Saturday, June 13, 2009

Google's new image (search)

Has anyone else noticed the upgrades to Google's image search? Did this happen months ago and I'm just now catching on?

I'm referring specifically to the dropdowns that now appear in the blue bar at the top. I think they've had the size one for awhile, which is nice but not particularly thrilling. The ones I noticed today, though, are the content and color selectors.

The content selector lets you pick a particular source or style of image—only news images, or only line art, and so on. The color selector lets you pick the predominant color of the images. They're handy ideas, and the work surprisingly well.

For example, do a search for "cake." Then click where it says "all colors" and change it to black. Lots and lots of black cakes (I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that they're this popular—damned emo kids).

The results seem to fall off a bit when you start mixing them ("faces," for example, seems to return more non-cake images when you filter on a color), but I suppose that's to be expected.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Keanu Reeves shits all over sci-fi. Again.

Universal Studios has apparently decided that we need another remake of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And they have decided that Keanu fucking Reeves is the man for the title role(s).

Now... I'm going to come out and admit that I despise Reeves. It's true that he's done some movies I enjoy (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, the original Matrix) but he's ruined several others I would've enjoyed (A Scanner Darkly, The Day the Earth Stood Still, possibly Constantine). He is not a good actor, and I don't understand how he still gets work.

But I have a theory...

Science fiction has never received the respect it deserves—not in any medium. Therefor, no studio is going to waste the time, money, and talent required to find really good actors. Instead, they're going to look for the sci-fi niche actors, the ones who spring immediately to mind. And, after The Matrix, that's Keanu.

Never mind that he worked as Neo specifically because he was supposed to be sort of lost and bemused the entire time. Never mind that what made that movie special was the Wachowskis' killer idea, truckloads of unique* style, and the utter bad-assness of Laurence Fishburne. Keanu was the leading man of a madly successful science fiction movie, and thus he's a go-to guy for science fiction leading men.

I'm not claiming it's some sort of conspiracy to marginalize sci-fi or anything like that; rather it's the result of sci-fi having already been marginalized because too many people can't be bothered to take it seriously.

Or it could be bunnies.

* Unique for the time. I'm aware that the whole black-leather-and-trenchcoat bit has been done to death since (and admittedly wasn't exactly new then) but it seemed fresh at the time.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Spring Show at the Erie Art Museum

A couple of coworkers and I wandered over to the Erie Art Museum during lunch to see the annual Spring Show. I don't go to the museum often, but I always enjoy it when I do. I am by no means a discerning art critic, and the following commentary should be taken with a grain of salt.

There were some paintings I really liked by Sarah Burke that had sort of mottled-colored silhouettes of people in various stages of distress or excitement. They were neat images and I think a series of them would look really good together.

An artist from Cleveland (whose name escapes me) had some cityscapes that looked bleak and funky. They kind of looked inked, actually, but the card said it was all paint. In either case, they were really cool and emotive.

The one piece that really grabbed me, though, was called "Under the Bridge" (again, I don't recall the artist's name). It was a mixed-media book that replicated the experience of looking up through a network of girders and supports—I know: hardly a life-changing experience, but interesting to me because it's a visual that can't accurately be replicated in a photo.

Some things simply don't translate to two dimensions. No matter how arresting the real-life, three-dimensional thing is, it loses its luster the moment you flatten it out. If you don't believe me, spend some time looking at pictures of the Grand Canyon and then go check out the real thing.

Each page of this book was a flat image, obviously. It had several criss-crossing beams, all suitably grungy and rusty. The spaces around them were cut out so that you could see multiple pages stacked up together. Each page was also about a quarter-inch thick. The result, when the pages are viewed together, gives you the sense of three-dimensionality you'd have from looking at something like that in real life without losing the scale of it, as you would in a sculpture.

So, bravo to you, artist whose name is hiding in the show pamphlet I left sitting on my desk at work and isn't included for some reason on the website. I have no idea if you were thinking anything remotely like what I got out of it, but I enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Links in Time

Speaking of Time Magazine, has anyone else noticed the rather bizarre way they cross-link their stories? I'm talking about the sentence-long links peppered throughout the body copy, hawking vaguely related articles.

I'm assuming these are auto-generated by software that scans through the article looking for keywords. It's the same as those hideously intrusive ad links that pop little boxes up from double-underlined words every time your mouse goes anywhere near the text.

I can't decide which version I actually find more intrusive. The Time method is just sneaky enough that you've read half the link before you catch on, whereas the pop-up box leaps out at you and usually obscures what you're trying to read.

In either case, I'd really like them both to go away.

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Dealing with drugs

Time Magazine reported recently that Portugal, which in 2001 decriminalized drugs—all of them, apparently—is showing dramatic decreases in drug use and HIV infection from needles and dramatic increases in people seeking treatment for drug addiction.

It seems that Portugal once had the highest drug use rate in Europe. The country's government, against the urging of its own populace, decided to replace mandatory jail time with voluntary addiction counseling. Large-scale dealing appears to still be illegal, but personal possession and use carries no compulsory penalty.

After five years under this new system, marijuana use plummeted to just 10 percent (compare to just shy of 40 percent in the United States). HIV infections fell by 17 percent and heroin use was more than halved.

Well, cool, I guess...

Now, I've stated before that I support the legalization of drugs. This is born not out of any desire to ever try them myself—my uncle saw to that—but out of a simple belief that it's not the government's job to protect people from their own stupidity.

At the end of the day, the (ab)use of drugs is a personal choice; and a large part of the basis of our country is that people are allowed to make their own choices, even bad ones. Things like drugs become illegal not because they themselves are inherently wrong, but because they become associated with or are assumed to incite other activities. In short, drugs get criminalized as a preventive measure.

I'm all for preventing crime, and I'm all for decreasing the use of drugs in our country. However, I don't think the legal system is the way to do it. It's not what the system was designed to do and it's not what the system is good at. If you want to be successful at prevention, you have to take the much harder road of education, urban development, and community-building.

These are, however, not solutions that fit neatly into an elected term of office.

But wait a minute...

I haven't yet touched on the primary thrust of the Time article: that legalizing drugs lowers—or at least does not increase—the use of drugs. This implies that drug legalization could be an effective measure in combating the drug problem, in much the same way the repealing prohibition made the gangster obsolete.

I've neglected this because the article makes a poor case for it. The argument is built up entirely around one study without reference to its methods or reception in the scientific community. This could just as easily be junk science as it is a legitimate study. It spouts a lot of statistics about how drug use has fallen, but gives no clear picture of how those statistics were derived. All of this makes the source suspect.

Oh yeah: and the study was conducted by the Cato Institute, which the article describes as "a libertarian think tank." In other words, it was conducted by people who were specifically looking to justify the legalization of drugs.

In the article's defense, it does cite a few people unconnected to the study, some of whom even make points against it (one points out that Portugal is so different from the U.S. culturally and politically that they can't realistically be compared). But these are just quotes, rather than facts.

It's a potentially interesting situation, all in all. Drawing any real conclusions from it, however, would require more study from less biased sources.

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Well... shit.

Just like that I have my blog again. Cleaned out some of the Viagra-peddling clutter, and it's all shiny and new again, just like I remember.

And I still have fucking nothing interesting to say.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Told you I was a dork

This cracked me up. I imagine it is thoroughly incomprehensible to anyone who reads this blog.

Nonetheless, five bonus points for every reference you uncover (barring the Star Wars ones, obviously).

Monday, October 30, 2006

World (Wide Web) War

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web many years back and then formed the W3C to govern it, has just announced that he's forking the language.

I am hardly in a position to tell Sir Tim his business, but this strikes me as a fantastically bad idea. And I mean "let's smear ourselves with honey and go bear tipping" bad.

As near as I can tell, the move is motivated by two primary factors: the fact that, six years after XHTML 1.0 became a recommendation, the majority of people are still not even meeting HTML 4.01 code standards (a venerable seven years old); and that several very prominent names have recently thrown up their hands in disgust and told the consortium to stick it.

In regards to the second point, it may have been a good move. A lot of those who were discontented were specifically angry at the fact that the W3C hasn't been seen to do much of anything in quite some time. For the first part, though, it will be a disaster.

Down in the trenches

I spend a good amount of time on one of the many Web development forums that can be found in cyberspace, and I can tell you that there are certain questions that tend to crop up time and time again. One of them is, "Should I be using HTML 4, XHTML 1.0, or XHTML 1.1?" It's then followed up with, "Strict or transitional?", "What's frameset do?", "Why does this DOCTYPE thing keep hosing my layout?", and "Why is this worth my time?"

The only reason it doesn't get asked more often is because a lot of the people out there don't even realize that there's a choice to be made.

See, the problem isn't that (X)HTML is outdated and needs to react to changing technologies — at least, that's not the problem yet. The problem is that the average rank-and-file Web developer doesn't see what's broken with the current versions. Because, to be quite honest, it works. People aren't failing to adopt XHTML because it doesn't meet their needs; they're failing to adopt it because HTML does.

Maybe you can lay blame with the browser makers. If the browsers enforced the standards, people would have to fix their code so that their pages worked. Everyone upgrades to XHTML, validates their pages, and the world is happy again.

Except that, as a browser maker, you'd be insane to go that route. The first browser out the gate that enforces standards strictly is going to get killed, because everyone using it will see a browser screwing up pages, not the other way around. It's intuitively nonsensical that the working version is incorrect, even if it happens to be true. Any such browser would disappear inside six months.

Perhaps you can blame the educators for failing to make budding Web developers aware of the issue and its implications. This assumes, though, that all Web developers were taught by someone. In many, if not most, cases they're self-taught by trial and error.

XHTML — and the XML into which it is intended to evolve — offers a variety of benefits, in theory. But theory matters very little to the people actually making the pages.


So what should Sir Tim have done? I don't have a damned clue.

I think that the only way you're going to get people to adopt anything is either by punishing them for non-compliance or rewarding them for compliance.

The very nature of the Web and browser economics makes punishment out of the question.

Maybe you could convince the search engines to consider code validity in page relevence, effectively demoting anyone with invalid code. That's not really within the operating parameters of a search engine, though.

As for rewards… what? You can throw that little validation badge on your pages, but that doesn't get you anything — and, to be perfectly honest, you can add it whether or not your page is valid.

So I have no answers, which is hardly a surprise. I think that the real issue, though, is in finding a way for proper XHTML to be beneficial enough to the bulk of Web developers that they'll make the switch. Introducing more options that they won't understand, if they're even aware of them, won't solve a thing.

Further reading for the terminally bored:

Monday, October 23, 2006


I have at my disposal a very diverse set of religious beliefs and convictions. I would like to ask you all your opinions on a recent Wired article.

My own reactions to it vary, and will be discussed at a later point.