Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Hope in the Portrait vs. Landscape Saga

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Ad agencies appear to have woken up to the superiority of “portrait” (“vertical”) setting of displays compared to standard “landscape” (“horizontal”): that is, how much more natural and life-like the images look on them.

I have already written about how standard computer video interfaces are anything but natural, especially with the advent of widescreen displays.

Why has that happened? Likely for two reasons. First of all, computer screens were originally built using standard TV technology. Television started as a kind of “remote theatre” (most of it, still is). Theatre stages are wide rather than deep, because all actors need to be placed in front of the public and it’s pretty hard to stack them up…the original 4:3 landscape format for TV sets was therefore not a bad choice (even more so, the contemporary 16:9 format).

Furthermore, perhaps since the times of Xerox’s Palo Alto workshop that heralded the era of computer graphics, a PC’s screen has been meant to be a “desktop”…literally, the top surface of one’s desk. Now, office desks are usually rectangular, and this is because of the way we can move our arms (reaching out is much easier on the sides than straight in front of us).

But most of us use computers for reading and writing messages, for blogs and comments, for developing programming code, and in most cases to surf the internet. I am not sure anybody pretends that their few square inches of screen are actually their desktop?

Instead, as books and newspapers are usually in portrait format, and people’s bodies and faces are usually vertically -oriented (that’s why it is called portrait), and even the windows in most buildings are taller than wider…our real-life world is full of portrait-oriented features with which we interact.

It would all look obviously much more natural if we had portrait computer screens. In some cases, even portrait-oriented TV sets.

And that’s in fact what is happening in some airports, where TV screens are being mounted vertically to display advertisements. Whatever is shown, such as panoramas or products, the impression is of looking into a window into another real world, rather than the artificial theatre of television.

So if your screen and your PC’s graphics card allow portrait-orientation, do not hesitate and try it out.

Me, I have no intention to go back to “landscape”.

Written by omnologos

2007/Aug/01 at 13:03:49

Secret Jargon of Software Testing

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Malfunctional Testing: when the application makes sure you can’t see a single part of it behaving as expected

User Refusal Testing: the unmissable bursts of anger by users irked by approaching deadlines and receding functionalities

Disintegration Testing: getting ready to the sad truth that the arrival of a new application will destroy anything that had been working beforehand

Quality Lack-of Testing: making sure no part of the software package is fit for human interaction

Undress Rehearsal: planning to revert to a previous, working version of the software as the new one will invariably fail the call of duty

Dress Rehassle: more bursts of anger by users duped into weekend work despite knowing that nothing will perform

Digression Testing: the time passed in vague chit-chatting whilst awaiting confirmation that the application really, definitely does not work

Data Emigration: packing up all attempts at installing a new software package, in order to concentrate to a different pipedream application

And finally…

Hindrance Desk: the group of people whose main aim is to make you listen to muzak on the phone before providing misleading information

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And here’s more: Loser Acceptance Testing, Test Mythodology, Dysfunctional Testing, Capability Maturity Muddle, Test Automation, Risk-based Testing, Black Box Testing, Fragile Development, Delusability Study, Fenestration Testing, Hard Disk Figmentation, all by Steve Green.

(originally posted on 12 April 2005)

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/05 at 14:25:30

Posted in Humor, Software, Technology

Unnatural Standard Computer Video Interfaces

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It has long been common wisdom to have rectangular monitors, be them TV or for PC’s, with landscape orientation, wider than taller.

Perhaps it is a way of mimicking the movie theatre experience, where such an orientation is in order to serve amphitheatre-like seating, and to provide context to the action.

Recently, things are gone even further down the same path, with Widescreen TV sets (and laptop PC monitors) all the rage.

That may as well be a good choice if all people want to do is watch movies. Not so for Computers of any sort.

Think about it: we are trained to read on portrait-oriented books. Even text fonts and standard printer paper are taller than wider (not to mention our bodies, faces and windows apart from exceptional cases).

Most of us use computers for reading and writing messages, for blogs and comments, for developing programming code, and in most cases to surf the internet.

It would be therefore much better to re-orient the monitors sideways, making their long side vertical.

I have been using such a configuration for more than two years and there is simply no comparison regarding having a more natural experience with portrait-oriented monitors, with far less need of eye and neck movements to keep track of the content of the screen.

Portrait-viewing is rather easy to do on a PC (or Tablet PC), but unfortunately next-to-impossible to find on a laptop computer.

But lo-and-behold: Adobe Inc.’s hugely popular Acrobat Reader does allow re-orientation indeed, making reading of electronic documents almost completely equivalent to paper ones’.

Is portrait-orientation the next step towards the utopian dream called “paperless office“? We will know when manufacturers will, one day, pick up such an obvious idea.

Written by omnologos

2007/Feb/06 at 13:23:36

Mars, the OAP Planet

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MARS, the International Journal of  Mars Science and Exploration, has just published two articles by Donald Rapp about the hurdles still to be clarified before sending astronauts to the Fourth Planet: “Mars life support systems” and “Radiation effects and shielding requirements in human missions to the moon and Mars

The latter article contains sobering statements about the current status of space-travel technology (my emphasis):

For Mars missions, we conjecture a 400-day round trip transit to and from Mars, and about 560 days on the surface. The [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] dose equivalent with 15 g/cm2 of aluminum shielding during Solar Minimum is about double the allowable annual dose for each leg of the trip to and from Mars. If a major [Solar Particles Event] occurred during a transit, the crew would receive a sufficient dose to reduce their life expectancy by more than the 3% limit. […]

On the surface of Mars, the accumulated [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] exceeds the annual allowable [amount]. For a 560-day stay on Mars [it] would exceed the career allowable dose for most females and younger males.

May Richard Branson live looooooooong then (and prosper)!

Written by omnologos

2006/Oct/10 at 23:51:51

Epigenetics: The Next Big Thing in Science

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Familiarize yourself with this word: Epigenetics

It basically says you’re not just the product of your genes. Or even of your genes and your environment

Your mother may have cuddled you early on out of trouble (on deep into it) for the rest of your life (as reported on The Economist  [subscription may be necessary])

Theoretically, your great-grandmother (or much less likely, great-grandfather) may have been exposed to something that slightly changed their cells’ environment, and you are now paying the consequences…even without any changes to your genes

But that is nothing compared to the possibilities that may open if epigenetics is well understood. We could soon get tumors switched off with a relatively simple cellular-level intervention, rather than cumbersome DNA modifications

And by simply changing a few chemicals in a just-fertilized human egg, we will be able to program a genius as the identical twin of a fool

Written by omnologos

2006/Sep/25 at 00:37:03

The Future of Radio Broadcasting

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Three non-mutually-exclusive directions for the future of radio broadcasting:

(1) So-called High Definition Radio (HD Radio), using existing frequencies for high-quality sound, simultaneous multi-programme broadcasting, digital services, etc

(2) Continent-wide Satellite Radio, like Italy’s WorldSpace, widening the number of potential listeners to anyone that understands the language, and allowing transmissions in zones where the signal is weak or intermittent

(3) Obviously, a widespread use of podcasts, and their transformation in commercial vehicles with the introduction of very short advertising (and therefore not easy to fast-forward on an iPod or equivalent)

In theory one would also be speaking about DAB, the “digital radio” fanfared in the UK, but despite years going by and an unremitting passion as radio listener, I do not see any future in an expensive technology that basically promises only a cleaner sound (and is still battling with its own million different “standards”)

Written by omnologos

2006/Aug/10 at 23:09:45

Posted in Radio, Technology

Mobile phones, weapons of self defence

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Personal recording devices, and by that I mean especially mobile phones, will soon become a tool for reasserting our individual rights

Already now, one can record sound and even images with nobody noticing. Pictures are taken with no much of a fuss in the most unlikely of places, and whatever happens in the (connected) world, some sort of audio/video record usually tends to show up on the Internet (newsmedia are starting to make large use of user-provided content).

All you need for your mobile to become an electronic shield is some kind of wireless minicamera and a bit more memory on the phone

Your entire life will then be recordable *

And what could be there to record, as a way of defending oneself? For example: when asked for a bribery, the business person could walk into next police station and deposit the evidence of the crime.

Or when threatened by the mob, he or she will be able to throw back the threat. Or when confronting politicians that are trying to expand their sleaze empire, the “victim” will have the option of cashing in by sending the right files to scandal-hungry magazines

Elderly people will be able to show who attacked them in their house, and which carers treat them inhumanely

Children bullied at school won’t need to hide a thing, and life will become harder for sadistic teachers and nannies as well.

We’ll soon be able to literally see the last thing a murder’s victim was looking at

Even torturers will be in trouble, if they won’t take care of eliminating anything with an electronic memory: and still it may not be enough: one can imagine pictures being downloaded elsewhere continuously (it already happens with some mobile phone providers), so that even if the Bad People snatch the camera, what’s been snapped until then will be left for posterity

Expect a flurry of hi-tech bust-ups then not prepared by police. Ehi, even Robocop got out of trouble by showing what he had recorded.

And expect lots of “interesting” items appear on gossipy and even serious newspapers, mostly during the initial period, with people not smart enough to understand they are being filmed during 99% of their lives.

Things will definitely get better on several fronts for a while (and even if you’re the paradigm of honesty, just be careful about picking your nose in the street: your fame may be preceding you at your next job application)

But surely it will be no Paradise: criminals and evildoers will simply have to find a different way.

Some scandals will turn up to be elaborate hoaxes based on doctored pictures, and no doubt we will see discussions about that at trials, as entertaining as genetics during OJ Simpson’s

Still, it will be a progress. Hypocrisy will need a tad more effort to be maintained.

After all, the only freedom we are losing by getting our lives recorded, is the freedom of not having to face our individual consciences

(* How much memory? 24hx3600s/hx24pics/s=2 million pictures. Say, 320×240=76,800 pixels x 3 bytes = 230kB/pic

So one day is 230kB/pic * 2 million pics = 440 Megabytes. With a good compression rate, 200 Megabytes. Do we want to record while asleep? If not, 180 megabytes may suffice. How long before that much will be available on mobile phones? It is already. Average memory now is a bit more than 400 Megabytes)

Written by omnologos

2006/Jul/25 at 23:55:13