Thursday, March 31

Correction to "Somebody hacked the buzz"

that's "doctor udi" to you
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.

Whoops, thanks to goonker for correcting me on this one: Yahoo! did have a chief scientist while I was there - the most excellent Dr Udi Manber. Sadly, Dr Manber is not as silly a name as Dr Flake.

Goonker describes Udi as a "nice dude, uber geek". Udi now serves as CEO at A9, the search engine Amazon would rather you use.

Wednesday, March 30

more of the new mini

mini cabrio s front
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.

Initial impressions after a short 15min drive were very favourable. This is one of the first Cooper S Cabrios in the land with the 6 speed selectronic auto box, so was dying to see how well it worked in 'manual' mode (toggles on steering wheel or snick the shift up or down). Especially because we couldnt test that before we put our money down (wasn't a demo car in the country). Good news: it rocks! Better than the manual mode in the Smart, the Pug or the Boxster, even than the Cooper S (which has had an older 5-speed selectronic up until now). Full auto ain't bad either.

Heaps of go, as per a normal Cooper S, presumably a little slower due to extra weight for stiffness.

mini cooper s cabrio auto!

mini cabrio s side
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.

It's alive! It's alive! Mel's beaut new car. She just picked it up this afternoon and I didn't get to see it until after sunset. Begged for a drive and got to take it out after Alec finally went to bed. Seen here at the service station to get a little light on it. Just the phonecam, sorry, will get the 4mb onto it tomorrow.

Vin Diesel, family guy

If you've just eaten lunch, you probably shouldn't watch this. I guess he had the scary night-vision eyeballs removed to play this role. Watch for the double-take and the choked-back emotion at the very end.

Monday, March 28

Somebody hacked the buzz

Yahoo! Research Labs
System Unavailable. Thank you for visiting the Tech Buzz Game. The game is temporarily suspended while we conduct system maintenance. Market discrepancies are presently being investigated. Trading will resume as soon as possible.

When do you know your market simulation is really accurate? When someone attempts to fraudulently manipulate it, just like a real market! Yahoo!'s a veteran of this kind of hacking - sources within the company say hackers have targeted Yahoo! Sports fantasy games on several occassions in the past, but this is much more interesting, because the Yahoo! Tech Buzz website wasn't only harmless fun for deskbound sports fans, it was an earnest attempt to predict the success of future technologies using the emerging science of articifical markets.

Yahoo! Tech Buzz is pretty serious stuff, the pet project of Dr. Gary William Flake, Yahoo!'s principal scientist, and Senior Research Scientist Dr. David Pennock (hmmm when I was at Yahoo! it never had a Chief Scientist, so this must be serious, but did they have to hire a guy called "Doctor Flake"?.) It's also a co-development with serious IT research house O'Reilly Media and, a company specialising in the 'opinion markets' software the Tech Buzz experiment uses.

For an opinionated geek like me, Tech Buzz sounded like so much fun, I would give my left mobile phone holster to play. Sign up, be assigned $10,000 in a virtual cash management account, and then buy and sell not just virtual shares in tech companies, but also in individual technologies, markets, brands, and even ideas. Think WiMax is going to be enormous? Buy big. Think Apple is going to finally win back some marketshare in PC sales? Buy again. Think on-demand movies over the internet will be a success? Hit the buy button.

More interestingly, prices in the Tech Buzz game are set by the 'buzz' - the amount of excitement about each stock you're buying and selling. Like any market, the buzz includes the volume and price of shares bought and sold. Unlike other markets, it appears to also factor in the number of people searching on these keywords in Yahoo!'s humungous daily worldwide search traffic.

The theory of opinion markets like these is that they can more accurately predict the future than reading tea leaves. The published research shows that opinion markets have accurately predicted presidential elections, Academy Award winners, and pork belly futures in the past.

In any simulation, the greater the accuracy, the better the results. With greater accuracy, however, will come some of the challenges of the reality you're trying to simulate. For instance, soldiers training in a battle combat simulator will try harder to stay 'alive' if they know they only get one 'life', but you don't get much training if you only stay 'alive' for the first five minutes. Just like the real IT markets the Tech Buzz game is modelled on, somebody's been hacking to improve their position, or the position of their employer, or just to prove it can be hacked.

Looking at it one way, it's an encouraging sign of the accuracy of the Tech Buzz simulation if someone really has successfully hacked it to improve their standing, or to make their company, brand or technology look better in this very public forum. But if your glass is half-empty, then the Yahoo! Tech Buzz game was first hacked only two weeks after it launched, and will be hacked again and again, distorting the underlying opinion market and the final results until either Doctor Flake packs up his bat and ball and goes home, or the winning technologies/brands/memes are declared as "Hacker networks" and "Linux".

Save us from auto-updating software

Because my Apple Mac is so smart, so much of the time, when on occasion it wants to do something dumb, it's much more frustrating than it would be on a dumber machine.

For instance, I know that in a Windoze environment, the auto software update facility would forever be bugging me to download and install all sorts of crud, 90% of which would be designed to address problems I would never experience on my own Windoze config. I expect Microsoft's auto updater to be dumb, and to not really know anything about my config, so that I am forced to download crap to patch drivers video cards I don't own, for peripherals I don't need, and for software I don't use.

I expect a Microsoft auto updater to keep downloading great wads of pointless, inefficient, poorly-written cruft once a week until eventually my hard disk is too full of software updates to have any room left for my personal files. Being from Microsoft, if I delete a software update that doesn't relate to my machine, the next time the auto updater runs, I expect it to note the absent installer and download it again, even though the patch the installer adds was already applied and is still in place.

As a Microsoft product, if I uncheck a particular item in my latest payload of recommended dreck, I expect that next time the updater runs, it will forget I ever unchecked it, and recommend it for download again. And again. And again. Until I download and install it, dammit, and relinquish all free will and commonsense. For that is the price of working with the world's most common operating system.

So when all this happens to me on my Apple Mac, in OS X, I'm initially disappointed, maybe even blaming myself, thinking I've missed something that can make it all behave itself, or that Apple's just having a bad month and the auto updater will sort itself out in a week or two.

But no, this crap has been going on now since I first started running OS X, and it's haunting me still. Today the Software Update application wants me to download and install a 30Mb update to the iPod Photo software, bringing it to version 1.1, adding slideshow transitions and support for the new iPod Camera Connector for use with the iPod Photo. Which would be super-fabbo if maybe I owned an iPod Photo! Otherwise it's 30Mb (i dunno, but maybe 50Mb once unpacked and installed) of cruft I don't want to pay my ISP to download, that I don't want slowing down my computer, and that I could use to store a few more albums of music for the non-photo iPod I do own, fer chrissakes!

Come on Apple, make the Software Update application smart enough to sense what version of iPod is commonly connected to the Mac it's running on, not to mention the printers, cameras and other peripheral devices. And if a customer unticks something in the recommended downloads list, be smart enough to remember that choice and assume the customer knew what they were doing. This would not be rocket science... it would not even be diesel maintenance.

Wednesday, March 23

Indipod, for when you need to go, on the go

Now here's a product that I guarantee will change the way you drive... unless you already drive like sh*t. It's the product of the future that you didn't know you needed until you read it here first!

It's called Indipod, and well, if you've always been struggling to get to number two on the grid, well, here's your chance to do a number two on the grid.

An inflatable 'privacy bubble' encloses a portable loo in a bouncy-castle-like space where you can hermetically seal in those unpleasant odours and escape the prying eyes of passing motorists wondering what you're doing with your pants around your ankles. The Indipod holds up to "8 person days" - 8 days worth for one person, one day for eight people, or an unholy scramble for five people over three days. Fortunately, clever fluids within the Indipod, purchasable separately along with a range of other accessories, means it doesn't smell too bad when you open it up and flush the contents when you finally do make it to a plumbed toilet.

I have only three questions unanswered after perusing the website in great detail: (a) Can I watch in-car DVDs in there?; (b) If not, can I read the paper?; and (c) How aggressively can I drive before the Indipod starts sloshing back and forth back there, making my Subaru Forester sound like an aquarium shop delivery van?

The revolution will be televised

The revolution will be televised, but it will start later than scheduled because 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' will run late again. You'll have set the recorder to tape it, and when you sit down to watch it later in the week, with growing horror you'll count four minutes and thirty seconds of Millionare and an ad break before it starts, meaning you'll never get to see how the revolution ended, and who won.

You'll have to wait for the weekend papers for the in-depth analysis, but that will be written assuming you watched it and saw how it ended. So much of it will make no sense to you, and the rest of it will just raise more questions than answers. But you'll be too embarassed to ask anyone about it. So you'll keep on living your life, wondering if Good or Evil triumphed in the end. And if Good triumphed, how come nothing changes? Is this as Good as it gets? Or is this a slow descent into Evil you're experiencing? A downhill grade so gentle you won't even feel the heat until the flames are higher than your head?

Sadly, it's not possible for mere mortals to kill a television network programming executive. They are undead already, even if Good triumphs.

Tuesday, March 15

Hit it, professor!

Is it just me, or was the DMC DeLorean the only cool thing in the entire "Back To The Future" franchise? Who'd have thought people would still be restoring and driving them, though? Sounds like a total bomb, reminds me of the first car I ever owned, the lamentably citrus-like Leyland Marina. Oooh that car was a stinker. When it was stolen, the police interviewed me, suspicious because it was the first Marina to be stolen in the country, and this was a 20 year old car!

Tuesday, March 8

scoop: new mini cooper stretch limo

Walking past the carpark at News Limited this afternoon and managed to snaggle some photos of a new left-hand drive Mini Cooper stretch limousine being prepped for a photo shoot.

I have three exclusive photos of the Mini Cooper limo here:

I've edited together this video too. It includes a cool shot of it backing out of the carpark - it takes forever!

You might hear a clattering diesel in the background but that was a Land Rover waiting to enter the same carpark, not the Mini Cooper limo.

I want a Mini Cooper stretch limo too, but only if its a John Cooper Works stretch limo, and I'd be happy to sacrifice a little boot space for an additional engine and transmission in the rear, or I'd never make it to the church on time.

Monday, March 7 asks you to help save the whatever

As a Greenpeace Australia member I got an email this morning urging me to support Greenpeace Japan in its campaign to stop the construction of a US military base in a coral reef area home to the endangered Japanese dugong.

I didn't know much about the Japanese dugong (I've never seen it appear the sushi or sashimi menu) but I wanted to show my support anyway because I'm generally not in favour of US military bases anywhere, for any reason. So I headed over to the website, hoping to find some endearingly cute Japanese-style enviro-action. Initially wasn't disappointed, because there's a little anime action there, with a cartoon Bush and Kanizawa getting their runway eroded every time a supporter leaves a message on the site's messageboard area, while a dugong swims around the reef below. But wait, what's that in the campaign logo? Surely that's not meant to be a dugong?

Judging by the Hello Kitty-style dugong logo for the campaign, you'd think the Japanese dugong has a head like a jellyfish, with stubby tentacles where the mouth ought to be. What's up with that? You'd think the first step in saving a species of animal would knowing what it looks like, but apparently not if you're Japanese. It's more important that it's cute, and preferrably, tentacled.

What's up with the Japanese and their tentacles anyway? Every second anime you see has a lot of tentacle action, usually popping forth from the throbbing torso of some really angry/bioenhanced/mutated/radioactive dissafected youth/scientist/evil superhero/witch/robot. Usually the tentacles go writhing across the room to pick up and throw your hero/heroine into a pile of boxes, or to imprison and constrict your heaving, gasping heroine so that she's left gasping, sweaty, and powerless... oh, wait a sec...

Turns out I'm last to figure this out as usual, but there's a whole sexual tentacle fetish thing happening that I wasn't aware of. Search on "anime tentacles" and you realise there's yet another bunch of deeply sick weirdos out there into tentacle sex. Nine inches is nowhere enough for these people, try 12 metres.

Hey, each to their own, but it leaves me with the worrying afterthought that the tentacles on the Japanese dugong icon might be the expression of deeply sublimated dugong lust somewhere in the Japanese psyche. I can see the Greenpeace Japan boss saying to his people, "OK, I know we said that in order to save the dugong we first have to learn to love the dugong, but Hideo, your wetsuit is pretty tight, and I can see that you've misunderstood me on this one."

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