Though I wouldn’t properly count myself as a ‘nerd’, this weblog entry on Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder (via MeriBlog) struck a chord with me. I often have a dozen tabs open in my web browser, and thrive on having tons of information being thrown at me, skipping from one to the other and picking through them as I please. In fact, without this hose of information I would be quite lost, as I wouldn’t be able to devote my attention to anything without the promise of other stuff to follow. As the author puts it:

[My mother] commented, “How can you focus on anything with all this stuff going on?” I responded, “Mom, I can’t focus without all this noise.”

My job, luckily, involves several projects, each with lots of widely-varying aspects so my short attention span is not a problem, as I can switch from one project or piece of code to another, and juggle multiple ideas and thoughts at once. So, yes, I probably do “suffer” from NADD, I suppose, though “suffer” is totally the wrong word as actually, I quite enjoy it.

(An example of NADDish behaviour is a b3ta post I knocked up in my lunchbreak, as a response to this week’s challenge)

Spot the Gorilla

An interesting article in the Telegraph about visual memory and the nature of observation. It’s fairly unchallenging and in layman’s terms, and describes some great experiments that sound like they were thought up by Dom Joly. For example:

In one experiment, people who were walking across a college campus were asked by a stranger for directions. During the resulting chat, two men carrying a wooden door passed between the stranger and the subjects. After the door went by, the subjects were asked if they had noticed anything change. Half of those tested failed to notice that, as the door passed by, the stranger had been substituted with a man who was of different height, of different build and who sounded different.


Another demonstration [was] a videotape of a handful of people playing basketball. They played the tape to subjects and asked them to count the passes made by one of the teams. Around half failed to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walked slowly across the scene for nine seconds, even though this hairy interloper had passed between the players and stopped to face the camera and thump her chest.

I can believe the first one, though the one with the gorilla in it I find staggering (especially as I watched the video, and it’s pretty blatant). More information about the research, and videos of the experiments, can be found here.

While pretty convincing on the existing evidence, the article also contains some spurious speculation at the end that our brains, having not advanced much from the Stone Age, are therefore unsuited to the fast pace of modern life, but given that we have a tendency to make things as convenient for us as possible (is this the current definition of progress?), then we’re more than able to get around our shortcomings with the technlogies we create.

On a totally unrelated note, you may have noticed I’ve written a linklog entry below, in a different format from the normal ones. This is a bit experimental but this type of entry allows me to post any random links that are vaguely interesting without devoting all the space and time writing a proper blog entry surrounding them. Let me know what you think…

Open Source and usability

A rant on the user-friendliness of open source software (OSS) and web standards (via memetank). It’s not just a rant, it does also have a helpful suggestion at the end, i.e. a charitable foundation to pay people to write proper, usable, documentation. I’m inclined to agree with a lot of it – OSS, especially the software used for servers and scripting, can be a bastard to configure, and the documentation (if it exists) can be appallingly hard to read and navigate (yes, I’m talking about you, MySQL).

But things may be brighter on the client side, as we see the rise of elegantly designed software like Firefox (though Thunderbird still has some catching up to do, I have issues with it and its stupid ‘one To: and Cc: line per recipient’ rule when composing mail). OSS that actually gets used by everyone – desktop GUIs, web browsers, email and IM clients – is starting to rapidly improve as OSS coders realise that their projects need users to be successful. Also, I think the sexiness of OS X may have something to do with it, as it shook up the stagnant, Windows-dominated state of UI design, and showed the world that Unix-based software could look quite good. As more enthusiastic design-minded people get on the OSS bandwagon, the state of client software design can only improve. Which is great for the average end user, but it will still leave us (by us, I mean programmers who want to get configuration done & out of the way so we can get some work done) having to configure complex applications like Apache or Sendmail (shudder) in the dark.

Little bit more on ID cards

David Blunkett has said it might be possible, under the new ID card scheme, for people to assume false identities for life (via terreus). But before we get too worried about a terrorist pretending to be someone else, passing through the “100% reliable” ID card system without any fuss (as the system will always be right), before, say, hijacking an airliner for a spot of kamikaze attacking, Blunkett says there is a clear deterrent that will stop them from doing so, namely:

Those fixing themselves with false IDs could lose out on family inheritances.

So that’s alright then.

I’m not anti-semantic, some of my best friends are words

And here’s the proof: A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia is full of pangrams, palindromes, and other curious words of note. Which would have come in handy for those who contributed to the Gallery of Bad Scrabble Hands (this one is particularly awful). If something more modern’s your game, then check out notes about predictive text messaging – I’ve always been amused that PINT, SHOT and RIOT are the same combination on the keypad (thus making you able to describe a night out with very little effort), as well as the possible misunderstandings that can arise from PHONED and RIMMED having the same keys.

(last two links via Boing Boing)