Map to the future

Wikipedia has a nice and extremely useful map of the Beijing metro system with upcoming extensions. As the Beijing metro system is expanding extremely rapidly the future is almost now.

Like most Wikipedia maps of this type it is made in SVG (using Adobe Illustrator). The code it generates it fairly decent, better than some code I have seen earlier, but still hard to read and use for my purpose, so I cleaned it up with Kommodo Edit. The regular expressions work well in that editor, which makes clean-up much quicker and easier.

Maps are, or at least should be, ideal for SVG and SVG animations. Famously they are not the territory, but they are a layer of information that can be used instead of or as an overlay to other maps of the territory, highlighting the information you are looking for and hiding the information that distracts. …

If you are on the route from here to there, first of all future extensions are of no use, and neither are current lines if they are not going to take you there. Stations you enter and leave the system is important, as is the transfer stations. Stations before the important stations are useful as well, to prepare for leaving at the next station.


Open Urban Planning

Urban planning and city architecture has traditionally been a closed process between the client and the planner, possibly with a public hearing (too) late in the process.

We are now at a stage technically, and sometimes socially, that this process could be organised differently. It could be more like the process for producing the HTML5 standard for instance, with early prototyping, public involvement with the stakeholders, scenarios and visualisations, and a transparent process.

Any area potentially under development could be put on Google maps, or local equivalents, as well as on a time line for any interested citizen to see or get involved with.

I am interested to know: What “prior art” do you know of in architecture along these lines, how was it done, what were the consequences and lessons?

Opera ’10 and ’11: Named tab stacks

Many of the developments in the 10 and 11 versions of Opera are important, but personally my key word for these upgrade would be “disappointment”. There is one feature/bug fix which would make a huge difference in my browser use, not when things works smoothly, but be a life saver when they don’t, fixing bug 155102. For such an important bug it has taken its time fixing. It was still there in Opera 9, when finally there was an interest in fixing it, it was still there in Opera 10, and it is still there in Opera 11.



"How unique – and trackable – is your browser?"

To let a web site adapt the content to fit your needs a browser will make a number of configuration details available, what operating system you use (this shouldn't really matter, but that is a different story), which version browser you are using (for browser sniffing), what screen size you have (to let the site content better fit your screen), what fonts you have (to create fallbacks in case you are lacking the font the web site uses) and so on.

This is well and nice, but there is a problem. These configuration details don't usually change very often and there are so many combinations of these configurations that it is possible, even probable, that your personal settings may be globally unique. In other words nobody else will have the settings that your browser has, even if you haven't personalised it. In the words of this site, your browser will have a fingerprint. Where ever it is used it can be identified. …


Time out

When you have “dinner at seven” it would be dinner at seven tonight unless that time has already passed, then it would be dinner at seven tomorrow night. If it were “breakfast at seven” then it would be tomorrow morning as most of us have breakfast in the morning and dinner in the evening. The way we specify dates is highly contextual and highly cultural, so artificial or natural intelligence will have a hard time figuring out what time it really is. …

HTML5 allows you to specify that when it matter, so that when the HTML processor encounters “7/11” the markup will tell if you if the fraction 0.6363.. was meant, a date (and which one), a convenience chain, or something else. The time-related capabilities are limited, but HTML5 can give you the time of day. In other cases you need to go beyond HTML5. If you need to establish “7/11” as your friend’s birthday, as opposed to day of birth, you need to use some calendar extension, as you would if a vague time is needed, like “during next week”.


HTML video: The subtext

There has been a lot of talk about HTML5 video, codecs, containers, and the lot. That certainly matters, but it isn’t something I care about. Assuming the browsers could agree on some standard media codec plug-in interface, like they have done before, browsers shouldn’t be different from any other media player like VLC. That way it wouldn’t be a major work to update the browsers and the spec itself to new formats. Problem solved. …

The licensing problem wouldn’t go away, but it would be moved from the domain of the browsers (or other media players). If a royalty-free codec like Theora were shown to be torpedoed by one of those media patents, and we had to use some Plan TheorB it would be a matter of discovering how to evade the patent in question and distribute the new patent-proof plug-in, instead of involving a number of browser upgrade cycles. It also moves the patent risk from the browser companies, which are huge lawsuit targets like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, and smaller ones like Opera and Mozilla, to the plug-in developers that would be so small and fleet as not to be a viable target.

I care about a much simpler issue, subtitles, those little blocks of text that put movies into writing. For all the controversy of the video element, the design goals have pretty modest, essentially recreating YouTube without using Flash. But HTML5 doesn’t “natively” support YouTube’s captions, annotations, and subtitles. Of course it doesn’t have to, anything you can do, you can do with JavaScript. However it would be a missed opportunity.

Why care about subtitles?

Subtitles are not that popular in mostly monolingual countries like USA with a tradition of dubbing foreign videos, they can be considered an aquired taste. They are still superior to dubbing, and crucially subtitles are more adapted to the Internet age, and they are searchable and accessible as well.


“This is your brain on Kafka”

This Is Your Brain on Kafka

Absurdist literature, it appears, stimulates our brains.

That’s the conclusion of a study recently published in the journal Psychological Science. Psychologists Travis Proulx of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Steven Heine of the University of British Columbia report our ability to find patterns is stimulated when we are faced with the task of making sense of an absurd tale. What’s more, this heightened capability carries over to unrelated tasks.

In the first of two experiments, 40 participants (all Canadian college undergraduates) read one of two versions of a Franz Kafka story, The Country Doctor. In the first version, which was only slightly modified from the original, “the narrative gradually breaks down and ends abruptly after a series of non sequiturs,” the researchers write. “We also included a series of bizarre illustrations that were unrelated to the story.”

The second version contained extensive revisions to the original. The non sequiturs were removed, and a “conventional narrative” was added, along with relevant illustrations.

In other news, Reader’s Digest files for bankrupcy. Hope for the human mind?