“Google is a bad unix shell”

Stefan on Google’s new calculator feature, and the (perhaps confusing) future of the “one-box” features:

“…what google is now losing (and the bane of all command line interfaces) is any kind of discoverability for all these new functions. I’ll never remember half those features, because there are few visual cues to tell me they’re there, and I can’t be arsed to remember anything. If I could remember stuff, I wouldn’t need sites like google.”

Not unusually, I’m not sure I agree with him. Google’s “one-box” features (generally) look for expressions or formats of information in your query that mean you’re trying to complete a very defined task – like an address, or a mathematical expression. They’re not trying to bind you into the syntax of a programming language or, indeed in many cases leave you with just the returned output of that features – extending (G * mass of earth) / (radius of earth^2) = 9.82085555 m / s into Search for documents containing the terms (G * mass of earth) / (radius of earth ^ 2); as featured on Google.com as an example for instance.

This is a smart (and getting smarter) conversational interface – if you know the language, the syntax of the query that will drop you right next to the answer – it fullfils it. If not, then Google will probably do it’s damnest to guess.

Not much like a unix shell.

» Whitelabel.org: Google Calculator

Taglines, pitches, mission statements

It’s always seemed to me that those non-pithy sentences that people dream up to motivate their staff and enrapture the marketplace, are more of a product of what could be agreed upon internally rather than what would work. Their all-too-bland nature is underlined by this survey.

What are the worst mission statements or taglines you’ve come across or worked under?

» 17 top CEOs shared their elevator pitches, but few understood them

“Enough research, time to act”

Jon Udell colourfully illustrates (using Trinity from The Matrix) problems of closure and information anxiety:

“Don’t get me wrong. Too much information is a good problem to have. Beats the hell out of not being able to call Tank and download the pilot program. But it does create an interesting new dilemma. If you like to be well-informed, as I do, it’s getting harder than ever to draw the line and say: ‘Enough research, time to act.'”

From Richard Saul Wurman‘s “Information Anxiety 2”:

“”We live in an age of alsos, adapting to alternatives. because we have greater access to information, many of us have become more involved in researching, and making our own decisions, rather than relying on experts. The opportunity is that there is so much information, the catastrophe is that 99% of it isn’t meaningful or understandable. We need to rethink how we present information because the information appetites of people are much more refined. Success in our connected world requires that we isolate the specific information we need and get it to those we work with.”

We all need Tank.

» Jon Udell’s Weblog: “Tank, I need a pilot program for a B-212 helicopter”

The Warning Sign Project

Pete Ashton on the mirrored hysteria in signs and society:

“It’s probably because I’d been on a farm for so long but I’m much more aware of signs at the moment, warning signs specifically. It seems like they’re shouting at me. “Watch out!” “Don’t do this!” “You might die!” I noticed a lot in the car park and thought it might be interesting to capture them all and isolate them from their usual context. So I did.”

» Pete Ashton’s weblog: Don’t do anything abnormal

Processing parallels

Sci-fi staple, the parallel universe, examined by Sci. A lot to take in here even with Maciej’s excellent bullet-point summary:

“The first kind of parallel universe is an inevitable consequence of the fact that we seem to live in an open universe with a uniform distribution of matter. Because all energy is quantized, a given volume of space can only contain a certain (unbelievably huge) number of configurations of matter (unless you do something crazy like turn the temperature to infinity). In an infinite Universe like ours, that means any finite volume of space is bound to repeat itself somewhere. An infinite number of somewheres. You just have to be willing to travel. According to Tegmark, the nearest copy of yourself is about 10^(10^29) meters away (he declines to say in which direction). Finding the nearest copy of our entire visible Universe is more of a slog – it’s about 10^(10^181) meters away. There’s also every imaginable near-variant to be found – a mirror-Earth where you’re wearing a different colored shirt, a mirror-Earth with a monkey typing Shakespeare, an infinite number of mirror-Earths where Ann Coulter gets sacrificed to a volcano god tomorrow.”

» Idle Words: parallel universes


Experience design:

“Any self-respecting Japanese woman will tell you that it is an affront to her sensibilities to consume sweets from anything other than “kawaii” (cute) packages. To the Japanese aesthetic, a sweet must first be tasted visually. The design of the box or container it comes in is just as important as that first bite; the experience of consumption begins first of all with the gentle prying open of an attractive package.”


“The Japanese are so design-conscious they’ve become extremely picky. We can pick up the mood of the consumers and interpret it onto package designs, but that doesn’t mean consumers will be seduced into buying them. They need an extra, invisible something attached to the design.” Yoko Morinaga, a product stylist, says that “something” is authenticity: “The young female consumer is a lot more romantic than designers and manufacturers think. They hanker for the genuine. Not re-enactments, but the real thing. The most popular designs are those that have remained unchanged through the years, from smaller companies that refused to bow to the times and stuck to their design policies.”

Kawaii: a companion-concept to Oblaat?

» IHT: Thinking outside the cookie box


It’s coming up to 10 years since I first encountered the Internet, stumbling slack-jawed onto the superhighway with Gopher, NCSA Mosaic (which has already had it’s 10th birthday party) and Cello.

It’s making me think about what’s happened in the last 10 years: both personally in terms of going from studying to create one kind of architecture to practising another; and more generally – in terms of the hopes, hype and unintended consequences of the web and associated technologies.

So – in the assumption you have some of the same shared experiences as me, two [big] questions for you:

  1. What did you think, 10 years ago in 1993 when you first saw graphical web-browsers, would be the consquences in 2003?
  2. Bearing that in mind, what do you think are the major disruptive trends, technological or otherwise right now – and what will they make 2013 look like?

Not going to start with mine… but I’m going to try and throw up a Kwiki somewhere to capture the main themes, but for now, please use the comments form…

Quiet space

From a grimly fascinating piece on ambient advertising media in today’s media guardian:

“…increasingly, a higher premium will be placed on an environment ‘unpolluted’ by commercial messages. Like with nude bathing or public drinking in some societies, many people think product placement of this sort should be restricted to certain public spaces.”

Some parts of London are already like “message-parks” – full of the latest guerilla advertising and imagery. Commercially-backed or by an enterprising artist [and the line is fuzzy] every inch of structure and shelter in them is covered in messages and memes, fighting for the attention of the hub-hipster-virus hosts who are meant to hang out there.

Thos who create the messages and own the media of course reside, or aspire to reside in the whitewashed georgian elegance of Notting or Primrose Hills, untroubled by the eyenoise and spatial-spam they unload on the rest of us.

Space and quiet are getting more expensive – inflated by the invention of those who desire it most.

Pattern recognition workout

Spend an hour at work listening to Eigenradio.

“If you took a bunch of music and asked it, “Music, what are you, really?” you’d hear Eigenradio singing back at you.

I’m finding it strangely relaxing, and it is helping me focus: the snatches of pattern and random beats and notes are blocking all other office input: like noise-cancelling earphones working at a network scale.

» http://eigenradio.media.mit.edu/
[via Interconnected]