Human cycles not wasted

Luis von Ahn creates simple games that have people solve problems that computers can’t (Google video). Every time you play a game of Taboo, the hinter generates associations between words and the guesser, by guessing the correct word, is verifying the quality of those associations. By isolating players via the web and collecting their responses, on online version of Taboo could generate mountains of data that help computers associate words with other words. Luis took this idea and created several games that use humans to associate words with images, objects within images with words, even words with what they mean… My favorite bit is that, given the same input (eg. a card in Taboo), he gets more good data by recording the actions of all human players and using them against other live players or even other recordings. Eg. Jim and Jane play a game. When Mike comes along, the computer can use Jane’s recorded actions as Mike’s partner. If Steve and Sue also played, the computer could even go back and match Steve’s recording against Jane’s and Jim’s against Sue’s, generating even more data without any human involvement. These “zero player” games wouldn’t give you new associations, but could aid in ranking them.


17 Dec 2006: Latest Posts now works again in the latest release 9.02. Huzzah.

My first Opera widget created back in July is now broken in Opera 9.02. The debugging and rebuilding process is so tedious that I probably won’t fix it very soon. A nice gesture on Opera’s part is the creation of an actual Widget API/specification for those in the trenches, but where can you find it? Nowhere on I had to google “Opera Widget Object” to find it tucked away apparently as a left-over part of a presentation given at a conference in Finland. If you want developers to use your technology, spending an hour to write up even some preliminary docs would be nice.

After giving them a real chance, I still say widgets are a flop (at least on the desktop). Beyond the persistent storage, a widget is just a website and having it run outside the browser is a neat trick, but one that already failed. And as for porting widgets to mobile devices, I forsee a lot of problems in the area of performance and memory leaks since most widgets don’t go out of their way to preserve bandwidth and none share Javascript libraries. Leave a half-dozen web2.0 sites open in any browser all day and watch the memory usage. Will a mobile handle it?

Audacity failing the audition

As much I want to root for Audacity for being an open source and multi-platform multitrack recording solution, it’s just not there yet. I set it up for my coworker to record lectures and, even in this light-duty (mono 44.1 recording, nothing fancy), after about 10 min of material the program starts to sputter and exhibit delays in responding. This is on a machine with a GB of RAM! Occasionally the project file becomes corrupted and, although you can open it, see the waveforms, and export, you can’t play the project anymore without a long crash. This happened this morning; I was able to export what was there, but skips and glitches made the track unusable. Even when the entire recording and mixdown does work, at every other edit point in the mixdown is an audible pop.

For all its instability, there are two very nice Audacity features that I’d love to see in Adobe Audition:

Visible RMS levels on the waveform.
This gives you a decent visual clue of how “loud” a track is across time. While RMS doesn’t equate to “loudness” (unless it uses a reverse equal-loudness contour), it’s mostly proportional to it if the overall frequencies stay the same (as with speech).
View results of volume-adjustment curves in real time
When you draw a curve you see the waveform change to the result of the curve as it will be applied, making it possible to truly dial in the exact volume change you want rather than repeatedly guessing and listening.

The above features allow you to quickly visually shape your desired loudness curve out of the existing wave. Speakers tend to gradually gain/lose volume over several minutes, so this makes compensating for that cake. These two alone make it worth keeping Audactiy around just for situations needing sharp leveling.