Category Archives: technology

How to Internet: Introduction

When Lloyd asked me to fill in, I was a bit stumped. Because the content I post to Link Banana is similar to the stuff that Lloyd posts, and I already struggle to keep that full–I didn’t really want to put that stuff here. I also didn’t really want to ape his style, as I’d almost inevitably have done that poorly.

Generously, Lloyd specified that I could publish anything I thought would be of interest. And it was while I was considering the odd nature of that fact that he and I know each other at all–for those not keeping score Lloyd is a Brit who lives in the Netherlands, I’m an American who lives in Colorado, we’ve never met in person–that I thought about how different the internet I know and love is from that known to almost all my “real life” friends, those of my siblings, parents, and pretty much anyone who I share physical spaces with on a regular basis.

So, if you’ll all allow me, my intent over this week is to explore that “Grand Canyon big” gap and how one could cross it if they so desired. I don’t know that anything I manage to publish here will be as interesting or valuable to the Lone Gunman’s readers as what Lloyd usually does, but I hope it’ll come close.

Login Is Not a Verb

We do not signup, login or checkout when we buy products online. We do not startup, shutdown or backup our computers. The reason: these words, primarily used in computing contexts, are not verbs.

These are just some of the “bad bad verbs” featured on a site dedicated to “informing people about words that are not verbs, even though people misuse them that way”. From what I can gather, this all started with

Despite what many people — mostly in the computer field — think, “login” is not a verb. It’s simply not. Whether or not “login” is a word at all may spark a debate in some circles, but assuming it is then it may act as many parts of speech, but not as a verb.

And so it goes with all of these non-verbs:

  • backup
  • carryout
  • checkout
  • cutover
  • cutoff
  • failover
  • login
  • logoff
  • logon
  • logout
  • lockdown
  • pickup
  • setup
  • shutdown
  • shutoff
  • signin
  • signoff
  • signout
  • signup
  • startup

Of course, there’s the MeFi and HN threads to accompany your reading.

Art in 140 Characters

Is it possible to encode and compress an image to such a degree that the raw data can fit in a single Twitter message (140 characters) that, when decoded again, is still recognisable? The answer to the questions is a resounding Yes, as confirmed by a coding challenge inspired by Mario Klingemann’s attempt to compress and encode the Mona Lisa down to 140 characters.

Klingemann’s attempt, dubbed the MonaTweeta II, is definitely an image recognisable as the Mona Lisa, but it must be said that some of the entries to the main coding challenge are truly breathtaking.

The winning tweet (with a character to spare):


via @spolsky

Child Development: Content, Not Medium, Matters (Why Sesame Street Beats Teletubbies)

Debates have raged over the last couple of years on the effects (detrimental or not) of television, computer games (violent or not) and the Internet on a child’s cognitive development. Taking excerpts from a review article that provides an excellent summary of the topic, Jonah Lehrer makes it clear: for a child’s cognitive development, the medium doesn’t matter but the content is crucial.

First, an explanation of why this is:

In the same way that there is no single effect of “eating food,” there is also no single effect of “watching television” or “playing video games.” Different foods contain different chemical components and thus lead to different physiological effects; different kinds of media have different content, task requirements,and attentional demands and thus lead to different behavioral effects.

And some findings on how development is affected by various children’s shows:

  • Sesame Street is associated with “a wide assortment of positive outcomes, including improved performance on measures of school readiness, expressive language capabilities, numeracy skills and vocabulary size”.
  • Similar effects have been found for Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
  • Teletubbies is associated with the slowing down of early education.
  • Material targeted to infants, such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby are awful: “each hour of daily viewing between the ages of 8 and 16 months led to a significant decrease in the pace of language development” and a 17 point decrease in language skills (in comparison, “daily reading with a parent was associated with a 7 point increase in the language skills of 2 year olds”).

As for video games, action games have been associated with “a number of enhancements in vision, attention, cognition, and motor control”.

The article goes on to describe the required format for children’s television shows that wish to promote early literacy: “the use of child-directed speech, elicitation of responses, object labeling, and/or a coherent storybook-like framework throughout”. In other words, they need to “engage the young viewer, […] elicit direct participation from the child, provide a strong language model, avoid overloading the child with distracting stimulation, and include a well-articulated narrative structure”.

via @TimHarford

Dark Patterns: Evil Design Patterns

I’ve looked at design patterns many times before: persuasive patterns, anti-patterns and interaction patterns. The missing link: dark patterns.

According to Harry Brignull–the designer who really started the discussion on this topic–dark patterns can succinctly be described as “user interfaces designed to trick people” or “dirty tricks designers use to make people do stuff”.

Brignull first wrote about this type of design pattern back in July 2010, followed shortly by a dark patterns presentation for designers and researchers (29m 27s) and, more recently, a presentation aimed at brand owners and marketers (25m 29s).

All of this leads to the Dark Patterns wiki: a listing of the most popular methods companies use to trick people through their user interfaces, including:

via Kottke