Entries for April 2008

April 21, 2008

Happy Overpass

Overpasses. Those minor marvels of engineering. Sure, it’s easy to appreciate the huge overpasses of major cities, with their cloverleaf patterns and serpentine elevated roads. But I have a particular appreciation for the little overpasses. Crossing over just a few lanes of traffic, they are simultaneously bridge and tunnel. We pass them and immediately forget about them. They are the unsung heroes of traffic.

Well, this week strikes me as a good time to share some overpass photos from my travels, so here are a few images. Click to enlarge.

You can see a more extensive gallery here.






View the full gallery.

April 14, 2008

Video Store Clerk Game: A Crowd Wisdom Experiment

On-line movie recommendation systems (such as those at Amazon, Netflix, etc) are pretty good at guessing what movies you might like based on your movie history. Improvements to these systems are constantly being made, using ever more sophisticated algorithms. But how good are they compared to the wisdom of actual people? That’s what my friends Jay and Andy are trying to figure out. And they need your help.

Jay and Andy have created a game called Video Store Clerk in which you play a video store clerk. You are told how a real customer has rated previous movie rentals, and then you are shown another movie title that the person also rented. Can you guess how the customer rated that movie?

They are collecting all the user-generated data and comparing it to the real customers’ ratings. A computer has already played the game with millions of customers, and we know how well it did. The question is whether or not the wisdom of crowds can beat the computer. To gather enough data for an accurate comparison, they need a lot of people to play. So please, pass the link around. Digg it. Blog it. They tell me their server can handle the load.

The experiment’s findings will ultimately go toward building a better movie recommendation system. Hopefully you’ll find the game fun to play, too. And if you have any ideas about improving the game, you can leave a comment here or use the contact link on their site.

Link: Video Store Clerk

April 11, 2008

Idea: Tactile Feedback While Driving

Car companies are coming up with new ways of making sure you’re aware of other cars in your blind spots. Using radar and special mirrors, you will soon get audible and visual warnings when cars are approaching.

But what about tactile feedback? When I drive, my hands are already on the steering wheel, so why not take advantage of that to let me feel when a car is approaching in my blind spot?

The steering wheel could be embedded with a row of nubs that protrude under your hands when they need to alert you to another car’s presence. If a car is approaching in your blind spot on the right, the nubs raise under your right hand letting you feel the car’s presence. Likewise for the left side. And the wheel could detect where you place your hands while you drive, so if you don’t keep your hands at ten and two the nubs will be active wherever you do place your hands.

With practice, it could become second nature to use the sense of touch to gather information while you drive, just like you use sight and sound already.

April 4, 2008

Eyeglasses and the pushing up thereof

I’ve noticed lately that there seem to be three four distinct ways that people push up their glasses, and yet not a single study has been done about this. “10 Things You Can Tell About Your Man By How He Pushes Up His Glasses” seems like a perfect headline for a women’s magazine in the supermarket checkout line, and yet nobody is doing this important research. So here’s an overview:

Method 1: Placing one hand on each side of the frame, use the fingertips or midfingers of both hands in concert to raise the glasses into a comfortable position.

Celebrity who uses Method 1: Actress Tina Fey

Method 2: Using the fingers of just one hand, grab the frame front securely on one side and push the glasses up into a comfortable position.

Celebrity who uses Method 2: Magician Penn Jillette

Method 3: Using just one finger, press upward on the bridge of the frame, raising the glasses into a comfortable position.

Celebrity who uses Method 3: Journalist Clark Kent

Method 4: [Added after being mentioned by Pavel in the comments] Spread the hands across the face, with a thumb on one end of the frame and a finger on the other. In one motion, push the glasses up into a comfortable position.

Celebrity who uses Method 4: Pavel in the comments below

I think method 2 is the inferior method, because it raises the glasses unevenly and could cause strain on the end pieces or hinges. Method 3, meanwhile, may be the simplest and most efficient method, but seems to be associated with nerd behavior for some reason. Do people deliberately use method 2 over method 3 just to look cooler? Method 4 is efficient, but I’m not a fan because it temporarily obstructs one’s vision. But perhaps there is a refined technique I haven’t considered. I have not yet formed an opinion about method 1. But surely there is a university out there looking for some useless research to do, right?