I uploaded some new data to the Internet that you might be interested in perusing:
We plan to launch several other Nat Friedman related web sites in the coming year. Stay tuned.
I will be reporting on cool things to do in and around Provo, such as the Cinemark dollar theater in Provo, Brewvies in Salt Lake City, or catching one of Theta Naught’s shows in the area (highly recommended).
Garrett and I had a pretty good time hanging out in Utah, despite the fact that we both left the office pretty exhausted after some extremely long days. And Dave may spend some time in the area the first couple months of next year, so I’m going to make a point of rooting out the fun activities, including the more active ones, like dirt biking, once my soft tissues have finished recovering from injury and the five subsequent weeks of total quiescence.
The other bit of good news is that San Francisco is only an hour and a half from Utah, so I’ll probably be out here pretty often as well. Which is great because I can see my sister Peach, go out with friends, and pick up really cute, politically active girls, thereby eliciting hysterical levels of jealousy from Alex, etc etc.
In other words: same shit, different city.
I got to meet Peach’s boyfriend, Erik the other day.
Erik, Alex and Peach. Alex and Peach got the boy band point-stance
down pretty well, but Erik went for more of an astronomy thing.
The early part of the week was rife with hijinks. We went to Zeitgeist (where Jamie took me for my 21st birthday, God love him), and by the end of the night were jumping up on the tables and singing and dancing.
Later, Peach, Alex and I threw a little get-together at her house.
Jeremy Bornstein came, and brought his son Ezekiel.
Later in the week, the rest of the Friedman clan arrived in town and I spent a lot of quality time with my little sister Victoria. If you call watching 27 episodes of The OC in four days “quality time.”
Many other things happened, including a nice dinner with Zack Rosen, a clever guy. After I showed it to him, Zack suggested that lots of people could make personal city guides like mine, geocode them, and then readers could aggregate their friends’ guides based on location.
But it is late and I am going to Mexico in the morning.
Short summary of 2004:
You will not hear from me for some days. Be still! I will come thundering back. Next year.
I’ll be in Utah the next two days, San Francisco for the following ten, and then in Mexico for a week, sleeping on the beach, probably at Playa del Carmen. I was planning to come back to Boston after Utah, before going to California, but today at the office I asked myself: why?
The downside is that I’ll be gone for three weeks, but I only packed for two days.
I’d be interested in meeting people in the various areas, so email me if you want to have dinner or something.
Peach sent me yet another reason to heal quickly.
Also I forgot to mention that The Life Aquatic was unbelievably funny. I loved it.
Joe, Robert and I went to New York over the weekend. Joe and Robert both posted photos of me sleeping on the train rides to and from New York. What can I say, I need my sleep; my personality has a lot of overhead.
This is showing up first in web interfaces to groupware servers, with calendar appointments you can drag and drop, quick interactive use, and other features that were supposed to be clunky or impossible in browser-space. Besides Gmail, I’ve seen a few of these lately that have made my jaw drop. MS Exchange’s high-quality “web” interface (called “Premium”) is implemented with special IE extensions, and I’m not talking about that.
This calls into question the need for things like XUL and Flash as a client platform (XUL will always be useful to extend Firefox and Flash to do animations). Why use XUL to build a richer experience for your web app if you can get most of the way there with JS/CSS/DHTML and it will run on all browsers?
I’m surprised no one’s started an open source effort to build a GMail-like web interface to mail. The open source web interfaces for OGo and things like SquirrelMail could really benefit from being brought into the modern era.
Of course, markup isn’t the only advantage of web-based apps. The main one is the centralized deployment model, the lack of dependencies/DLL hell, the ease of backup/configuration/etc.
It’s interesting to watch the traditional application-and-platform developers (Apple, Microsoft, the Linux desktop projects) parade down the “web will never be good enough for real applications” path. Apple has Sherlock, MS has Avalon/XAML, we have Gtk/Qt/XUL/etc. Meanwhile you find more and more outlying app developers writing web apps. I wonder if, in a few years, we will look like withered old timers to the new armies of web application devleopers. Clinging to our dated ways. “I like my trackball just fine, sonny!”
Back in November, I broke my wrist snowboarding.
I can use a couple of the fingers on my right hand now, so typing is getting a bit easier. Immediately after the surgery my fingers were essentially paralyzed, and the pain was so bad I was antically mixing my blood with percocet, to little effect. That got better after a few days, but two handed typing was impossible (and is still very difficult).
I hired a typist; a massively overqualified MIT student who can take dictation on ordinary emails, technical text, and code. I didn’t like the idea of letting him drive the machine while I hovered over his shoulder barking obscure commands to click this or type that in software I know better than my own bone structure, so I setup a shared desktop over VNC.
He sits at the other end of my desk on a separate computer while I conduct the machine with my left hand, jumping from mail to mail, opening buffers, reading web pages, and generally doing the interactive low-latency low-volume typing tasks myself. He can see everything I’m doing because my desktop is shared over the network. And when I need to enter a large block of text, well, I just start talking, he types, and the words appear on the screen.
If I don’t look up from the screen, I can pretend he’s not there and that I have the world’s most powerful speech recognition engine. So I have a sneak peek into what computers will be like when speech recognition works really well. And I humbly submit to you my comments.
First, speech recognition is really awesome. It’s not the speed. I can talk 2-3 times faster than I can type. Fully functional, I am the fastest typer you have ever encountered: faster than my typist by a fair bit, in any case. And so the limiting factor is his ability to type, and I’m not getting any bump in my ability to put words on the screen quickly.
No, the best thing I’ve noticed so far is that it’s really pleasant to dictate email. I can consult notes or documents or books while I compose my message without a context switch between real world and computer world. It gives me a chance to think through what I’m saying more than I am inclined to do when I’m rapidly typing the message into the computer. It slows down the pace of my thought from the otherwise frantic 130wpm speed of my typing to a more human level.
And, of course, it’s just plain neat.
My next observation is that voice recognition is much harder than any of us think. Yes, it’s context. The classic example of the difficulty of speech recognition:
It’s hard to recognize speech.
It’s hard to wreck a nice beach.
But this is just a corner case; context is a constant guide for our natural speech parsers for words like “in” and “on” spoken quickly. My voice recognition engine is attentive enough to read my emails and to learn words he’s never seen before, so that when I say them, he already knows how to spell and capitalize them. But he still makes mistakes, all the time. The other day I said, “I’ll ask around and see what people think,” and he typed “I’ll ask Rodney what people think.” But it’s not his fault. It’s hard to wreckanicebeach.
And then, when he does make a mistake, I can say, “no, I meant in,” or “that’s supposed to be a new sentence,” and he immediately understands what I’m talking about, because he understands the meaning of what he’s typing. With contemporary software, I’d have to say “BACK BACK BACK BACK PERIOD SPACE CAPITALIZE FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD.” Or something to that effect.
And finally, I’ve noticed that my emails have gotten a lot nicer since there’s another person helping me type. I’m less abrupt with people, friendlier and more understanding. Having someone else watching over your shoulder while you go about your business makes you want to be a nicer person.
Anyway, these are some of my thoughts on using extremely high quality speech recognition, based on a simulated automation environment. It is fun to try technology years before it exists. I wonder if there are other things we can simulate like this?
From: Nat Friedman <email@example.com>
To: Victoria Friedman <...>
Subject: Birthday present.
You are 16 now, and it is important that you have a car. As your big brother, I have your best interests in mind and therefore want you to have a vehicle that will be reliable and practical, but not too fancy or sexy or dangerous.
So I have ordered a BMW for you. It's a nice car with three wheels, the steering wheel is mounted on the door, and the door opens from the front. It is made from old airplane parts.
I hope you will like it: