When Scabby calls


I’ve had several calls recently on my mobile from 0845 412 2750, which is a number I didn’t recognize, and that looked to me like a business number.

I didn’t answer them, because my policy on phone calls is that, if I don’t know the number of the caller, or I’m not expecting a call from an unknown number, I let it go to voice mail, pick up the message, and call them back.

Part of the reason for this policy is to avoid ever having to deal with those automated call systems that relentlessly dial numbers.  Some just play recorded messages, and are therefore unsatisfying to hang up on. However, the really annoying ones waste your time by connecting to a call centre once you’ve made the mistake of sounding human.

Of course, such systems are designed to spot voice mail systems, faxes and other non-humans, and in such cases they drop the call without leaving a message, on the assumption that, eventually, they’ll interrupt you at a more inconvenient time.

Send calls directly to voicemail

Anyway, after a few voice-mail-free calls from yonder strange number, I looked them up and found that, indeed, they were from some obnoxious sales operation, trying to sell broader dongles for my band.

Now, a fellow annoyee on that site has had the interesting idea of adding the number to his phone’s contact list under the name “Do Not Answer”, so that he knows not to answer when they call again. Which they will.

But, with my fancy-schmancy Android G1 phone, I realized I could do better. The G1’s contacts application has a feature, hitherto unused by me, which lets you permanently divert all calls from a particular number to voice mail.

So, I’ve now added that number to my contacts, and checked the always divert checkbox. I’ve used the name “Scabby the Salesman”, for that is who I imagine to be calling (a strangely prescient choice of name by his parents, don’t you think?).

Oddly enough, since doing this, I haven’t heard from Scabby again.


Few wrongs make a write


The author of a useful “How-to” article tends to require two things: a practical knowledge of how to achieve something, and an ability to bang words together without breaking them. When a “How-to” article purports to explain how to write “How-to” articles, the opportunities for irony are especially meta.

With this in mind, I propose the blitheringly unpunctuated  “How to Wright a How to Article” as today’s Dunning-Kruger Effect example, mainly because of the author’s unstinting confidence in their own ability to instruct anyone about anything. I do hope that they have followed their own randomly abstract list of eight steps, and are presently at ‘then wait’.

While they’re waiting, perhaps they can study the inspirational flowchart in “How to write for the American Theater”. Thanks to that, I’m already thinking of a musical based on my Uncle Jemima’s struggle to become the first gay zombie to run a Wall Street bank; I’m thinking of calling it “Night of the Lending Dead”.

I just hope that, when he reads it, zombie Mark Twain is able to tell all the corpses apart, something he was delightfully unable to do with Fenimore Cooper’s work.


Money for epsilon


Here is an interesting article, in two parts, on trying to use programming to gain an advantage when throwing money at Swoopo, the “Entertainment shopping” site, in the hope of not losing all of it.

Having myself developed a system where data is flying around the net on short deadlines, I’m not really surprised this attempt at gaming Swoopo doesn’t work well, since this kind of real-time packetry will always be flakey compared with a process running on the server itself.

Plus, there’s really no incentive for Swoopo to do the technical work to allow inbound bids the chance to compete fairly with internal bids, notwithstanding that it’s actually a hard problem anyway, since it would tend to tilt the balance in favour of such gaming attempts.

Which I’m sure there will be many more of, particularly as Swoopo clones start to appear.


Use of language


“Opening the brand aperture” and disappearing right up it, the Sci Fi Channel uses several paragraphs of run-on sentences and abstract nouns to explain their decision to reduce even further the amount of science fiction they actually show. Sadly, it doesn’t explain why they didn’t just have the guts to rebrand properly, instead of to a mockable homophone; maybe they should have asked Dave for advice.

Meanwhile, a substantially more coherent and moving piece of writing has bobbed up on various forums, Karl Paulnack’s 2004 welcome address to the parents of new students at the Boston Conservatory.

And a surprisingly informative debate took place yesterday in the House of Lords, saying what a jolly useful chap that Darwin fellow turned out to be; ideal for passing the time on your next long trip up the Amazon, perhaps.


Riding the long tail


A professor at INSEAD has come up with a system that generates tomes full of stuff on obscure topics, and sells them on Amazon, only printing them when they’re ordered.

Supposedly, he has over 200,000 books available, with such racy titles as “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats, and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India“.

This article includes a video by the author, talking about his book “writing” process, and also about his ambitions for automatically-generated video games, teaching and game shows.

Not everyone is happy about what he’s doing, though.

I wonder if Jeffrey Archer knows about this.


Short cuts for 2009-03-17


Niche books, such as the one we did to celebrate a venerable calculator club, have been possible for a while now with digital print-on-demand publishing. Now, Magcloud does the same for glossy magazines.

If this makes you want to publish your own magazine, please do get the typography right; it makes such a difference if what’s on paper isn’t completely hideous. This Periodic table of typefaces is a good place to explore the commonest options (although, if he were real, I suspect Jack Bauer would be annoyed that it doesn’t include Bank Gothic).

Speaking of when calculators were on the cutting edge of computing, none of the hardware modifications I did to mine were quite as illegal as turning one into a pipe for smoking weed. I guess I was never stoned enough to think that would help my programming.


Michael, is that you?


I am in the camp that thinks that the next Trek score is in good hands with Michael Giacchino.

As far as I am aware, none of the trailers to date have had his music on them, so they can’t really be used to judge what he’ll do.

But perhaps the (mono, tinny) background music on the main part of the Flash presentation that passes for the Star Trek movie’s official site is a clue. It sounds a bit Lost-y at the start, then opens up into a fairly straightforward romantic-ish melody over what seem to me to be strongly Goldsmith-y chords (with maybe some Horner-y tritone steps).

On the one hand, I think the arrangement could be more smooth and subtle, especially at the start. On the other hand, the music as a whole is growing on me.  Although it’s not a patch on Goldsmith’s gorgeous romantic themes for Ilia or First Contact, it’s definitely more appealing to me melodically than, say, Horner’s clunky “Wrath of Khan” theme.

I don’t know if this is actually Giacchino’s work, but I’m not familiar with it, and what else would they be playing on the official Trek movie site at this point? Still, I’ll appreciate when there is a real confirmation of the composer.

(A side effect of wanting to listen carefully to this music is that I learned to use SWF Tools to extract the MP3 file from the Flash presentation.)


Can I get a refund if it works?


These days, lousy manufacturing quality would normally be an excuse for returning a product. But this camera on amazon is apparently being sold on the basis that it’s poorly made.

From the description:

Soft focusing, […] intense vignetting, and unpredictable light leaks all contribute to the Holga’s incredible photo effects.

Certainly, a use of the term “photo effects” that would confuse Photoshop users, methinks.

Each Holga is unique and produces signature images and peculiarities of its own.

Yeah, who needs to squander creative bodily fluids on the drudge of post-processing, when the camera can screw up your pictures right away?


Where no $x has gone before


Apparently not an early April Fool’s joke, three Star Trek fragrances are coming out soon.

The smell of fear

Presumably, if those do well, more will follow. I’d propose calling one Khaaaaaaaan! , but I believe Brent Spiner has won any possible naming contest .

In a more subtle and practical way, here are two of the best home-made MIDI controllers ever, with one having a design based on the LCARS touchscreens seen in Star Trek: the Next Generation.


Short cuts for 2009-02-27


If you’ve ever wondered when the relentless pace of miniaturization would finally cram your computer into its mains plug, wonder no more. Here’s a better picture, and here’s a nice diagram.

Packing data into small spaces has been the enabling technology for practical digital video, but what happens when  you tinker with what the playback devices expect to find in their compressed data? Data corruption as emerging art, that’s what (although when Rambo emerges from it, I think it’s done).

And speaking of cramming things into unexpected places, don’t forget that tomorrow is Sword Swallower’s Day. I’ve heard August 17th is lined up to be Goldfish Regurgitation Day, but I’m awaiting confirmation from the League of Magicians’ Assistants (Gill-breathing Office).