Wired Pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘that’s cool

What does Charlton Heston and crowdsourcing have in common?

It’s PEOPLE!

Seems Microsoft is attempting to “integrate human expertise permanently into our writing tools” with a plug in that leverages crowdsourced labor via Mechanical Turk to create a better spell/grammar checker.

Mechanical Turk is an on-demand workforce platform that leverages the crowd (anyone, anywhere, who’s interested and connected to the Internet) to compete routine, time-consuming tasks that are difficult for computers but easy for humans – commonly referred to as human intelligence tasks or HITs.

Turkers – as the workers on the site are called – are paid nominal fees to complete HITs. Often one group may complete a task and another verifies quality of others.

How does it work?

Soylent is an add-on that leverages Mechanical Turk to copy-edit your document. Currently in Beta, Soylent attempts to “embed human knowledge into a word processor.”

Soylent uses a program design pattern called “Find-Fix-Verify” that splits task into smaller tasks that can be done in stages. Theory is that this decreases costs but increased quality.

Features include:

  • Shortn – Turkers cut out extra words and shorten your manuscript
  • Crowdproof – leverages the crowd to check spelling grammar and provide suggestions about style
  • The Human Macro – allows you to describe the types of changes you want (e.g., change all to past tense), then turn it loose to the crowd

Ask not what the you can do for the people, but what the people can do for you.

While Clippy came with Microsoft Word, Soylent requires payment to crowdworkers.

Costs are descried as “small” or “just a few cents” so it’s hard to really estimate real costs. The creators say it costs about $1.50 per paragraph.

Are you game?

Check out the short YouTube video.

You can join the Beta to see what the people can do for you. If you do, let me know what you think.

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The impact of technology on our lives.

When we think about technology, we often think about all the new things that it brings to our lives. But, Brendan, a student at Chattanooga State Community College, thinks about technology differently. Brendan started wondering about what we may be losing. And in doing so came up with the great idea of archiving sounds that are “endangered” because of new technology.

Dubbed the Museum of Endangered Sounds, Brendan has a set of 18 photos that can be clicked to play the corresponding sound. Depending on your age you may or may not have even heard of some of these sounds. Think about the sound of a modem connecting, the sound of a rotary dial phone, or even…”We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed” (I never liked that lady).

You can almost see the game show now, “Name that Endangered Sound.” The cheesy game show host invites the next two contestants up to the podium, he signals for the sound to play while the two contestants hover their hand over the red plunger button in anticipation. The sound begins…a hand slaps the button…the contestant says…”A busy signal.” Woohoo, 100 points for your team.

Or, how about adding sounds to the oh so popular trivia nights at all the local bars (something us older folks would kill at).

Saving a piece of technological history.

I never though about how if we fail to capture these sounds they may disappear forever. Would loosing the sound of a modem connecting be a horrible thing, probably not. But, these sounds, or lack thereof, tell the story of the digital age; how quickly technology is advancing and with it changing the very noises we encounter in our daily lives.

Think about all the sounds we could collect by crowdsourcing the whole site. What might we learn? Do the sounds that are disappearing differ by countries? What sounds have disappears that we here in the U.S. don’t even know about? Have any sounds come back?

It’s not just sounds that are endangered (and even extinct). It’s things too.

Maybe Brendan needs to create a companion site, “Name that Endangered Thing.” After all, it’s not just sounds that we may be loosing forever, it’s also things. Think about some of the “things” that are disappearing. For example, do you know what this red thing is? We certainly have little use for it anymore now that we listen to digital music.

How about the plastic folding photo holder thingy that you used to add to your wallet? Heck I couldn’t even find a photo of one on the Internet. Which made me think that not only are sounds/things being endangered, depending on how long ago they existed (and we’re talking decades not centuries), they might not even have a presence on the web. And for many younger folks that means they probably never existed anyway.

Think about what other sounds Brendan might add to his site? What other “things” are endangered or even extinct?

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SPOLIER: It’s a spindle for a 45 RPM record (which have pretty much also disappeared).

It appears as a culture we may have a very short digital memory. This morning I was listening to a story on NPR about “new” app books for children. “There’s a whole new way to read your kids to sleep these days” the story begins. It goes on to describe eBooks that read to your kids, highlight words as they are spoken, include animation, and “interactive features” where kids can touch a picture to hear what it is or see it animate and even hear the book in a different language.

I agree that this is a cool idea. Actually back 1989 when this concept first emerged it was cool too. I guess my surprise at the story was how this concept was being portrayed as novel. These eBooks are really “something entirely different” the story continues.

Sure the touch component and portability that comes with iPads is new. That certainly makes these books more accessible, but the concept of interactive books for children that are designed to help them learn to read and interact with characters and objects on the page isn’t. Back in the day they were called “living books.”

One of my kid’s favorite was “Just Grandma and Me” but there were many to choose from.  These living books (CD-ROMs) were totally engaging and even had little hidden fun thing the kids could look for. Of course she used a mouse and by today’s standards an ancient bulky desktop computer (complete with upgraded graphics card I might add). I have to admit that sometimes I just wanted to play with them myself.

I find it interesting that the iPad is being viewed as an entirely new medium. It is revolutionary in terms of mobility and the gestural interface, but we need to give credit to the really smart instructional designers, graphic artists, and programmers who came before and truly conceived of “something entirely different.” Not to mention the fact these people were working with many more constraints in terms of computing, graphic output, and programming tools.

I think I’ll call my daughter and ask her if she remembers these books. My guess is she will.

In the that’s just plain cool department Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale. Try to sing along.


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