Showing all posts tagged: technology

Reading the future in the cracks of your smartphone screen

21 September 2022
Cracked smartphone screen, photo by Jan Kuss

Image courtesy of Jan Kuss/(Instagram).

I wouldn’t go doing this deliberately… there must be better ways to learn what the future holds, like waiting until it happens perhaps. Nonetheless, there may be a way to glimpse your future in the cracks of a smashed smartphone screen, and it’s known as smashomancy.

A smartphone screen is, of course, a veritable semantic orchard of icons and affordances, titles and statuses and means of navigation. But to find true insight we must look beyond the legible to more uncertain and chaotic territory. True, a smartphone in its role as a nexus of communication is an endless stream of signal and noise, but that is extrinsic to its embodied self. To truly understand its meaning, we must understand its physical nature.

Your future is indeed in the palm of your hand.

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Craigslist keeping it simple and the same for twenty-five years

21 September 2022

When I started designing websites back in the day, you were lucky to get a couple of months out of a look. With new web technologies, and design ideas and trends, constantly emerging, it was necessary to redesign almost monthly*. We’re talking personal sites here, but in the late nineties, they were the closest thing an aspiring web designer had to a social media presence, or something like LinkedIn.

I’m certain though there are any number of still active websites that have not changed in the last twenty-five years or so, and American classified adverts site Craigslist is among them. Speaking recently to PCMag writer Emily Dreibelbis, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, says staying the same is the best way to serve their users:

Because that serves people better. I’ve learned that people want stuff that is simple and fast and gets the job done. People don’t need fancy stuff. Sometimes you just want to get through the day.

* or what felt like every month.

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Digital nomads soon able to work tax free in Indonesia

17 September 2022

People who need little more than a laptop and an internet connection for their work, and want to live in Indonesia, will soon be able to apply for the newly introduced Digital Nomad Visa. Presently the work-permit will allow remote workers to spend six months in Indonesia tax free, though the Indonesian government is considering extending the visa to five years.

The Indonesian Government has just announced the proposed introduction of a brand new ‘Digital Nomad Visa’, with them looking to welcome three million lucky freelancers to their tropical shores for a five-year working visa. This is excellent news for remote workers, allowing visa holders to stay in paradise long-term on an international income, all without having to pay any taxes to the Indonesian government.

While the digital nomads may not be paying taxes, much of the money they earn will be spent locally, boosting businesses in the areas workers choose to reside in.

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Make mechanical versions of electric circuits with Spintronics

8 September 2022

This looks like fun for young and old alike. Hailed as the first physical equivalent of electronics, Spintronics, a game recently developed by Upper Story, can emulate just about any existing circuit configuration.

Players feel the pull of voltage and see the flow of current as they discover electronics in a tangible and deeply intuitive way, using the first physical equivalent of electronics ever built.

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All about bringing public electric vehicle chargers to Australia

5 September 2022

With electric vehicles (EV) set to sky-rocket in popularity in Australia, there has to be plenty of business and start-up opportunities in the sector. Publicly available EV charging stations, which I wrote about the other day, would be one of them.

Melbourne tech-writer Anthony Agius was behind two companies whose aim was to install and operate charging stations across Australia, and in a detailed article, he outlines what he discovered about making them available for anyone to use.

The point of this post isn’t to analyse why I’m not an EV charging mogul with dozens of stations making mad profits around the country. The point is to dump everything I’ve learned about this topic into a single place so even if I don’t make anything out if, maybe someone else will stumble across it, learn something and do what I couldn’t. Even if one extra EV charger gets installed because of this post, it’ll be an improvement over my pathetic attempt.

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Why didn’t the Roman Empire spawn the Industrial Revolution?

3 September 2022

The Roman Empire — which dominated the then known world for near on five centuries — gave us its trademark roads, plumbing, floor heating, a postal service, concrete, and surgical tools.

Had the empire — as a whole, rather than the partitioned east, west, entity it later became — remained at its peak a lot longer, we can only speculate as to what other innovations may have been spawned.

An Industrial Revolution perhaps? Possibly. But prior to the fifth century, Common Era? Not likely, says Bret C. Devereaux, an ancient and military historian at the University of North Carolina.

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Electric vehicle charge stations coming to suburban streets in Sydney

3 September 2022

Presently, general use charging stations for electric vehicles (EV) are relatively scarce in Australia, with the majority being located mainly in car parking buildings. While not a problem for EV owners who have a garage with a charger at home, or drivers with access to one in their workplace parking area, recharging the battery of an EV can be tricky for many others. Limited numbers of public charging stations may even be putting off those wishing to switch to EVs.

Even though a Transport NSW map of publicly available charge stations shows them to be seemingly abundant, most EV owners want the option to recharge their vehicles at home. But a trial being introduced by several municipal councils in and around the greater Sydney area, may prove to be a game changer. In the near future, EV owners will be able to plug into chargers connected to power poles.

The scheme could eventually result in almost two-hundred-thousand EV charging stations appearing on suburban streets, says Jason Carter, writing for TechAU:

There will be a total of 50 street-side locations selected for the EV Streetside Charging Project, with each EV charging station to be connected directly to the overhead electricity supply and energy use matched with 100% GreenPower. There is potential for 190,000 EV chargers that could be connected to street-side power poles across Australia.

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Cars with manual transmissions are becoming fewer and fewer

27 August 2022

Cars with manual transmissions are sadly going the way of the dodo… but who am I to complain, so is working from an office block for many people.

I learned to drive in a manual, though I did my first drive in an automatic, around an empty shopping centre parking lot one Sunday afternoon. At one point I could change gears on a manual without using the clutch, it was quite easy once you knew what to do.

As Matt Crisara writes for Popular Mechanics though, automatic transmission vehicles are becoming better, and, really, manuals are quite needless.

Being able to drive a manual car is about so much more than the simple joy of being in control of a machine. Most of my sense of accomplishment came from navigating the steep curve of learning how to drive a stick shift with my dad at my side — it’s not something you master overnight. I’m not ashamed to mention that it took me a few sessions in a parking lot to get the fundamentals down. Now, fewer kids are going to have this chance as manuals become harder and harder to find.

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The intrusive nature of mobile phones predicted in 1920

22 August 2022
Mobile phone cartoon, William Haselden, circa 1920

William Haselden, a British cartoonist who died in 1953, quite comically foresaw the potential nuisance mobile phones could cause, were they ever to be invented. At the time Haselden drew this cartoon, possibly around 1920, landline phones were still something of a novelty, with Americans sharing one such device between ten people.

I’m not sure when mobile, or portable, phones were first envisaged — likely relatively early in the piece though, even if their development took decades — but I doubt Haselden thought they would ever come into existence. Instead I suspect he was foreshadowing the vexatious nature of a communications device permitting a caller to contact another person at any time they wished, whether the person being called liked it or not.

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Publisher to profit from sale of used textbooks sold as NFTs

8 August 2022

Publishers may soon see more return from the sale of second-hand electronic books, if a proposal by British educational and textbook publisher Pearson to sell their titles as NTFs is successful.

Educational books are often sold more than once, since students sell study resources they no longer require. Publishers have not previously been able to make any money from secondhand sales, but the rise of digital textbooks has created an opportunity for companies to benefit.

NFTs confer ownership of a unique digital item by recording it on a decentralised digital register known as a blockchain. Typically these items are images or videos, but the technology allows for just about anything to be sold and owned in this way.

At the moment few digital books are sold as NFTs, with the exception of some self-published novels, though this may change in the wake of Pearson’s proposal.

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Who are the famous people who make your town notable

3 August 2022

Finnish map designer and geographer Topi Tjukanov has created Notable people, a global map showing the birth places of well-known and famous people. Use your mouse to drag the globe to the desired location, and the scroll wheel to zoom in and out.

Using data from Morgane Laouenan et al., the map is showing birthplaces of the most “notable people” around the world. Data has been processed to show only one person for each unique geographic location with the highest notability rank.

The nearest listed notable person born close to my present location is Australian film and TV actor Steve Bisley, who starred in the original Mad Max movie in 1979.

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Somerton Man identified as Carl ‘Charles’ Webb

3 August 2022

Derek Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide, claimed last week to have identified the so-called Somerton Man, perhaps bringing a close to one of the most intriguing, and lingering, Australian mysteries of the twentieth century.

In December 1948, the body of a man thought to be about forty, was found at Somerton beach in Adelaide, capital of South Australia. His body showed no sign of trauma. He was not carrying any identification, nor were there missing person reports for anyone matching his description.

In the months following his death, a suitcase containing some possessions, was located, but offered no clues as to who he was. A scrap of paper, bearing the words tamam shud, was found concealed in clothing the man owned. The fragment was later found to have been torn from a page of a book of poems titled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám, originally written in the twelfth century.

It was all enough to send the rumour mill into overdrive. People variously believed Somerton Man to be a spy, a displaced war veteran who’d made his way to Australia, or a jilted lover who’d presumably somehow taken his own life at the beach one night.

South Australian police exhumed Somerton Man’s body in May 2021, to further their investigation, but Abbott had been making progress separately. Working with Colleen Fitzpatrick, an American genealogist, he concluded the man to be Carl “Charles” Webb, an electrical engineer from Melbourne.

While mystery still surrounds the circumstances of his death, Abbott believes Webb may have travelled to Adelaide to see his ex-wife, who moved there after the pair separated several years prior.

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Beat writer’s block and meet deadlines with AI writing apps

28 July 2022

Far from usurping writers of fiction, AI writing programs, such as Sudowrite, could aid authors, particularly those bogged down with writer’s block, and facing looming deadlines, says Josh Dzieza, writing for The Verge:

Lepp, who writes under the pen name Leanne Leeds in the “paranormal cozy mystery” subgenre, allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months. Writer’s block is a luxury she can’t afford, which is why as soon as she heard about an artificial intelligence tool designed to break through it, she started beseeching its developers on Twitter for access to the beta test.

In other words, AI writing programs could act as ghostwriters, of a sort, who are paid — in kind at least — but never acknowledged for their contribution.

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For short work breaks fast fun cross platform puzzle games

25 July 2022
Screen shot of Map, a game by Simon Tatham

Cambridge based British software engineer Simon Tatham, creator of PuTTY, which I once required the services of, has also made available a collection of puzzle-like games, designed to be played for two to three minutes at a time.

I wrote this collection because I thought there should be more small desktop toys available: little games you can pop up in a window and play for two or three minutes while you take a break from whatever else you were doing.

As Tatham notes, few of the games were actually invented by him, but he has made them playable across several computer platforms, notably Windows, Apple Mac, and Unix.

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Drawing program interfaces from the 1980s and 90s

15 July 2022
Micrografx Windows Graph graphs and charts software interface

Here’s a truly awesome blast from the past… a Twitter thread, by California based data storyteller RJ Andrews, with images of drawing program software used on computers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The image above is the Micrografx Windows Graph interface, which was released in 1987, used to create graphs and charts on computers running the Microsoft Windows 1 operating system, which launched in 1985.

While some people might say the bold fluorescent pink, green, and yellow colours against the black background clash, the more you look at them, the better they begin to look.

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The Global Music Vault, saving music for 10000 years

15 July 2022
Quartz glass data storage platter, Global Music Vault

Image courtesy of the Global Music Vault.

Much like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault which is intended to preserve plant seed specimens in the event of happenings such as natural disasters, wars, sabotage, or disease, the Global Music Vault, an initiative being supported by Microsoft, will safeguard and preserve the sonic arts for up to ten thousand years.

With the abundance of music in a variety of formats, vinyl, digital optical disc data storage (i.e. compact disc), and digital audio for instance, why is there a need take such a step in the first place? The thing is, none of these storage formats last all that long:

By Microsoft’s estimation, hard drives protect data for five years before they can go bad. Tape lasts about a decade, while CDs and DVDs can make it as long as 15 years before their contents are at risk of becoming illegible. While we seem to live in an age of progress — the iPhone can store thousands of songs in your pocket and stream countless more from the cloud — even in the best of cases, those songs will deteriorate millennia earlier than hieroglyphics carved into stone by the ancient Egyptians.

To conserve the music stored in the music vault — which incidentally will be located not far from the Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen — compositions may be etched into quartz glass, using technology developed by Microsoft to store data as 3D patterns in a glass platter:

Microsoft begins with quartz glass, a high-quality glass that features a symmetrical molecular structure, which makes it far more resilient to high temperature and pressure than the glass in your home’s windows (and, like all glass, it’s immune to the electromagnetic scrambling of nuclear weapons). Then, using a femtosecond laser — a laser that can fire for one quadrillionth of a second — Microsoft etches information as 3D patterns into the glass. Once this data is stored, another laser reads the quartz, as machine learning algorithms translate the pattern back into music, movies, or any other digital information.

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Quick and quiet e-bikes assisting Ukrainian defenders

15 July 2022

Ukrainian soldiers have been using e-bikes, specially modified to carry light anti-tank weapons, in the defence of their country from Russian invaders. The e-bikes allow defenders to move both quickly, and crucially, quietly, to positions where they are needed.

Soldiers on electric bikes have been spotted across Ukraine since the early days of the war, mostly on ELEEK brand bikes. e-bikes are fast and, critically, much quieter than a gas powered bike. They allow soldiers to perform quick guard patrols or move swiftly into position.

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Milling wood scraps into bricks compatible with Lego blocks

14 July 2022

How cool is this? A method of turning wood scraps, from say household building projects, into bricks that will fit together with LEGO blocks.

And tangentially related, a method of using LEGO blocks for data storage, in the form of punch cards made up of LEGO bricks in a binary format (should the need arise to do so), by American software developer Mike Kohn.

Both ideas look like fun for a rainy day, of which we’ve a fair few of recently in this part of the world.

Via Hackaday.

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A guide to designing and building websites in 1997

11 July 2022

It’s 1997 and you want to build a website, a history of the early days of website development, by Jay Hoffmann. The first version of disassociated went online in 1997. I even held a small launch party. We went to an internet cafe so I could see disassociated on a third-party device that was not mine, nor anyone I knew.

They were the good old days of web design. Designers would stay up all night working on a new website, only to pull it apart, and start all over again when some new trend came along, which seemed to be all the time. Javascript image rollovers, anyone? TV lines? Some of the best experimental web design was to be found in the late nineties. Partly because there was a new-frontier exuberance, and the rules were few.

Despite this, I worked to the HTML 3.2 standard — a non-proprietary specification for building websites to — published by the W3C. My desire to use standards was two-fold: they promised to make the web a little more accessible, and hardly anyone else was working with them. It made me feel like some sort of counter-culture rebel.

When the HMTL 4 spec came along in April 1998 though I quickly adopted it, because, you know, it was shiny and new. I only talk about standards because they were the only paper resource I referred to when coding — sorry, marking up — a website. I didn’t rely on text books to teach myself web design, but rather the online tutorials of the time. Plus a little, actually considerable, trial and error.

I worked at some big-end-of-town company for a short time in 1998, where I furtively printed out the HTML 4 spec, twenty pages at a time, here and there, throughout the day, for several weeks.

Why I needed to waste all that paper — once printed the spec was almost the size of a telephone directory — when I could’ve referred to the document online (via dialup), eludes me now. I think having the spec, bound in a ring-binder, sitting on my desk at home, validated my then fledgling web design aspirations.

For somebody surfing the web in 1997, a book might feel a bit… 20th century. If you already knew the basics of getting online, why not poke around some sites that might help, right there in your browser.

Hoffmann’s article also mentions a bunch of early-on-the-scene web design agencies, including Razorfish, who were behind the production of This Girl, the monthly serialisation of the life of a fictitious twenty-something living in New York, called Phoebe. The work of Razorfish, and the exploits of Phoebe, were one of thousands of web influences I absorbed.

I wonder what became of Phoebe. And that print out of that HMTL 4 spec.

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SXSW is coming to Sydney Australia in October 2022

1 July 2022

Long running Austin, Texas, based American music, film, and interactive conference and festival South by Southwest, better known as SXSW, is hosting a week-long event in Sydney, from Saturday 15 October 2022 until Saturday 22 October.

While SXSW has held a number of spin-off events in the past, usually in North America, this is the first time the festival is being replicated outside of the United States. While details are yet to be finalised, most events will be taking place at the International Convention Centre (ICC), in Darling Harbour.

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