archive for December, 2004

Handwriting Recognition + Auto-Complete

I don’t know why we haven’t seen this before, but it should be easy to combine handwriting recognition with auto complete. Many handheld computers allow you to draw letters that it can recognize, and work as if you’d just typed. This can drastically speed up your ability to enter text on small devices where typing is impractical.

Many computer applications try to anticipate what you’re typing, and allow you to finish off the word by hitting Tab or Enter. Sometimes they only show you one suggestion, and sometimes they show you a whole list that is updated with every letter you type. An example of this can be seen by typing “www.g” in your browser’s address bar.

So, here’s my question: Why not combine the two? Auto-complete might use up a lot of CPU power, but I’ve got to believe that modern handhelds have enough resources to do both. I’m guessing that when handhelds first came out, they only had enough processing power to do the handwriting recognition, so that’s all they did. Now, people are used to them working that way, so they don’t demand a better solution.

Ideally, there would be a scroll/click wheel that would let you select the word you’re writing without moving your writing hand too far. There would be a left vs. right handed issue with a scroll wheel. My Blackberry has a scroll wheel in a good position for my right thumb which is good when I’m holding the Blackberry in my right hand. If I was going to use it with handwriting recognition, I’d have to write with my left hand which would be cumbersome (but maybe still better than typing). Of course, they could put the wheel on the other side and annoy lefties, or maybe they could put a wheel on both sides.

Anyway, I just thought it was a cool idea. The word list that the auto-complete uses should be updated by the application you’re writing in. That way, if you’re trying to write a date in a field, the application will know and will only show you date appropriate words. (Really, you should just use a calendar GUI for entering dates, but you get the idea.)

A Festivus for the rest of us!

It is at this time of year that we gather our family around the aluminum pole to celebrate Festivus. Festivus is going to be very busy for us this year. Between the airing of grievances and packing for our winter vacation, it’ll be hard to find time for the feats of strength, but I’m sure we’ll fit them in.

Festivus has been in the news a lot lately. In Polk County, Florida, the city has opened up public property for a Festivus display. It has also been reported that taxpayers are celebrating Festivus in a special airing of grievances for wasteful government spending. I’m happy to see that Festivus is really catching on. It’s a Festivus Miracle!

Link Roundup: Dec. 22, 2004

IBM sells PC group to Lenovo
Sunlight to Fuel Hydrogen Future
What If Wal-Mart Got in the WiMax Business?
A Whitewashed Earthsea
Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system
Voting Problems Strike…

Last Windows Box?

I bought a new computer a couple months back. It’s a pretty decent system, and there’s a good chance that it’ll last me at least a few more years. I’m running the 5 year old Windows 2000, and I’m doing fine. Fine, but not great The only thing that I’ve seen Microsoft come out with in the last five years to improve their OS (besides the bug fixes) have been the improvements to the taskbar. Certainly there hasn’t been anything worth $150 to buy an upgrade.

The only reason I haven’t switched to Apple’s OS X or Linux is because I’m a gamer. I love to play computer games, and currently the best gaming platform I know of is the PC. Virtually every other thing I use my computer for (surfing the web, sending email, developing software, creating and reading documents, and listening to music) work just as well on OS X and Linux.

Fortunately, there’s a way out of my dependence on Windows for games. Actually, there are several ways. First, some company could come along and make it so that other operating systems will be able to play games designed for Windows. Second, Nintendo and Sony might figure out how to make a first person shooter actually playable on a console system. (I think Nintendo is getting really close with the touch screen on its DS.) Third, new genres of games could be developed that will be equally playable on any platform. Any of these three possibilities, and probably several others that I haven’t thought will make it easy for me to switch to a new platform.

Maybe in another post, I’ll write about why Apple OS X and Linux are better operating systems, but not tonight.

Talking Bot

Conversive, the company I work for, just released a new service for creating talking bots for your website. I went ahead and added one to the main ApeJet page. Here’s my announcement post. If you have a website, try it out, and let me know what you think. It’s still a long way from being done, but it’s pretty fun and cool for being free.

New Movie Releases

I just found this great page on IMDB listing new and upcoming movie releases. Now, I just need to read through it and update my Netflix queue.

DirextX in C#

I can’t remember why I thought I’d try my hand at DirectX programming, but this weekend I tried giving it a shot. I used the managed code version of DirectX 9 in C#. There’s a nice tutorial that I used to get a feel for DirectX, and just followed along (making a few changes here and there).

When I started, I thought that I might be able to make a basic game by the end of the day. Well, maybe if I had a really basic game idea I could, but I can’t think of anything that would be simple enough. I basically know how to draw triangles into the world (you make 3D surfaces by connecting lots of triangles), positions a camera, and move the two around. I’d think that to build any kind of real 3D game, I’d have to spend some serious time building up a nice set of libraries. I need some way to easily define 3D objects, add textures to them. I’d also want to have some sort of physics system, and code to detect collisions.

The few hours I spent working with 3D programming have given me a lot more respect for 3D game designers, especially the people that build the game engine itself. From now on, I’ll limit myself to modding existing games. Lame, right? Sorry to disappoint you, but there are too many other things I’d rather be doing with my time.

CO2 Increase Tied to Human Activity

Global warming has been in the news a lot lately. It’s one of those things that is so politically charged that it becomes more of an “issue” than a scientific study. WorldChanging has a great summary in layman’s terms of an article on how we know human activity is causing the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Of course, we also know for sure that CO2 is a greenhouse gas which helps trap heat from the sun. Politics aside, it was an interesting article, and it’s worth checking out.

Right, Wrong, and the Law

In my continuing effort to understand morality, I’ve done some thinking about the relationship between morals and laws. Far too often people confuse the two. I don’t know if it’s because of the tight relationship between them, or if people are too lazy to consider the differences, but I think it’s useful to put some thought into the distinction between morality and legality.

This may seem plainly obvious to some, and it may seem crazy to others: the law should flow from morality (our understanding of right and wrong) not the other way around.

Laws are made to encourage people to do the right thing and discourage them from doing things that are morally wrong. We also create laws to set standards, like which side of the road to drive on, to help our society function smoothly. To put it simply, we create laws to make our lives better.

Sometimes laws reflect our morals, sometimes they’re absolutely arbitrary, often it’s somewhere in between. Laws aren’t perfect. Why else would we spend so much time and energy writing and rewriting them? This doesn’t mean that it’s morally right to break the law, though it certainly can be. It also doesn’t mean that we should throw out all of our laws and live in a state of anarchy. Laws can be useful, and as long as we’re careful about which laws we keep, we are better off.

Because laws can be both arbitrary and misguided, it’s important to not use them as a basis for our morality. To do so would be entirely backwards. Instead, morality should be based on ethics, not the law. Otherwise we risk holding arbitrary, and useless morals.

Bandwidth Manager

I just installed SoftPerfect Bandwidth Manager at work to limit my bandwidth. That’s right, I installed software to actually make my connection to the Internet slower. This has come in really handy for testing how our web site and products behave on slow Internet connections. Best of all, it works fine in demo mode.

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