Monday, June 29, 2009

Little Trouble in BigTown #8: A Convention of Freaks, A Convention of Geeks

So this week I went to two different conventions, one hosted by Microsoft, and one hosted by Microsoft's Mirror Universe evil-goatee-wearing-counterpart, otherwise known as the privacy-free speech-open source people, otherwise known as "The Good Guys". Unless you're Microsoft. Or Apple, for that matter, but that's a whole different blog post entirely.

The Microsoft convention was, as you might expect, evil. It was also pleasant, air-conditioned, and crammed to the gills with so much cool stuff I wanted to cry for not being an electrical engineer or a computer programmer. In yet another parallel universe, I'm working for Microsoft on one of these neato projects:

-A search engine plug-in called Viveri, which automatically takes your Bing! query and compares it against a giant table of statistical data that tells it what search engine is most often used for that query. It will then shoot that same query off to the appropriate outside search engine. So for example, if you search for "Tom Clancy", it will give you a list of results and a sidebar that contains results from an search; if you search for "Tom Clancy movies" it will give you results and a sidebar that contains results from Of course, Dogpile did this sort of meta-search back in the 90s, but it's not as cool as Viveri. (Then again, it did hit the market *13 years* before Viveri will...ehh...maybe not so neato)

-A simple, lightweight (system-resource-wise), easy-to-use system of tags for documents, images, videos, executables, webpages, what have you that is integrated with Vista's desktop environment. Click on a tag, all the associated files open up; click it again, they all close. Email it to a friend, they click on the tag and (if they have the requisite files) the files open up/get synched up. This is the kind of thing Apple should be developing.

-Various types of statistical analysis to combat spammer accounts, build a system of recommendations for doctors, restaurants etc., preserve privacy of sensitive records when queried by researchers doing database searches, and distributing large programming tasks over a server farm or whatnot. Basically, boring but useful and geekily cool stuff. The point? I found out that Spammers beat CAPTCHA image-recognition traps by using the promise of, shall we say, risque images (SFW).

- A game called Kodu, which allows you to create your own game. It is also, secretly, an educational program that *teaches you the principles of coding* with cutesy animals and scripted commands represented as colored building blocks. It's so cool I have to link the CES demo for it. According to the demo guy who was showing it off, Kodu was originally tested with a group of 9-12 year old girls, who, as you know, aren't exactly the prime demographic for learning programming. It received rave reviews from them, and is being mainstreamed into some first world countries, like New Zealand, Finland, Australia, and Canada, and some not-so-first-world countries, like Russia, Brazil, and Michigan. (No, seriously). In these test cases almost 43% of the students who sign up for it are, you guessed it, 9-12 year old girls, which is a bit of a breakthrough. It's going to be downloadable next week for $5 on Xbox Live, and it looks fantabulously cool. Of course, I would be remiss in not pointing out that Carnegie Mellon did it first, but it's not as cool as Kodu.

-And finally, as the piece de la resistance, a dome (made of cardboard, natch) that contained two things: a hemispherical 360 projector to post the night sky against the inside of the dome (like what you would see at a planetarium) and a small infrared camera that recognized hand gestures so you could spin, zoom, and warp the night sky. This may not seem remarkable in and of itself, but when I specifically asked whether it was a prototype for Project Natal, they said no, and winked. Of course, I would be remiss in not pointing out that PreCrime did it first, but it's- does anyone else see a worrying pattern here?

Then it was time to meet up with what Microsoft might call it's Rogue's Gallery: a collection of Privacy brigands from every organization that rejected my application for an internship this summer. I had a series of really funny observations to make about them, but I can't read my handwriting in my notebook of the hilarious jokes they were making. Or maybe those were serious points about the FTC's inability to effectively regulate digital privacy. I can't be sure.

Tomorrow: a Day in the Life of the Author


Minh Nguyễn said...

For contractual reasons, the Commenter probably can’t say much in response to the comments about prior art, except that if you thought the Commenter is at all surprised, you’d be wrong.

Seraphim Dreamer said...

...contractual reasons!??!