Thu 6 Dec 2007
Wed 21 Nov 2007
Wed 14 Nov 2007
Let’s talk keyboards — computer keyboards, that is. The QWERTY layout (named for the first six keys, obviously), was introduced in the 1860s on the first typewriter (built by Christopher Sholes.) Sholes’ typewriter keys relied on gravity to fall back down after striking, so typing keys beside each other could lead to jams. The QWERTY layout split up commonly occurring letter sequences (digraphs) and was designed so that successive keystrokes would alternate between sides of the keyboard. This jumbling of letters also had the effect of slowing down typing speed to further reduce jamming.
So why have we kept the same outdated keyboard layout?!?
So, how did Dvorak decide on his key placement? If we have any cryptographers around, they’ll tell us that a useful tool in solving cryptograms is letter frequencies.* In English, a list of letters from most to least used looks like: etaoinshrdlcumwfgypbvkjxqz. That being the case, AOEUIDHTNS (the Dvorak choice) makes more sense than ASDFGHJKL (on the QWERTY) for a homerow. (I think Dvorak messed up with the letter R, but anyway…) Additionally, the Dvorak layout is designed so that typing words should generally move from the edges of the keyboard to the middle. Why is that? Speed — when tapping fingers on a table, it’s easier to go from your pinky to your index than vice versa. That motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.
So where do we find Mr. Dvorak’s keyboards? Well, as it turns out, your PC already has the layout pre-programmed in. It’s simply a matter of telling your computer which key encoding to use. In Windows XP, you’d do this: Start -> Control Panel -> Regional and Language Options -> Languages -> “Details” button -> add (under Installed services) “English (United States) – United States Dvorak”. Of course, you’ll need to train yourself, and the keys wont have the correct letter or number on them, but hey! you’re not supposed to look at the keys while you type anyway, right?
Anybody switching to Dvorak with me?
* Speaking of letter frequencies, International Morse code encodes the most frequent letters with the shortest symbols; arranging the Morse alphabet into groups of letters that require equal amounts of time to transmit, and then sorting these groups in increasing order yields: e it san hurdm wgvlfbk opjxcz yq.
Tue 4 Sep 2007
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Many of us have hard drives full of pictures we’ve taken with our fancy digital cameras. Those cameras can take pictures fast, and it’s easy to amass considerable collections. But how do you find that one picture you took of that one thing way back when? A filename search won’t likely help you– they’re all of the format DSC-3343.JPG. Even Google Desktop can’t help because not even Google can read /understand images (at least not yet.)
If computers can’t directly read an image, people have to look at the image and annotate it. This annotation process of associating meta information to an image is called tagging*, or keywording. Currently the tagging input interface for many photo web sites (like Flickr) is a simple text box; select the picture and type in the keywords. There must be a better way.
Enter a new free online service Phototaggr (currently for Firefox only.) Phototaggr (in beta) adds a bit of intelligence to the keywording process: auto-completion, thesaurus, ‘auto-tagging’, custom dictionaries, simultaneous image tagging, 3rd party photo site integration (Flickr), and wizards for popular subjects.
So, to answer the original question (how do I find an image from within a collection), you’d need to upload your photos into Flickr albums, download the albums to Phototaggr, tag the images using the Phototaggr workbench and then sync the keywords back to Flickr. Then you can use the Flickr search to find your pictures! (You can also search with Phototaggr.) Not beautiful, but for a bridge technology*, it’s a step forward.
* Manual image tagging is an example of a “bridge technology,” which is a temporary technology which fills a need until a more robust technology (automatic keywording) is developed.
Wed 18 Jul 2007
Janet over at www.humancensus.com is making waves with her latest social experiment. You’ll remember this kinetic entrepreneur from her hundreddollarbusiness.com site where she (last December) chronicled her struggles and joys as a mall kiosk owner. If you enjoyed those hijinks, you’ll be happy to know the tomfoolery is far from over. You see, Janet and I share a similar philosophy about life: we both believe the Internet is better when more people are participating. To that end, the humancensus project coaxes the blog lurkers into full-blown value-adders by asking intriguing questions and recording their answers. THAT’S NOT ALL. As of today, you can also vote for your favorite comments, and the highest ranked comment WINS!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! The first person to comment each day gets the chance to ask the next day’s question (or at least the right of first refusal of that privilege.)
Have some of *my* zany comments been featured on her website? Yes. Did I win only because Janet is a RBDN reader? Possibly… But the question is, now that the voting has been democratized will I win again? …
Thu 8 Mar 2007
No doubt you’ve always wanted to learn to speak with an accent. It’s little secret that guys with an English accent have better luck with the girls and ladies with a European accent have little trouble seducing the fellows. But, where to begin?
It’s not just the amorously inclined who benefit from foreign accent training: actors, linguists, scam artists and those in witness protection programs might also find the instruction useful. As you would suppose, one can purchase accent tapes from a variety of sources. But why buy what’s free? Introducing The Speech Accent Archive. Steven H. Weinberger of George Mason University’s Department of English found 600 native and non-native speakers of English and recorded them speaking the following sentence (which uses virtually all of the sounds of English):
Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.
But that’s not all, Steve’s archive “also provides information about the demographic and linguistic background of each speaker, including place of birth and age at which the speaker began studying English. This makes it possible to compare variations in accent among native speakers of a particular language, for example, native speakers of French from Canada, France, and several African countries.” But wait, that’s not all either! Each of the 600 recordings is mapped out with “phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet and phonological generalizations.” That means that if you are fluent with the IPA you can actually read the foreign accents. That’s cool, eh?
You’ll find audio samples from all around world including Peru, France, Morocco, Kenya, India and Australia. In addition, there’s a map showing the geographic origins of the speakers. Tracked speaker demographics include: native language, gender, place of birth, other second languages, age, age of onset, learning method, length of English residence and English residence country.
One final use of the site — it’s a fun amusement as a party game… one person secretly chooses a voice and plays it, and everyone else has to guess where it comes from. Can you think of other uses? The recordings are licensed under a Creative Commons license which allows for attributed derivative works
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Quick fact: my sister Kristen is known to sometimes speak with an certain, peculiar accent. Ask her about it.