Forgive me for any typos and errors for this posting. I’m typing this on a screen that is almost vertical so I can barely see it. it’s coach class on Philippines Airlines and of course I’m wedged behind the only person on the plane who seems to have spent the entire flight with her seat reclined. It’s ugly. I don’t have a tape measure but I estimate there’s about 12” of space between my armrest and her head. Fantasies of removing said armrest and whacking said head with it have not gone unnursed. But it also gave me to thinking that airlines could perhaps harness their inflight technology to make this part of coach-class travel a bit more bearable: inflight interpassenger communication and negotiation facilities.
It would work something like this. The armrest console and onboard inflight entertainment screen would allow users to send messages to people in contiguous seats, effectively negotiating with them over issues such as seat reclination, bathroom or exercise breaks, cross-seat food-tray handling etc. If nothing else, this could be a courtesy: The woman in front, for example, could inform me she was intending to take a nap in 15 minutes and give me time to plan my computer time more effectively. I could then signal to the people sitting between me and the gangway that at 6.07 PM local time I would like to go to the restroom, allowing them to plan their video watching, or whatever they happen to be doing. They could counter with a proposal that I delay said visit until 6.24 PM local time, to coincide with their beer foray, so we could all leave our seats at the same time. All this information could be accessed by the gantry allowing them to plan their own activities. The whole aircraft could spend the first 30 minutes in the air — before the palliative beverages arrive — negotiating with their fellow passengers and giving each other a bit of warning before they do something drastic. If nothing else it would relieve that post-takeoff, pre-inflight drink ennui.
I have no idea whether this might work, but it certainly makes me feel a bit better about this woman in front, who is now doing that really annoying thing of keeping her seat reclined while at the same time sitting up straight and gazing vapidly around the cabin. She’s probably wondering whether to climb across her fellow passengers to go to the bathroom. Roll on, Inflight Entertainment And Passenger Planning.
Italian computer engineers have come up with software that will crack crossword puzzles, according to Nature.
The program, called Web Crow, reads crossword clues, surfs the web for the answers and fits them into the puzzle. Computer engineers Marco Gori and Marco Ernandes at the University of Siena in Italy say a prototype should be available by the end of the year.
It’s not the first program to solve crosswords, Nature says. That was Proverb, developed in 1999 by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina, which uses a variety of databases to solve puzzles. Web Crow is the first to solve crosswords in any language.
The way it does this is analyse “the crossword clue and turns it into a simple query. Then it plugs the query into the internet search engine Google and uses a certainty score to rank the possible solutions in a candidate list,” according to Nature. It then “uses an algorithm to figure out which candidate words provide the best fit for the grid as a whole”.
Some of the technology behind this could be used for extracting information from the web, or organising schedules and shifts, Nature quotes Gori as saying. And of course he’s careful to stress that he’s not trying to take away the fun of solving a crossword.
From the Give The People What They Want Dept, a survey by Gamer.tv, a provider of online gaming, “as well as compelling and entertaining TV video games programmes”, said it had surveyed more than 1,000 young men and women in the UK and found that “respondents played an average of three hours of computer games a night and over 60 per cent were too mentally and physically exhausted for sex when they finally reached their beds”.
In response to this, Gamer.tv says it has launched Gamer.tv Plus!, a premium online computer games content service aimed at casual gamers, both in and out of bed, offering exclusive editorial content, streaming videos, top-end browser games and access to a thriving casual gaming community through forums and chat rooms. “The fact that there is a trend of casual gaming becoming more popular than casual sex surprised us at first,” commented Chris Bergstresser, CEO, Gamer.tv. “Still, if that’s what the great British public wants then more power to them! Gamer.tv Plus! will cater for all their gaming needs.”
Wired reports on the arrival of flash mobs — “performance art projects involving large groups of people. Mobilized by e-mail, a mob suddenly materializes in a public place, acts out according to some loose instructions, and then melts away as quickly as it formed”.
Last Wednesday a mob turned up at the Grand Hyatt in New York, “walked quietly upstairs to the hotel’s mezzanine and gathered shoulder-to-shoulder around the balcony,” according to Wired. It then burst into thunderous, screaming applause for 15 seconds and dispersed, just as the police turned up in force.
Hmm. Sounds a great idea, depending on what the mobs actually do once they gather, although I would have thought SMS might be a better way to spread the word. Where I come from a mob gathers at the drop of a hat — or cry of ‘thief’ — and usually doesn’t disperse until summary justice has been dispensed. E-mail doesn’t have anything to do with it. Nor does art, come to think of it.