hint that stress is accumulating along the tectonic interface at depths less than 25 kilometers, where the tectonic interface is locked.

    GPS data are a more direct way of telling where tectonic slippage is occurring and where it isn’t, says John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “That data from both GPS and seismic instruments are pointing in the same direction is comforting,” he adds.

    A major quake rupturing the 300-kilometer length of the Cascadia subduction zone that runs along the Washington coast would measure magnitude 8.9, Melbourne and Chapman estimate. If the entire 1,100-kilometer subduction zone slipped at once, the quake would be a magnitude-9.2 whopper rivaling the tsunami-spawning quake that slammed Indonesia in December 2004 (SN: 1/8/05, p. 19). Field studies suggest that quakes of such magnitude happen along the Cascadia subduction zone once every 550 years, on average. The last one struck the region in January of 1700 (SN: 11/29/97, p. 348).

    Quake hazard analyses for the region, based partially on seismic data, already account for possible tectonic slippage at depths of 25 kilometers, says Garry Rogers, an earthquake scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada in Sidney, British Columbia. Nevertheless, he notes, the new findings provide “more precise measurements than we’ve had before…. This study confirms a lot of what we’ve known about.”

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  • Get Inspiring National Geographic Images to Use as Desktop Wallpaper

    As an amateur photographer, I like to have a nice image as my desktop wallpaper to provide me with some inspiration throughout the day. Thanks to a post on freewaregenius, I just discovered that National Graphic magazine makes a huge selection of inspiring images available for desktop wallpaper use for free.

    You can get National Geographic wallpapers from two locations. The first is in the main photography section of the site. Wallpapers here are handily categorized (Adventure & Exploration,  Nature & Weather, Underwater, etc). Unfortunately, the images available in this section are only a maximum of 1280 pixels wide, which isn’t big enough for many of today’s monitors, although they should be fine on most laptops.

    Fortunately, you can also use images submitted to National Geographic’s International Photography Competition, and these are available in larger sizes (up to 1600 pixels wide). These photos aren’t categorized — you need to browse by month, but flicking through the range of beautiful images isn’t much of a chore. I currently have this image of melting ice set as my desktop background.

    If you’re still looking for more images, another great location to try is Flickr’s Explore page, which always has a huge selection of interesting and inspiring pictures.

    Where do you get wallpaper images from?

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  • After 35 Years, Another Message Sent From Arecibo

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    Likely the highest, best example ever of what digittante is all about: creative expression using the latest technology >>>

    0xdeadbeef writes "Two weeks ago, MIT artist-in-residence Joe Davis use the Arecibo radio telescope to send a message to three stars in honor of the 35th anniversary of the famous Drake-Sagan transmission to M13 in 1974. It was apparently allowed but not endorsed by the director of the facility, and used a jury-rigged signal source on what will now be known as the 'coolest iPhone in the world.' The message encoded a DNA sequence, but no word yet on whether it disabled any alien shields. You can get the low-down on Centauri Dreams: Part 1, Part 2."

    Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Thanks to Megan Seling at Seattle's rocking alternative weekly, The Stranger, for bringing this to my attention. No matter how tired you might be from hearing Arcade Fire's debut Album Funeral in every coffee and hipster resale shop, buck up and listen to it again performed by a the Seattle Rock Orchestra:


Megan notes:

I wish the video could do it justice—to have been there in person, sitting just a row or two away from the mess of instruments, getting the perfect mix, and hearing every subtle shift of dynamics in each song... it was amazing.

The Seattle Rock Orchestra is going to do this again in February, when they celebrate the work of David Bowie.

If you dig this then be sure to 'fan' the SRG on their Facebook page: Seattle Rock Orchestra.

Source: The Seattle Rock Orchestra Does the Arcade Fire | Line Out | The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper.

I learned recently there's no standard accepted definition for the term 'robot'. Is it anything automated to repeat the same function, must it be autonomous, can it be self-powered, must it change location or be self-guided? Does it require sentience to be a robot, or is that a cyborg? If we made it (versus it regenerating or procreating itself) does that mean it's a robot?

If theres a continuum between 'us' and 'them' where on that line is the Donut Maker Robot II, and how far away from Toasters and Cylons would it be?

  • Man Spoke Only Klingon to His Son for Three Years [Star Trek]

    d'Armond Speers isn't really a huge Star Trek fan. The reason he spoke only in Klingon during his son's first three years of life was to learn about the language acquisition process. Yeah, sure. What a petaQ.

    Yes, I think That Speers is such a horrid person that I had to learn how to say so in Klingon from our intern Don. It just baffles me that Speers actually sounds genuinely proud of his personal pseudo-academic project:

    I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language. He was definitely starting to learn it."

    It's great that he wanted to see how languages are picked up, but did he not think that there's potential that he hindered his son's social development by keeping focus away from a real language? I'm all for teaching foreign languages early on, but lets make it ones that are spoken on this planet, please. [Citypages viaGeekologie]

    Photo by Star Wars Blog, probably not d'Armond Speers.

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