Category Archives: Great Weird Ideas

How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen 5D?

I spent some quality time playing the dreadfully addictive game “2048”. (No, I won’t link to it.) After beating it a few times, I went looking for higher dimensional versions and found a 2048 3D, 4D, and 5D version. And, after playing and beating 2048 5D I am no longer satisfied with most of the user interfaces that I see.

5 dimensional thinking on a 2x2x2x2x2 board is really not all that hard, once you bend your mind to it. You use the arrow keys to navigate in small steps, AWSD to navigate in larger steps, and QE for the largest steps. Of course the steps aren’t really larger when you consider the full dimensions of the space, but based on how the cells are laid down on a flat screen that’s a reasonable approximation.

After successfully navigating a 5D space, the traditional presentation of a list as a scrolling 1-dimensional space, or even a web browser’s narrow navigational confines, seems impossibly small. I can page up and down in a browser, but what would it mean to page left and right? Or to page in and out, or hither and yon? (Pick some more navigational opposites.) Tabs help a little bit for the left-right navigation, and windows perhaps are the in-out method, but what of hither and yon?

Here’s a small proposal. The browser could keep track not just of the history of which pages you have seen in the past, but also the order that you’ve seen them in. Over time, that flow history turns into a graph of expected page transitions. Your browser could respond to some command that was “show me the next page I’m likely to go to”, and that would be inferred by the history mechanism. The “next” button would always be active.

I suppose this is related to my routine preference for guided randomness in my work. I would rather not try to work my way down a list where I decide explicitly what to do next. Rather, the computer uses some algorithm to select a next thing (a roll of the dice, or some weighted choice) and that’s the next thing to do. With the right sorts of dimensional logic, there could be a couple of different things that would be reasonably “next” and they would be surprising but plausible next things to work through.

What’s kind of sad is that the hyperspace of my idealistic youth – where the network was big, and you used spatial metaphors to zoom down information pathways of your own choosing – has been replaced by the UIs of Facebook, Twitter, or even email where the “read the top, refresh, read the top again” is what you’re guided down. There’s no more chasing down endless hyperlinks – everything you might want is predigested and put in front of you, and if you don’t like it you can just hit refresh like some slot-machine player and hope for better.

So I want some space to work in, not just lists, and not just read from the top. Let me decorate rooms with ideas, and traverse some kind of non-linear structure to get from one idea to the next. Vannevar Bush’s “memex” had trails that led through it, and it didn’t pretend that you could instantly go from one idea to the next without passing through something else. When I think I want to carve out some space for thinking, and have it be something other than the infinite scrolling list.

File under Great Weird Ideas. Previously in Great Weird Ideas, a musing on top of page. A non-linear structure for organizing thought is Jerry’s Brain. Previous musings on a graph-structured rolodex. A 2004 lunch with Peter Morville, described in terms of a memory palace. Network Access to Multimedia Information, RFC 1614, describes the chaotic immediately pre-World Wide Web days of 1994.


When you have no idea what to write, use randomness in your favor

I've been trying to keep up a daily pace to blogging here; that's been my habit for almost ten years. The problem is that it's not always easy to know what to write about.

I've taken to using a few prompting tricks to help sort through some ideas about what to write about. The simplest one is one I haven't heard of before: use the day of the month as a key into the letters of the alphabet, and thus write about something appropriate for that day. E.g. on the 1st of the month be inspired by the letter 'A' categories, on the 10th come up with something appropriate for 'J', and today the 23th come up with something to do with 'W'. If you have enough categories, this actually isn't too hard; I have "Weather", "Web/Tech", "Weblogs", "Weird", "Wiki", "Winter", and "Writing" to choose from. X is much harder.

The same trick works to sort semi-randomly through your contact files, looking for the long-lost "U"-lettered friends on the 22d.

Equal attention by letters of the alphabet does not guarantee an equal balance of attention across all things; you'd be better off somehow taking the old encyclopedic route of splitting C into Ca-Ch and Ci-Cz, and lumping W-X-Y-Z together. 

A little bit of deliberate randomness makes it appear as though you are more attentive to odd things than you might otherwise get if you just focused in on the simple things. Brainstorms that focus on something that are not for today's letter can be scheduled for posting into the future on the appropriate day-slot. 

I find myself wishing that my contact manager would let me graph frequency of names across two dimensions, so that my name would be 5 across and 22 down, sorted together with all of the other E. V.'s out there.

Anyway, just one more great weird idea to throw out into the world.

Introduction to Bitcoin: notes from the Michigan Bitcoin meetup of 5/22/13

Here are some notes from the Michigan Bitcoin meetup of May 22, 2013. They are in no way reflective of everything that was discussed at the meeting; indeed, there's some things here that we didn't talk about at the meeting that I discovered later. But here goes anyway.

1. How does Bitcoin work? I'm looking at the Khan Academy series on Bitcoin and listened to one lecture which seems to spell it out quite well. I don't claim to know enough to describe the cryptographic ins and out here.

2. What can you do with Bitcoin? First, you can mine for new Bitcoins; that's popular, either with GPU-based mining tools or FPGAs or other specialized hardware (this mining hardware comparison is useful). Second, you can use Bitcoin to purchase goods and services, and this Forbes reporter's account on living on Bitcoin for a week is entertaining for a variety of reasons. Third, you can speculate in Bitcoin, hoping to buy low and sell high. Finally, you can build software and systems that help people do all of the above.

3. What are the risks of Bitcoin? First and foremost among those building software and systems, the problem is uncertainty of regulations, especially dealing with money laundering and financial crimes rules. The recent document "Application of FinCEN's Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies" from March 2013 will need to be studied and pondered by everyone involved. The Washington Post (among many others) reported on Mt. Gox's troubles with FinCEN and the seizure of funds from their account. There are also technical hurdles, such as the vulnerability of exchanges to denial of service attacks and the recent wild fluctuations in Bitcoin exchange rates.

4. How is this different from other virtual currencies? (I'm thinking now Beenz, Flooz, Linden Dollars, Cybercash, Digicash, and the like.) See US News "Six virtual currencies that went bust".

5. Where is the action? In Ann Arbor, there's a startup exchange Bitbox. In Berlin, there's the Kreuzberg district, with shops that accept Bitcoin (so says the Guardian). The Winkelvoss twins are in on the business. San Jose was the home of the conference Bitcoin 2013. Things are hopping all over the world.

6. Bitcoin is too mainstream, where can I go for more experimental moneys? Try JunkCoin, which puts an element of randomness into mining, or Ripple, the "world's first open payment network".

That's not really a summary of the meeting, but it's a summary of the things that I didn't know before that I now know a bit(coin) better.

Related articles

Bitcoin, conspicuous consumption, and conspicuous waste
U.S. seizes accounts of major Bitcoin exchange based in Japan
The Future of Bitcoin: Three Predictions From Experts
Mapping Bitcoin Adoption: A Global Perspective In 11 Graphs
Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) Now Accepts Bitcoin

Pocket Twitter – a suitable replacement for the Internet when offline

I haven't had a working smart phone in months, and so the times when I find myself needing to write down short messages to the world don't always coincide with the times that I'm on the net. Hence this version of "pocket twitter", writing down things that you want to share (or to remember) on paper, and saving that paper away until the next time it's possible to share a photograph.

This is from a few weeks ago, back when gas was $3.339 per gallon, and during and after a snowstorm and rain event that had people watching for localized flooding. You can read the rest, but for some reason I was thinking about the Jupiter Ace, a Forth-based machine from the early 1980s. What the mind will do when it has some paper to work with for storage.


Related articles

social networks: the mobile phone experience, via Blackberry
on the virtue of cheap paper
My setup: Reading, Writing, Bookmarking
Why I'm glad my iPhone broke

new phone to test out for a while.

I am going to be able to see if I can get the intended recipient please do you have any questions.
Automatic arrangement of the intended recipient please notify us to the sender immediately and then you have to be able to see the resulting directly with a lot of this message.
It does not quite as well as I have to be able to be but it is still working with some reservations.
Written with the same automatic arrangement of the keyboard that makes typing easier if not exactly easy to read.

[When a keyboard suggests the next word to type, and you take the suggestions, you get some weird results.]

Walking Around, a new urban walking game

I'm inventing a new urban game called Walking Around. I'm sure that someone else has invented it already, but reinvention is part of the process of creativity. Here's how it's played.

First, you play with a pedometer, which tells you how far you've walked during the day. There are a number of systems already for tracking your pedometer usage, including Walker Tracker, Steps, and a bunch of others. Use whatever system that gives you, or just a spreadsheet, to take care of the basic structure of making certain that you count steps daily.

Second – and here is what is novel, at least to me – is that there's a bonus structure in the game designed to award bonuses for when you have accomplished tasks. The first bonus award that I'm awarding myself looks at constructing a walk so that you make an orbit around the biggest possible chunk of territory; that is to say, repeated walks along the same path will get you zero bonus, but going out of your way on a detour will add to your score, and trekking through unfamiliar territory in a big loop is the best.

So far this is a pen and paper game and I haven't fully worked out the point structure. I have a notion that you capture territory every time you orbit it, so that you might win a park by going all the way around it, and you might win a political ward or precinct by capturing a loop around it. To simplify greatly, since I am trying to keep record of this in a small book, I'm just drawing a graph with destinations rather than tracking every street.

Some idea sources:

Riverwalks Ann Arbor is a book of walking loops along the Huron River, written by Brenda E. Bentley.

Lake Trek is the weblog for   who wrote A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach about her circumnavigation on foot of Lake Michigan. I don't think I'm going to beat that top score.

Tom Graham wrote about Walking The World, and his quest to walk every street in San Francisco, in 2005 for SF Gate; his web site is SF Walking Man.

The AADL Summer Reading Game has points for reading books and badges for doing various other tasks, and the gamers there know how to make a game that will make you read. There should therefore be points in my Walking Around game every time you complete part of a circuit that connects to a library.

All City New York is the work of Moses Gates, whose game board includes the challenge of visiting all of the census tracts of New York City. Thanks to Ruth Kraut for the link. 

In Tacoma, Brian Kerr is getting bonus points in his version of the game for elevation.

Now pardon me while I connect some dots in my game map.