Networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity#

[Information curators] are our curiosity sherpas, who lead us to things we didn't know we were interested in until we, well, until we are. Until we pay attention to them -- because someone whose taste and opinion we trust points us to them, and we integrate them with our existing pool of resources, and they become a part of our networked knowledge and another LEGO piece in our combinatorial creativity.


I'm utterly addicted to this word game. The sounds, animations and gameplay are damn near perfect, and I just can't seem to put it down. This is the kind of game that you can play for hours on end, and to the exclusion of everything else.

Word nerds, you've been warned.

How a geek cracked the Jeopardy! code#

Roger Craig had never been on Jeopardy! before, but by the end of his first day of taping, he'd won five games in a row, the most lucrative day for any contestant in the show's history, including the most lucrative game in the show's history. His secret? A web app that modeled the show's all too predictable question sequences.

(Last week Roger won the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.)


web/null is /dev/null for the Web. It silently agrees with and eats up any request [it receives], and keeps statistics of it.

AnandTech reviews the iPhone 4S#

This is, without question, the most comprehensive iPhone 4S review out there, and may be the most comprehensive iPhone review ever.

I learned quite a bit, including that you can make the FieldTest strength numbers permanent (the setting persists across reboots) by force-quitting the utility:

[T]o get into FieldTest dial 3001#12345# - you can then keep numerics instead of bars in the top left by force quitting FieldTest after launching it (hold down power/lock until power off appears, then hold the home button).

Use AppleScript to determine which media app is currently playing something (or was last paused), and have your PowerMate act accordingly

November 13, 2011

I earlier described how I configured my PowerMate to provide system-wide control of Spotify, and noted the ability of the PowerMate software to now run AppleScripts that can communicate with other apps, thus obviating the need for third-party "bridges."

A problem I ran into almost immediately with the setup described in the aforelinked post was that Spotify would start playing a track when I bopped my PowerMate to pause iTunes; you see, even though I'm now getting the majority of my music via Spotify, I'm still using iTunes for podcasts.

Because I wanted the PowerMate to control all media on my computer, I needed to give the AppleScripts some "intelligence" with respect to which app they should affect, depending on a few variables. Let's start with what ended up being the most involved script, the one for play/pause.

--Define the lastPaused property and give it a default value
property lastPaused : ""

--Get current states of iTunes and Spotify
tell application "iTunes" to set itunesState to (player state as text)
tell application "Spotify" to set spotifyState to (player state as text)

--Pause the active app; play the last-paused app
if itunesState is equal to "playing" then
    tell application "iTunes" to playpause
    set lastPaused to "iTunes"
else if spotifyState is equal to "playing" then
    tell application "Spotify" to playpause
    set lastPaused to "Spotify"
else if ((itunesState is equal to "paused") and (lastPaused is equal to "iTunes")) then
    tell application "iTunes" to playpause
else if ((spotifyState is equal to "paused") and (lastPaused is equal to "Spotify")) then
    tell application "Spotify" to playpause
end if

The reason this script is slightly more complicated than those for next track and 30-second skip (described below) is because it requires the maintenance of a variable across invocations of the script. Specifically, when playing a paused track we must determine which app--iTunes or Spotify--was last paused, so we know which app to tell to start playing again.

I struggled a bit with how to track this "last paused" descriptor, and ultimately resigned myself to maintaining it via a file. Though I got that solution working, I wasn't completely happy with it and asked my Twitter followers if there was a better way. @elasticthreads mentioned AppleScript's property construct and indeed it was exactly what I needed (and I was more than a little embarrassed I hadn't remembered it myself). (From the AppleScript Language Guide: "The value set by a property definition is not reset each time the script is run; instead, it persists until the script is recompiled." Perfect.)

The script first defines, and gives a default value to, the lastPaused property. (This value is set just once for each compilation of the script, which means, in practice, it likely will occur only during the script's initial run after a reboot.) Next, the script grabs the player states (e.g., paused, playing, stopped, etc.) of iTunes and Spotify so that we can work with them later.

Finally, the script determines if either app is currently playing a track; if so, it pauses that app and sets lastPaused to note that the app was paused. If neither app is currently playing, the script checks to see if either app is currently paused (as opposed to stopped) and currently "owns" lastPaused; if these two things are true for either app, it issues the play command to that app.

The next track script is similar, except that we don't need to remember the state of anything; all we need to do is determine which of the two apps is currently playing something (and one must be, else we wouldn't have reached for the PowerMate). With that in mind, the script doesn't involve iTunes at all if Spotify is active; I wrote it that way because 90% of the time I'm listening to music at my computer, not podcasts.

tell application "Spotify"
    if player state is equal to playing then
        next track
        tell application "iTunes" to next track
    end if
end tell

The script logic for 30-second skip is the same as that for next track.

tell application "Spotify"
    if player state is equal to playing then
        set player position to (player position + 30)
        tell application "iTunes" to set player position to (player position + 30)
    end if
end tell

One Time Secret generates single-view URIs#

When you send people passwords and private links via email or chat, there are copies of that information stored in many places. If you use a one-time URI instead, the information persists for a single viewing which means it can't be read by someone else later. This allows you to send sensitive information in a safe way knowing it's seen by one person only. Imagine hearing "This message will self destruct!" right after the recipient has loaded it.

The Verge reviews the Jawbone UP#

It's a good review with some great pics of the device. I've owned both the WakeMate (OK, so it's not totally analogous, but I hated it besides) and the Fitbit (loved it, but recently lost it), and am not too sure how I feel about the UP. (For one thing, the name is terrible, no?)

I think my biggest problem with the device (having not used it yet) is that it's a bracelet. I always wear a mechanical watch on my left wrist and wouldn't dare let anything bump against it, and have no desire to also wear something on my right wrist. Moreover, I suspect it wouldn't flow perfectly around my wrist (from what I can gather it's not completely "moldable"), which would bother me to no end, not to mention that I don't like the idea of the rubber constantly tugging at my arm hair.

(See also Shawn Wall's write-up of his experience with the device. H/T Shawn Blanc.)

It's time for humanity 2.0#

Steve Fuller:

[W]e're learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature - in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it's easy to conclude that being "human" is overrated. [...]

We need to be always reminding ourselves that we have always been enhancing ourselves, that science has always been enhancing the human condition, that we have been trusting machines over our own bodies for at least 300-400 years now. We've already broken through that barrier - we do live in a very artificial world. Even though the stuff on the horizon may amplify our powers tremendously, it is nevertheless part of the same process. It is a step change but it's the same story, the story of scientific progress.

(Related: Humans, version 3.0.)

Surely by now we've outgrown the soul?#

Reductionism in science isn't about denying complexity, but about looking for the simple rules that underpin it. Unlike the clear-cut (and, dare I say, reductionist) notion of a ‘soul' for which no more explanation is possible, a scientific approach acknowledges the complexity apparent at every level of brain function and begins the difficult task of understanding it. [...]

Thinking, feeling meat is not so comforting. In accepting our soulless, embodied selves, we will have to face up to genuinely hard questions about what it means to be human, and why that might matter. It won't necessarily be easy, but it IS necessary. It's impossible to build a coherent morality or understanding of the world without first ensuring intellectual honesty.

Inside the mind of the octopus#

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus's neurons are not in the brain; they're in its arms. [...]

"I think consciousness comes in different flavors," agrees Mather. "Some may have consciousness in a way we may not be able to imagine."

It's an enchanting read, filled with moving descriptions of the author's and others' interactions with Athena, a giant Pacific octopus. For example:

The way she held Menashi with her suckers seemed to me like the way a long-married couple holds hands at the movies.

PlugBug Charger from Twelve South#

PlugBug is a 10W USB wall charger that piggybacks onto your MacBook Power Adapter, creating a totally unique, all-in-one, dual charger for MacBook + iPad or iPhone. That means you can charge your MacBook + iPad or iPhone at the same time using one wall outlet.

Brilliant. You guys know I'm a huge fan of Twelve South, and this product only makes me a bigger one.