May 10, 2009
Sara Watson's invisible car — who needs a cloak?
The 22-year-old British artist (above and below), a second year student in
Drawing and Image Making at the University of Central Lancashire, spent
three weeks spray painting a Skoda Felicia until it blended in with
the parking lot outside her studio.
Self-adhesive PVC; package of eight.
Smallest: 1.25" long.
Largest: 3" long.
Voice Mail, Deleted Forever
Slate and Washington Post columnist Farhad Manjoo's disappreciation of voice mail, which appears on the second page of today's Washington Post Opinion section, makes perfect sense to me.
Long essay short: Only geezers use voice mail. It's how you know you're old.
Here's the piece.
Voice Mail, Deleted Forever
Since March, I've been using Google Voice, the search company's fantastic Web app that gives you a single number to connect all your phones and lets you make rules about who can call which phone when. Voice is packed with many other amazing tricks, but there's one feature that I've come to value above all: The software transcribes voice mail messages into text. Now every time someone leaves me a message, I get it as an e-mail. It's not perfect, of course—Farhad often turns into Bob or Todd. But I'll take it. Voice mail is one of the most inefficient, socially awkward, and least user-friendly means of communication out there, and I'd gladly change my name to Bob, Todd, or Sue if it means never having to sit through a parade of pointless messages ever again.
Google Voice is not the only thing killing phone messages. Every new way we develop of talking to one another—e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, Twitter, etc.—is faster and more useful than leaving an audio message on someone's phone. That's why, according to cell phone companies, lots of people only rare dial in to their message, and some of us have stopped checking entirely. It won't be long till we're all in that camp; the end of voice mail is nigh, and it won't be missed.
The bill of particulars is damning. Unlike your e-mail inbox, voice mail is impossible to skim: If your phone tells you that you've got five new messages, you've got no choice but to listen to at least a bit of each one before you can decide what to do with it. In a user-interface decision that I suspect might violate some subclause of the Geneva Conventions, your voice-mail system insists on making you listen to the same instructional prompts between each message. But wait, is it 9 to archive and 7 to skip, or is that the way the work phone does it? I couldn't tell you, because every voice-mail system seems to have settled on different numbers to activate its main functions. It's an absurdly backward mode of human-computer interaction.
If the voice-mail leavers in your life are anything like those in mine, there's often no great reward for getting through your messages, either. "Guess you're not there. Call me back." That message might have made sense in the days of home answering machines, when the main function of voice mail was to let someone know who you were and that you'd called—both things our phones now tell automatically. On the rare chance that you do get an important voice mail, your first move is to transfer the information to some more permanent medium—say, ink and paper. Unlike just about every other mode of electronic communication today, after all, voice mail can't be searched.
Over the years there have been some valiant efforts to fix voice mail. The most innovative is the iPhone's system, called Visual Voicemail. I remember being thrilled when I saw Steve Jobs show this off: Instead of forcing you to go through a series of audio prompts, the iPhone lists each message on the screen and lets you click on them to listen. That eliminates the torturous interface, but it doesn't do much for the utility of voice mail itself. When I got an iPhone, I found myself shirking off messages even more. Now that I could see who'd left them, there was no point in listening; I could just call back (or not). The iPhone, with its full keyboard, also prompted me to leave fewer voice mails for other people. If called someone who wasn't there, I could click over to e-mail or SMS and send a message that they'd be much likelier to look at.
This gets to what's so magical about voice-mail-to-text apps like Google Voice. They don't try to fix voice mail by improving its interface; instead, they remove it from its interface entirely and let you deal with each message in the same way you go through your e-mail. You can save, skim, and search it, just like you do everything else online.
And don't spin me on how voice mail is somehow inherently warmer and more human than e-mail. Speaking into a dead phone has always seemed unnatural. That's why we stammer, ramble on, leave awkward pauses. I submit that whatever finally makes voice mail obsolete will make us all sound far more human—and a little more polished at that.
Color Soft-Grip Binder Clips
3/4"W with 3/8" capacity.
18 for $2.79.
FixYa — 'Tech support, manuals & troubleshooting for consumers'
I just read about this site today in the latest issue (18) of MAKE magazine, where Paul Spinrad wrote of it, "... countless... nuggets, all organized clearly and ranked by other users. I've seen other sites attempt a similar function without reaching the critical mass needed to succeed, but FixYa seems to have finally done it."
Free, the way we like it.
Blinged-out Rubik's Cube
"This Rubik's cube comes now remodeled and covered in Swarovski crystals."
The stones will not interfere with cube's movements.
All stones placed by hand.
3" x 3" x 3".
[via 7 Gadgets]
Long story short: It's what happened after Elizabeth Godfrey married Bala Musa Bojang and became annoyed because no one could pronounce her new name (the correct pronunciation is Bo-johng).
Here's Mary Pilon's April 15, 2009 Wall Street Journal story with more.
Exactly How To You Pronounce Your Name Again, Miss.... Miss?
Elizabeth Bojang wants to say your name right for posterity.
She always leaves her McLean, Va., home with a tape recorder. She asks people on the street, her dry cleaner and her colleagues at the insurance company where she works to record their first and last names for her Web site, www.howtosaythatname.com. So far in her quest, she has amassed more than 11,000 pronunciations ranging from "Aabha" to "Zwai."
The idea came about after Ms. Bojang stopped using her maiden name, Godfrey, when she married Bala Musa Bojang, her Gambian husband. "I used to dread hearing it," because it was so often mispronounced, says Ms. Bojang. (The correct pronunciation is Bo-johng.)
The Internet has been a blessing for amateur and professional genealogists. But even when surname roots can be traced online, how last names are pronounced still causes confusion, especially in the cross-cultural mix of globalization. In fact, researchers say it is likely that many of our ancestors would be appalled at how their last names are pronounced today.
Suzanne Russo Adams, a genealogist for Ancestry.com, studied the last names of Italian immigrants and found that most who came to the U.S. in the early 1900s changed the pronunciation of their names after learning English and living in the country for a while. Some genealogists find that even parents and children pronounce their shared last name differently.
University of Florida linguistics professor Ben Hebblethwaite (the "th" isn't silent) noticed some of his students have dual pronunciations of their last names -- an anglicized pronunciation for school and a more traditional pronunciation at home.
In general, pronunciations get simpler over time: Consonants cluster, spellings are shortened, vowel pitches altered. Even with these historical signposts, there are few hard-and-fast rules about name pronunciation in English. "It's a mess," Prof. Hebblethewaite says.
Through research, Prof. Hebblethwaite has traced his own surname to Norwegians who invaded what is now Northern Britain as Vikings. "Heaven only knows how they pronounced it," he says.
Pinky Thakkar (silent "h"), an engineer from Mumbai, started the Web site www.pronouncenames.com after she moved to San Jose, Calif., and mispronounced the "J" in "San Jose," not giving it the "H" sound used in Spanish words. Properly pronouncing person and place names proved nearly impossible for Ms. Thakkar and her friends from abroad, she says.
More than 75,000 entries, including 38,000 audio files, have been submitted to Ms. Thakkar's Web site since it launched in 2006. She manages the site with six other volunteers.
Ms. Thakkar is now working on an algorithm that would allow site users to record a name as they heard it and then have the site churn out a proper spelling based on the audio submission. She also is looking to expand the site's ability to provide audio pronunciations based on a user's typed-in guess. For example, if a user heard the Indian surname "Sridharan," but had no idea how to pronounce it, he or she could enter a guess such as "shree the run" and the accurate spelling would appear.
Pronouncenames.com's followers include teachers, graduation speakers, sports announcers and foreigners trying to improve their English.
The new technology could help people such as Vathanyu Chaipattanawanich. The 19-year-old mechanical-engineering student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is regularly greeted by flustered faces when he swipes his credit card, fills out forms and wins awards. He says that although his 25-letter Thai name has been an ice-breaker for years, "everyone calls me 'Tab.'"
Mr. Chaipattanawanich joined the 600-plus member Facebook group, "Nobody Can Pronounce My Last Name," one of several on the site organized around that theme.
Both Ms. Bojang and Ms. Thakkar are a long way from documenting the six million last names recorded in a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau study. But they are gratified that their sites might be helping befuddled speakers.
In a few years, Ms. Bojang's 3-year-old daughter Nyima and 7-month-old son Kebba will head to grade school. Their names are pronounced "knee-ma" and "kay-bah." Ms. Bojang, a former teacher, knows the headaches of a class roster, but is optimistic.
"Hopefully," she says, "the Web site will help them."
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.