Britian Facebooked after BBC article

About half of Britain signed up to Facebook last week. The other half will sign up this week. I think it's down to Rory Cellan-Jones. Whether it's the Atkins diet, anti wrinkle cream or Facebook, there's nothing like some BBC approval to turn something into an overnight hit in the UK.

Posted by Alexander at 12:29 AM, June 05, 2007 | Britian Facebooked after BBC article | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Flash Video on BBC news

BBC News is embedding Flash Video alongside some of its news stories. BBC limited video feeds to a choice between Windows Media Player and Real Player previously. I groan when faced with that choice and usually select neither. Now I can read the story and then play the video, confident that it has already loaded in the background. Nice to the see Auntie catching up.

Here's an BBC news report about using the PSP as a wifi phone/video phone.

Posted by Alexander at 01:49 PM, May 24, 2007 | Flash Video on BBC news | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Press Conference as Performance Art

This is some of the best performance art I've ever seen.

These guys held a press confence on hairstyles from the 1970s amidst the media circus of the Boston city bomb scare. They refused to play their assigned roles, thereby highlighting and questioning the broadcast media's automatic right to define the story.

The real story was the incompetence and overreaction of the Boston Police and their willingness to cause fear (or terror if you like) rather than admit their mistakes. To add to the city's shame, the artists had trumped-up hoax charges levelled against them in support the official narrative.

The charges have been dropped today, but it looks like they've been through the wringer. I hope that they can find a way to capitalize on their fame.

Posted by Alexander at 07:56 PM, May 11, 2007 | Aqua Teen Hunger Force Press Conference as Performance Art | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Buddhist Monks and Ant Infestation

I like this story about the difficulty some Buddhist monks are having with an ant infestation. They are finding it difficult to get rid of the ants with non-violent means. I think it shows that, whoever you are, inflexibility is eventually going to you into trouble.

Posted by Alexander at 02:28 PM, March 13, 2007 | Buddhist Monks and Ant Infestation | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jury Nullification

Patricia Tabram is in Carlisle Crown Court today charged with growing and possessing cannabis for personal use. She's 68, a grandmother, uses the drug to relieve pain and she's defending herself. She's admitted the facts but has pleaded not guilty.

She's hoping that the Jury knows that they have the power of jury nullification. (Jury Equity here in the UK). That's the ancient power of a jury to judge the law as bad rather than the defendent and bring back a 'not guilty' verdict (or a hung jury) even where it flies in the face of the evidence.

Typically, a judge won't tell the jury of this power and inisist that they only consider the facts of the case.

Furthermore, a judge will typically hold a defendent in contempt if trying to educate the jury of their power.

She just has to hope that they already know.

It doesn't seem the mainstream media is rushing to educate people either - this Sky News report doesn't mention jury nullification, even though it's clearly relevant in this case.

In the UK, where mass protest is largely ignored, voting has little impact, and complaining on the internet does squat, jury nullification is a real power that reasonable people have to reject unreasonable laws. But only if people are aware of it.

Let's hope Patricia Tabram gets lucky and gets a fully informed jury today.


Digg It

Posted by Alexander at 06:06 PM, March 05, 2007 | Jury Nullification | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

How to Praise

This New York magazine article about praise is full of educational psychology ideas for teachers. I hope you'll read the full article, but my takeaways were -

Praise for effort rather than intelligence or even results.

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

To be effective, praise needs to be specific and sincere.

New York University professor of psychiatry Judith Brook explains that the issue for parents is one of credibility. “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing—some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.

Teach that intelligence can be developed.

The teachers—who hadn’t known which students had been assigned to which workshop—could pick out the students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed. They improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students’ longtime trend of decreasing math grades.
The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.

Intermittent Re-inforcement

The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

That intermittent re-inforcement idea is particularly important in developing persistent behaviour - it's why you check your e-mail too frequently and why gamblers in Las Vegas continue to play slot machines.

Posted by Alexander at 05:25 PM, February 12, 2007 | How to Praise | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

QTI 2.1

QTI is an XML format used for describing tests and assessments. This QTI Training Guide is quite a good introduction for people considering implementing QTI 2.1. Question Writer already supports QTI 1.2 - but drop me a line if you'd like to see support upgraded to include QTI 2.1 also.

Posted by Alexander at 06:00 PM, December 09, 2006 | QTI 2.1 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tone Deaf Test

Here's a test to measure your tone-deafness. It plays two sequences of music and asks you whether the two are identical. There's 36 sequences and it is purposefully very difficult. Over 85% means you have potential as a world class musician - although I wonder why you'd have to score less than 50% to be 'tone-deaf' - a tone-deaf monkey randomly pressing the buttons will score better than 50%, 50% of the time. Maybe using a 'don't know' button here would help to improve the accuracy.

Posted by Alexander at 10:47 AM, November 10, 2006 | Tone Deaf Test | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

My Gmail Spam Box

Something I do more and more is to mark mailing lists that I can't get off of as spam. Some require long-forgotten passwords or multiple responses to e-mail robots to unsubscribe. Much easier to let Google treat it is as spam than to work out some e-mail command list manager interface circa 1996. That's why you should make it really easy to unsubscribe from your mailing list - if multiple people are marking it as spam because they can't unsubscribe, Google is going to eventually decide that it is spam, and not send it to anyone.

There's 4603 spam e-mails in my spam folder today. I don't delete them anymore, Google trashes them after 30 days - so the number is a good indicator of volume of spam in the previous month. It's getting worse. The number was hovering around 2000 only a few months ago. It's half my own fault - I have dozens of e-mail addresses connected to one thing or another, all funneling into the same place. Google's spam filter is reasonably good, but there's still some spam getting through, and an occasional false positive.

Something I've asked Google to do is to let me direct all Chinese and Arabic language e-mails to my spam box. I might get one or two genuine foreign language e-mails a month, and if they're French, German, Spanish or even Danish, I might see they're genuine and machine translate them. But with Chinese or Arabic, I don't stand a chance and when I've tried translating, it just confirms what I already thought - it's spam. Another idea - maybe they could put a 'translate' button on the interface for foreign language e-mails. They already have the translation service.

Posted by Alexander at 10:55 AM, October 24, 2006 | My Gmail Spam Box | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Netflix Million Dollar Prize

I find this contest remarkably interesting. Netflix has a database of their customers' ratings of various movies. They use this database to make recommendations to their customers on which movies they might like to see next. The recommendation is not so much 'Goodfellas is a great movie' - but more 'Goodfellas was rated highly by people who like the same kind of movies that you do'. The competition is to improve the algorithm making the recommendations - prize $1 Million USD - open to anybody, anywhere (so long as you're not hated by the USA, including Quebec, harshly enough).

The target doesn't sound too ambitious. The ratings are between 1 and 5 stars. Their current system 'Cinematch' doesn't do too well. On average it's out by just under 1 star for each rating - so typically Cinemax will predict that a viewer will watch a movie and score it 4 stars - the viewer will actually score it 3 or 5 stars. You could probably get close to that level of competence by guessing that the viewer will rate every movie at 3 stars. Many times, you'd be right, and many times, you'd only be one star away. The vast majority of movies that I've seen are 2, 3 or 4 stars.

The contest is looking for just a 10% improvement on Cinematch to be eligible to win the prize. If I understand the small print of the contest correctly - it'll run for a minimum of 4 months, and provided at least one entry meets the 10% improvement, the algorithm that does best will win the prize.

This kind of contest is right up my street - I specialized in artificial intelligence subjects in University, but I've found it difficult to use those skills outside of personal projects. I'd have to regard this as a bit of fun too - but it's great to have this dataset to work with, and the potential prize makes it a lot more exciting.

Posted by Alexander at 02:54 PM, October 02, 2006 | Netflix Million Dollar Prize | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Blackboard - Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

I wonder why Blackboard is suing Desire2Learn for patent infringement. Software companies usually don't enforce software patents except when defending themselves. Big software organizations routinely infringe each other's patents, but Mutually Assured Destruction prevents everyone suing the pants off everyone else. For example, before the acquisition, Adobe won $2.8 million from Macromedia in May '02 for patent infringement. Eight days later, Macromedia won $4.9 million in a counterclaim. They could have gone on all night, but instead declared a truce and made some fat checks out to the lawyers.

Many software companies have silly patents,
but they are usually reserved for defence

Patent trolls are different - they usually don't have anything to lose - so they have much upside, and no downside when enforcing trivial patents. Blackboard does have something to lose - a whole software business, and the people who use their software are the same people who are most infuriated by this kind of patent claim. (And everyone at SlashDot, of course).

So why piss off your users so much? Have they come to the conclusion that the goodwill and the software business are not worth keeping?

I think the going might be getting tough for Blackboard - Jim Farmer estimates (pdf) that it might cost upto $250,000 for Blackboard to acquire each new enterprise customer. When I heard that figure, I nearly fell off my Aeron - I could write the damn software for less than that.

Or even better, I could use an open-source alternative. Blackboard's sales prospects have been working that out in their droves too. Moodle is rapidly taking market share with estimates that 56% of all UK Further Education institutions are making use of Moodle.

Could it be that Blackboard is facing such bleak prospects that it sees the patent troll route as more profitable than the software business?

Or is it that they hope that this case might get settled without testing whether the patent is valid (it's probably not). That would leave the threat of lawsuits hanging over universities and schools using Moodle - you'd hear administrators arguing "It's better and cheaper, but we might get sued if we use it, we'll use Blackboard instead". And, assuming Desire2Learn license the patent, it might not be so bad for D2L either.

Either course seems risky for BB. It might be the new environment that is forcing them to take risks to maintain their position, but It seems counter productive to me to gratuitiously sue competitors or to frighten customers into using your software.

I'll leave you with some of Paul Graham's thoughts on patents -

When you read of big companies filing patent suits against smaller ones, it's usually a big company on the way down, grasping at straws. For example, Unisys's attempts to enforce their patent on LZW compression. When you see a big company threatening patent suits, sell. When a company starts fighting over IP, it's a sign they've lost the real battle, for users.

A company that sues competitors for patent infringement is like a defender who has been beaten so thoroughly that he turns to plead with the referee. You don't do that if you can still reach the ball, even if you genuinely believe you've been fouled. So a company threatening patent suits is a company in trouble.

Posted by Alexander at 03:12 PM, September 16, 2006 | Blackboard - Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Royston Forum

I've just managed to get my office set up. I'm in Royston now, about 10 miles outside of Cambridge. There's new details on the contact page. I just want to thank and recommend some people who helped along the way.

Lorna, of the Lower Warren Guest House runs a great B&B near the centre of town. The nearby The Old Bull Inn has a pub that provides good Wi-Fi coverage and a good lunch.

Thanks to the friendly Dave Martin, of Dave Martin Transport who provides a courier and taxi-van service. Taxi-vans are a great idea - you get a van, and a guy who drives the van and helps you move your stuff.

I've also set up a Royston Forum - I was a bit dissappointed with the lack of service from the local estate agents (there's about 10 of them) and I thought there should be a better way to disintermediate when renting or letting in Royson - hopefully this forum will help.

Posted by Alexander at 12:57 PM, August 29, 2006 | Royston Forum | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Royal Junk Mail

I really like this story of a postman who found a way to lighten his load. He recommended a junk-mail opt out scheme to people on his round. Junk mail is beneficial to those who send it, but it wastes a little bit of time for a lot of people, so overall it's a waste and makes the economic pie smaller for everyone. It's great to see employees conspiring with customers to reduce this waste! Royal Mail have made a calamitous error by suspending this guy - I didn't even know about this opt-out scheme until it became this story. Now I do and I'm going to join!

How to opt out of UK junk mail

Posted by Alexander at 12:34 PM, August 29, 2006 | Royal Junk Mail | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Hot Potato

If you'll ever have to name anything, you'd best have a look at Igor's naming guide. It's goes into detail about companies and products, but I think it's widely applicable to many kinds of naming tasks.

It got me thinking about different names in my area - quiz software. I've known for a while that 'Hot Potatoes' is the best name out there and now I know why - a hot potato can be a difficult problem or question, and is also a children's game - it does really well by suggesting the experience of learning through play - that's just right for school quiz software.

Posted by Alexander at 12:57 PM, August 15, 2006 | A Hot Potato | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Flash but no Javascript?

Just a question I wanted to put to the blogosphere (you) - Have you ever run into difficulties with a platform or machine that has Flash but no Javascript? I became curious after reading the comments in this blog post.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of references to a user who might have Javascript disabled, but still run Flash. It has never rung true to me - I'd imagine anyone uncomfortable with Javascript is doubly uncomfortable with Flash. But has anyone actually seen problems with this? Is building for this case over-obviation?

Posted by Alexander at 01:05 PM, August 09, 2006 | Flash but no Javascript? | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Mobile Software Publishing Office

I'm doing the mobile office thing this week. I'm in Royston, a town about 15 minutes away from Cambridge looking for a new place. It'll be a week or two before I get moved in anywhere, but I'm surprised by the amount that I'm able to achieve with just a laptop and a quiet pub with a wifi access point.
I use Gmail so I have all my e-mail available and searchable, and remote SVN hosting, so I can work with clients on the latest updates to projects. I'm not quite able to publish a complete Question Writer recompile from here. Maybe by the end of the week.

Posted by Alexander at 04:27 PM, August 01, 2006 | Mobile Software Publishing Office | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Central Question International Headquarters Moving To Cambridge

I'll be busy over the next week or two with a move from Manchester to Cambridge. The move is for personal reasons, but it could be a serendipitous location - Paul Graham suggests that Cambridge is the most likely place in Europe where a Silicon Valley environment might develop because of Cambridge University.

I asked a handful of American computer science professors which universities in Europe were most admired, and they all basically said "Cambridge" followed by a long pause while they tried to think of others.

There's already a place in Cambridge referred to as 'Silicon Fen' which is a play on a place in Scotland called 'Silicon Glen'. But to get that joke, you'd probably need a degree in English. From Oxford.

Posted by Alexander at 02:51 PM, July 26, 2006 | Central Question International Headquarters Moving To Cambridge | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Plagiarism or Copying?

Prof. Sally Brown thinks that students don't understand what plagiarism is. I agree - the word is misused in a downright dishonest fashion in many colleges and universities and it's no wonder students are confused. The simpler word 'copying' is a much better fit in most instances.

To plagiarize implies that a person is presenting the work as original, that he has asserted that he is the sole originator of the ideas where he is not, and even that the real author has suffered injury as he now has difficulty claiming the work as his own original work. Plagiarism is a serious business and it does happen in academia, but rarely at the undergraduate level.

In many cases, students are completing assignments, without any pretence that their ideas are original, that they are the first of the thousands or millions to have completed a similar assignment and to have had original ideas and thoughts on it. The professor isn't looking forward to gleaning new and fresh insights from his undergraduates. When a student cheats, by copying work or having someone else do it, sanctions are fine, but the grandiloquence is unnecessary and demeans the seriousness of real plagiarism.

Seeing students trying to outsource their own education is comical but is just a symptom. It speaks that the students value the qualification more than the education, which is the real root of the problem.

Posted by Alexander at 12:49 PM, June 19, 2006 | Plagiarism or Copying? | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Free For Personal Use

First thing - here's the download link for Question Writer - Personal Edition. It's free for personal use and is for making multiple choice Flash quizzes like this one on the Seven Wonders. The challenge was to make something powerful enough to be useful without giving away the farm. There's an upgrade tip on startup - but I've kept the 'nagware' aspect to a minimum - I really wanted to make something for people to enjoy using and recommend to friends rather than something that would be a hassle to use.

Here's the Question Writer Blog entry.

Posted by Alexander at 04:59 PM, June 05, 2006 | Free For Personal Use | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

2GB of Automatic, Incremental, Encrypted, Remote, Online Backup

Computer backup used to be something that you needed to do every month, week or even day. Now it's a fire and forget task - something that you can set up once, and forget about. There's really no need to manage a large collection of backup tapes, cds or dvds with automatic backup to a networked hard disk.

But my favourite, as I mentioned last year, is automatic incremental encrypted remote online backup. That's a mouthful but it's very simple. It works like this - a small app sits on your desktop, watching for changes in the files and directories you've chosen to backup - when it notices that the computer is not in use, it sends the changes to the server.

It's remote, which is smarter than storing your backups in the same location as your files. It's encrypted - so no-one can snoop on you data. It's automatic - so it's always up to date. It's incremental - so it doesn't hog too much bandwidth. So here's Mozy - which provides 2GB of backup space. It's free and it takes five minutes to set up. Even if your hard disk doesn't go kaput tomorrow, it'll pay you back in peace of mind before the day is out.

Posted by Alexander at 09:42 AM, May 15, 2006 | 2GB of Automatic, Incremental, Encrypted, Remote, Online Backup | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Free Ebay Sniping Service

Game theory suggests that the optimal way to win Ebay auctions is to 'snipe' - that's placing your maximum bid in the closing seconds of the auction - it minimizes bidding wars and doesn't encourage additional interest in the item you're bidding on. Here's JustSnipe - an ad supported service to place last minute bids when you really can't place that bid at 4.34 am.

Posted by Alexander at 10:47 AM, May 06, 2006 | Free Ebay Sniping Service | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

PSP Buttons Map to 'Escape' Key (27)

While doing some PSP tests for Chris O'Shea - I found some unexpected keyboard mappings - pressing the Start button maps to '27' as does the square button in combination with Up/Down. Personally, I think mapping the start button to the 'Enter' key would have been more use - but checking for a combination of the start key with a direction key gives an additional 4 commands to send to the unit.

On a related note - there's no way to press the 'TAB' key that I've found, but the yellow rectangle can be made to appear by using a 'SetFocus' command if a direction key is pressed when nothing has focus. Using the Start Square button to trigger a mousepress on the focussed unit could allow for full keypad tab navigation for Flash Lite 2 style apps.

Here's a list of the full results from the tests

Mouse position - yes
Starts at 0,0 regardless of where the mouse is located. When the mouse is moved, it picks up the correct location. Top left is measured at (0,0), bottom right is measured as (478.95,271)

Hide mouse - no
The mouse pointer is clearly visible

Move arrow keys - yes

These move the black box around fine. These work for games, but the situation with arrow keys is more complicated for tab-style navigation a la Flash Lite 2/Mobile phones

Keycodes - interesting

The arrow keys are mapped
left - 37
up - 38
right - 39
down -40

cirle is mapped to 27 (but tries to close the browser)
square + left/right/down/up - mapped to 27
Start is mapped to 27

27 is the same as the PC 'Escape' key

Update: I wasn't able to repeat my initial finding with the Start button so I'm striking some of the text.

Posted by Alexander at 05:44 PM, April 28, 2006 | PSP Buttons Map to 'Escape' Key (27) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

PlayStation Portable - Flash. Day 1.

I've been trying out a new theme we created for the PSP update - I've just looked at it this afternoon - but here's what I'm seeing so far. This is the content - it's the Italy test with new PSP theme applied. Generally, it's being rendered properly on the device with a few big caveats -

It's slow. The image zooming is a bit much for the device - that's to be expected - but even moving between pages takes maybe half a second or a second.

No streaming. Flash is usually capable of streaming - it'll usually show you the content as it loads. Not with the PSP though, it waits for everything to arrive before it kicks off.

Keypad control. This is the effective showstopper. The PSP has a pointer device, and this in combination with the X button is the only way to interact with the content. I haven't found any way to use the keypad in the same way you might navigate around a Flash Lite 2 app on a phone for example. There's not even the equivalent of a 'TAB' key.

Update 19:34 I've just found this pacman game - it does use the arrow keys - so there is a mapping there - I'm hopeful there's a way to use them for tabbing around too.

Note to self: it might be possible to hide the cursor and use the pointer device to replicate a directional TAB control

Memory. In the content above, the PSP gets to question 10 before throwing the 'Out Of Memory' error - that's pretty good, considering all the different question types and scrollbars. I think with a bit of tweaking, we could do a 10 question quiz (no feedback) or a five question quiz with full feedback.

There's some more first impressions on the 'FlashForward2006 Blog'

Posted by Alexander at 06:14 PM, April 25, 2006 | PlayStation Portable - Flash. Day 1. | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Flash 6 for PSP in Japan

Just announced - Japanese PSP users are to get a firmware update tomorrow, which includes the Flash 6 player for the PSP Browser. The update is version 2.70, and users will need to enable the Flash Player in the system settings. 'Some functions are not supported.' - I'm not sure what those might be - possibly video / some FSCommands are not included.

Sony Japan Link.

Posted by Alexander at 02:06 PM, April 24, 2006 | Flash 6 for PSP in Japan | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Quiet Computing

The first thing I do when I re-install Windows is turn off all the sounds. All the bleeps, bings, blips, burps and bleats. Maybe they're useful for the novice user, but when something is going wrong, I already know it's going wrong without a chorus. Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell and Windows can make my hammering hand distinctly twitchy just by beeping. It's the repeated association of the sound and the frustration of something not working.

Here's how - it takes less than 30 seconds to enjoy quiet computing.

Start->Control Panel (Classic View) -> Sounds and Audio Devices Properties -> Sounds -> No Sounds

It'll still play music and movies - just not all those Windows sounds.

Posted by Alexander at 01:51 PM, April 19, 2006 | Quiet Computing | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Implicit Association Tests

My data suggests little to no automatic preference between Open-Source and Microsoft. That's according to the Microsoft - Open-Source Implicit Association Test which aims to uncover differences in conscious and unconscious attitutes. I found taking the test hard work in some places because I could see how it encourages lazy short-cut associative thinking, and that required effort to resist. There's a whole page of different sample tests - covering attitudes like sexuality, race, age and disability.

Thanks to KTEC for the link.

Posted by Alexander at 01:42 PM, April 13, 2006 | Implicit Association Tests | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Subscript / Superscript

Subscripts and superscripts are often ignored in Flash applications because the player can't display them dynamically. That can be a real drawback for mathematicians and scientists. However, an effective technique in Flash is to provide additional fonts in the same face, at a smaller size, vertically offset, so that they effectively become superscript/subscript versions. This is the technique I've used in Question Writer to process subscript and superscript tags in the html tags.

Here's an example number theory test and .qwz source - it uses a many of the HTML features. Unfortunatly it doesn't score the questions correctly because I don't know the answers ! If you do know any of the answers, please feel free to put them in the comments below! No need - it has all the answers and feedback now.

Posted by Alexander at 11:33 AM, April 11, 2006 | Subscript / Superscript | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

OS X on PC hardware

Cringely concludes today -

I predict that Apple will settle on 64-bit Intel processors ASAP (with FireWire 800 please), and at that time will announce a product similar to Boot Camp to allow OS X to run on bog-standard 32-bit PC hardware, turning the Boot Camp relationship on its head and trying to sell $99 copies of OS X to 100 million or so Windows owners.

I agree - I think Boot Camp will show Joe Public the distinction between the hardware and the OS. Manufacturers will start to sell PCs that run two operating systems instead of one. It will turn into a checkbox - right beside 1GB RAM / 3Ghz Processor / Windows and Mac OS. I'm also convinced that Live CDs are going to be key in driving a wedge into this market.

Posted by Alexander at 12:09 PM, April 07, 2006 | OS X on PC hardware | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

PSP Browser - Flawed Masterpiece

I picked up a Playstation Portable the other day in anticipation of the Flash 6 update and to use as a mobile web browser. The PSP was designed for games but I'm a PC gamer, and the Flash update isn't out yet, so I'm considering it here for use as a mobile web browser.


First off, I was stunned by the ability of the PSP to render websites in much the same way as a desktop browser. I thought I'd be using Gmail's mobile interface for example, but I'm using the ordinary interface - because it does such a good job of rendering HTML.


Even with nested tables and complex layouts, it does very well. Any blurriness in these images is down to my lack of photographic skills - the text and images are sharp - it's easy to read from, even with small text that fills the whole screen.

There's some Javascript support - but as soon as a page tries to change its own elements (to repopulate a drop down list for example) - it runs into problems. I tried checking an airfare on Travel Spy - I chose the destination country, the webpage tried to update a drop-down list with the available locations and this caused the browser to crash. I can live without Javascript though - it's not integral to many of the most usable websites. Also lack of Ajax on the PSP may be an opportunity for Flash developers to strut their interactive stuff.

I had hoped to use the PSP to respond to e-mail and support forum queries on the move. However it's clear to me now that it is of no use for this purpose. The text entry interface is horrendously bad. There's a good summary in the comments of this blog entry -

The PSP's on-screen keyboard is the worst implemention of an on-screen keyboard ever. It blends the disadvantages of a plus pad with the disadvantages of a phone, leveraging the strengths of neither.


I suspect Sony developed this interface for limited use like entering once off details like Wifi passwords and connection names and then later released the browser deciding it already had 'good enough' text entry. It's a pain to use even for small things like URLs, usernames and passwords - but it is unusable for more substantial text entry for e-mail, forums or blog entries.

There's no details yet on when a keyboard might be available - Logic 3 had announced one, even releasing a product photo, but it was later cancelled. I'm guessing it's because Logic 3 just assumed they could build this but that there may not be a keyboard driver in the PSP firmware.

I can see the strengths and potential of this device and I'm still excited about it but it's a flawed masterpiece. I can use it only to check e-mail not respond to it. I'm waiting for better text entry or a keyboard before I can leave my laptop at home.

Posted by Alexander at 04:09 PM, March 27, 2006 | PSP Browser - Flawed Masterpiece | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Teaching Teachers to Kick Ass

Here's a picture of us at the Question Writer stand at The Education Show in Birmingham earlier this month. You'll see in the picture, we've got the program itself running - at first we were showing teachers the flash quizzes that we made with Question Writer. I thought it would be a good idea to demonstrate a quiz and then explain that our software could be used to make quizzes. This was a mistake!


The message was too complicated, and people were leaving with the idea that we were selling educational content. So, instead of showing them how cool our quizzes were, we started to get the teachers to use it themselves. Soon they were kicking asstm. The teachers were all able to create a question in under 60 seconds and they were delighted with their results. They saw a small amount of learning and effort going in, and a professional flash question, with full feedback coming out. Their reaction was to tug at their friend/partners/colleague's sleeve to drag them over and show them what they made.

Posted by Alexander at 01:08 PM, March 27, 2006 | Teaching Teachers to Kick Ass | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

PSP Flash Development

Here's an introduction to 'Web design for the Sony PSP' - not current enough for the development of Flash 6 on the PSP (coming this spring), but there's some that translates. Main points for Flash - full 480x272 screen resolution to use (overlaid, retractable browser controls), document.write support (for Eolas workaround), no support for XMLHttpRequest (so no Ajax I guess).

The PSP also features a pointing device (I'm coming round to the opinion that future mobile device will look more like desktops), but I'd still recommend making your app fully keyboard accessible for best usability on mobile devices.

Posted by Alexander at 07:51 PM, March 20, 2006 | PSP Flash Development | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

The Education Show Riddler

We're going to be exhibiting at The Education Show in Birmingham this week (Thursday - Saturday). We'll be at stand E61 - we're going to have a 'Riddler' theme, with a Riddler Quiz, and a prize of a Quiz Edition site licence and an original 1964 Batman Riddler Comic. The comic ain't worth much, but hopefully it'll generate more interest than just another frickin iPod. The comic is on the stand if you want to take a look.


So drop by, take the quiz, say hello to me, David and possibly Przemek.

Posted by Alexander at 01:17 PM, March 07, 2006 | The Education Show Riddler | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Reading the Mind Test

This "Reading the Mind" test was first published in the book, "The Essential Difference", by Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. It lets you see how well you can judge the feelings and thoughts of people by just looking at a photograph of their eyes. Most people are actually pretty good at this, women being slightly better than men.


Its clinical use is in helping with the diagnosis of High Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome (which disproportionately affects programmers) but I think it's an interesting test for just about anyone to try. Try the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test.

Posted by Alexander at 12:37 PM, March 02, 2006 | Reading the Mind Test | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

Online Summative Assessment

Good podcast here about delivering summative assessment in the University of Vermont. Specifically about delivery on Blackboard simultaneously to a large number of students. Information on question import(Respondus), network used(wired), load testing(essential, start 16 students at a time), security(secure browser), analysis (extract info from xml), multimedia(real need for audio and video), question randomization and unexpected problems caused by heavy simultaneous use of the content system.

Many of the technical challenges had roots in heavy client/server interaction. That's a problem with architectures that treat the client as a dumb terminal and do all the processing on the server. Assessment delivery systems can reduce network errors and improve client responsiveness by embracing the rich client model - the assessment is delivered at the start of the exam and the results collected at the end. Simple network interactions like those are reliable even for large numbers of simultaneous connections.

Posted by Alexander at 02:38 AM, February 24, 2006 | Online Summative Assessment | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jobs not recruiters

Most people, especially in tech, have wrestled with job sites at one time or another. They've been around since the beginning of the internet which makes it all the more surprising that they still fail so badly. This Slashdot discussion gives some great ideas for improvement. Many comments say job sites should disintermediate recruiters. Looks like an area ripe for a Web 2.0 solution.

Main points -
Actual jobs rather than recruiters.
Direct contact between the employer and employee.
Some way to penalize fake jobs / inflated resumes.
Feedback on hiring companies from employees.
Specified salaries.

Posted by Alexander at 10:20 AM, February 21, 2006 | Jobs not recruiters | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ClickRank to replace PageRank?

Matt McAlister asks what's going to replace PageRank.

The hyperlink was a vote in the search-driven Internet. Now I'm dependent on a new currency - human action. The click is much more potent than the existence of a link.

This is a logical progression and Google is already on top of it. Google Analytics is a free service for websites. The webmaster puts a piece of Javascript on each page and Google records each pageview. It provides the figures and some analysis of the traffic. Google gets the same data. The more websites that add Google Analytics, the better its view on which links are being clicked and how users are moving from one page to another. With this information, it can rank based not only on the number of clicks and page views, but the amount of time a user spends on a page. That's the supreme indicator of the value of a search result.

Posted by Alexander at 11:36 AM, February 20, 2006 | ClickRank to replace PageRank? | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Don't Be Evil = Be Trustworthy

After a hard disk upgrade last week, I took a leaf out of Jon Udell's blog and started routing all my mail through Gmail. It's a nice solution, it allows me to funnel all my email from sexdecillion different accounts into a single box. It lets me send from my own domain name, and I trust that Google will let me export my archives if ever want to switch to a different service. Trust is an important word for Google. You can understand nearly everything Google does by reference to that single word.


Google must have been watching the scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks into 'The Gap' and his eyes are recognized by the computer system. It greets him 'personally' and has recommendations for him. There's a similar scene in Total Recall, where a billboard recognizes Arnold Schwarzenegger and presents personalized adverts. I think that's the end in a game that's just beginning now. It starts with personalized ads on the web and with email, moves onto personalized ads in the living room, and from there onto personalized ads in public spaces. None of these steps can be forced though, they are all permission based, all depend on trust.

Part of this trust must also come from the fact that they have two postgraduates running the show, rather than career CEOs

Consider Google's recent refusal to hand over information on searches to the Department of Justice. I trust a company that takes privacy that seriously. Consider Google's recent entry into China. I trust a company that levels with me if it is censoring my search results. (Then I can go and try to use the real Google China search engine). This is all in marked contrast to Yahoo! who seem to be falling over themselves to send search results to the DOJ and seem to have a fax hotline to Beijing to send the names of dissident journalists. (They have to use fax, as e-mail wouldn't get through the firewall y'see).

So I've taken the first step along the Google Web 2.0 offering because I believe they're trustworthy. Part of this trust must also come from the fact that they have two postgraduates running the show, rather than career CEOs. Google is just not your typical corporate citizen.


Let me balance all this a bit with some of my other experiences of Google this week so that you'll know I'm not just some zealous Google fanboy. I installed the 'Google Pack' to ease the burden of constantly updating software. This install was on a fresh Windows XP machine. Google Earth didn't work at all. Google Toolbar for Firefox cause it to freeze for half a second every two seconds. It also installed Google Desktop, but I didn't really know what that was doing, and then the EFF told me it was sending my documents to Google so I shut that down double time. The other applications were mostly other companies applications. I conclude that Google isn't much good at desktop software no matter how many Ph.Ds they've got.

I also tried to subscribe to Google Analytics to try it with Flash and to see the level of integration with Google Adwords which I also use. It seems like it's very oversubscribed, with nobody new being taken on since the middle of January.

Posted by Alexander at 10:22 AM, February 13, 2006 | Don't Be Evil = Be Trustworthy | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

A Google Nobody

This comment on Slashdot gave me reason to stop and think today.

noted physicist Dr. Franklin Felber will present

"Franklin Felber" [] has less than 40 hits on google. For that reason I very much doubt he is a noted physicist. By association, I am not going to take his claims seriously...

What Slashdot geeks are doing today, everyone will be doing in 5 years. And less than 40 hits on google will certainly not make you a 'noted physicist' ...and less than 5 hits may mean you're not a noted anything.

note - 19/02/06 People are arriving here after searching for 'Franklin Felber'. I don't have anything to say about FF or his ideas. For all I know he's the next Einstein. This post is about how people are using the web to assess credibility.

Posted by Alexander at 11:07 PM, February 11, 2006 | A Google Nobody | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Cash Value of Website Content

"Content is King!" is something smart people have been saying about the web (even before the Nasdaq gave everyone a right kick in the nads in March 2000). I've been pondering today the exact value of content. Content is like a capital investment - you invest once and you generate a return on the investment over time - return on cash is about 4% at the moment, property about 6%, the stock market about 11%*. By measuring the return on the investment of content, it should be possible to place a capital value on it.

Specifically, I've been working out the exact dollar value of having a quiz on a website. I host something called 'The Aggression Questionnaire' on-line as a sample - it's been established at the same URL for about a year and it now attracts 600 users per month - not a huge amount, but it's not original content and is available elsewhere. People who use it often locate it using keywords like 'aggression', 'aggression questionnaire', etc.

To put a cash value on those eyeballs, let's compare what it would cost to buy those visitors from Google. Some keywords, like mesotheliona will cost $84.08 per click whereas it might not cost so much to buy a keyword click on a phrase like 'free ways to get free stuff for free'. For a word like 'Aggression', it's not heavily contested, so we'll say it's at the lower end, about 5 cents. So the calculation is 600 (clicks) * 12 (months) * 0.05 = $360 per year.

That's only a dollar a day. It doesn't sound like a lot, but what do you call something that generates $360 a year? Capital. How much would you need in a savings account to generate $360 per year? About $9000. Depending on what kind of return on investment you think content should make, its capital value is around $3000 to $9000.

For the calculation to hold, the keywords have to be the kind of keywords that you think you'd actually buy. The Aggression Questionnaire isn't worth that much to me - I just put it up as a sample. I don't have anything else to offer visitors interested in aggression. But if I ran anger management courses for Corporates with employees that were busy beating each other into a state of non-productive inertia, then that's exactly how to place a value it.

So what quiz or questionnaire could you write this afternoon that would attract visitors interested in your product or service?

* 11% over time. Or so they say. Typically these calculations don't include stock markets that disappear entirely, like the stock markets in Eastern Europe before World War 2. If you'd invested £100 in the Eastern European market in 1930, you'd have precisely nothing to show for it today.

Posted by Alexander at 09:53 PM, February 06, 2006 | Cash Value of Website Content | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Settlers of Catan

I've been playing a lot of a board game called 'Settlers Of Catan' recently. I picked it up over Christmas following some recommendations on a thread on The Business of Software. I'm not a big fan of board games usually - most are equivalent to Ludo, with no decisions to make - or others like Monopoly where learning a simple strategy will suffice for the whole game (buy everything you land on, if you really need to know).


Settlers of Catan really allows for some tough strategic decisions. More than that though, it heavily rewards successful trading with other players in the game. It's a zero-sum game in the sense that the're only one winner, but the transactions are truly non-zero sum. There's elements of negotiation, renegotiation, influence, persuasion, concilliation, reconcilliation, trade, co-operation, trust and of course, competition - everything that should exist in a multi-player game and usually doesn't. I mention it here because I think it's truly educational as well as entertaining - it provides an opportunity to practice and hone skills that can usually only be practiced in situations that have bigger consequences than losing a game or two.

Posted by Alexander at 01:35 AM, February 02, 2006 | Settlers of Catan | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)