Wednesday, 29 July 2009

History may repeat itself: Mobile apps as the new dektop apps

I may have mentioned this before on this blog but I felt like exploring this topic again. Mainly to record my thoughts and see whether they pan out.

I've felt for a long time that the current state of the internet resembles the mainframes that were dominant back in the 60's, 70's and 80's. Then the pc really took off and we saw a massive shift towards data and processing being undertaken on individual devices local to the user.

I feel the time has now arrived for this switvh to begin at pace. Sure the desktop browsers with google gears and coming support for html 5 makes this possible but in truth I don't think the desktop is where these changes will be most dramatic. I think mobile devices, they're sporadic connectivity and rapidly increasing capabilities will drive this change the hardest.

Developments such as the android operating system and the iphone have proven mobile devices capable and very convenient at a lower cost than you average laptop. All the signs I see indicate that truly useful apps will arrive once the client server paradigm is restored. This time thought it should be with much improved netowkr communication.

That's my guess anyway

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The G1 android trackball and usability

I've got a G1 and I've noticed a few comments on boards where people aren't sure about the trackball which for me acts like the mouse I'm used to on my pc. Since they've done away with the hardware keyboard on newer android models and finding I can type really fast on the G1 but haven't got to grips with the software keyboard I'm concerned the trackball may go the same way.

Thought I'd just show how I first couldn't figure out how to use the trackball but now I often find it in dispensible. During this post I've made a bunch of mistakes. The G1 doesn't have the magnifier the iPhone does so it isn't as easy to move around the text box and fix mistakes. I've found the simple solution is to spin the trackball to move the cursor and get where I want really quickly. It's really easy and intuitive once you get used to it.

Ok, so the fix is to do something like apples magnifier to make this easier and you wouldn't need a trackball right?

Well in my experience with the iTouch it wasn't that simple. I ilke the G1 because it has a lot of ways to get things done. It's got a hardware and software keyboard. It has a trackball a touchscreen and a bunch of buttons. As a software developer I know how easy it is to make a user interface ( a screen, a button, a menu) and provide only one way of working with it. You'd be suriprised how easy this is given that many interfaces must now work on all sorts of devices with all sorts of capabilities and inputs.

The concept used in designing for all this variation is degrading gracefully. That simple means that any interface must work on the simple device with the simplest input. The must be an effective way for the users of each device to get the task done.

Sounds simple enough but you'd be surprised how often that this rule is broken. This is when you need a device with the number of input options the G1 has.

A relevant example is rich text editor boxes. These are the text entry boxes you get that allow you to do word processor type stuff like making words bold, adding headings and justifying paragraphs. I've just done a bit of research on these at work because it turns out the one we use, tniy mce, will not allow an iphone to actually select the text in order to style it up. In fact you can't actually enter any text at all.

This is a real pain since we use moodle and we use this editor throughout our courses to educate people. So you can't use an iPhone to write forum posts or submit text in many of the courses. Not a good state of affairs. The thing is that when I tested with the G1 I found the same problem when using the touvhscreen. I couldn't focus on the editor textbox so couldn't do anything. But then I remembered the trackball and voila I could focus on it use it fine. Strike one for the trackball.

When we looked around for an editor without this problem we couldn't find one. They're all essentially built the same way and have the same bug. I then browsed as many sites I could think of to find editors to see if anyone had got round this. Again no one had. They just reverted to a plain textbox for mobile devices. Meaning you can't tidy up your response and if there are html chunks in the text and you don't speak html you won't really understand the message you're reading.

Bit of a pain, but also part of life. Since things now change so fast this kind of problem is more common. Thankfully the guys I work for care about accessibility so they already had a button that disables the editor and leaves a textbox everyone can use. So the answer was to tell mobile users this is what we'd done so if they wanted to see the rich text version they just had to toggle the button. So it all degrades gracefully.

But we couldn't fix the underlying issue and we don't know how many people have tried and failed to submit things to our site because of this problem. And of course they couldn't tell us because they couldn't write a note and send it.

So I'm not saying we must keep the trackball or hardware keyboard. I am saying that having innput options like these makes sure that I can always get things done. I'm sorry to say that the extreme lack of buttons and input mechanisms in the iTouch put me off it from the start. I knew Ild run into usability problems and I did often enough for it be a pain.

I prefer devices that give me choice that adapt themselves to make the situation easy for me not the other way around.  And on this score I feel the G1 and newer android devices win.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything

Another excellent example of someone just asking 'what's the worst that could happen?' and just doing what they feel is right. I just love being inspired and I like to share things that inspire me.

Lono Tyson – 81 Years Young

Ok, what do you want to be able to do when you're 81. How about run around, play and do everything you did when you were 20. I've seen many people who do this. Here's a video of someone really doing it. Just in case you need a little proof that it's possible.

Danny Rodrigues - Impossible is Nothing

Wow. I just saw a video that covers all I talk about and believe. Just do it. If it's not possible then you won't do it but you'll never regret trying. I found out about it at which has a good background and dicussion. The video is below

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

From recording everything we buy to analysing everything we eat

Wouldn't it be insanely cool if every purchase we made were recorded for us online? Ok maybe not for those worried about privacy etc. But for people like me who just want info available and searchable all the time it would be amazing.
I could have found the recipt for the items I tried to return at the weekend. I wouldn't have had to argue with the cashier about the store return policy. Any time I need proof of purchase I'd know where to go.
It's about more than that though. I'm into health and fitness so I eant to know the details about the food and drink I buy. If my shopping receipts were stored online then I'd also like the details of the items I bought to be available. Clickable links to things.
Taking this further it might become possible to start finding out about these food right there. What calories, vitamins and minerals does the food contain? What if I could drag and drop these items onto a daily planner then I'd know a lot about what's going into my body. More than I can work out right now infact because calories are relatively easy to track but vitamin and mineral consumption. That's a whole other minefield.
So if it were possible to collate my purchases online in one place it would make it easier for me to analyse and understand my own life. It'd take me minutes rather than hours to analyse it all,
So how could this be possible? Well I think the technology is just about thete it's about implementation and will of those involved. A simple way would be having an aggregator site that a store could just email the receipt to. You give th2em your id and they send it. They could also email it to you and then you send it on. Your email could recognise the mail as a receipt and import it into the aggregator for you.
As I'm writing this I am realising the privacy, technical and other challenges involved. But as with any idea I can also see the amazing potential of having such info available. Particularly as all shops are moving online and all transactions are recorded digitally. Most if not all shops have a basic structure that could provide most of what is needed.
Anyway. Just thought i'd put the idea out there

edit 13:52
this is a first. I literally just published this post and found out that Visa is trialling technology that solves part of this puzzle.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Is the future web based or desktop?

I've been fascinated by the announcement of the Google Chrome OS particularly since I'm getting into Android and I wondered how this would affect things. Liam Green Hughes has put out his view that Google OS will be best for business users. I think he has a valid point but in truth I feel that a large number of ordinary users would prefer a web os over the monolith that is either windows or linux.

When I get home I don't want to use a pc. I want to communicate. I don't do any fancy video or picture editing. I just want to watch stuff, play a few games, chat. Stuff like that. Now sure the games aren't the best yet but then when flash gets working on the Google OS if it's not in place straight away then there are a growing number of games that suit.

Either way I just want to get into facebook, my mail, my im or whatever. I don't do much at home that needs big processing power or harddrive space. I may just want to watch tv but that's becoming easier and easier now and some tvs are now being shipped with browsers inside (I forget the reference however).

So my point is that I think more people than you'd think would be happy with a web only os for now. Most people I can think of would be. They aren't tech heads who love working on computers. They just use their computers or laptops as a portal to the web much like most of us use our cars to get to work. We're not all motorheads who live on our cars and don't do anything else.

I also think that if built right then a web only os should actually be able to replicate much of what we know today as desktop applications. Tech like google gears provides offline storage. Rich javascript support provides a lot of the necessary functionality. I would expect a web OS to do a lot of the heavy lifting so that javascript and html etc are left to do the simpler tasks they're designed for. I feel most desktop apps are designed for a paradigm with separate memory processes. Where memory and network resources weren't used particularly efficiently. as far as I understand it most application don't share a lot of their resources, rather they have dedicated sets of memory and cpu processes etc. Even though they often use similar underlying features of the OS. Newer approaches have looked to address these performance hogs.

I've noticed how most android applications are particularly small and light on resources. Of course they have no choice because they couldn't run otherwise. But I've also been reading that Google have gone to great lengths to reduce the work each application has to do to get a result. This is where I think older OS's fail because they're still essentially built from a design that assumes a powerful cpu and lots of memory. They don't focus enough on aggressive efficiency.

I'm really saying that i'm not convinced the current OS's make best use of resources. Hence why we need such well equipped machines. I feel newer OS's with a focus on efficiency of resource will change the way we look at OS's and how we use them.

I also feel it depends on how good the web connection is for most of us. In the UK we just don't seem to be winning the race. We're around mid place or somewhere. Yet I hear of other countries with out our history and infrastructure that are streets ahead already and the gap will just keep widening. I think that's where Google is really talking about growth and the future. in the UK we are but 60 million people. Even the whole of Europe is around 300 million or so. Yet Russia, Brazil, India and China account for around 3-4 billion people and are currently the fastest growing markets (or atleast growing a lot faster than Europe and North America). It's these places where I expect the growth in internet access to be fastest because they just don't have the regulation that we have.

Maybe I'm a cynic but I've heard the idea that the motor car could never take off in todays society. The response would be 'what!!!! youve got something that burns oil, moves at 60 mph and carries 40 litres of flammable liquid and you want to put a human inside it. oh and you want to put 20 million of these on the roads.? Don't be so silly. Health and safety would never agree to it'

Think about it. Wifi is radio. there's all this worry about what the radio waves will do us. If you were to make free wifi available to the entire country you'd need the kind of antennas used for radio. But there'd be massive protests about all this radiation and its effect on us, the environment and whatever.

I'm not saying it's a silly concern I'm just saying that's the state of the developed world today. The emerging countries have none of these concerns because they're poor. They haven't got our riches and thus they're citizens faced death and disease more regularly than we do. So they have something to lose. We don't. We're all relatively well off so we've got more to lose than they do.

so I don't think that europe figures so highly in the next tech boom. We're too busy arguing and holding on to what we already have to take the risk and just get things sorted.

We're also too ingrained in this desktop world. It's what so many people expect and they don't want to change. yet look to india who have built a pc that has no screen. It may be accepted there because most people haven't used a computer so they didn't know they came with screens in the first place.

I keep wondering what it was that lead to Romes demise, and the demise of all the great civilisations. I expect the answer will be that they tgot civilised in the first place. They were tired of all the rush to fix all their problems and eventually stopped trying to fix them. They just wanted things to stop changing. that meant other, hungrier people came and took what they wanted because the civilised people lost the ability to compete and the ability to defend themselves. They just fell behind and got lazy.

I'm hearing a lot of people suggest that those int he developed world might fall behind and I'm wondering it myself.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Digital receipts: Why don't stores offer them

I just had a problem returning a few items I bought from a store all because I didn't have the paper receipt. Part of life you'd say. Well normally you just get vouchers or something right. This store didn't do that. Oh the pain.

Anyway I realised what really erked me. On the web this doesn't happen cos I get a receipt mailed to me. I just store it somewhere. Search for it when I need it and email or print as needed. None of these problems.

So why don't stores do something like this. I get that they'd be worried about forgeries or something but I feel it's easy enough to fake a paper receipt so I'm not sure that's a good reasson. There are probably valid reasons why this isn't is in place but my point is what are stores doing to make it easy for me to prove my purchase. What are these high street stores doing to compete with web stores on this front.

Now I actually feel more confident with a web store cos I have definite proof and I can just archive the recepit and search for it. With paper stuff I just find it burns a hole in my wallet and gets ruined.

It's just so out dated.

So what could stores do to help. Maybe text me the main details. Send me a mail. I don't know. But these are ideas

Friday, 17 July 2009

Pc's have brains but where is the spinal cord and nervous system?

I've been wondering this for a long time. Technology often follows natures lead. In a pc the cpu (Central processor) = brain, GPU (Graphics processor) = visual cortex, where are spinal + peripheral nerves? where are the auditory processors etc they do processing too.

My point being that these are bottlenecks. Nature has seen fit to provide sub processors throughout the nervous system to support the brain in its work. sometimes even bypassing the brain completely. So why don't pcs and mobile phones do this?

Maybe that's a direction they should go. They've already fitted billions of tiny processors on the one chip. Why not just take a few of these processors off and fit them all around a device, connect them all together and work like a cloud?

edit 20090820 13:53
I thought someone else would already have thought about this. Turns out I was right. I've just found out about a new approach called 'Speckled computing' that is looking to break down computing in this way. Just reading about it now so don't know too much. Watching a really interesting video.

Posting here to add to the concept.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Swine flu: How it felt and what I learnt

I went on holiday a couple of weeks back with my Wife. We were all excited and the holiday started well. During the holiday though I caught flu. At the time I just thought it was normal flu. I didn't realise it was probably swine flu since that's the one doing the rounds at the moment and it was the beginning of July. Not your normal time to catch it.

Any way I thought I'd blog about it because for me it was actually a fascinating experience. Literally feeling a virus go through my body from the early stages to the end it not only reminded me of some very recent research I've blogged about but also some of the age old wisdom around illness. I thought I'd describe what happened for the purpose of sharing.

Also if anyone is reading this and is worried about Swine flu I thought it might put them at ease because my experience was of just about the mildest flu I've ever had. Sure I was exhausted to say the least. I just had to go to bed for a few days. I couldn't sleep because I was either too hot or too cold. When it's 30 degrees c and you're freezing you know you're ill. You also regret only packing summer clothes for your holiday. Other than that though it wasn't anything to fear. At no point did it seem dangerous.

I also find that every time I come back from holiday to work, and particularly from illness, that my brain is effectively a slob. I forget how much mental strain it goes through in even the easiest day. Focusing on reports, meetings or development problems. Yet the way I back up to speed follows standard training principles like any thing else. I think everyone realises this but has never quite linked the two together. I'm saying that not only can you think of the brain as being a muscle. You can also train it like one to and that's just what I do when I get back and need to get my brain fitness back up pronto.

How it began
So how did it all start. Given the basic fact that the incubation period for flu is around 4 days. So while I got ill on holiday I could have caught it at any point beforehand and can't tell exactly where I caught it.

Beforehand I noticed a slight rash around my left elbow. I've had this before sometimes on both elbows and have absolutely no idea where it comes from. One idea relevant to this post is that there are lymph nodes in this particular area. the rash seems to spread out much like a puddle and could reflect blood or lymph moving around the area from a central point. given that flu is a virus it would make sense that maybe the virus was first picked up in this region of my body (I haven now idea how it got there) or atleast this is a visual example that's also maybe repeated at other sites in my body that I can't see.

The first thing I noticed when I actually started coming down with flu is how it felt like my body was being invaded. It made me think of the recent presentation I blogged about showing how bacteria have an amazing communication system. I wonder whether viruses have a similar type of system in place.

I noticed I was ill because I was incredibly tired all of a sudden. So I went to bed really early. But then I woke up during the night either in a sweat or feeling terribly cold. Either way I'd been feeling very slight symptoms like a small cough and slight tickly through. But this is when I started to realise I was going to get ill. The strange thing about this flu is that I seemed to go through the normal stages I remembered from prevoious bouts of flu. Like intense sweats, feeling hot then cold. Then having lots of phlegm and coughing. But each stage passed very quickly.

I'd swear I went through the first two stages in the first night. I could feel my lymph nodes swelling and sensitivity to cold made me feel like my body was abandoning all normal functioning and going on a state of alert. Basically diverting all spare energy and resources to fighting the infection.

The basic way flu infects us if by commandeering cells that live in our body, taking them over and using the cells replication process to manufacturer new cells containing the virus. So it's much like a foreign invader trying to take over your body. You're notr in control of this. It's your bodies white blood cells that are your main soldiers doing battle and the lymph nodes are the training and development stations. The lymph and blood network is how these cells get around the body to where they're needed.

The basic way our bodies fight infection is through identify rogue cells, adding a chemical marker in many cases and then the soldiers (white blood cells from the thymus (Killer T cells) or bone marrow (B cells)) come along and literally destroy these marked cells. They either eat the cells or drink their contents. Yep I'm gonna paint a bloody picture here for the fun of it. Of course some of these cells hide themselves in clever ways so they can avoid detection. All this carnage leads to a lot of waste. As far as I know that's where the phlegm comes in. it's your bodies way of getting rid of the things it doesn't want hanging around your body. in colds and flu we get a lot of phlegm in our lungs because that's normally where the virus enters and thus where the fight is fiercest. so the waste accumulates there.

If it sounds like the kind of battle that we read about in story books it's because in a lot of ways it is. Our defense systems do mimic on a tiny scale those events we're used to seeing in movies.

Anyway with this brief introduction you might then understand how I could see the process of getting ill and then getting well as a series of battles going on inside my body. I could tell who was winning by the stage I was at. When I was hot and cold and my senses were all over the place. I was getting extra sensitive to things so foods I normally liked made me feel sick. Things like that. I think this often happens when my body is stressed and it happened in this case. this is when I could tell that my body was throwing everything it had at the virus. At the start I knew it was because it had no real defence. I think it's also why I got so tired. My body is just diverting all its energy to the cause. Leaving little else for other things.

We get ill generally when our body has no answer the the foreign invader. We're actually invaded on a daily basis but our body keeps a collection of white blood cells that each remember how to fight a particular illness. when that illness comes a'invading then the relevant white blood cell copies itself and turfs the invader out. We get ill when we don't have this knight in shining armour so our gates are wide open with no defense so to speak. So the initial work our body does is on figuring out how to defeat the blasted thing. Once it's figured that out it sends the word and and ourt bodies begin making lots and lots of tiny white blood cells that know what to do.

So that's where the first couple of stages come in. The later stages are when our body is winning the struggle and turfing the little oinks out. the only problem is that they've probably got quite far into our system and caused a lot of trouble. The length and severity of this stage really depends on how much of a defence we had in the first place and how strong the invaders were. In this case the invader wasn't that strong and I think my defences were pretty good as well. I've had flu a number of times before so I think my body knew enough about what to do.

I also feel a lot of the symptoms seem to relate to which lymphnodes around your body are affected the most and thus where the fight is being taken to. That would atleast explain why everyone has different symptoms. while in most cases the virus would trek through our body in a common pattern. for some it would take a different route and the battles would be fought at different places. Atleast this idea makes sense, can't prove it though.

I think that's essentially why I didn't have a lot fo the problems I associate with flu such as a sore nose due to constant sneezing. The sneezing being caused by mountains of phlegm ultimatly caused by a lot of invaders being thrown out of my body. I think the virus didn't really get a very strong hold in the first place so there wasn't much of an aftermath to deal with.

As my body began to win the fight I feel my energy levels and body began to return to normal.
I also found the related symptoms began to subside. It felt that when the state of alert was lowered the problems also began to subside because my body was able to divert sufficient resource to fix these wider issues.

From that point I just found that things like mental stamina had to be built up again. I feel very strongly that brain cells and structures that we use all the time are continually adjusting their capacity related to their current load. When we're at work and generally busy they are strong and able to handle demand. When we go on holiday or get ill they don't get taxed any more and quickly lose their capacity. We can regain it just as quickly but we need to train this like we would any thing else.

any way. gotta end there. My wife is waiting outside in the car. Seems like a good place to finish anyway.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Amazon and Synergy = Kindle

hmm, I thought the Amazon kindle ebook reader was just a high tech book. I could see plenty of potential but didn't think anyone with any power had actually had the same ideas.

Well I've just read an article title 'Amazon and Synergy - Kindle' that says I'm wrong. I could see the benefit of carrying around loads of books in a small light weight device rather than as loads of textbooks along with the other similar benefits. But then I wondered why I couldn't do the same with my gphone. Ok, it's got a smaller screen and shorter battery life but I don't see why I'd need an extra, dedicated device.

If, as Felix Torres implies the kindle become a connected device with a community behind it like facebook or even xbox live, then it really would become a fascinating and useful pieve of kit. I also wonder whether Amazon would also consider opening up the party to other players like the iphone and gphone. Sure they'd be letting in competitors and reducing the appeal of their dedicated device, but then they'd also be opening up their marketplace to millions more users.

That's the question for me. Will the kindle ensure the entire approach is locked down to Amazon or will there be some kind of openness in the future.

I wonder.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Confessions of a foodaholic

It just occurred to me some common differences between larger people and thinner people. They're just things that I've noticed but never really tested so they might be complete bull. But they give a little insight into how best the larger people might keep weight off by understanding themselves better. This isn't the only explanation. There are a hundred different reasons why someone becomes large. This could just be one of them.

What I'm wondering is whether thinner people view food on a take it or leave it basis. The majority of those I'm thinking of never really binge on food. They know when they're full and stop eating. The larger people don't really worry about feeling full. Often they stop, but often they don't.Ok, sounds pretty cliche already doesn't it. All I'm really saying is that those with a potential to be larger have a different relationship to food. Some, like myself would consider themselves addicted. So many people wonder what I have to worry about, "you're not fat" they say. Sure I'm lucky. I'm not big now but when I don't play tennis every day. Or walk miles on end I have a real potential to balloon.

Why? Because I love food. If it's sitting there on the kitchen counter. Or worse, next to me on the coffee table or something I'll eat it. 'Why not?' I say. I'l just walk it off later. Problem being I spend so long walking off my snacks I don't always get round to walking off breakfast, lunch or dinner. They just find some cosy spot on my belly to hide it out. It's only when this has gone on for a few weeks or months and a whole family of meals have found their nice little spot on my belly, or maybe under my arms where it's maybe cooler or something That's when the weight really gangs up on me and has its effect.

Problem being. By this point my whole way of life has adjusted to having this little extra bit of food. Something to munch while watching a little tv. Something at my desk. You can see how it adds up. You can also see the relationship I have with food. I love it and it loves me. It's.a real pleasure to me and it's what I associate with fun. Good food.

I feel that those who don't have trouble keeping their weight down just have a different relationship with food. They don't see it as a close friend that's there at all the important moments good or bad. A celebratory dinner or consolation meal. A few sweet biscuits to cheer me up on a crappy day. Lighter people cheer themslves up in other ways. They go for a walk to invigorate themselves. Or as Chris Tarrant would say 'Phone a friend'. Probably the same stuff everyone does but they don't need to bring food along. It doesn't need to be invited to the party.

So in all I'm saying many of us are addicted to food, and being told to ignore such a faithful friend just feels wrong to us. It's just never going to make us happy. So we struggle with the idea that to be thin we must forego one of our biggest pleasures. To drop one of our most loyal friends. In then end we just can't do it.

That's why I'm always active. The more active I am the more I can eat. Cool, I can invite my friends; chocolate biscuit and sugary drink round, even have a sleep over. No probs. I can even take them with me on walks. Sure I still put a little weight on every so often. I'm addicted so I'm gonna slip up every so often. Atleast now I can still eat most of what I want, most of the time. That's what being active gives me.

What I've noticed so often in modern society and slimming jargon. Activity is out infavour of calorie restriction. I'm sorry but that surely encourages people to just feel tired all the time and spend more time in front of the tv not moving. When you aren't eating much you often feel crappy. Particularly try too hard. Then you find activity difficult. The problem comes when you've lost the weight and go back to your normal life. You eat like you used to but don't get back jnto the activity.

You see, eating is a drive driven by hunger and boredom, activity isn't. So you carry on watching the shows you've gotten into since you started your diet and lounge around. There's nothing getting you off your backside. Besides you're too tired anyway.

The funny thing is I normally feel less tired when I'm regularly active. It just sorts my body out for me. So in the end I wish we'd all get more support for being active. Particularly those who are addicted to food. 'Let them eat cake' are the famous words and in this situation I've found that letting myself eat cake without eating too much, learning my limits and generating calorie loss through activity, learning how to lose weight and get things done. I wish this were promoted more because it allows people to accept themseles for who they are. Food addicts, and helps them with practical ways to manage their addiction. So essentially I'ma a fatty in a thin body . That could be my new blog name.

So just to recap I was saying thaat if you want to be in control of your weight you need to understand and accept why you gained it in the first place. You must also never blame yourself. You are who you are. If you're addicted to food it's really hard to manage this because we have to eat to live. No one has to smoke to live or gamble so you could argue that they aren't reminded every day about their addiction. Us food addicts are. Three times a day for most of us. That requires a lot of will power because food is so cheap, readily available and tempting.

So the only way I've learnt how to deal with it is to build food pleasures into my daily life. Where possible every meal or snack is a celebration of food. I don't have too much each meal. - don't invite too many food friends to the party cos I won't get time to chat to them all. I just keep varying who I invite to each meal so I keep up with all these friends. Then, to keep the analogy going I also like some alone time. I do skip a meal every so often. Not anything major. Merely to keep my hunger in check and regain my balance. All to make sure I'm not partying too hard. So now it feels like I'm partying with food all the time I often get tired of the constant change. I want a break from it. So when I don't feel hungry, I listen to my body and take a break.

So I'm living a whole different way and loving it. Let's see how it continues.

Dyslexia: could optical illusions teach us about it?

I've had a theory on a possible cause of dyslexia that I've been developing in my head for quite a while now. Just thought I'd put it down so I've got a record and so I can stand back and see if it makes sense.

The essence of the theory being that our minds are always adjusting the actual image our eyes see and presenting and interpreted version of this to our 'minds eye'. We see words yet our eyes just see blobs of ink on paper or a screen. It's our minds that make the conceptual leap and link things together. This is a learned response and I feel the distorted words or letter combinations that dyslexics see could possbily be due to inaccurate learning of the letter combinations when learning a language in the first place. Thus confusing b's with d's etc. This becoming so ingrained over time as to become hard wired and appear like a natural phenomenon. So hard wired it's very hard to shake.

I then started thinkong of it like optical illusions. These are visual images which when, in one frame of mind, you intepret them as just a mass of colour. In another you see some image such as a witches face in them. The point being that our minds eye rarely sees exactly what our real eyes do. Our brains always interpret the images before we see them. So the brains constant efforts to make sense of anything we see become ingrained.

Once you see an optical illusioon a particular way it's often hard to changwe your view back. It becomes a learned view. There are many other examples of this visual programming and its effects. Notably with African cultures who drew pictures on material and not paper. They were only able to understand an image drawn on material and not the exact same image drawn on paper. Similarly they could recognise an image of an elephant drawn top down with legs out to the side like a plan view, that's some cultures draw aqnimals. But couldn't recognise a 3d drawing of the same elephant on material that looked just like you'd see the elephant in real life.

These accounts really show the importance of our prior skill and experience in helping us understand the present. And how the way we normally interpret things depends in a big way on how we've trained our brains to interpret things.
When I was young I learnt very early on that it was much harder to unlearn something I'd learnt incorrectly and learn the correct answer than to learn something brand new. This meant I always paid a lot of attention to the things I learnt because it took so much less effort in the long run to just learn things correctly first time around.

I essentially feel that some forms of dyslexia may relate to this in so much as the person learning letters and their particular order may not spend enough time, or get enough support, to make sure they learn these things correctly in the first place. Left unchecked these mistakes would effectively become hard wired and thus, very difficult to change. Given the visual processing mentioned above I think it possible that the person may even see in their minds eye letters in the wrong order.

I can think of many examples where sentences are written one way but we all intrepret them another. Often an extra word is added that we miss because we look past it. I can remember specifically during GCSE english. We read a book and solely because the english teacher read the main characters surname as Champion instead of Campion. Eveyone in the class then took his name to be champion. It was a book we all had to read aloud. Everyone read Champion. No one noticed when I read Campion as it should be. So even though this was an assessed piece of work and the main characters name would seem important to me. Everyone learnt to add an 'h' into a word that was never there. This went on for weeks. You can probably see how 20 odd people would never believe me cos it's 20-1 against me. But it was there in print.

The point here being that it could be possible that.dyslexia is a product of our own minds ability to shape what it presents to us as our vision. It's a learned process and so the point at which we're learning letters and words is likely extremely critical. Attention to detail is paramount. So children would need a lot of support from teachers and parents to help them learn things correctly first time. They need people to pose questions to about what's right and wrong and they need people who can check what they're lwarning. Correcting things early on and also teaching them that it really is easier to learn things correctly first time round.

Edit 20090914 14:30
Funnily enough I was just going through some old mails. I came across a mail showing the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's a few paragraphs where the words begin and end with the correct letter but the other letters are all jumbled. I was amazed because I had absolutely no trouble whatsoever reading it. I didn't even slow down. It shows how my mind can decipher the correct meaning from apparent jiberish with consumate ease.

Try it for yourself
fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too

Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno ' t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it

how cell microstructures arrange themselves

Just a quick post to put a link to a fascinating article explaining new understanding about how cell microstructures arrange themselves.