Geek Art: Can You Break the Cipher?

painting_smallA good friend of mine, Ben Rossi, happens to be a very talented designer and painter. After admiring a painting of his for about a year, he finally decided to give it to me — probably just to shut me up. But before the ceremonious transfer, he decided to make some modifications to it. The name of the painting is now encoded in the metal plates screwed to the canvas. Can you figure out what it is?

You can see most of what you need to see in the small picture below, but there’s a hint that you might need in the lower left-hand corner, so I linked it to a larger version. That’s all I’m going to say for now. Who can break the code first?

 

Stop predicting the death of email (or anything else)

If you’re considering writing an article predicting the death of some form of dominant technology, please read this first.

Technologies seldom just die. Instead, they tend to do two things:

  1. Evolve
  2. Become refined

The evolution of technology is obvious: televisions get bigger, computers get faster, phones become more powerful. But it’s the refinement of technologies that throw people off and lead them into misinterpreting trends. One of the most obvious (and annoying) examples is email.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people predict the death of email (usually because it makes a good headline, or a shocking interjection during geeky conversation). As is the case with all absolutes, this is a terrible oversimplification.

Rather than saying that email is dying because of Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, texting, etc., I think it’s more accurate to say that electronic communication is being refined. Whereas email (and later, IM) used to be the only mechanisms we had to communicate electronically, we now have several more options, all of which work slightly differently and meet a slightly different need. I believe these differences are complementary rather than competitive.

Service Communication Method Properties
Email Asynchronous
(no immediate response expected)
  • Secure (if done properly)
  • Easy to archive
  • Relatively open (anyone can email you)
  • Medium priority (sometimes ignored)
Instant Messaging Synchronous
(immediate response expected)
  • Responses are typically very fast
  • Tightly controlled network (buddy lists, rosters, etc.)
  • High priority (difficult to ignore)
Twitter Publish and subscribe –
open network
  • Completely open network (subscribe to anyone you want)
  • Extremely casual (say things you’d never bother to put into an email)
  • No response expected or required
  • Low priority (easy to ignore)
Facebook Publish and Subscribe –
closed network
  • High level of control over network
  • High discoverability (easy to find people)
  • Low commitment (communicate with people you wouldn’t normally email or call)
Texting (SMS) Asynchronous
(but with a synchronous expectation)
  • Highly available (almost anyone is reachable no matter where they are)

Personally, I use all of the communication mechanisms listed above, and I use them for very different purposes. I’m not about to start communicating with business contacts and colleagues exclusively through Twitter (even though my Twitter URL is on my business cards), or send out a white paper via SMS, or CC 500+ people on an email with a simple status update (“just had my first cup of coffee this morning”). In other words, while electronic communication continues to be refined, none of these forms of electronic communication is likely to die in the immediate future.

One trend in particular that leads to people to conclude that email is dying is the fact that young people are less likely to use it. If your kids look at you funny when you tell them to email something to you, you might make the mistake of assuming that they will cary that prejudice with them throughout life. Maybe they will, or maybe they just don’t have a need for email yet. The day will eventually come when they will probably rather email their thesis to their professor than post it on their Facebook wall.

When talking about the death of technology, it’s important to separate the technology — or the use of the technology — from the implementation. Yes, VHS is mostly dead, but it might be more accurate to say that the implementation of how people record and watch video has evolved to DVDs, Blu-ray, DVRs, portable devices, and streaming video.

The last thing I’ll say is that some technologies certainly do die. For instance, it’s possible that satellite radio will completely go away someday (possibly very soon). But I would argue that these are technologies which really didn’t make much sense in the first place, and never really reached critical mass (both in numbers, and in psychological acceptance). In my mind, email makes a huge amount of sense. I use it very differently than I used to, and I believe that in 5 to 10 years, I will use it very differently than I do today, but I’m pretty sure I will still have a need that only email (or whatever email evolves into) will meet.

Review of the Amazon Kindle

I’ve been waiting roughly 10 years for a good eBook reader. In fact, I’ve even tried several times to make them myself out of ultra-mobile PCs, tablet PCs, various Linux-based devices, phones, and old disused laptops. Once I accepted that I would probably never come up with a solution that I could stick with for more than a few days, I started eyeing technology from Sony and Seiko. And then just as I came to the conclusion that the world simply wasn’t ready for eBooks yet, Amazon launched the Kindle. I had one in my cart and scheduled for next day delivery before I even fully knew what it was.

The Kindle is Amazon’s new wireless reading device. Interestingly, they don’t call it an eBook reader. They use the term "wireless reading device" which is actually very accurate, and much more descriptive. All marketing and buzzwords aside, Kindle is a device for wirelessly downloading and reading eBooks, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. It uses electronic ink for a high-contrast and power-thrifty display, and it even hints at music and web browser functionality, as well.

I’ve only been using my Kindle for about four hours, and most of that time has been spent reading, but here’s what I have to report so far:

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Using maps to tell stories

I recently moved from San Francisco back to Northern Virginia where I’m from. I’ve always wanted to drive across the country, so a friend of mine and I took the opportunity to tour a bit of the US. We spent 7 days on the road, drove through 13 states, and covered roughly 3,500 miles along the way.

I was planning on writing a long blog entry to document the trip, and creating a custom Google map as a supplemental visual aid. Creating the map seemed like the fun part, so I did it first. I used Google’s new "My Maps" feature which, in addition to being a little buggy, is also very powerful. I ended up adding so much detail to the map that eventually I didn’t need to write the blog entry anymore. Everything I was going to write as a boring old blog post, I added as annotations to the map, instead. Not only did telling the story as a custom map force me to be more succinct (which almost all writing can benefit from), but I also provided unique visual and spatial context that I would never have been able to capture in an ordinary blog post.

If you’re interested, you can check out my first custom map entitle Cross-country Drive. As a bonus, my friend created his own map documenting his perspective on the trip. It’s interesting to contrast the two and see what different things stood out in our minds.

Why all the recent movie news isn’t good news

Lot’s of interesting movie news lately. First of all, Toshiba has released the first HD DVD players in Japan, and will soon start selling them in the US for $499 and $799, depending on the model. The debut of HD DVD will soon be followed by Blu-ray technology backed by Sony and Samsung (the new Sony PS3s will have Blu-ray built-in), and we’ll all get to relive the Betamax / VHS format wars all over again.

So what’s wrong with first generation DVDs? First and foremost, they aren’t selling like they used to, so it’s time to revitalize the market by updating the format. According to Toshiba, however, people are asking for them since television resolution has surpassed that of DVDs. Personally, I think Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba have a lot of challenges ahead of them.

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