This video has been linked all over the place, but it is worth it.

It appears to be a demo for a visual effects company. The video is a commercial for an imaginary robotic police officer. It is one of the best produced visual effects shorts I’ve ever seen. The entire video has the feel of roughly collected news footage, and only in a few unfortunate shots do the visual effects become obvious.

It is creepy, unsettling, and amazing.


Swimming in Spam Stats

Since I started using the excellent SpamBayes Outlook Addin spam filter three-and-a-half months ago, I’ve gotten an average of 64 junk email per day. That’s a total of 4993 junk email (I’m sure I’ll have gotten #5000 by the time you’ve read this). In the last week I’ve gotten an average of 150 junk email per day.

Fortunately, thanks to the SpamBayes plugin and since I have a high-bandwidth internet connection, this isn’t much of a problem for me. Still — 150 junk mail a day? What a terrific waste of time and resources.

The following chart shows the amount of junk email I’ve gotten each day since late May, 2003.

Junk Email per Day

Junk Email Chart


Writing semantic markup: Robots to the rescue!

Some very smart people think that the next big leap in web technology will be on the foundation of the Semantic Web. However, some other very smart people are raising concerns that this semantic utopia may be unattainable.

Matthew Thomas is an interface designer from New Zealand. Yesterday on his website, he posted a summary of a few of these smart people’s concerns about the move towards semantic markup on the web. The biggest problem is that people just don’t care about the semantic web. It takes an essay just to explain what the semantic web is – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile idea.

I’m sympathetic to Thomas’ points here. I’ve been working to move a web-based system to the XHTML standard. On top of the usual CSS struggles (my mind still thinks in [table] tags, but I’m slowly learning to love CSS), I’m running into a difficult problem. On this particular web system (and on many, if not most, web systems), the users generate most of the content.

First of all, the web is a crappy medium for writing. It’s good for publishing what you write, but it is terrible at the actual writing stage. Spell checking, periodic backup, saving drafts, etc. – all features we’ve grown accustomed to in word processing – are sitting there, in the next window, just a few pixels away from our arcane DOS-esque text-only [textarea] form input box. Lame.

First, we need the browser makers to put better text-editing tools at our disposal. However, here’s where it gets a little complicated. You’ve probably heard hot-shot web developers scoffing at WYSIWYG web-editors before. This is mostly because they product messy and convoluted code. There is, a deeper problem though. The web is not a WYSIWYG medium. The whole idea of XHTML and CSS technologies are that you can separate design from content – style from meaning. WYSI-not-WYG.

A simple (inane) example: I recently posted a reply to a post on the Signal vs. Noise weblog. I included a quote in my reply. I used the [blockquote] tag to indicate which part of my reply was a quote. When I submitted the post, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our friends at Signal vs. Noise had included some nice formatting for the blockquote tag in their stylesheet. As a result, my quote was nicely formatted to fit in their style and layout.

There is a powerful idea behind this simple example. When I used the [blockquote] tag, I wasn’t ‘formatting’ my post. I was adding meaning to the text – I was using machine-readable language to tell web browsers that the next few words are a quote. I didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. (Note: there are better ways to cite a quote, but this example makes the point)

I’m not sure we can expect everyone to make this distinction. I do think, however, that people can produce writing with semantic markup if the software does the hard work.

We need a semantic-friendly-WYIWYG text editor for the web. Here are some proposed features:

  • Hide the code from the writer (but make it accessible to those who want it – as many current editors do).
  • Provide only semantic tools: lists, blockquotes, citations, links, emphasis, strong, etc.
  • Not quite WYSIWYG: show the text in real time in a typically styled format – perhaps even adopting the style of the destination website.
  • Automate the creation of meaningful markup. For example, when a link is created, prompt the author for a descriptive link title.

By the way, someone has come up with an apt name for what I’m doing here. It’s called the LazyWeb – when smart-asses like me rant and rave, but don’t do anything about it. The hope is that through the LazyWeb, people willing to write code and implement can meet up with the idea (read: lazy) people.


Crusaders for health

I fear that people would pelt me with rocks and garbage if I rode around town on this thingA recent article from SFWeekly argues in favour of a ban by the San Francisco city council of the Segway from sidewalks and bike paths with the argument that people need more exercise. This has been one of the most common criticisms of the Segway; that it will allow lazy people to avoid even more much needed exercise.

First, I imagine that for many people, the Segway would replace the car for short drives more often than it would replace walking. For example, I have about a 7 minute drive to work, but it would take at least 30 minutes to walk. Should I walk? Maybe – but if so, then you should eat more vegetables (read: mind your own business).

I’m not going to walk a half hour to work everyday. Maybe I’m lazy – but I’m just not going to do it. I would take a Segway to work. Surely taking a Segway to work would be better than driving (fresh air, far more energy efficient).

The argument that Segway’s are bad because they will prevent exercise seems to me to stand atop a slippery slope. Should we not use remote control on our TVs and VCRs because they keep us on our asses?

It has always struck me as odd that we pay people to mow our lawns (and shovel our driveways here in Canada), and then pay to work out in gyms. I’ve always thought that all those people in gyms could be mowing my lawn. It would be a win-win situation (synergastic!). That said – I don’t think we should ban ride-on lawnmowers and force people to mow their own lawns.

To be fair, most people I’ve heard argue that Segways will be bad for our health don’t take the argument so far as to suggest that they should be banned as a result.

I should also acknowledge that the author of the SFWeekly article was likely trying to provoke debate and responses like this one – fair enough. The author refers to the Segway as “ultimate American doomsday machine” and deems it a “national threat at least as grave as Iraq”. He’s clearly trying to ruffle feathers with hyperbole.

While, as a geek, I am enamoured with the Segway from the bits I’ve seen online, I don’t think the biggest hurdle for the device will come from municipal law or health concerns. Rather, my biggest concern about owning a Segway would be looking like a huge dork. Though I imagine early roller-bladers would have had to contend with jeers form their four-wheel-per-foot comrades (“nice rocket boots, future boy!”).

For now, I’ll keep driving myself to work in my five-passenger, 2788-pound car each morning.


An exchange with a vending machine

Human: Puts $2 coin1 in machine – requests item that costs $1.25.


Human: With no $1 coin on hand, puts in a quarter.


Machine: Stares silently.

Human: Presses the button to return change.

Machine: Returns $2.25 in the form of two $1 coins2 and a quarter.

Human: With newly denominations, puts $1.25 in machine – requests item that costs $1.25.

Machine: Dispenses item.

1. Sadly, $2 coins are called ‘toonies’ here in Canada
2. Sadly, $1 coins are called ‘loonies’ here in Canada