Archive for June, 2010

He’s back: 60-foot Gundam is (almost) ready again

22 Jun

We spent quite a few posts on the uber-cool, gigantic Gundam statue that was erected in Tokyo Bay last year. The 60-foot robot statue was deconstructed in September, with Bandai quickly announcing plans to re-erect the big guy in Shizuoka soon. And now he’s almost ready.

Shizuoka is too far away from me to go and have a look at the big guy myself (it’s (125 miles west of Tokyo – where I live), but there are enough geeks living there, too. And thanks to two of them, we can show you the first photos of Gundam getting constructed.

As you can see (and as we reported earlier), Gundam already holds his “beam saber” in his right hand. According to Bandai, the weapon will start glowing when it gets dark.

If you have the chance to go to Shizuoka: Gundam will be on display from July 24, 2010 till January 10, 2011, right on East Shizuoka Square.

Via Buloblog [JP] and Troian [JP]


Jesse Owens

21 Jun

Hitler used the 1936 Olympics as a propaganda tool, inadvertently creating the modern Games, complete with torch relays, grand stadiums, publicity films and screens set up outside to transmit the Games. What the Nazis couldn’t stage-manage were the outcomes, and wonderful story of Jesse Owens smashing Hitler’s theories of racial superiority on the 100m sprint is an oft repeated story. (Enthusiastic crowd reaction on this clip suggests that the German people are less Aryan-obsessed than Hitler.Although his coach warned Owens about a potentially hostile crowd, there were German cheers of “Yesseh Oh-vens” or just “Oh-vens” from the crowd. Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin, mobbed by autograph seekers.)

It is oft mentioned that the Nazi leader refused to present Jesse Owens with his medal, shake his hand and subsequently stormed out of the stadium. However, Hitler was not even in the stadium when Jesse Owens was securing his medals, and his absence was more to do with his row with the Olympic organizers than with Owens . Hitler had congratulated German athletes on the first day, only to be informed by the IOC officials that he should congratulate all athletes or none, in order to show neutrality as the presiding head of state. In a characteristic fit of petulance, Hitler refused congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition, not even the German athletes. (Hitler did snub a black American athlete on the first day; just before Cornelius Johnson was to be decorated, Hitler left the stadium.)

Jesse Owens tried his best to correct the myth-making that went on around him: he admitted that he received the greatest ovations of his career at Berlin. he recalled:  “When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing [Hitler] …. Hitler didn’t snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”. Such was an atmosphere of segregation back in the U.S. that Owens was never invited to the White House to be congratulated. When there was a ticker-tape parade in New York in his honour, he had to attend the reception at the Waldorf-Astoria using the back elevator set aside for blacks. (Even in Berlin, he was allowed to travel and stay together with whites).

Filed under: Politics, Society Tagged: Hitler, Jesse Owens, Nazi, Olympics

Quick Tip: Multiple Borders with Simple CSS

21 Jun

Did you know that we can achieve multiple borders with simple CSS, by using the :after amd :before psuedo-classes? This is something I recently learned myself! I’ll show you how to add more depth to your designs, without images, in just a few minutes.

Final Code

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html lang="en">
	<meta charset="utf-8">
		body { background: #d2d1d0; }

		#box {
			background: #f4f4f4;
			border: 1px solid #bbbbbb;
			width: 200px;
			height: 200px;
			margin: 60px auto;
			position: relative;

		#box:before {
			border: 1px solid white;
			content: '';
			width: 198px;
			height: 198px;
			position: absolute;

		#box:after {
			content: '';
			position: absolute;
			width: 196px;
			height: 196px;
			border: 1px solid #bbbbbb;
			left: 1px; top: 1px;

	<div id="box"></div>

In short, any browser that supports the :before and :after psuedo-elements (all major browsers) can take advantage of this effect. Of course, there are alternatives, including the use of box-shadow, as well as adding additional mark-up to the page; however, this is clean solution that you should definitely consider. Thanks for watching!


Whatever Happened to Voice Recognition?

21 Jun

Remember that Scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty tried to use a Mac Plus?


Using a mouse or keyboard to control a computer? Don't be silly. In the future, clearly there's only one way computers will be controlled: by speaking to them.

There's only one teeny-tiny problem with this magical future world of computers we control with our voices.


It doesn't work.

Despite ridiculous, order of magnitude increases in computing power over the last decade, we can't figure out how to get speech recognition accuracy above 80% -- when the baseline human voice transcription accuracy rate is anywhere from 96% to 98%!

In 2001 recognition accuracy topped out at 80%, far short of HAL-like levels of comprehension. Adding data or computing power made no difference. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University checked again in 2006 and found the situation unchanged. With human discrimination as high as 98%, the unclosed gap left little basis for conversation. But sticking to a few topics, like numbers, helped. Saying “one” into the phone works about as well as pressing a button, approaching 100% accuracy. But loosen the vocabulary constraint and recognition begins to drift, turning to vertigo in the wide-open vastness of linguistic space.

As Robert Fortner explained in Rest in Peas: The Unrecognized Death of Speech Recognition, after all these years, we're desperately far away from any sort of universal speech recognition that's useful or practical.

Now, we do have to clarify that we're talking about universal recognition: saying anything to a computer, and having it reliably convert that into a valid, accurate text representation. When you constrain the voice input to a more limited vocabulary -- say, just numbers, or only the names that happen to be in your telephone's address book -- it's not unreasonable to expect a high level of accuracy. I tend to think of this as "voice control" rather than "voice recognition".

Still, I think we're avoiding the real question: is voice control, even hypothetically perfect voice control, more effective than the lower tech alternatives? In my experience, speech is one of the least effective, inefficient forms of communicating with other human beings. By that, I mean ...

  • typical spoken communication tends to be off-the-cuff and ad-hoc. Unless you're extremely disciplined, on average you will be unclear, rambling, and excessively verbose.
  • people tend to hear about half of what you say at any given time. If you're lucky.
  • spoken communication puts a highly disproportionate burden on the listener. Compare the time it takes to process a voicemail versus the time it takes to read an email.

I am by no means against talking with my fellow human beings. I have a very deep respect for those rare few who are great communicators in the challenging medium of conversational speech. Though we've all been trained literally from birth how to use our voices to communicate, voice communication remains filled with pitfalls and misunderstandings. Even in the best of conditions.

So why in the world -- outside of a disability -- would I want to extend the creaky, rickety old bridge of voice communication to controlling my computer? Isn't there a better way?

Robert's post contains some examples in the comments from voice control enthusiasts:

in addition to extremely accurate voice dictation, there are those really cool commands, like being able to say something like "search Google for Balloon Boy" or something like that and having it automatically open up your browser and enter the search term -- something like this is accomplished many times faster than a human could do it. Or, being able to total up a column of numbers in Microsoft Excel by saying simply "total this column" and seeing the results in a blink of an eye, literally.

That's funny, because I just fired up the Google app on my iPhone, said "balloon boy" into it, and got .. a search for "blue boy". I am not making this up. As for the Excel example, total which column? Let's assume you've dealt with the tricky problem of selecting what column you're talking about with only your voice. (I'm sorry, was it D5? B5?) Wouldn't it be many times faster to click the toolbar icon with your mouse, or press the keyboard command equivalent, to sum the column -- rather than methodically and tediously saying the words "sum this column" out loud?

I'm also trying to imagine a room full of people controlling their computers or phones using their voices. It's difficult enough to get work done in today's chatty work environments without the added burden of a floor full of people saying "zoom ... enhance" to their computers all day long. Wouldn't we all end up hoarse and deaf?

Let's look at another practical example -- YouTube's automatic speech recognition feature. I clicked through to the first UC Berkeley video with this feature, clicked the CC (closed caption) icon, and immediately got .. this.


"Light exerts force on matter". But according to Google's automatic speech recognition, it's "like the search for some matter". Unsurprisingly, it does not get better from there. You'd be way more confused than educated if you had to learn this lecture from the automatic transcription.

Back when Joel Spolsky and I had a podcast together, a helpful listener suggested using speech recognition to get a basic podcast transcript going. Everything I knew about voice recognition told me this wouldn't help, but harm. What's worse: transcribing everything by hand, from scratch -- or correcting every third or fourth word in an auto-generated machine transcript? Maybe it's just me, but the friction of the huge error rate inherent in the machine transcript seems far more intimidating than a blank slate human transcription. The humans may not be particularly efficient, but they all add value along the way -- collective human judgment can editorially improve the transcript, by removing all the duplication, repetition, and "ums" of a literal, by-the-book transcription.

In 2004, Mike Bliss composed a poem about voice recognition. He then read it to voice recognition software on his PC, and rewrote it as recognized.

a poem by Mike Bliss

like a baby, it listens
it can't discriminate
it tries to understand
it reflects what it thinks you say
it gets it wrong... sometimes
sometimes it gets it right.
One day it will grow up,
like a baby, it has potential
will it go to work?
will it turn to crime?
you look at it indulgently.
you can't help loving it, can you?
a poem by like myth

like a baby, it nuisance
it can't discriminate
it tries to oven
it reflects lot it things you say
it gets it run sometimes
sometimes it gets it right
won't day it will grow bop
Ninth a baby, it has provincial
will it both to look?
will it the two crime?
you move at it inevitably
you can't help loving it, cannot you?

The real punchline here is that Mike re-ran the experiment in 2008, and after 5 minutes of voice training, the voice recognition got all but 2 words of the original poem correct!

I suspect that's still not good enough in the face of the existing simpler alternatives. Remember handwriting recognition? It was all the rage in the era of the Apple Newton.


It wasn't as bad as Doonesbury made it out to be. I learned Palm's Graffiti handwriting recognition language and got fairly proficient with it. More than ten years later, you'd expect to see massively improved handwriting recognition of some sort in today's iPads and iPhones and iOthers, right? Well, maybe, if by "massively improved" you mean "nonexistent".

While it still surely has its niche uses, I personally don't miss handwriting recognition. Not even a little. And I can't help wondering if voice recognition will go the same way.

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Bacon Pancakes

21 Jun

Now this is the way to start a Monday! Has anyone here ever tried bacon pancakes made like this? Link


Bacon Pancakes

21 Jun

Now this is the way to start a Monday! Has anyone here ever tried bacon pancakes made like this? Link


100+ amazing pieces of Star Wars concept art [Concept Art]

20 Jun
You can't celebrate the awesomeness of concept art without paying special tribute to Star Wars. Ralph McQuarrie's paintings for the original trilogy inspired every concept artist today, and the prequels and video games' art was eye-popping. Here are our favorites. More »

Real-Life Ninja Turtle [Daily Dose of Cute]

17 Jun

Introducing Raphael's little cousin...

Via Geekologie.


My Favorite Web Applications for Designers

17 Jun

As we all know, there are many web tools available to designers online, so instead of listing ALL of them, I've decided to share my favorites that I use on an everyday basis. FYI, this doesn't include mac apps or programs, just online web tools and a couple of firefox plug-ins. Enjoy!


Amazon Patents Social Networking System, Winks at Facebook

17 Jun

social networks clutter imageThe United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Amazon a patent for a “Social Networking System.” Amazingly enough, the description of the patent sounds, well, pretty much like any social network we’ve seen over the years, including Facebook.

The description of the patent is as follows:

“A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations. The system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.”

Replacing the word “system” in the paragraph above with “Facebook” reveals, once again, how flawed the U.S. patent system is. This patent was invented by Brian Robertson and Warren Adams — the same two guys who founded social networking service PlanetAll, which Amazon acquired in 1998. Alas, not seeing potential in the service, Amazon shut it down in 2000, but decided to revive it by filing a patent application in May 2008.

Now, let’s look at some of the other social networking-related patents. Four years ago, Friendster patented — you guessed it — “social networking.” It was described as a “system, method, and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks.”

Friendster was awarded several more patents for certain aspects of social networking over the years, Facebook patented the newsfeed three months ago, and we’ve seen many other patents that supposedly cover the fundamentals of social networking over the years.

So, after all this, who owns the patent for the social network? You tell us, cause we have no idea.

[via TechFlash]

image courtesy of iStockphoto, drflet

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Tags: amazon, facebook, patent, social networking