God is the machine#

A great 2002 Wired piece by Kevin Kelly arguing that all matter is, at its essence, nothing more than binary information—a continuum of yes/no questions and answers.

Once science examined matter below the level of fleeting quarks and muons, it knew the world was incorporeal. What could be less substantial than a realm built out of waves of quantum probabilities? And what could be weirder? Digital physics is both. It suggests that those strange and insubstantial quantum wavicles, along with everything else in the universe, are themselves made of nothing but 1s and 0s. The physical world itself is digital. […]

Bits can be seen as a digital version of the "atoms" of classical Greece: the tiniest constituent of existence. But these new digital atoms are the basis not only of matter, as the Greeks thought, but of energy, motion, mind, and life. […]

Tommaso Toffoli, a quantum computer researcher, puts it best: "In a sense, nature has been continually computing the ‘next state' of the universe for billions of years; all we have to do -- and, actually, all we can do -- is ‘hitch a ride' on this huge, ongoing Great Computation."

The Mr. Reader iPad app just keeps getting better#

It would be remiss of me not to mention the strides the developer, Oliver Furnib, has made in the weeks since I posted my thoughts on Mr. Reader. He's issued two updates that go a long way towards fixing what was the most glaring issue (i.e., instability; the app hasn't crashed once for me since the first of those updates), and it's clear he's taken a number of my recommendations/complaints to heart.

Surely I'll list a few more niggles at some point, but for now I'll just stand back and let Oliver continue to position Mr. Reader as the go-to RSS app on my iPad.

Derek Miller's last post#

Here it is. I'm dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote…

I'd never heard of Derek Miller before today, but was moved to tears when reading through this beautiful post, the last thing he'll ever share with the world.

It turns out that no one can imagine what's really coming in our lives. We can plan, and do what we enjoy, but we can't expect our plans to work out. Some of them might, while most probably won't. Inventions and ideas will appear, and events will occur, that we could never foresee. That's neither bad nor good, but it is real.

I think and hope that's what my daughters can take from my disease and death. And that my wonderful, amazing wife Airdrie can see too. Not that they could die any day, but that they should pursue what they enjoy, and what stimulates their minds, as much as possible--so they can be ready for opportunities, as well as not disappointed when things go sideways, as they inevitably do.

Marc Silber visits Ansel Adams' home and darkroom#

This is the extended version of my visit to Ansel Adams' home and darkroom. You'll hear his son Michael talk about some of Ansel's most iconic images, including the breakthrough he had when he first visualized the image of Half Dome. This led to the development of his unique and masterful style. You'll also see much more of his darkroom and hear about how Ansle worked and see the darkroom he custom built, like none on earth.


Finding a good weather app for the iPhone#

Ben went a little apeshit and mini-reviewed 15 different weather apps, and I love him for it. Like Ben, I settled on WeatherSnitch a while ago (February 2010), after (buying and) downloading nearly every decent-looking weather app that's come out since the iPhone was originally launched. (Even today I have a "Weather" folder that holds the last 12 apps I've put on my phone. Ladies.)

When I noticed that the latest version of WeatherSnitch was injecting ads into the app, my reaction was similar to Ben's; not only do I just refuse to have ads in my weather apps (or any app for that matter), but it really burns me up that I paid for this app, and now suddenly it's free and forces ads on me.

To be fair to the developers, they did say the following in the latest release notes (and so maybe we'll be able to turn the ads off in a future update): "We know this update might bug some of you, but it's necessary as we prepare to release the next version (long overdue, we know). These changes will be temporary…" (Emphasis mine.)

In light of this ad nonsense I ended up falling back on My-Cast (and am quite enjoying Fahrenheit too), which, coincidentally, is the app Ben ended up coming around to as well. It was an automatic switch for me, because My-Cast was my daily driver before WeatherSnitch came along.

Of course there were reasons I abandoned My-Cast in favor of WeatherSnitch, which reasons still persist, including: 1) the name (it looks terrible under the icon; WeatherSnitch simply says "Weather," which is perfect); 2) the icon (seriously, tell me it doesn't look like it belongs on a box of Jimmy Dean sausages); and 3) the fact that you can't force it to update its weather data (no matter what I do, the app updates for me only at 1:53, 2:53, 3:53, etc.).

See also Marco Arment's thoughts on weather apps, which mostly are in line with my own with respect to what I want in a weather app. That said, neither Ben nor Marco mentions a desire for a "feels like" metric. I prefer this kind of approximation to just the simple temperature, because it makes temperature less relative. For example, 60° in Florida (where I grew up) feels a lot different than 60° in downtown San Jose (not least because of the oppressive wind here), and despite all the years I've lived in California, I still have to do some mental math every time I'm given an absolute temperature.

(As a quick aside, Ben's screenshot of Weather+ cracked me up. The app--a weather app--wastes a fifth of the precious screen real estate on the time.)

Yours truly is in the "Photographer Spotlight"#

I'm humbled and honored to have been asked to participate in Jorge Quintero's "Photographer Spotlight" interview series.

I put some serious time and thought into my answers, so you definitely should give this a read if you're at all interested in how I got into photography, my current gear, my favorite shot, etc.

(Also, while there, do yourself a favor and be sure to check out Jorge's incredible photoblog.)


Share a project on your [computer] using the ‘show' command. Showoff creates a tunnel between your laptop and the web. You get a showoff url that you can share with anyone.

11 scientists distill their own work into a single, crucial statement#

If you only had a single statement to pass on to others summarizing the most vital lesson to be drawn from your work, what would it be? Seed asked eleven scientists this question. These are their answers.

My favorite probably is from Marc Hauser, evolutionary biologist at Harvard:

"We started human life as hunter-gatherers, where contact with others, kin and non-kin, was the center of human life, social and moral. Begin by holding hands and talking, face to face, recalling our shared evolutionary history, and the importance of human nature."

I'm also especially fond of Jill Tarter's, who borrowed her quote from Carl Sagan's Cosmos: "We are made of star stuff." It reminds me of physicist Lawrence Krauss, who once said: "Forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today."

Governor Perry issued a proclamation for days of prayer for rain in Texas#

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.

I hope this doesn't cause flash flooding! Maybe he should have asked for just two days of prayer? That said, there doesn't seem to be any animal sacrifice involved so I doubt this will have any effect.

The science of why we don't believe science#

We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself. […]

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation--a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber [7] of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information--and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. "They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs," says Taber, "and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing." […]

Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

Where does good come from?#

The alternative theory holds that the origins of altruism and teamwork have nothing to do with kinship or the degree of relatedness between individuals. The key, Wilson said, is the group: Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes -- including the ones that predispose them to cooperation -- are handed down to future generations.

This stuff kind of gets to the heart of some of the books I've been reading lately. Curiously, the article says nothing of religion (or at least its predecessors), which was, especially as respects the theory of group selection, a big factor in binding tribal (and eventually larger) groups together around a common cause, and convincing individuals to marginalize their interests for the sake of the group (usually through fear of divine punishment).

(Though somewhat tangential, you may want to check out Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values , which argues, more or less, that the foundations of an objective moral framework can be built by examining how particular actions (or inactions) affect human well-being. Relatedly, I feel he makes his points a bit better in this debate than in the book.)

David Eagleman on the mysteries of the brain#

Regarding how the brain processes and assimilates information from the various senses, Eagleman says:

[T]he brain needs time to get its story straight. It gathers up all the evidence of our senses, and only then reveals it to us. […]

Reality is a tape-delayed broadcast, carefully censored before it reaches us. Living in the past may seem like a disadvantage, but it's a cost that the brain is willing to pay. It's trying to put together the best possible story about what's going on in the world, and that takes time."

On our perception of time:

"Time is this rubbery thing," Eagleman said. "It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, 'Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up."

As ever, I'm fascinated not only with the theories, but also with how the theories are put to the test. Eagleman came up with an ingenious method of examining the theory that our perception of time is altered greatly by our being in an incredibly scary or stressful situation (i.e., we tend to laser-focus and time seems to nearly stop):

The unit could be strapped to a subject's wrist, where it would flash a number at a rate just beyond the threshold of perception. If time slowed down, Eagleman reasoned, the number would become visible. Now he just needed a good, life-threatening situation.

For those curious, he found that situation in a suspended catch air device (SCAD) (which I kind of want to try).

Video of all the fatalities in the new Mortal Kombat game#

(Warning: These finishing moves probably are as gory as anything you've ever seen. In fact, in Australia, it's actually illegal to own this game because it was deemed too violent. Really.)

As some of you know, the Mortal Kombat series received a major reboot yesterday when Mortal Kombat (9) was released for Xbox 360 and PS3. I don't play video games too much these days (mainly just Skate 3 (see my discussion of the original Skate) and some scrolling shooters), but this was something I just had to have, and I've been salivating over it since the day it was announced almost a year ago.

I can't begin to tell you the number of hours (months?) I spent playing this series of games (and those of Street Fighter, Killer Instinct, etc.) in the early-to-mid '90s.

This latest version basically is a (brilliant!) re-imagining of the best games of the series, namely MK 1-3. Everything's been updated, and there are a slew of new features. One of my favorite aspects of the game is that while the characters and scenes are rendered in 3D, the fighting plane is restricted to two dimensions, which makes the game feel much like the originals.

After having spent a few hours with this latest release, I can say it's a ton of fun; a fantastic upgrading and merging of some of my favorite games of all time.

(Be sure to also check out GameSpot's great video review.)


April 18, 2011

As most of you likely have noticed by now, justinblanton.com has evolved into hypertext.net(!), and for the record, I'm positively giddy about it. (Yes, the transition occurred a few weeks ago, but I didn't want to write this post until I had decided on a font for the new logo, which I finally did just a couple of days ago. For those curious, I discuss the font a bit more at the end of this post.)


When I started this site in 2002 I had no idea what I wanted it to be, or what it could/would become. All I knew was that I enjoyed writing (mostly about tech), felt I had something to say and appreciated being able to reference something I'd written so as to not have to explain it over and over again. (I can't tell you how great it is, when someone asks me an involved question, to tell them to search the site for "x," or to point them to a particular URI.)

I'd long wanted to get away from the eponymous domain name I'd been using for almost a decade, but coming up with a new domain name, that I knew could stand the test of time, was difficult, not least because I'm a perfectionist and wanted something, well, perfect. The search took years.

When I announced the new domain name on Twitter, the responses expectedly ran the gamut from, "OMG, how did you get that?! Awesome!," to, "Huh? What does it mean?" Clearly, web geeks understood the significance of the word--HTML, the foundation for this and nearly every other web page on the Internet, stands for HyperText Markup Language--and as you can imagine, I loved this aspect of the name.

I appreciated also the other, more literal meanings of the phrase. To me they fit this site well in that I've published a ton of words here (I'll cross 300,000 with this post), and update relatively frequently.

It's no secret that I've long been jealous of Kottke's tagline--"Home of fine hypertext products"--and have for years been trying to come up with something similar for this site, only to never be satisfied with my attempts. Instead, I stuck with "Life. Technology." through almost the entire lifespan of the site; a broad, concise, and I think appropriate phrase, but one that's not particularly exciting.

With hypertext.net, I don't feel any tagline is needed. (And I now get to use a byline!)


I just emailed the previous owner and asked if he'd be willing to sell it. He had owned the domain name for over 14 years, but wasn't doing much with it apart from hosting an old project in a subdirectory. Understandably though, he just didn't want to part with it.

Initially it seemed there was no way a deal could be struck, but I kept pressing. We went back and forth for weeks, with him usually taking much longer than me to reply. Eventually, in addition to a not insignificant amount of money, I offered to: 1) host/forward his project indefinitely; 2) buy out his hosting contract for the rest of the year; and 3) give him some percentage of the sale price should I decide to sell the domain in the future.

After we ironed out the details, and the domain transfer was finalized (which took a full week!), it was mine.

What's happening to justinblanton.com?

Well, nothing and everything. Initially I was terribly conflicted about exactly how I wanted to handle the transition; the big hang-up for me was my photoblog, which resides at /photos. Because "hypertext" really says nothing about photography, I kind of wanted to keep the photoblog at justinblanton.com.

In an effort to simplify things going forward, I eventually decided to just redirect every request received at justinblanton.com to its hypertext.net equivalent. No, I don't think it's ideal for the photoblog, but on balance I think it's the right decision, and actually, in the past few weeks I've come around quite a bit to the reality of the photoblog living at the new domain.

Cypher 5 Regular

You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much time I spent trying to decide on a font for the new logo. Initially, I was dead set on using a bitmap font (examples), because I love the retro, "digital" look of them, but after playing around with every bitmap font on the Internet, I just couldn't make it work with the site.

After looking for weeks, I had 15 "candidate" fonts (14 of which were not raster fonts) that I liked roughly equally… and then I came across Cypher 5 from Typeco.

I knew almost instantly that it was the font for this site. I think it's a great mix of everything I was looking for: a slight bitmap-y vibe, modern, clean, and I think with respect to this particular site, future-proof.

Despite my knowing in the back of my head that Cypher was the one, I kept slogging away as I'm wont to do, scared that somewhere in the deep crevices of the Internet was an even more appropriate font. After a few days of this insanity I finally had to convince myself that I had reached the end of the Internet, and that Cypher was the only font left standing. (Next, of course, came the super simple decisions regarding size, color, etc., which were a lot of fun! Ugh.)


So yeah, that's the transition in a nutshell. It's been a long and relatively expensive journey, but one that's resulted in, I think, the perfect domain name for me and this site.

Here's to nine more years of blogging!

Differences between e-book and hardcover best seller lists#

I'm interested in the differences between the markets for digital and physical books. This page updates once a week, when the New York Times Best Sellers list is released. It uses the Best Sellers API to compare the e-book and hardcover lists and highlight books unique to each of them.

(Via Michael Sippey.)