Saturday, July 31, 2010

Livescribe pen

So I broke down and bought the Livescribe Echo, which I mentioned on my other blog. I’m really impressed. It does a lot of things, right, particularly its choice of demo apps. It’s the first piece of technology I’ve owned in a long time that I just don’t know how it works.

Well, that’s a little bit of an overstatement. The pen has a camera pointing down the barrel of the ink cartridge, and when you press down, it looks at the pattern of dots and determines from that where, on what page, in what pre-saved notebook it’s looking at. It only records what’s written when it’s on: I tried writing a bit with the pen (with power off) then turning the power on and drawing a line through it, and it only recorded the line. I suspect from that, and looking at how it picks up the lighter strokes in my handwriting, that it’s not actually recording the sight of a line being laid down, but the position of the pen relative to the dots while pressure is on. (Which means that I really need to press down more firmly while writing!) But I don’t know what it is about the dot pattern that makes it recognize where it is so well.

As for usage:

I doubt I’m often going to use the recording feature: lectures and meetings, most often, so maybe once or twice a week, depending on whether my coworkers are leery of it. It would be nice to bring to Viable Paradise in the fall, but I’m not sure whether recording devices are allowed. I’ll ask at some point. (Did I mention I got in? I got in! It gives me hope that I might actually manage to publish something, and thereby become an author instead of merely a liar!)

I’ve also found that the handwriting recognition does a very poor job with my exceedingly poor handwriting. I can’t decide whether editing the results of OCR would be better than simply retyping what I write. So, I probably won’t be jotting down blog posts or anything.

However, even without those features, I really like the pen: I constantly lose notebooks (and pens, actually...) and the idea of having my writing backed up greatly appeals to me. I had been taking photos of my notebook and storing them in Evernote, but it’s a cumbersome process and I have issues with proper rotation.

I’m also intrigued by its SDK, the ability to create my own applications and my own paper. It would be pretty cool to be able to print up maps that it recognizes, and then plot out character movements from room to room, then go back and ask it where certain characters were at particular times.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bento Boxes

I've been trying to be better about packing my lunches lately, and it occurred to me that having a set of bento boxes might make my life easier. I've looked around online and seen a lot of plastic ones, but it's hard to judge size and shape from online pictures. Does anyone have one they like?

For that matter, does anyone have any packing-lunch suggestions? I'd really like to be able to pack a week's worth in advance, as I tend to be only semi-functional in the morning...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Celebrity Juries

I’ve been thinking a lot about high-profile cases like the Mehserle trial. People are really upset over that one. I don’t claim to be an expert on it, having not watched the trial, nor even learned about it until the jury was in deliberation. But one thing that strikes me is that the folks who are angry don’t seem to really have trusted the jury.

Well, that leads me to ask: who do Americans trust? Celebrities. We need celebrity juries.

This has been done before, to great effect, in the investigation into the Challenger explosion. (Remember Richard Feynman with the O-rings?) People trusted that result, it worked. I don’t know if the members of that committee really were experts, or if it even mattered.

Here’s what I propose: Go through the list of people applying for Dancing with the Stars or similar reality shows. (That, or hang around the back lots of Hollywood studios looking for child actors rummaging the dumpsters.) Offer these people a hot meal and some amount of legal training, and then let them continue their publicity-hungry ways.

Then, when there’s a major trial, call them in. Use focus groups as part of jury selection: go out and pick up the angriest-looking people picketing, and anyone they ask for an autograph is in. Obviously, a lot of them will be disqualified for drug or drunk-driving offenses, but there should be a sizable pool left over of celebs who never got caught.

Things go on normally from there. Celebrities may not be the brightest people, but they’re certainly no dumber than your average person. And they have enormous egos -- they’re less likely to be awed by police officers or expert witnesses.

Then when the trial is over and the jury comes back from deliberations, you trot them all out in front of the cameras. They smile and wave, and deliver the verdict. It may very well be the same one that an ordinary jury would bring back, but people will trust it more if it comes from celebrities.

Now, I’m not only saying this because I think that people are stupid. The point of the jury system in the first place was that a person should be tried by their peers -- not only for their own sake, but so that the community would trust that the result was the same as if they had personally been there. It’s not merely or even primarily about fairness, but about confidence. I don’t think that we have that anymore, our cities and communities are just too big, and we don’t know each other. But we do feel like we know celebrities, probably more than we feel like we know our neighbors in many cases. Ergo, in order for the public to have confidence in the results of jury trials, those juries need to be filled with what passes for our neighbors today. Sad, but possibly necessary. Maybe we can get away with just having celebrities as jury foremen.

(I was going to insert a Paris Hilton joke here, but I’m reminded that she’s actually the only person in her generation of her family to *make* money rather than just spend it. The jury, if you’ll pardon the pun, is still out on her, I think)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Psst! Over here!

Just a friendly reminder that I’ve moved discussion of my writing over yonder. Recent posts include discussions of the outlining process, an experiment with ‘interviewing’ my characters, and some of the lessons I’ve learned from the Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Doing Homework or Excluding the Hurried?

I was recently reading a blog that I follow, written by someone I respect. (I’ll refrain from naming him here, as his identity isn’t actually germane) I frequently do not read the comments on this blog: I don’t have a lot of time, and frankly, I go there to read what he has to say, not his commenters. (Dangerous to say, given that I’m curious what my readers think, but I tend to think of Internet comment threads as a pox on civilization)

This morning, though, the post was specifically about the response to an earlier post, so I skimmed the comments a bit. In them, someone asked a (I thought) relevant question about a somewhat unwise use of slang in a quote from an older post that was relevant to this one. The blogger responded, answering the question, but then taking the commenter to task, saying “Forgive my annoyance, but this was explained many times in the comments for that post. It's just a matter of scrolling down and reading the conversation, if you are confused.”

This struck me at first as patently unfair. In the post being referred to, there are pages of comments, more text than the original post. And frankly, I find that many comment threads put me off my feed: there’s a lot of stupidity out there on them thar interwebs. It’s usually safer not to read them. However, this is someone whose courtesy and thoughtfulness I have rarely had cause to question.

So now I’m wondering: what’s the etiquette here? To what extent is it reasonable to expect someone to read through a comment thread before asking a question? To what extent is it OK to chide someone for not doing so, versus simply not answering the question, or answering the question without further comment?