Results tagged “talk” from kwc blog

I went to the Barnes and Noble in San Jose tonight to listen to Michael Chabon read from his latest novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Chabon followed his Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with a young adult/children's fantasy novel, Summerland, and then a Sherlock Holmes homage, The Final Solution. His latest novel jumps into the hardboiled detective/noir genre with a alternate history novel that imagines that Alaska was settled as the new Jewish homeland after World War II -- something that was considered at the time. Chabon read us a chapter, intermixing yiddish crime slang (gun = shalom/peace/'piece') and channeling Raymond Chandler along the way (and doing his best to ignore the many Barnes and Noble interruptions).

IMG_6841 IMG_6843 IMG_6837

more photos

Introduction and Reading:

I took the Q&A as an opportunity to research parakkum's Chabon/Spiderman 2/Spiderman 3 theory. Chabon was a writer for the excellent Spiderman 2 but was absent from Spiderman 3 credits. I boiled this down to, "Spiderman 2: great movie. Spiderman 3: sucked... why didn't you save it?" To his credit, it sounds like Chabon saved Spiderman 2. Chabon mentioned that Spiderman 2 was originally going to have Doc Oct, the Lizard, Black Cat, and Harry Osborn/GG2 as supervillains. Chabon's draft focused it down on just Doc Oct. Chabon was eventually fired from the production, but they kept the focus on Doc Oct. If only they remembered for Spiderman 3 -- it was perhaps the pull of merchandising/Happy Meal tie-ins.


Q&A index: * "How long did he spend it Sitka?" * "Did he read a lot of alternative history?" (2:00) * "What's the status of the Kavalier and Clay movie?" (5:45) -- not quite as dead as vaudeville * "Does he know where his books are going when they start?" (7:00) -- not really * "What American crime writers inspired him?" (9:25) * "What was his inspiration to write Summerland for younger readers?" (11:00) -- he has four children * "Why did he choose the particular passage he read?" (12:41) -- he was tired of reading the other passages * "Did he use authentic yiddish words in his book?" (13:19) -- he had the idea of writing the novel in yiddish in his mind and simultaneously translating it into English (doesn't know why he thought he could do that). Shalom = peace = piece = gun * "How much research did he do for Kavalier and Clay?" (15:24) * "Why didn't he save Spiderman 3?" (17:04) * "How much of the character of Peter in the Mommy-Track Mysteries (his wife Ayelet Waldman's book) is him?" (19:27) * "What books has he enjoyed recently" (20:38)

Spiderman 2 vs. Spiderman 3 question:

Side note: tonight's event made me much more appreciative of Keplers and the like. Between the intercom interruptions, crying babies (it was held in the kid's section), flushing toilet, and employees accessing the stock room behind, it was hard to stay focused. I mentioned the Keplers sentiment to a fellow attendee on the way out -- he pulled back his jacket to show his Keplers' employee t-shirt beneath (FYI: Berkely Breathed will be at Keplers).

CHI Tuesday notes


CHI Monday notes


Tufte talk at Stanford


I don't have too much to say about this talk, as it was mostly Tufte recounting his life as an academic all the way from his undergraduate education at Stanford to posts at both Yale and Princeton, followed by a slideshow of his more recent sculpture work. There was one very fun moment for us GG followers:

Edward Tufte, master of the display of statistical information, has put up a slide with sparklines and Galileo's description of Saturn. Suddenly, he gasps -- the projection screen is too far away! How will he ever properly point to Galileo's illustration of Saturn's rings?!?!?

Never fear, GadgetGuy is here -- sitting in the third row, actually, taking notes on his MacBook. GadgetGuy quickly reaches into his pocket and produces his trusty green laser pointer. The talk is saved!

Talk: Neil Gaiman at SJSU


Neil Gaiman at SJSU by mhuang

photo by mhuang

Last night a crowd of us went to see Neil Gaiman at SJSU, which makes for twice in two months as we saw Gaiman speak at Keplers for Fragile Things in October. Gaiman had quite the endurance this time around: 20 minutes for the humorous/questionnaire/sci-fi "Orange" and over an hour reading the Jungle-Book-with-a-twist "Witch's Gravestone." Then there was also the Q&A, the signing, and the earlier noon event he did, and it's clear that he was quite generous with his time towards SJSU.

"Witch's Gravestone" is from the upcoming M is for Magic short story collection that is being targetted at kids -- apparently school librarians have been buying his previous short story collections and Gaiman and his publisher wanted to release a collection that didn't feature hardcore sex scenes that would get him sued. Gaiman alternately described "Witch's Gravestone" as The Graveyard Book Chapter 4, which is both a reference to The Jungle Book as well as to imply the non-existence of chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8... Gaiman got the idea for the story during one of his frequent trips to the graveyard with his then two-year-old son Michael (~1985). Putting aside the fact that the anecdote may explain a lot about Gaiman's stories, the idea came about that the story would feature a child raised by dead people instead of jungle animals.

The Q&A featured the typical questions that you hear at a Gaiman talk: when is X going to be made into a movie, when is Y going to be made into a movie, when is Z going to be made into a movie. I find myself impatient hearing these questions for the third time; I'm impressed that I am entertained by Gaiman's answers, and I'm impressed that Gaiman still answers these questions.

Videos of the event in the extended (quality much improved over last time)

Lemony Snicket and The End (San Bruno, CA)


Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler
Originally uploaded by mhuang.
Yesterday we went up to go see Lemony Snicket's book reading for The End, which continues my initiation into musically accompanied book talks (see John Hodgman at Codys). I wasn't sure what to expect from a Lemony Snicket reading -- with such a mythology of secrecy surrounding the character of Lemony Snicket, I wasn't sure how the actual author, Daniel Handler, would maintain that mythology in front of a crowd of mostly children. The answer was that it was fun, entertaining, and worth the trip, but you'll have to click through for specifics as I don't wish to spoil the details for those that wish to discover for themselves.

Update: added last of the videos (introduction, "This Abyss")

Lemony Snicket tickets at Books Inc


m passed along these details for an upcoming Lemony Snicket event:

A reading by Lemony Snicket, celebrating the release of The END, the final installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Music by the Gothic Archies, featuring Lemony Snicket

Saturday October 28th 2:00p.m. Capuchino High School Auditorium 1501 Magnolia Ave. San Bruno, CA 94066

More details from Books Inc. Berkeley-ites can go to the Codys Books event on Channing instead.

I'm only up to book five, but I figure that this is, in fact, the The End of Lemony Snicket readings, so I shouldn't pass this up.

I'm still chuckling over the John Hodgman Areas of My Expertise talk at Codys SF. Some of you may already be aware that musician Jonathan Coulton accompanies Hodgman for his talks. I've never seen a book talk with an opening theme song and musical accompaniment, but I am now convinced it is a practice that should be adopted by every author. He is also the only author I have seen talk a brandy break (necessary due to the performance nature of his talk) as well as use walkie-talkies to do the Q&A (which works, for a bit).

Hodgman riffed on Benjamin Franklin, hoboes, Big Rock Candy Mountain, and more. If I didn't know better, I would think that Hodgman had been hanging out with metamanda, though I don't think she is nearly as knowledgeable about the Mall of America.

With the help m, who offered his tripod, I managed to shoot much more watchable video this time around.

Update: here's the video for the first half of the talk. After this, Hodgman and Coulton took a brandy break and then did Q&A. I only have a bit of the Q&A, which was hilarious in itself.

This is as much of the Q&A as I could record:

John Hodgman at Codys SF


Tonight, schedule permitting, I shall say Alas for Joy, as John Hodgman will be at Cody's on Stockton Street in SF. Anyone else interested in heading up?

Talk: Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things


Fragile Thingsupdate: all videos from the talk are online now

The Villa crew went out to Keplers tonight to watch Neil Gaiman speak. It was very nice to actually see Gaiman at Keplers: last year Keplers went out of business just before he was going to speak. I would hate to think that Gaiman is somehow cursed. It was charming to see Gaiman reading Anansi Boys from a church pulpit instead, a but one-minute drive to my local bookstore has its benefits. It was also special because Gaiman helped promote the Save Keplers cause.

The Fragile Things talk was charming as Gaiman talks are. I like to argue that it is important to hear Gaiman speak if you are to read his works: much of what he writes, especially his children's books and short stories, make much more sense if you can imagine a Neil Gaiman voice in your head speaking with the appropriate rhythm and inflections. It is also fun to hear Gaiman speak because he can make a story about buying a pair of pants at Armani yesterday amusing. littlestar was entertained enough that she went and bought a copy of Fragile Things immediately afterwards, going against her inclination to wait for a smaller paperback edition. I, of course, am a whore for Gaiman product: excluding individual comic book issues, my current count is 24 plus an autographed backpack. My count is only impeded by my desire to acquire my Sandman within the same printing vintage.

In the past, I've generally taken lengthy notes at book talks at spent hours upon hours transcribing them into blog form. Now that I'm slowly coming to the realization that my camera takes video and therefore is also an audio recorder, I've decided to make life easier by just including video with short summaries.

NOTE: all of the videos are of crappy quality shot with my ELPH. I was more concerned with just getting audio -- think of the video as bonus ;).


See the extended for more videos

Hofstadter at StanfordDouglas Hofstadter sponsored by Stanford Humanities Center

Most of my few run-ins with Douglas Hofstadter haved corresponded well with whatever I'm reading at the time. I read Godel, Escher, Bach during college, which connected the dots between all the different computer science classes I was taking, a feat that my professors were not interested in accomplishing. Shortly thereafter, I saw Hofstadter speak about translating Russian literature. This did not do as good of a job unifying my education.

Tonight's talk, Analogy as the Core of Cognition, was also outside the computer science domain, but my pop-sci interest in brain books has given me more dots to connect. Less than an hour after Hofstadter's talk, I read this passage in Birth of the Mind (p. 138) that struck me as almost being planted by Hofstadter for me to read:

Another critical factor may be the almost magical ability of humans to combine simple elements into more complex ones that can in turn serve as elements in futher combinations, as idea sometimes referred to as "recursion." If you can think about a ball, you can think about a big ball, and if you can think about big ball, you can think about a big ball with stripes, a big ball with stripes that lies on the beach, and so forth.

Although penned by a different author, this passage in many ways is the central idea to Hofstader's talk, which you can read more about in the extended entry. Hofstadter came out old-school with the overhead transparencies and in some spots in the notes I've used photos of his slides instead of textual transcriptions.

Beyond Menus and Toolbars in Microsoft Office
Jensen Harris, MS Office UE Team

Office 12 is an upgrade I wouldn't mind paying for, that is, assuming that work didn't let us get free copies. Those are big words for me, considering my "I Hate Microsoft" series of blog entries. I can imagine making documents faster with Office 12, or at least I can imagine making better looking documents in the same amount of time. Excel, which has been less functional for me than the spreadsheet program I used on my Apple IIe, looks like it will be come a useful tool for data analysis.

I felt that Harris made a convincing case as to why they are doing the UI revamp, that it's more than a marketing trick. The conventional wisdom out there is "Everything I need was in office [95, 97, 2000]." (For me it was Word 95). They collected a ton of data (including over a billion Office sessions) that told a different story. On a list of the top ten most requested features for Office: four of them were already in Office. Their conclusion was that "Office is good enough in that people have made peace with it." Another observation from the data was that the average user spends more time with Office (2.6 hrs/day) than they do with their spouse (2.4 hrs/day). When you take 400 million users * 2.6 hrs/day, it seems worth improving that experience. Harris rhetorically asked, "Have we reached the pinnacle of software that people use to get their job done everyday?"

It was also clear from the evolution of the Office design that a revamp was in order. The number of toolbars and taskpanes was getting out of control: they were create user interfaces to manage their user interface. There simply wasn't a good menu+toolbar paradigm for managing programs with 1500+ commands.

My notes are in the extended. I transcribed a lot of the new Office 12 elements, but text doesn't do a very good job of describing user interface. Overall, it's a more visually oriented interface: large gallery icons show what a command does and hovering over the icon gives you a preview of the result, e.g. if you hover over a font, your select is shown with that font. The UI is also much more contextualized. What you think of being on your right-click menu is now the focus of your toolbar menu. One of the most important design constraints introduced is that the UI is confined to a fix region of the screen and doesn't do any of the silly auto-hiding or auto-rearranging of Office past.

If you're really curious about the Office 12 UI I recommend visiting Harris' blog. You will find out that yes, they fixed the stupid start presentation button in Powerpoint. Also, new fonts!. Death to Times New Roman!

Summary tidbits: * "Is it worth taking this pixel away from the user?" * You must remove to simplify * Is there a classic mode? No. * They were trying to figure out what some of the commands in Excel did. Found out some options in Excel weren't hooked up into any code: "They didn't do anything!" * On Office 2000's 'auto' features: "The computer looks at the things you use the most and moves them around all the time." * On Office 2002 task panes: "New features aren't being invented, but I bet they will if we create a whole new rectangle"

Talk: iRobot


scoutChris Jones from iRobot gave a talk at SRI. He focused mostly on iRobot's government/industrial robots (the ones with big treads that you can throw through a window) rather than the delicate Roomba and Scooba home appliance robots (FYI: the Scooba was designed to cleanup dried peanut butter from your kitchen floor in one pass).

The main line of iRobot's government/industrial robots is the packbot. I saw one of these at Robonexus awhile back -- they had it continuosly going up a staircase and dropping several feet to the ground. These things are tough (rated to 400Gs) and can handle all sorts of terrain with their tread and flipper design. The idea is that a soldier would throw this robot (e.g. through a window, around a corner, etc...) and then use a laptop to guide the robot around and get back video. You can outfit the packbot with an arm that can hold a camera or 'disruptor' for destroying explosive devices. They've even put a parachute and fan on a packbot to make it fly. A packbot is rugged enough that when it reaches the deployment zone it can just cut its parachute in order to land, or, in the case of one video he showed us, when the packbot gets piloted into a tree.


Some tidbits from the talk:

  • Your home is a dangerous place: the algorithm that the Roomba uses to figure out where to clean is adapted from a minefield coverage algorithm.
  • Leave no robot behind: On April 8, 2004, Packbot 129 became the first packbot to be 'killed in action.' US soldiers managed to retrieve all of its parts and it is now framed for display.
  • Lest they take over: The military doesn't like hearing about robot 'autonomy,' so iRobot markets their robots to the military as being like remote control cars. Now that the military has been using them in combat operations, they are now asking for more autonomous features like "come home so we can get the hell outta here."

Talk: Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge


I went to go see Sebastian Thrun speak at Stanford about his team's winning effort in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Thrun described the contest as how to stay on the road for a very long time. It was not a general path-finding problem: DARPA gives you the route with a corridor you have to follow, as well as speed limits you have to observe for various parts of the course. Of course, DARPA didn't give perfect data. He showed a video generated from the data of Stanley driving through the most dangerous part of the course: the switchbacks of Beer Bottle Pass with a cliff on one side. DARPA's corridor was overlaid on top of Stanley's sensor data and it was easy to see that much of DARPA's corridor was actually over the cliff.

During training many traffic cones were "frequent victims of computer glitches," but Team Stanley was called "Team Boring" by the cleanup crew for their lack of incidents. The actual challenge was described as getting the data at 4AM, getting Stanley to the starting line at 6AM, and then sitting around drinking beer for several hours. The big moment came when Stanley passed CMU's Highlander as the CMU and Stanford teams listened to race radio. Thrun narrated the exciting finish for us: "[The head of DARPA] is waving his flag as if the car could see it."

Thrun said that they won mostly through luck given how close four of the teams finished. The speed limits set by DARPA for the various parts of the course were too conservative, so the cars were running below their full potential. DARPA also decided to make the course fairly easy. Asked if CMU would have won had they not had engine problems, Thrun answered, "In all likelihood, yes." Also, Team ENSCO had a faster average course time but flatted on "something really big CMU left behind" (the CMU part may have been a joke). Thrun felt that Stanford had better software than CMU and on a tougher course Stanford would have the advantage.

In the future, Thrun wants to try driving 65mph on 280, parking in a garage, convoy driving, and driving assist. Part of his motivation is to reduce traffic deaths, which a driving assist system could help prevent. He also feels that a fully automated system would change society by allowing you to use your commute time productively -- you could even drive to your destination, get out, and then send your car to go park in a parking garage farther away. These are still looking far ahead. In response to someone asking what it would take to drive at human-controlled speeds, Thrun related it to asking the Wright brothers, "If you want to fly over the Atlantic, what's missing?"

Talk: Salman Rushie, Shalimar the Clown


Salman Rushdie-2 Salman Rushdie-1

Salman Rushie spoke at Books Inc in Mountain View. These are my notes (more in the extended entry). As always with my notes, although I attempt to use quotes as much as possible, I don't stand by the accuracy of my quotes and they should be considered paraphrasings at best.

For In the Name of the Rose Umberto Eco said, "'I had a great desire to murder a monk'... in my case it was an American ambassador." Shalimar the Clown starts off with Shalimar, a muslim Kashmiri, killing the American ambassador that his childhood sweetheart ran off with. Shalimar is a character transforms from tight-rope walker into terrorist.

In the book you root for Shalimar even though he does horrible things. It "would have been much easier to make him not likable," but then he would be a cartoon and cartoons can't make moral choices. Shalimar "retains the capacity for moral choice" and thus retains moral responsibility. Rushdie had watched a documentary about the downfall of Hitler that humanized the Nazis and he felt that the humanizing "does the opposite of exonerating them." It is one of the roles of writers to make you care about the people because "you have to care about people to care about what happens to them."

Much of the novel takes place in Kashmir and he said, "'[I] always wanted to write more about it than I have." Midnight's Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories have parts in Kashmir, but not very much.

In 1987 he was participating in a British documentary about India at the age of 40. He met a group of travelling players in Kashmir and thought that they lived an "extraordinary lifestyle... on the one hand paradise-like... [but] incredibly poor." He observed their way of life and it "felt like the end of a very long line." This was before the eruption of violence and the insurgency, so he does not imagine that life has gotten better for them.

He wanted to put them in the documentary, but they were "too scared to tell the truth on camera." They would complain about the Indian troops off camera, but when you turned the camera on they would say, "We are very happy," and praise the Indian troops.

Talk: Neil Gaiman *Anansi Boys*


Neil Gaiman-1"Dearly Beloved..."

Neil Gaiman addressed us from atop the pulpit in the First Congregation Church in Berkeley on National Geek Day, the day that both Mirromask and Serenity were released in theaters. He read from Anansi Boys, a book that has the tagline "God is dead. Meet the kids." As Gaiman noted, you write a "book with strange gods, and they send you to talk in churches."

Gaiman described Anansi Boys as American Gods' second cousiin, once removed. He had the idea for Anansi Boys before American Gods, so one way he thinks of Mr. Nancy and American Gods is that it had a special guest star... for a book that hadn't been written yet.

For Anansi Boys I've decided to do something I've never done before: buy the audiobook. My reason for this was is very simple: there's an mp3 version. I never saw much reason before in buying audiobooks. They're as expensive as the book and there's this giant stack of CDs that you either have to cart around or you have to spend an hour ripping to your computer. With an mp3 CD I can immediately place it on my iPod or PSP -- it's ready to consume.

The battle over DRM rarely gets very far as it is an ideological battle with strongly divided opinions, full of speculation but few actual examples proving either sides' case. It's great to see an author that's #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List take what the industry would consider a risk and move the debate over DRM forward. Gaiman had to fight with Harper Collins to have mp3 CDs made, so he encouraged me to encourage my friends to purchase the mp3 version. I wish more authors were iPod users like Gaiman so that they too would act as intelligently about technology.

Neil Gaiman-2 Neil Gaiman-6 Neil Gaiman-5 Neil Gaiman-4 Neil Gaiman-3 Gaiman Pratchett-1

WARNING: Notes in the extended. I did a really, really bad job with my notes. Much more here is paraphrased from memory than actual quotes. For whatever reason my note-taking skills were terrible tonight and much that was funny I cannot remember well enough to transcribe.

Talk: Terry Pratchett


talk at Books Inc in Mountain View

Pratchett opened his talk comparing the security at airports to "evil clowns at the circus." Shoes off, belt on, shoes off, belt off. "Trousers down -- they haven't done that yet -- you know they want to do it." There was a "guy with one leg. They took his shoe away." He found the focus on pocketknives puzzling in a country where we have so many guns.

On heart surgery

Pratchett had heart surgery last year. Afterwords his surgeon said that they had a little "fun and games." Pratchett asked if that was medical speak for "you nearly died." His surgeon responded, "heart surgery is medical speak for you nearly died." Apparently throughout the process Pratchett kept trying to get up saying, "he's got sandwiches." He never managed to get close to the man with sandwiches in his dream, so he chalks it up as a "near sandwich experience." Reflecting on this, he thinks that when you die "it's obviously some distance because they give you something to eat on the way." He doesn't know what type of sandwich it was, but if it was a cheese sandwich with a Branston Pickle he would go with but if it were a cucumber sandwich with the edges cut off he would turn away.

Q: What kind of sandwich would Death and the Death of Rats have?
A: Death would have a curry sandwich and the Death of Rats would have a double gloucester cheese sandwich (see Hard Cheese of Old England)

more notes in the extended

My commencement speaker was Daniel Goldin, the outgoing head of NASA. I guess they wanted to connect with the whole "2001" theme and have a spacey speaker, but Goldin is an administrator, not an innovator, and I was bored to tears. It could have been worse: MIT and Stanford graduating classes have both had Carly Fiorina as a speaker, and someone from the MIT class of '05 just sent me the text of the commencement speak by Irwin Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, which is the epitome of boring CEO commencement addresses. Read on, if you like being bored.

Steven Johnson gave a talk at Books Inc. in Mountain View in order to promote his new book, Everything Bad is Good for You. (a shortened version of his Apple Store Talk for those who saw that).

His stated purpose for the talk/book is that is an attempt to talk on conventional wisdom that things have gotten worse, that newer media (TV/video games) appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is a "contrarian but honest argument" that looks, not at the content, but at the cognitive complexity of these media (# of characters, plots, etc...)

I've transcribed my notes into the extended entry. Before the jump you can checked out kottke's review or Gladwell's review (the kottke review includes some links to other resources). Or, you go straight to the source, Steven Johnson's blog, where he's be reviewing the reviewers, posting his schedule, and whatnot.

Finally, you can read Watching TV Makes You Smarter, which Johnson wrote for the New York Times Magazine and pretty much summarizes the arguments in his talk/book.

Peter Norvig, Google; Ken Norton, Yahoo!; Mark Fletcher, Bloglines/Ask Jeeves; Udi Manber, A9; Jakob Nielsen, NN Group

I went with bp and Neil to a BayCHI talk on "Recent Innovations in Search." I agree with bp's sentiment -- there were some interesting moments, but the talk was short on revelations or insights. I guess that is to be expected as the title of the talk is past focused ("Recent Innovations") rather than future focused ("Future Innovations"); it's hard to believe that the panelists would give away yet unrevealed technologies they were working on. I'm going to try and save as much effort as possible, given that bp posted his notes. In fact, as I am going to crib from his notes, or just omit what he already has, you should just go read them instead.

Talk: Simon Singh, The Big Bang


Simon Singh Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe

Singh gave a great talk on his book, The Big Bang. It was very easy to see how he could be so successful in writing popular science books. Who would have thought to use a backwards Led Zeppelin clip to explain how two competing scientific theories might both find support within a set of empirical data? Singh had a great ability throughout the talk to take a history and a scientific theory which are both dry and complicated, and make them both humorous and understandable, whether it be by analogy or by finding that Willow-esque nerd humor -- in discussing Fritz Zwicky's tired light theory, he brought up Zwicky's favorite insult: 'spherical bastard' (looks like a bastard no matter what direction you look at him). I appreciate that anecdote enough that you shouldn't be surprised if I refer to you as a 'spherical bastard' the next time you see me.

More notes in the extended.

Talk: A Theory of Neocortex


A Theory of Neocortex and its Implications for Machine Intelligence Jeff Hawkins Founder Palm Computing, Handspring Director, Redwood Neurosciences Institute Author of On Intelligence

Talk: Tivo


Revolutionizing Consumer Electronics: Welcome to the TiVolution´┐Ż! Paul Newby, Director of Consumer Design Margret Schmidt, Director of User Experience (UE), TiVo

I went to the TiVo talk at BayCHI/PARC. The best part of the night, perhaps, was that I have a bunch of great TiVo schwag: a TiVo doll and two new TiVo remotes -- one to replace honeyfield's remote, which has been mistaken for bunny food, and one to solve the problem we had last week of, when you lose the TiVo remote, there's no way for you to watch TV. The second best part of the night is that I learned a new TiVo feature that didn't exist on the Series 1 remote: if you press advance (the ->| button) in a list, it will jump to the end (very useful for Home Media Option).

I have detailed notes, but it's hard for me to put the effort into transcribing all of them, mainly because I've heard most of what she's said having worked at PARC for two years (big human-computer interaction focus) and having owned a TiVo for two years. As metamanda put it when I asked her if I should read Don Norman's Design of Everyday Things, she said it was good, but I've already heard everything in it multiple times. Seeing as Norman's book is somewhat of a bible for the TiVo User Experience team, I think the same applies here.

It's also hard for me to transcribe my notes because much of what was said has already been said in this interview Schmidt did for PVRBlog

There was an interesting semi-anecdote on TiVo's "overshoot correction" feature (where it jumps back a little after a fast forward). Many people think that TiVo is actually "learning" this (even across multiple users), i.e. when they fast forward and it doesn't jump to the spot that they wanted, they assume it was because they must have deviated from their normal reaction time (it's actually a hardcoded number based on the fast forward speed, derived from research).

My last thought before this switches into notes is that I wonder if TiVo is going to put an Apple-style clickwheel on the remote to replace the direction pad. The problem with navigating long lists was mentioned multiple times by them, and Margret did even mention a scrollwheel as a possibility, and it seems to me that the newest clickwheel comes the closest to carrying the TiVo direction pad concept forward.

Mecha Roaches and Geckos


Bob Full gave an interesting forum at PARC almost three years ago to this day, so there was a bit of nostalgia when I came across this press release updating on his progress with his cockroach and gecko.

PARC Forum: Bipedal Bugs, Galloping Ghosts and Gripping Geckos: BioInspired Computer Animation, Robots and Adhesives

Peter Norvig, Google

Multi-robot task allocation

A Case Study from Artificial Life Matthias Scheutz, Notre Dame

Brian Magerko, John E. Laird, Mazin Assanie, Alex Kerfoot, Devvan Stokes

Information on a storytelling environment built in Unreal Tournament.

Talk: Real Robots for the Real World


Sebastian Thrun, Stanford

This talk was mostly over my head in terms of the math, but the work is interesting.

Talk: AI and the New Exploration Vision


Dan Clancy, NASA

I enjoyed this talk -- it was a survey of NASA's current AI-based missions, including current and future Mars missions (Sojourner/Spirit/Opportunity). metamanda would have liked at least one point the talk made, which was that NASA is working on a personal rover robot to create/inspire kids, and in particular, girls. They have found in their exhibits that robots are more engaging to girls than boys, who enjoy the embodied interaction, so they see in it an opportunity to bridge a gender gap as well as inspire a future generation in NASA's vision. It was interesting how the Personal Exploration Rover pictures really did look like baby versions of the Spirit/Opportunity rovers, i.e. there was a certain amount of anthropomorphism to the vehicle, and it appeared child-like that could help engender a care-taker relationship between a kid and the robot.

Read on for notes.

Comic-Con: Ray Bradbury


Ray Bradbury's session was mostly full of soundbites and anecdotes (which he was prompted for). I'm afraid that these notes are very accurate, but I am transcribing them for my memory anyway. For each of these stories there's a lot more to tell, and I'm fairly certain that they've been told before (as most of the stories were prompted), so I would Google for the whole story if you're actually interested.

Read on for my notes and a photo.

Talk: Research cultures


I was part of a four person panel that gave a talk on research cultures at non-PARC research center. bp posted his notes, where it should be obvious that I had very little to say. The questions focused a lot more on high-level/process questions (e.g. "when do you decide to terminate a project," "what about outsourcing research development to India"). I've only been at SRI for five months working on a single project, which probably didn't make me a very good panel member to answer questions about the research project lifecycle. I was hoping for more "culture" questions so I wouldn't sound so mute. At the very least I had a good time seeing everyone again.

Talk: Tufte


Photo of Edward TufteI was really excited to go see Tufte today for his day long course. His writings and teachings are excellent, and I find them useful whenever I am displaying visual information, even if I cannot live up to the standards that they profess. Sometimes I wish Tufte would sell software with his design principles built-in, rather than the pie-chart glory of Excel. In fact, I learned during the talk from Peter Norvig (slightly more on this later) that the Autocomplete Wizard in Powerpoint started off as a joke by the engineering people to the marketing people, along the lines of "oh yeah, and we can just have the application fill in all the content for you." Clearly, engineers don't understand marketing.

So, on to the talk, which I discuss my rants and raves in the extended entry.

Talk: Author of Quicksilver


The author of Quicksilver gave a talk at a bookstore in Menlo Park to promote his latest book, Quicksilver, which is part of the Baroque Cycle. In an interesting social experiment, he will be running a Wiki for the book at Metaweb.

If you're wondering why I'm using pronouns and allusions to the identity of the author, it is because he began his talk by requesting that a new social convention be honored and observed during his talk. The author hopes that this convention will be called grith, which is an Old English term referring to protection/santuary. In modern parlance, he hopes that this term will spawn a new convention. In essence, if a person invokes grith, he is asking that he be able to speak frankly without fear of being recorded in any manner.

In the future he imagines that people will become more and more reticent to speak openly in public settings (much like politicians nowadays), and more and more information becomes accessible and free. Anecodotally, he spoke of his fear that his off-the-cuff remarks being videotaped and immediately placed on the Web, where it will remain until the Earth spirals down into the Sun. The fear makes it much more difficult for him to be open with audiences, as he knows that anyone might be carrying a small deck-of-cards-sized camcorder. He also related the story of another person who had someone ten thousand miles away take issue with an off-the-cuff remark he gave in a guest lecture.

In accordance with his invoking of grith, let me state that what follows in this entry is not a transcription of this author's talk; rather, it is a partial transcription of my imaginings of what he might say if these questions were asked of him, and I have not taken the time to note the many gaps. Also, as with anything that only occurs in one's mind, I didn't have a tape recorder or TiVo to replay my thoughts, and anything with "quotes" should not be construed as an actual quote of a fictitious character in my head. Instead, it should interpreted as the faulty transcriptions of an imaginative mind.

Finally, please also note that anything up and to this point was before he invoked the right of grith, or made permissible -- He was asked if it was alright to blog about grith, to which he responded, after some wavering, "go ahead - but don't quote me on that." I'm sure that anyone who was audience to this imaginary talk in my head will be intelligent enough to search google for "grith" if they wish to find me notes.



Cory Doctorow (of BoingBoing and Down and Out... fame) will be speaking at BayCHI at PARC, so I thought I'd post a talk pointer:
- Tuesday, August 12, 2003: Monthly Program (BayCHI)

I didn't like this talk enough to actually transcribe the notes. Luckily, heerforce has already transcribed his notes/outline, and they're probably better than I would have done anyway.

In short, I expected a lot more from the chief scientist at Altavista. His talk was so vague compared to Eric Schmidt's Google Forum - most of the stuff Pedersen put up was general knowledge. Also, if you notice from heer's notes, his "Future" section of his talk was very vague (though he was rushed).

Forum: Beer


We just had a forum on beer-making with a beer tasting afterwards, now how cool is that?

Beer: From Grain Brain To Glass
Presented by: Peter Bouckaert
New Belgium Brewing, Co.

Marketing types in the world of brewing like to say their beers are "steeped in tradition," but does this not ignore hundreds of years of experience and innovation?

In an entertainment industry where 10 minutes of pleasure is our product, working artfully towards a new creation is key. Starting from the glass and going over everything from grain to brain, some challenges of the new ingredients (i.e., experience, knowledge and creativity) will be fermented. A beer seminar addressing E = mc2, child development and Jackson Pollock awaits you!

More below...

Talk: Bob Metcalfe


Bob Metcalfe gave a short talk as part of the Ethernet celebration. It was a hurried, spirited talk off of notecards. My chaotic notes (along with some statements by Liddle) are below.

PARC Forum
Silicon Valley Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory (RCFL)
Special Agent Chris Beeson
FBI San Francisco
Computer Analysis Response Team

Forum: UCB Digital Library Project


PARC Forum

Professor and Principal Investigator, The Digital Library Project, UC Berkeley


Our practice of disseminating, accessing and using information, especially scholarly information, is still significantly impeded by the legacy of pre-electronic media. While overcoming these impediments will require many elements, there are opportunities for technological innovation to support new and better practices. For example, journals exist in their traditional forms at least partly because of the value of the peer review process, which thus far has not yielded to decentralized, distributed and timely mechanisms of the Web. Similarly, information access is still largely a text-based affair, with other data types relegated to second class citizenship.

The UC Berkeley Digital Library project is developing technologies aimed at addressing these impediments, and hence allowing the development of new, more efficient mechanisms of information dissemiation and use. In particular, we are developing new models of documents, in the form of the Multivalent browser, which we hope will convince you to throw away your current, limited web browser, for collaborative quality filtering", which provides the value of peer
review without deference to prior established authorities, such as journals, and for "collection management services", which bring to individual information users services previously available to libraries. Taken together, such mechanisms may provide the benefits of modern communications without sacraficing traditional academic values.

In addition, we have been developing techniques for image retrieval based on image content. Recent progress on learning the semantics of image databases using text and pictures suggests that new forms of image-lated web services may be possible, including automatic image captioning and automatic illustration, among others.

Forum: Google


Eric Schmidt of Google gave a very interesting talk at PARC. The first half of his talk was about information movements and the second half was anecdotes/information about Google. Schmidt started off with a comparison to electricity: it started off as a big boom, then it became a utility. Similarly, it started off with thousands of companies, and then became very few. Schmidt argues that all big bubbles have followed the model of thousands then few: railroads, auto, dot com. To me at least, this seemed hand-wavy: the auto industry, for example, has a huge parts and support industry around it, and railroad/electricity are inhibited by infrastructure - a company doesn't have to own Internet backbone to produce a product or service.

The funniest anecdote he gave was about the "bias" of Google News. He was giving a talk and someone in the audience asked him what Google's slant was when it displayed articles. Schmidt tried to explain that a computer selected the articles, and thus there was no slant, but the audience member insisted that every news source has a slant. As Schmidt tells the story, he went to the researchers/engineers that were responsible for Google News and asked them if it were possible that Google News had a slant. As it turns out, the researcher that created the program is Indian and put in two biases: (1) International news is favored, and (2) cricket. I had actually noticed (2), because it seemed improbable to me that there would be a cricket sports link everyday on the front page.

Another funny anecdote he had was when he was making a point that cost drives everything. When Google was still at Stanford, they needed to build server casings. What did they use: legos or duplos? Duplos, because they are cheaper.

More stuff below and in the extended comments.

Eric Schmidt, Google Talk
- "Scarcity to Abundance Drives Everthing Tech"

Forum: 20,000 Bytes Under the Sea


20,000 Bytes Under The Sea
Poster & Abstract
Emory Kristof
National Geographic Society

This was a really nice talk IMHO. The guy's been with National Geographic forever and throughout his career has had to build leading-edge photography rigs to expand National Geographic's photographic reach beneath the sea. Some of his work also helped inspire Titanic the movie. His more recent work has been with high-definition capture, and the pictures he showed were amazing (especially compared to non-high definition versions of the same stuff).

Forum: Speech Level Singing


The Speech Level Singing Method: Tools And Tricks For Artistic Vocal Development
Dave Stroud
Technical Voice Instructor
Dave Stroud Vocal Studio (

Forum: Star Wars


PARC Forum
Digital Environments And Costumes In Star Wars: Episode II
Ari Rapkin
CG (computer graphics) Software Engineer
Industrial Light + Magic

Star Wars Forum Poster