Monday, February 25, 2008

I like big boats (and I cannot lie)

Like most of Sydney this weekend, I made the journey into the centre of town to catch the big show. Having no interest in the football, the cricket, Soundwave or Mardi Gras, I was there to see the arrival of Cunard's latest new toy, the Queen Victoria.

Sydney Opera House at dawn

Fortunately, unlike most of Sydney, I went on Saturday morning, and more specifically, before dawn to catch Queen Victoria's arrival at Circular Quay. That meant a nice clear run down the M2 and over the Harbour Bridge, and a parking spot at Dawes Point (usually as rare as hen's teeth), just as the first light of day appeared over the horizon. This gave me about twenty minutes to take some atmosphere photos, mainly of the Opera House, as there were too many numpties standing in the way to take a good photo of the Harbour Bridge, before Queen Victoria rounded the headland and began final approach.

Queen Victoria in Sydney Harbour

The 90000 tonne floating skyscraper was moored up alongside Circular Quay with impressive speed, and with the sun now fully risen and my first memory card full of pictures, I headed round to the Opera House for more pictures and a well-deserved breakfast.

Comparative Sizes

In the excitement of taking this photo, I managed to dump most of my latté into my camera bag. After a lengthy clean-up operation, which left my bag suspiciously coffee-scented, albeit dry enough to pack everything into again, I headed back round the harbour to Dawes Point, and back home; and all before most people had got out of bed.

Sydney Icons

This next picture is for Damana, who sadly didn't make our predawn rendezvous, although she did come down later on.

Just Fits

P.S. Sorry about the title - it's a vague allusion to one of my favourite websites, as well as nod to Damana's post above.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Google's Elmer Fudd Edition

 Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck While Googling for something to say about Elmer Fudd, I discovered that Google maintains an Elmer-ised version of their own search page.

I still can't help think that this is one of the things that set Microsoft and Google apart, no matter how much Microsoft tries to beat Google - people at Google have a sense of humour, whereas any such creativity at Microsoft appears to be squashed under layers of corporate management, blandness, and established branding. Maybe in a million years, it will be mined as a valuable natural resource, but until then, I don't see replacing Google as the search engine of choice.

Geek Goes Luddite

Don't worry, I'm not going to be burning my keyboard; but that badly-expressed metaphor does lead nicely into my thought for the day - what is the point, for the average computer user, of speech recognition systems?

I'm sure there's a market for all those developers and typists who have sacrificed their wrist tendons at the 104-key altar, but this isn't a post for them.

As seductive as the image portrayed by Star Trek of talking to your computer is to the average geek (although it only seems to be Captain Picard who gets the voice recognition systems, everyone else still seems to get keyboards), there are a few warning signs:

  • every time Intel brings out a new super powerful processor, pundits proclaim that this is the one that will make speech recognition a practicality (yay for alliteration!). They've been doing this since the first generation Pentiums and are still doing it, so a pinch of salt is needed;
  • Optus customer support. OK, so not the most obvious reason, but if you've ever had the misfortune of having to get help from Optus, you'll know the pain of their voice recognition menu systems. I have few problems with using menu-driven destination selection when the menu is driven by your phone's keypad, but trying to tell the system which option you want is an exercise in futility. Optus refuses to understand my very English accent, and the only way I can get it to recognise me more than 20% of the time is to speak like Elmer Fudd, "vewwy vewwy swowy" and with the same accent. It's so embarrassing, I have to hide myself away even from my own family, just so I can complain about my busted bandwidth cap;
  • Imagine a typical office. Now imagine 20-odd users (not 20 odd users), all trying to tell their computers what to do. Can you hear yourself think? It'll sound more like the local pub at 7pm.

So when I see yet another pronouncement that speech recognition is ready for the masses, I shake my head, and keep my mouth shut.