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On Sydney suburban trains there is/was an announcement that went something like: “Please move clear of the vestibule area when alighting from the train”. In a Sydney car tunnel, when there someone has broken down or has stopped in a breakdown bay, an announcement breaks into your radio program to tell you that “there is an incident on the carriageway”. Local signage near my house says that “consumption of alcohol prohibited” on the street.  An announcement on a Brisbane train told me to “take care when detraining”.

In major Australian cities, where there is a significant part of the population with English as their second or even third language, and where there are a significant number of tourists and visitors from non-English speaking countries, you would think that public announcements and signage would be composed for the broadest possible audience, being one of the conventional objectives of communication. Insurance companies and banks moved to “plain English” terms and conditions for policies and bank accounts years ago. I can’t see an excuse for the pompous and culturally arrogant language that is used by officialdom when communicating with the broad public. 

There, I feel better.

Rotating pentachoron

I've always been fascinated by the possibility of four-dimensional objects embedded in our three-dimensional world. While the maths is relatively straightforward, visualising 4D objects is not easy. The analogue of a 3D object in a 2D world like Flatland is one way to start to come to grips with it. The simplest 4D polytope, the pentachoron, rotating in our world around two axes looks something like the animation below. Look at it for long enough, and everyone now and then you get a sudden insight into what a 4D object might be like, but then it's gone. Fascinating.


It’s not the rats you need to worry about

Seth Godin says…

If you want to know if a ship is going to sink, watch what the richest passengers do.

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

When law firms started switching to fax machines, Fedex realized that the cash cow part of their business (100 or 1000 or more envelopes per firm per day) was over and switched fast to packages. Good for them.

If your ship is sinking, get out now. By the time the rats start packing, it’s way too late.


I don’t easily remember the last time I bought a CD. And I don’t expect to be buying books five years from now.

Soon you’ll be able to insure your digital vault, or just outsource it to someone under an SLA. Then again, if everything is available online all the time, why buy anything? Why hoard when there is no scarcity? Just pay for it when you consume it, and hope that the search engines, aggregators, brokers, and preference engines can give you what you’re looking for.

It themes appalling


Is it just me, or are 99% of the the Chrome themes downright gaudy without being tasteful? Sure, the artwork can be just dandy on its own, but having a face full of bright, stupid pattern when I want to browse or, god forbid, actually concentrate on reading something on the web is madness. With some of them you can’t even read the text over the top. Have these people learnt nothing about productivity? Don’t they ever suspect that less is more?

Battle of the OS

John Gruber wrote a blog entry on the “pathological” herd mentality around operating systems for personal computers. He points out, correctly, that Apple has not run with the rest of the pack, and as a result enjoys a great deal of power by owning the part of the stack that includes the hardware and OS, across computers, smart phones, and, to some extent, music players. However, I question some of his arguments.

Lego laptop

He asserts that the operating system is the single most important part of the computing experience.  I’d say that actually the browser is, and only becoming more so. People are spending far more time living in the browser for most things that they do, and this will only increase with the HTML5 improvements in the interface. Sure, there’s a file system underneath there somewhere, but people living in the wireless age don’t ask for much from it anymore. Store some files, display them, play my music, show my photos. Increasingly, assuming ubiquitous network, a typical web citizen’s music, photos, and files will be stored on the web. Storing things locally will be a liability, for both failure and security reasons. Funny as it seems, it will be soon perceived to be safer to store your private data on the web, where it’s out of physical reach of your family and co-workers, than on your laptop that could be stolen, dropped, or suffer a disk crash.

As a consequence, it’s the browser that will be queen. This explains why Google has invested effort in inventing Chrome. Although it doesn’t actually explain why it’s investing in developing the Chrome OS, if it is seen as just a simple and cheap OS that exists to provide an optimised platform for a Chrome browser, as advertised, then it makes more sense. For mainstream users, the browser will be all they need, and both Windows and OSX will be over-featured, over-priced, and irrelevant.

Gruber also thinks that competition would improve the state of affairs. The market has a traditional and valuable way of settling debates around alternatives, but there is also such as thing as a “regulated infrastructure”, where there is value in commoditising or standardising a platform or an interface, because it enables the vertical segmentation of a market and can actually increase competition. To this end, some competition in the OS area is good, but arguably too much is bad. For that reason, the Chrome OS will, I hope, give a good shaking up to the duopoly in the personal computer market, but too many other entrants won’t help. I don’t see Linux gaining significantly more share; they have missed their chance through too much fragmented effort, and not enough work on dumbing down the interface. That’s a shame, but they may make a comeback in the future under another guise.