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Posts in the ‘General’ category

9 Sep 2008

by Noel

Of Interest 09/09/2008

  • Vroom! Vroom! (read if you know some Haskell)
  • The user interface documentation for Chrome, Google’s browser, goes into some detail justifying the design choices, and so makes for interesting reading. The design claims to gain inspiration from the games WipEout and WipEout 2097.

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14 Aug 2008

by Noel

Of Interest 14/08/2008

  • Gorgeous pictures of Afghanistan, taken in the 1970s and 2000-2003.
  • I found this article on path finding in games interesting. I was amazed to see how broken path finding using way-points is, yet in my (quite limited) experience playing many of the games featured I can’t recall running into any problems. It really does show that bar for good enough is quite low, at least for the casual gamer. I was also surprised that the better technique, a navigation mesh, isn’t used more frequently. It is so simple.
  • How much would you pay for an Olympic medal? For the Australian sports program, a bronze costs $15 million and silver or gold cost a cool $40 million. The (very limited) data suggests medals scale linearly with investment.

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24 Jul 2008

by Noel

Undeleting Files on the Mac

I spent a good portion of last week attempting to recover about 30GB of movies that had been deleted from a Mac with a 60GB hard disk. When a file is deleted its normally left intact on the hard disk except for a marker saying its space can be reused. This means that deleted files can be fairly reliably recovered, so long as the space hasn’t since been used for other purposes. We found the movies were missing only a few days after they were deleted, and they took up half the hard disk, so I was fairly confident they could be in part recovered.

Of course that’s great in theory but in practice how I was I going to recover those files? A quick bit of Googling discovered three programs that will attempt to recover deleted files on the Mac:BoomerangFileSalvage, and Data Rescue II. I downloaded a trial copy of each and set to work. Here’s how they performed:

  • Boomerang ran very quickly but only found some 29MB of the missing 30GB of movies. Of the three programs I tested it is the easiest to use, with only a few options for the most common problems. It also does a better job of sticking to the Mac interface conventions than the other two.
  • FileSalvage took many hours to search the hard disk. It found lots of files, but it didn’t identify many as fragments of movies. Additionally the interface is very clunky. It doesn’t use the standard Mac widgets and selecting file types in Expert mode is a real pain.
  • Data Rescue II ran fairly quickly and found almost all the lost data. Success! It is fairly easy to use. The guided standard mode does a good job of leading you through the recovery process, and the many options in Expert mode are explained well. Like the other programs it uses non-standard widgets, and this needlessly detracts from its usability.

So in my testing Data Rescue II was the clear winner. Don’t read too much into this, as I was only looking for movie data; one of the other programs might work better for a different type of file. However, if you’ve deleted some files that you want to recover I would start with Data Rescue II, then try Boomerang, and only then try FileSalvage (and go to bed while it’s running). Finally, if you have two Macs a firewire cable and target disk mode will make the whole recovery process a bit simpler.

Now what I want to know is: why would a Mac developer invent their own user interface widgets unless they really want that amateur feel to their product? Is there something about Cocoa programming that makes it easier to create, say, your own tab component than use the system one?

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6 Jun 2008

by Noel

Of Interest 06/06/2008

  • Ravelry, the knitting social network, raises $71K from its users. First amazing thing (to me, a non-knitter) is that Ravelry even exists. There truly is a place for everyone on the big ol’ Internet, and with each community a corresponding business opportunity. Second interesting thing is that the donation drive was user initiated. I wonder if it will be a regular occurrence. I like the idea of community supported social networks, but I doubt it is a sustainable model. Indeed Ravelry’s primary sources of income are advertising and affiliation fees
  • Lessons on building online communities from the people behind Flickr. Two key points: Firstly, it takes a lot of effort to grow a community, and the creators have to get involved in that early stage. Later on, it’s best to get out of the way and let the members decide for themselves what the community is like. The discussion of Flickr’s design, intentionally personal but unobtrusive, is a great point and reminds me of the service at the best restaurants.
  • If I understand Clay Shirky correctly, drinking gin is the original form of blogging. Bottoms up! Seriously, at least skim read the text. Note that some evidence suggests at least part of thesis does not hold.

Update: More thoughts on Ravelry

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7 Mar 2008

by Noel

Of Interest 07/03/2008

  • TRIZ is a methodology for creativity. Worth looking at.
  • The iPhone SDK has got every geek drooling over his keyboard, and for good reason. I think this model will work.
  • Is 1000 True Fans the path to happiness? The argument goes that 1000 true fans will provide sufficient income for an artist, and that isn’t that many people. Assuming your work requires only you to produce it this seems a plausible number, but I think the scarcity of true fans is a big roadblock. You might need 100,000 fans before you get 1000 who are really into what you do.
  • Looking at what you can do with rather more than 1000 true fans, interesting workplace experiments from 37Signals. I like the four-day week; funding passions is too normative; the release of the iPhone SDK means discretionary spending accounts gets the thumbs up from Dave.

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3 Mar 2008

by Noel

Of Interest 03/03/2008

  • This Wired article, though not very deep, gives a nice overview of Internet business models.
  • I don’t normally like rants, but found this one well written and amusing. Also, the Jakob Neilsen style bolding of important phrases: I think it works. Look for more strong on Untyping in the future.
  • We’re going to London on Wednesday presenting at QMUL on the work we’ve been doing for the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. If you fancy meeting up, drop me a line and we’ll see if timetables can sync.

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22 Feb 2008

by Noel

Naming Your Wireless

From my study I can pick up about six different wireless networks. They all have simple names: the name of the router (good oldBelkin54g is always up and always open), the street, the owner. But in West Hollywood that is not the way they roll. How aboutfuckyougetyourownnetwork, or my favourite,Lesbian_Dildo_Vagina_Party? Is this a cultural thing? In all my time in the UK I’ve never seen a network with names like those. On the other hand I am pleased to see one of the networks is named after me. What are the networks around you called?

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19 Oct 2007

by Noel

Attack of the Spam Bots

Over the last weekend, and sporadically this week, the computer that hosts and Untyped’s email server has been under attack from a network of spam bots. It doesn’t appear that we’ve been targeted specifically. Rather, it seems that the bots are scanning for email addresses to spam, presumably to propagate the bots. It took down our email server over the weekend, but we’ve since taken steps to combat the flood of traffic. However, if you sent us an email and are waiting for a response, you might want to send it again.

We’d don’t know what bot is attacking us, but there is a good chance it is the “Storm Worm”. I didn’t know of the Storm Worm before we were attacked; my reading since then indicates it is a truly massive network, with the potential to cause a lot of trouble. This Wired piecediscusses how Estonia was taken off the Internet by a massive bot net attack.

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8 Oct 2007

by Noel

Of Interest 08/10/2007

Back from ICFP, but a full review will have to wait. Meanwhile here’s some stuff I saw today that interested me:

  • Y-Combinator tattoo. Ouch! Comments on plt-scheme revolved around the choice of font.
  • From the same discussion came a link to Gentium, which is a very nice font and is also free.

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21 Aug 2007

by Noel

S3 Doesn’t Count the Pennies (Yet)

I use Amazon S3 as an off-site backup for data on my desktop
computer. S3 has two principle advantages: there’s no upper limit on
the amount of data you can transmit or store, and it’s very cheap…
sometimes a little too cheap.

Two days ago I received an auto-generated warning from S3 about my
account status:

Greetings from Amazon Web Services,

AWS was unable to charge your account based on the payment
information you provided. Please update your payment method
information using the Your Web Services Account section of the AWS web


Amazon Web Services

There were a few extra details in there that convinced me that this
wasn’t spam, but that was the gist of it. I logged on to my account to
find that my balance was a whopping $0.01. A single cent!

I checked my credit card details and they seemed to be okay. I
re-entered them to be on the safe side, and then emailed AWS asking
them to re-try the payment and let me know if it failed again. I
received this response:

Thank you for contacting AWS regarding the payment issue related to
your August 1st bill. We have found that some credit card issuers
decline charges of $0.01 (USD), especially when the amount is
converted to another currency. AWS is working on a solution for this
issue. In the meantime, please contact AWS
directly at if this issue should occur again.

The $0.01 (USD) charge on your August 1st bill has been forgiven,
and your account is in good standing.

A month’s backups, totally free of charge – that’s value
for money. I shall be recommending S3 to all my friends.

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