Saturday, December 10, 2005

Put the information where you need it (?) 1.4

Two new gadgets limn the outer limits of putting information wherever you maybe, might *possibly* need it.

First, the rsstroom reader -- a gadget that prints rss feeds onto your toilet paper. [via everyone and their mom]

Next, the weather toaster -- a gadget that prints the days weather on your toast. Well, actually, it toasts the bread and singes a graphic of the day's forecast. [via information aesthetics]

[image from The Register]

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Calculator Help

C? CE? I can never remember what each one does. So when I need to clear the current calculation, I hit them both (a couple of times actually... you can never over-erase a current calculation as far as I'm concerned... same goes for crosswalk buttons, but that's a different story).

So today while calculating income from a the few little projects that I've patched together for the summer (ah, academia), I had to choose CE or C. On a hunch, I right mouse clicked over the buttons and was delighted to see, "What's this?" followed by an explanation.

The mouseover help not only tells me what each button does, but explains it in terms of other familiar computer functionality. (Well, who uses the ESC key? But it's a nice gesture.) Now I'll just have to tape that information on my manual calculator.

[Update: I'm not the only one on about minute levels of usability today.]

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Wiki as Personal CMS?

This Ask Ars installment features a question about using a wiki as a personal content management system (the discussion offers myriad solutions). The writer, who lives in a house with four roommates, asks about using one to manage mundane tasks:
We’ve all decided that a wiki would be an efficient way to communicate information to everyone in the house. For example, when is the water bill due? Check the wiki. Who do we contact about the trash pickup which never seems to come? Check the wiki.

This life-hack question reminds me of Cheryl Geisler's research into the use of technologies for managing home-life (here and here). It's my home-life texts that I have the most trouble tracking (especially due to nearly annual moves). Electronic banking and bill-pay has cut down on the negative effects of this, but remember how complicated it can be with multiple roommates.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Strikethrough Text as Paralipsis

I’ve recently noticed the trend of using strikethrough text as a humorous device, as seen in this example from Stephen Bainbridge’s recent post about blogging during faculty meetings.

What started out as a useful way to update a document while leaving evidence of its original and new form became a device for ironic “correction”. Stephen Baker at Businessweek seems to think this is new, but as with most concepts and dramatic plots, the ancient Greeks came up with it first. It’s called paralipsis, meaning “to leave to one side”. Carolyn Miller once told me it was her favorite rhetorical trope, and I can see why. When used overtly, it can be wry. More often, it’s sneaky (as in, “I won’t be dragged in to discussing my opponent’s drinking problem.”).

But there’s precedence for print-based paralipsis too. The Hacker’s Dictionary describes pre-strikethrough “writing under erasure” thus:

There is also an accepted convention for ‘writing under erasure’; the text>

Be nice to this fool^H^H^H^Hgentleman, he's visiting from corporate HQ.

reads roughly as “Be nice to this fool, er, gentleman...”, with irony emphasized. The digraph ^H is often used as a print representation for a backspace, and was actually very visible on old-style printing terminals. As the text was being composed the characters would be echoed and printed immediately, and when a correction was made the backspace keystrokes would be echoed with the string ‘^H’. Of course, the final composed text would have no trace of the backspace characters (or the original erroneous text). Chapter 5. Hacker Writing Style

I also see similarity to a comedic technique I’ve seen two other places: Kevin Nealon’s SNL character Mr. Subliminal, who would make a statement and quickly interject its (usually politically incorrect) translation, sotto voce. Today, we can see the same effect on Comedy Central’s new Colbert Report in my favorite segment “The Word”, in which the politically incorrect translation appears beside Colbert. [Edit: On re-reading, I think this technique is merely similar to paralipsis... I might have to coin a new trope!]

Mostly, I see print-paralipsis as yet another clever playfulness with language that seems typical of hackers specifically and technophiles more generally. Clever word-play and retoolings of language and use is in their nature.