Manas Tungare

My Blog

The Thin Line Between Fact and Fiction

The upcoming release of the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code had me thinking a little bit about the whole interleaving-facts-and-fiction thing. OK, here I go: remember this is going to be a little weird.

In the book, Dan Brown mixes fact with fiction so deftly. But why should it be restricted to a book? (And I'm not talking about the make-a-movie-out-of-it sense.) As in, we get information from so many sources: books, newspapers, television, the Web, friends, gossip, etc. How about designing, not a book, but an experience: so everything you see or hear about a particular topic is a mixture of fact and fiction. And somewhere within there, is the author's skill to embed his own story into history. It's no longer something you pick up and read, it's something you experience all the time. Part of the story might unravel itself in newspaper sections (think advertisements, or guest columns), part of the story could be revealed in a television episode, and some happenings are covered in a magazine. It's the same storyline, same timeline, it's just not restricted to a single medium. And it's no longer separate from fact: as events happen in the real world, the author (or rather, the designer) will incorporate them into the developing story.

Perhaps it could also be a community-designed experience: if you want to influence the story in a certain way (even a very minor way), you could do that. Like one of those detective books, "turn to page 46 if you think X is the killer." One could even do some backward time-travel weirdness by sneaking around and editing web log entries, or publishing two alternative versions simultaneously in a magazine and a newspaper and throwing people off on a wild goose chase to figure out what happened.

The next generation in entertainment? Or just a crazy blog entry? You be the judge! :-)

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Impeccable Timing

Last week, I wrote a plug-in for viewing Del.icio.us bookmarks in the Google Desktop Sidebar. Then I submitted it to Google, and it was being tested by them for a couple days. Then they approved it, and added it to the listing on their website as well as in a blog entry. I had already been receiving feedback from the curious beta testers on the Google Desktop Developers group.

So far, so good.

Then, exactly on the day Google pushed an update to their servers (which contained the new pages for my plugin), Del.icio.us announced that they were being bought by Yahoo! Not that it made a huge lot of difference; del.icio.us is still the same, and as useful as it always was.

But it's a little ironic that I ended up writing a product that put a Yahoo! property inside the Google Sidebar. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but you know, they're like rivals and stuff. :-)

Coverage Elsewhere:

And all this happened on exactly the same day. Like I said, the timing was impeccable!

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Movies Plugin for Google Desktop

With the latest release, Google Desktop 2.0 introduced script plugins. That means that it's now easy as ever to create sidebar panels. So I went ahead and created a Movies plugin -- you specify a zip code, and it will display customized movie listings for theaters near your home. You can also filter by genre, MPAA ratings, or user ratings, and sort by popularity or ratings.

Worth a try! It's available free: Google Desktop Movies Plugin.

It has also featured in Google's Plugin Library, and on the Google Desktop Blog as Plugin of the Week.

Not bad for half a day's work, eh? That's putting the Thanksgiving break to fruitful use. :-)

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Back from the Future

Let's say, all human civilization were abruptly destroyed tomorrow. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe in a thousand years, or maybe in a million. Maybe by Vogon constructor fleets, maybe by an asteroid, or maybe our own doing, such as a fatal side-effect of global warming. This isn't very unlikely, mind you, because a large part of a very interesting culture was almost wiped out by hurricane Katrina in the not-too-distant past, and I'm talking centuries into the future.

It would be arrogant of us to proclaim, today, that the artifacts of our age will survive indefinitely, so I'm thinking that there will be a time when all of our culture will be wiped out too. But presumably, life will continue ("Life finds a way." -Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park.) I would trust the inhabitants of our space stations to re-colonize the earth if Darwinian forces do not, so let's just continue with this for the sake of argument. Now, what will archaeologists of that age discover about us when they look back?

When we look back today at the Tomb of Tutankhamun, or the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu, at the Nazcan lines, or at the elaborate city planning evident in the lost cities of Mohenjo Daro or Harappa, we draw our conclusions based on what we see. We see richly-decorated mummies, ultra-large-scale surface drawings that are only visible from the skies, or urban artifacts that we notice because of similarities to our own culture. All in all, whatever we glean from these past cultures is because of the intense visual similarities with what we see in today's world.

But will today's world bear any similarity to the world that will come millenia from now? Think about this a moment: today, so much of our "civilization" is defined by the information we have created. Information that every single soul on this planet creates, unknowingly, unwittingly, relentlessly, every moment of their lives. Will our descendants be able to decode this all? Think about how much a simple piece of information is encoded.

Let's pick this very blog as an example (and I get a little technical here, so please bear with me - it's relevant to the point I want to make.) To be able to read this blog, you must first know English. That language itself codifies so much meaning, so I can use building blocks called 'words' without having to explain the meaning behind each. I use words as a layer of abstraction over meanings and concepts.

Then there are the obvious technological features: if an alien being were to understand my blog, he/she/it would need to locate it from the alternating pattern of 1s and 0s in magnetic form from the platter of a hard-disk by feeding it the right combination of electrical signals, encode the stream into ASCII (or lately, Unicode), understand HTML, and finally ascribe meaning to it using a language which we call English. Compare this with hieroglyphics etched on a wall, many of which are pictures, not text, that a later civilization has been able to (at least partially successfully) interpret.

So, my question is, how much of today's information would tomorrow's a later millenium's civilization be able to decode? Couple that with hard numbers: every time I take a digital photograph, I am creating millions of bits of information. There are billions like me, taking billions of such pictures per nanosecond. By making information easy to create, we have empowered a whole generation to keep creating information with no limits, no boundaries. Old information does not go away or get recycled, like old paper does.

There is no Law of Conservation of Information, so theoretically, there is no limit to the amount of information humankind will create. If the proverbial million monkeys on a million typewriters can generate the works of Shakespeare in a million years, is there a holistic summary that might come out of all the junk we are creating today, including this blog?

Are we those monkeys, and if so, who is Shakespeare? And more importantly, how will our children know that they are looking at the entire published works of Shakespeare when they see it all?

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Douglas Adams, the Apple Macintosh, and Microsoft Word

Imagine, three of your favorites coming together in one newsworthy item: Douglas Adams, his love for Macs, and Microsoft Word bashing. :)

On alt.fan.douglasadams, KÃ¥re today posted an article by Douglas (from MacUser) on his pet peeve about Microsoft Word (don't we all have one ... or perhaps, more?) The absence of smart quotes apparently annoyed DNA quite a bit, and it's a humorous piece (if that wasn't obvious from who the author was). Go read the full article.

Here's a choice passage: it's the bartender talking to Douglas.

"One of my regulars - chap called Fred, perhaps you know him, little wizened grey-haired fellow, about thirtyish - told me he'd been using Word 1.05 for two years before he discovered that you could search for carriage returns and tabs after all. He just thought they'd omitted it out of spite. But no, it was in there alright. It was even in the manual. Just not so as you could find it, that's all. It was his brother Jim as discovered it. He was doing three month solitary at the time. 'At least give me something to read,' he pleaded with the warders."

"Heartless brutes, they gave him a Microsoft Word manual. He was a broken man at the end of it, but he did know which page the Special Characters search routines were on, as there's not many as can say that. It's an ill wind."

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