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Geeky by Design

September 5, 2010 5 comments

In the early, wild-west web days, there were no University degrees in multimedia design, no mail-order certificates in HTML. Most of us who worked in the area — and by “worked” I mean either did stuff for free or levied a hidden HTML tax on their other projects — knew what Yahoo* stood for, visited Matt’s Script Archive regularly, and created pages that looked just like everyone else’s: bold H1 text at the top, a bunch of smaller text on a grey background and maybe a few images or diagrams.

When the newfangled Netscape browser introduced tables, and you could actually control where things went on a page, the actual discipline of web design was born. But most pages still looked pretty crappy. Probably because most pages were still being created by computer geeks like me. There was no Dreamweaver or even HoTMetaL yet. And there were no degrees in web design: if you wanted to learn, you went to VSU — View Source University — and copied the same ugly layouts and arrow buttons everyone else was using.
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Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Never give a crow a tuna sandwich

January 14, 2010 2 comments

No good deed goes unpunished

Some months ago I read an amazing article in the New York Times by Michelle Nijhuis about how crows can recognize human faces. Humans have evolved some pretty sophisticated pattern recognition skills, especially where faces are concerned, but I’d always understood this was generally limited to the faces of our own species. I know that when I look at, say, a Golden Retriever, I tend to see that breed, and would have a hard time telling the difference between another of the same breed just by facial features. Though maybe dogs don’t differ as much facially as people do. Dogs tend to rely more on what they can smell than what they can see, so evolutionary pennies might have been wasted on making doggy faces different.

But getting back to crows. It’s not just that they recognize us by our face. They can also remember our good deeds – a friend of mine has learned not to give crows peanuts because they keep coming back – as well as bad ones. Even more remarkable is that they share this news – I guess you could call it twittering – among their friends and relations. In one study, students at the University of Washington who trapped crows were followed and harassed for months afterward, even by crows they’d never encountered. Fortunately the researchers had their students wear masks; grad school is tough enough without being chased around campus by an angry mob of crows.

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Categories: Essays Tags: , ,