Mild science, tech news, stories, reviews, opinion, maps and humor

17 September 2010

Progress or Merely the Illusion of Such

Are we realizing any real gains, or merely running in place?

As of 2010, we have much better internet infrastructure, but the World Wide Web has become so bloated with extraneous information and poor design that it chews it all up. ReadWriteWeb offers an insightful article  on the matter of technological innovation. The mysterious "Guest Writer" describes, in quantitative terms, citing multiple data sources, that a faster internet speed hasn't translated into any real gains for end-users, particularly in page load times.

Why not? Because of the vast preponderance of excessive CRUD that is loaded on web pages: links placed as much for SEO (search engine optimization) as elucidation, videos, related stories from the past, possibly related stories in the future, content-based advertising that is oddly prescient and so forth.

ReadWriteWeb uses the Official White House website in 1996 versus the current White House site as an example. Screen shots are included, and as always, make the point most eloquently.

Please be aware, this is no thinly veiled (nor blatantly obvious) partisan commentary. The trend is not associated with political party, nor with any Presidential Administration.
"We have the ability to deliver more content in the same amount of time as 1996, but we're doing it very inefficiently. End users haven't experienced any true acceleration in [page] load times".
For more, see the full story via ReadWriteWeb: It's Not About the Network Anymore.

Sheering Time Approaches: Let's Go Hyper-local Arizona

It's that time of year again. Navajo sheep herders will be coming down from the hills north of The Valley of the Sun, no doubt psychologically well-prepared for all the sordid news of the city:
  • A broken dam due to burst bladders at Tempe Town Lake,
  • The $1,000,000 price on the head of Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe by volatile Mexican drug lords, and 
  • The ever popular AZ Senate Bill 1070 a.k.a. Arizona Immigration Reform.
To commemorate sheep-shearing season, I'm presenting an extravaganza of gentle sheep-y imagery, from a variety of sources. Well, I admit, from two sources: Zazzle merchants, and The images are so nice, I thought you might enjoy looking at them too.

I need to find a better illustration source than advertisements, at some point. Until such time should arrive, well, if you'd be so kind and not breathe a word of this.

Consider this a follow-up to my earlier post about floatingsheep.

Our Cup Runneth Over

Or "Fun with Correlations and Obesity"?

Matthew Zook explores correlations (at the state level) between the number of internet references to beer, Christianity and obesity and much more, all neatly pulled together in the floatingsheep Working Papers Collection . He released a follow-up on the obesity theme, running the same data for correlation between "obesity" and "feminist" and other meaning-laden words.


Although I realize that correlation does not imply causality, I always enjoy this kind of thing.  Have a look at the full article: More Fun with Correlations.

12 September 2010

Plane Malfunction Illusion

Chris wanted to take a photo while on a Q400 airplane flight. He didn't have a camera with him, only his Apple iPhone 3GS. The scanning order of the sensor combined with the refraction from the window caused the "detaching blades" phenomenon seen. Rotating the camera warped the blades in different directions. The footage was brought into After Effects and rotated to match the physical rotation of the iPhone.

Q400 digression

08_03_12 sasq400fix
The Cranky Flier by Brett Snyder on Flickr
Coincidentally, there have been some recent issues associated with the Bombardier Dash Q400 Aeroplane as reported by The Wall Street Journal (August 2010), involving an inquiry by Canadian air safety regulators. Some of the negative sentiment associated with the Bombardier Q400 was depicted in the little drawing above, involving an earlier issue with the same model of aircraft. Faulty landing gear was one of the worst problems. Despite the appearance of Chris's photo, there have never been any problems with Q400 propellers e.g. falling off in mid-flight.

Blades by Jason on Flickr
Jason observed the same effect as Chris. I am uncertain what sort of aircraft he was traveling in. Jason took his pictures with an iPhone 4 rather than an iPhone 3GS, but as he explains, that isn't relevant:
Wanted to try this - flying to Guernsey [UK] and back today. It's an iPhone 4, and the scanning typically goes from top left to bottom right so moving objects lean to the left. Essentially any electronic shutter camera (i.e. not an SLR-like mechanical shutter) will give these effects. Wikipedia has some good articles.
For those who want to try this out, just point your simple electronic shutter camera at an object moving parallel to you, preferably fast, and take the photo. The faster the relative speed between you, the more the distortion. Rotating objects go really weird!"   

Traffic Congestion in the Twitterverse

This began with a random walk through photo-sharing site Flickr. My Twitter obsession promptly asserted itself when I caught a glimpse of an error message from the early days of Twitter Site Overload, originally uploaded by Hil.  Hil pointed out a rather puzzling typo in the warning header. Perhaps it was due to feelings of agitation experienced by the @twitengineering team?
Twitter is Well-Known for Capacity Overload

 Twitter Overload via Flickr

As the Twitter platform has evolved, so has the imagery associated with its well-known service outages during peak usage. The Fail Whale is an immediately recognizable indicator to Twitter users. It conveys very clearly that activity is temporarily blocked due to spikes in usage that the system cannot accommodate. This can occur during certain times of day/ week, and in response to surges of activity due to:
  • poorly administered contests using Twitter for entries and /or updates
  • Twitter Failwhale Swap,
    by RobCockerham via Flickr 
  • hacking exploits, to which Twitter is particularly vulnerable. There was a lot of this in the early days, but the novelty seems to have worn off somewhat.

There are many depictions of the eponymous Fail Whale. I'll hazard a guess that the Fail Whale represents the backlog of un-Tweeted communications, a large clog in the flow of Twitter information. Yet an answer is in sight, as the Fail Whale is located and  borne aloft by an enabling flock of helpful Twitter birds, soon to be back on line again!

Twitter - New 'Over Capacity' Graphic,  uploaded by Shovelling Son.