Archive for September 2011
I’ve mostly ignored pieces about Google in the last five years, but when I gave this one a shot it left me a little dumbfounded (emphasis mine):
What was it getting with GOOG-411? It soon became clear that what it was getting were demands for pizza spoken in every accent in the continental United States, along with questions about plumbers in Detroit and countless variations on the pronunciations of ‘Schenectady’, ‘Okefenokee’ and ‘Boca Raton’. GOOG-411, a Google researcher later wrote, was a phoneme-gathering operation, a way of improving voice recognition technology through massive data collection.
That answer had seriously never even started to possibly be a glimmer in my mind.
David Cain writes one of my favorite recently-found blogs (I think I found it through The Browser a few months ago, if you’re curious). And this is one of the best posts I’ve seen from him:
There’s no feeling like it when something ordinary is happening, and everyone’s being ordinary, and yet in your private mental space you’re seeing it all from way down the road, after these wonderful people are gone. An ordinary moment, adorned with such irreplaceable people, is so rich and perfect that you’d give anything to be right back in the middle of it. And then you realize that you are.
A few related by not strictly relevant points:
- This kind of thing is what I meant all the way back here.
- More than half of what I write at Frozen Toothpaste aspires to be as good as this piece. If you like this, give it a shot.
- That title is from a Flaming Lips lyric, in case you couldn’t quite place it. (I was going to link to the lyrics, but all those sites suck, and this is a great — if sad — relevant little essay I found.)
A great story about the problems facing an autistic person trying to become an independently functioning member of society.
(via Snarkmarket, where Tim Carmody’s thoughts makes a nice compliment to the piece)
The always-valuable Oliver Burkeman:
Almost 30 years ago, the organisational theorist Karl Weick made an observation that campaigners on everything from global warming to homelessness have been ignoring ever since. Sometimes, he pointed out, convincing the world that you’re fighting a Very Serious Problem actually makes it harder to solve. … Weick argued that perceiving challenges as huge made people seize up – disabling “the very resources of thought and action needed to change them”. The history of gay rights, feminism and environmentalism, he claimed, showed that pursuing little victories was the better plan. They delivered quick motivation boosts, triggering a snowball effect. Want to change the world? First, stop trying to change the world.
I link to this story because beyond being an enjoyable diversion, it makes two important points that many people still don’t get.
- George W. Bush is a man who did his best to lead the United States in the direction he thought it needed to go for eight years.
- He is unquestionably well-read on a variety of historical topics. (Whether this raises or lowers your opinion of reading generally, or his reading, doesn’t make it any less true.)
Perhaps you’ve heard it:
The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space; the Russians just used pencils.
Thing is, that’s not really a good explanation of why Space Pens were invented, or how human have written in space. I long suspected these facts, but I never actually bothered to confirm them, which io9 has conveniently done.
I don’t love this TEDx talk from Nick Crocker, but I like it. It does a good job bringing together most of my disparate thoughts about how you can successfully change your life, a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about in the last dozen months. Among other faults though, is that I currently bristle at any mention of “the marshmallow experiment” (though in fairness, Crocker talked about it better than many).
I saw this about five times before I gave it a serious look, but I actually think there’s a lot of good, thought-provoking stuff in this essay by Douglas Rushkoff. This rings true to me:
Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.
This reminds me of the billion heartbeats thing (across species, that’s approximately how long all lives are — I’d thought it was apocryphal until I saw Sean Carroll mention it as fact), but I’d never heard this one:
In other words, your ears aren’t deceiving you: Spaniards really do sprint and Chinese really do stroll, but they will tell you the same story in the same span of time.
I’ve never had much interest in photography or video production, but I watched a few of these featured Vimeo Video School lessons that showed up without context on Stellar, and I was hooked. The videos are well-produced, fun, and brief and the accompanying text is solid. Together they mean that in under an hour I tripled my rudimentary understanding of photography without trying. What more could you want?