I am that alien.

"Somehow the competing teams of aliens can see our world through our eyes when they want to, and can influence our actions by ramping up or down on our desires. They can't control our specific actions, just our general propensities, making us, for example, hungrier or hornier or lazier than normal whenever that would be a strategic advantage in the game."

Scott Adams - Sci-Fi Plot


Human beings can comprehend mathematics. At some point, we discovered the triangle -- a brilliant, reusable piece of beauty and simplicity.

Why do we still build tables with four legs?

Cartoons and comic books.

The curiosity of my coworkers at ThoughtWorks often leads to a number of healthy and interesting debates, which often occur in the pub, on internal mailing lists, and anywhere in-between. One such discussion, of the mailing list variety, revolved around the topic Chinese economics and politics. Inevitably, the recent Angry Red Dragon issue of The Economist was mentioned in passing as participants shuffled over the topic of general Western opinions on China.

Most people I know were furious when they saw the Angry Red Dragon. I was elated. For years, I've taken to ribbing any of my friends who read The Economist; although the writing is entertaining, the topics various, and the grammar impeccable, I still find it offensive that such a magazine sells itself as "news" for the same I reason CNN disgusts me. It's not news. It's entertainment. It's a comic book.

Fox News has been getting it right for years now. Kurt Vonnegut's obituary-thing is the perfect example -- no one at Fox is pretending they're running a news channel. It's a cartoon and that in itself is not entirely disagreeable. No one I know would take such material at face value.

Other sources of information, though, seem to slip through this filter simply because their content is well-delivered and free of lunacy. Why is this the case? Even if we find a media outlet without opinion or agenda, what on earth makes us think they could possibly collect all the facts or perform a complete analysis?

Although we all ask ourselves that exact question and respond with "of course that's silly! I always question everything I'm told," sometimes it's not so obvious. As human beings, we're remarkably fallible. I've read Economist articles in the past and forgotten, mid-stream, that the material I'm consuming is For Entertainment Purposes Only. It's an easy rule to forget -- we all do it -- and there's nothing quite like thinly-veiled racism (or other abhorrent messaging) to remind us that media we consume is largely trash.

We need more onomy.

The other day I was listening to assorted tracks in my reading room while enjoying a glass of scotch and puttering away in the codebase of my current project. I was feeling chipper, the sun was shining. On Saturdays I'm willing to play the music loud enough to feel engrossed and I was looking for a bit of a beat in most of what I was listening to.

I own an iPod Video, and if we discount the fact that Winamp seems to be the only reliable way of getting data on and off the device, it does a satisfactory job of playing music. Selecting music, however, is a chore. None of the predefined labels in the iPod taxonomy (or the taxonomy of any other music player I've ever used) satisfy my needs: Artist? Genre? Just what is a "genre," anyway? And how do I differentiate between Electronic, Electronica, and Electronica/Dance? Or Folk, Folk/Country, Folk/Rap, and Reggae/Folk?

I'd love to see a taxonomy for music based entirely on well-articulated emotion or situation. That is, the primary detail describing the music would be details of potential consumer environments, rather than details of the musical quality itself. Because music is so notoriously difficult to classify in the first place, I don't see why a difficult, albeit inverted, classification scheme isn't worth a go.

An open-ended tagging scheme would work well for this, so perhaps the folks at last.fm or MusicBrainz have already solved this problem... I don't know. I don't use the internet often enough to pay attention to this stuff. But searching one's own collection for tags such as 'emotion:elated,complacent' and 'situations:alone,underground coffee shop' would save those of us who don't have the energy to invest in memorizing albums.

Such a system would actively encourage group classifications to avoid the obvious potential single-minded environmental appreciation of music stemming from individuals producing this meta-data. But then, these classification parties would tend toward an eventual situation of 'classification party'.

...so maybe it wouldn't work after all. But I still wish UIs for music-selection had improved in the last 15 years.