The Sea, by John Banville

October 30th, 2008 by Adrian

Another 15-seconds of literary sentiment:

The prose here is gorgeous and lush. A little too lush — I needed a machete to hack my way through some sections. The lack of sympathetic characters also contributes to making this otherwise short read feel like a bit of a chore. Whether it’s a labor of love or just plain laborious depends on how much value and insight you personally extract from the very deliberately paced study of the fluid nature of memory, identity, and loss. Although I still admire the marvelously textured descriptions, I was definitely not swept away by The Sea.

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Chrome adds polish to text search

October 27th, 2008 by Adrian

I’ve been using Google Chrome as my primary browser for the last month or so. It’s not that I’m a Google fanboi (so far from it, believe me), but IE annoys me just often enough that I keep checking out alternatives. Plus, Chrome has a bunch of nice little improvements to the overall browsing UI.

This one is my favorite (so far): finding text within a page. Since about 1993 (and probably earlier, but that’s when I first started using Windows for realz) finding text in a document hosted by a Windows app has been a pretty standard — and pretty boring — experience: hit CTRL-F, type your string into the edit box, and get auto-navigated to the first instance. Then hit F3 as many times as you like to cycle through other instances. Maybe you have a persistent “Find” dialog that lets you move back and forth, or even make the big leap from “Find” to “Replace.”

Now check out the same task plays out in Chrome (image follows). How much better is that!? (“A freakin’ lot” is the correct answer.) A density map is such a great way to visualize the location of content in a linear datastream that we used a color-coded version of it (a 1D heat map) for the Pluggd A/V player. But what seals the deal here is how the info is overlaid on the existing vertical scroll bar. This is already the primary tool that you’re using to navigate the document; adding visual cues here about where you might want to go just makes perfect sense.

Nicely done, Google. Next up: get Marissa Mayer to stop joking around and design a real 16×16 icon for your brand. And by “real,” I mean “one that doesn’t completely suck.”

Google chrome UI

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

October 26th, 2008 by Adrian

From the department of 15-second book reviews: 

Not one but several beautiful and heart-wrenching stories get told in this book. Overall, though, the novel doesn’t feel very cohesive. Edwidge Danticat’s collection of short stories, The Dew Breaker, actually had more unity.  Sure, I love the narrative style, and I’m not asking to be hit over the head with “A Big Message”(tm), but it all feels just a little too disjointed to leave a lasting impression on me.

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Refuel America? Or take the refund?

May 14th, 2008 by Adrian

So if you’re Chrysler, you’re looking over your sales figures for April 2008 and see you’ve dropped 23% compared to the same period last year.  The only cars actually selling better than last year are hybrid’s (like Toyota’s Prius) and compacts like the Ford Focus.  Not good news for a company who relies on selling big trucks for the majority of its revenue.  How are you going to get customers back into the showroom?   By taking gas prices out of the equation.

This month Chrysler introduced its “Refuel America” program, which offers to cap your gas costs at $2.99/gallon for the next three years.  (More or less… the actual number of gallons of gas guaranteed at that annual price vary depending on the fuel efficiency of the model, but it’s intended to take you 12,000 miles a year.)

So is this a good deal or a cheap psychological stunt?  And is it a smart move for Chrysler?  The first answer, at least, depends a lot on the vehicle you’re thinking of buying.  (You were thinking of buying a new car anyway, right?  Because no dealer incentive is really good enough to make you take the plunge if you can live with a nice pre-owned vehicle.  Forget gas prices; it’s the depreciation that soaks you.)

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I Just Need to Vent

March 22nd, 2008 by Adrian

Mark your calendars: April 15th is not just Tax Day, it’s “National Venting Day” in honor of the Coors “Vented Widemouth Can.”  The new silver bullet design improves on last year’s outdated, simple widemouth by adding carefully designed vents that direct airflow into the can, letting you chug smoothly & continuosly without interruption.

Here’s to Coors: you’ve come a long way, baby.  When I was a kid, we had to make our own vented cans.  We had a cooler name for it, though, so you’ve still got room for improvement on the PR side. 

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Make3D – Virtualizing the Real World

March 7th, 2008 by Adrian

Check out this research project from the Stanford University CS department.  It generates 3D models from a single 2D image, using visual cues in color, size, and texture differences to infer depth.  Earlier this year, I was absolutely blown away by Photosynth’s ability to stitch together multiple photos into a single virtual panorama, but I couldn’t really tell if there was a way to extract a detailed mesh from that image space, or if each photo is essentially defining a single rectangular surface of its own.

Make3D is optimized for landscape scenes, and the Nov 2006 version of the code running on the project site tends to generate models resembling large rooms with irregular walls.  Large swaths of the photo get textured onto the walls and floor, a bit like an angular skybox.  But there are exceptions, and it’s pretty damn exciting when a detail like a support column or tree branch is accurately extracted, and you experience the parallax in a walk-through.  

Modders and game developers everywhere have got to be salivating over this stuff.  Someday you’ll be able to spend an afternoon walking around with a camera and come away with a detailed BSP map of a real-world space.  Not today, but someday.  And more and more it feels like someday real soon.

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March 6th, 2008 by Adrian

I nearly choked on my Pho when I saw this article in Technology Review: … will instead focus on a narrower market consisting of married women looking for help managing their lives. […] The decision to cater to married women primarily living in the southern and midwestern United States comes after Ask spent years trying to build a better all-purpose search engine…

I guess Ask figures it may still be an uphill battle to unseat properties like Epicurious and, but at least it’s a smaller hill than the one Google’s sitting on.  I dunno, sounds like a dubious strategy shift. 

Update: this Fortune article claims it’s all a big misunderstanding

The Ask representative said that reports of the site becoming oriented towards older women are false and were fueled by an erroneous Associated Press article that has since been changed. Ask acknowledged that married women do compose a lot of its core users and these matronly queries are often dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia type queries – as well as categories like health and entertainment.

“Matronly queries” — now that’s a phrase that doesn’t come up very often

Posted in The Web (2.0 and otherwise) having 1 comment »

E. Gary Gygax, 1938 – 2008

March 4th, 2008 by Adrian


No lame jokes about failed saving throws, final quests, or undead please.
It’s for real: E. Gary Gygax passed away today.

Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set I got the D&D Basic Rules Set for Christmas when I was about eleven years old, and I spent most of the following snowy weekend exploring the kobold-infested caves just outside the Keep on the Borderlands. 

In terms of actual time spent playing the game, I probably peaked a couple of years later.  That didn’t stop me from picking up volume after hard-bound volume of AD&D 2 rule books from the bottom shelf of the Hyannis Woolworth’s well into High School.  (And I read those suckers cover-to-cover, believe me.)

So many cool ideas, so many possibilities… most of them sound like stereotypes now because they’ve been constantly tread & retread in every medium from paperback to WoW, but then they were exciting and fresh.  And it was fascinating to see how those dramatic fantasies were reduced down to — and then reconstituted from — a balance of maps, tables, and statistics.   My first insight into game design principles.

Every geek’s got to have a D&D story or two, and that’s mine.  I could go on, but I think Rich Burlew pretty well sums it up.  RIP, EGG.    

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Best “No Spam” Guarantee Ever

March 2nd, 2008 by Adrian

First came the official-sounding disclaimers, e.g.

We will not sell or distribute any of your personal information that is submitted on our site. This includes your email address, postal address, credit card information, phone number, and any other personal data.

Factual, comprehensive, and unambiguous.  Gets the job done with no muss & no fuss.  Probably written (or at least reviewed three times) by the legal department.  Then with the advent of Web 2.0, more informal & colloquial privacy policies started popping up like weeds, usually along the lines of

We hate spam as much as you do!  Meevū will never give or sell any of your contact information to anyone, ever!  That’s a promise.

Succinct & friendly, right?  Those guys at Meevū are cool like me!  They are respect my privacy, yet they don’t have sticks up their butt about it!  Fine, whatever.  But this nugget from former startup definitely sets the bar for flouting convention and “sticking it to the man”:

Our Privacy Policy is private. All we can reveal about it is that we DO NOT give out, vend, sell, exchange, barter, peddle, auction, or market e-mail addresses of questioners or questionees.

Furthermore, our database administrator has been psychologically inured against torture and brainwashing, and has a cyanide capsule implanted in his upper left molar in case anyone attempts to get our e-mail addresses from him.

Seriously, though–we won’t give out your address. It’s that simple.

I freakin’ love it!  Although it was probably written back before Y2K, it’s still hipper than a pair of fuschia Crocs and a LiveStrong bracelet combined!  My email address is yours, you charmer…

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Don’t Worry, Browse Happy

March 1st, 2008 by Adrian

When I logged in to manage the site this morning, I noticed a little ad button at the bottom of my WordPress console page:

Browse Happy logo

Maybe it’s been there forever, and I only just spotted it today. I don’t remember daisies on my admin screen before, but who knows. Either way, the Browse Happy campaign is apparently old news. Wikipedia says it was created by the Web Standards Project in 2004 to convince end users to use something — anything — other than IE to browse the Web, purportedly because of rampant security issues in IE.

Now, you might wonder what place an initiative campaigning against the use of a particular browser (a browser that had about 75% market share at the time) has in the mission of an organization devoted toward promulgating W3C standards. Apparently so did they, and handed over the site to WordPress a year later. (Why? I guess because WordPress <3 Firefox.)

I’ve got no beef with WordPress shilling for Firefox (and c’mon, let’s not kid ourselves that anyone other than Apple is trying to get the world to switch to Safari). WordPress is great, imho. It’s super-easy to use, flexible, and free. So I’m curious if there’s a good reason why they’d be on the anti-IE jihad. And by “good reason,” I mean one that goes beyond opposing everything Microsoft does just out of principle. I headed over to to take a look.

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About Sips from the Can

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