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Alan deLespinasse
Attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Alan deLespinasse

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Ok! I think it's about time I posted this demo of what I've been working on. I actually made the video back in September, but then decided to get a provisional patent application in before spreading it around. And then for the past few months I've been working on some unrelated projects, but mostly those have served to prove to me that this is what I should be working on.

+Jeremy Brown tells me the video is too long, and I'm pretty sure he's right. I could definitely tighten it up without leaving out anything important, but there should also probably be a much shorter version with less talking.
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That is super powerful and awesome! Can't wait to try using it myself sometime
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Two months since I escaped from Google. I guess I'm overdue for a status update.

The only thing I've actually created is what I'm thinking of as an "interactive wireframe mock". That means it roughly demonstrates the UI concept I have (interactive), but it's not pretty (wireframe) and it doesn't actually let you accomplish anything (mock). It's been quite useful for solidifying my ideas in my own mind, and for helping to explain things to other people. It also proves that certain things I want to do can actually be done in pure JavaScript/HTML5.

One thing I've determined from that is that, in its simplest form, my fundamental idea is workable, but maybe tedious to use for certain interesting, common tasks. I'll probably end up adding some features that aren't strictly necessary, and may make the overall learning curve a bit longer, but make using it more pleasant, and/or make getting started a bit easier. These features would be directly analogous to "syntactic sugar" in programming languages... or maybe it's not even an analogy; I have a feeling this UI is going to end up being Turing-complete.

Anyway, I've also finally admitted that this potential product may overlap whole classes of existing apps that I haven't used all that much, and I'm therefore not very well qualified to design something that overlaps with them. So rather than doing any kind of product development, I'm working on becoming a sophisticated user of those programs. The categories include "signal flow graph"-style visual languages (Max/MSP, Pd, Isadora); music production software with real-time and looping features (Ableton Live, etc.); and fancy video editing and effects software (Final Cut Pro, After Effects).

In other words, my job is to play with fun, creative techno-toys.
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As developer of +Praxis (I found this while searching for some of the things that have influenced it), I'm intrigued to follow where this is going.
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Business idea #1:

The product would be 249 varieties of little slips of paper, priced from 10 cents to $24.90 in 10 cent increments. They would be sold by my company and "Fulfilled by Amazon", making them eligible for Super Saver Shipping. They'd be redeemable for their sale value minus whatever amount makes them barely profitable. When you've redeemed enough, we send you an Amazon gift certificate. Now you can get nearly-free shipping on orders under $25!

It's not clear to me whether Amazon gives enough information to its merchants that this could be completely automated, or if the slips of paper would have to be printed with redemption codes.

Pros: Easy.
Cons: Amazon would not like it.

I think the cons win.
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Alan deLespinasse

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I like to drink strong, heavy, dark beers at any time of year. Apparently this makes me somewhat unusual. What I want to know is: how unusual? And why?

Let’s say there’s a bar that happens to attract a perfectly representative sample of American beer drinkers. Their menu never changes:

Bud Light
Stella Artois
Sam Adams Summer Ale
Guinness Extra Stout
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Newcastle Brown Ale
a good English porter
a good Imperial Stout
Chimay Grande Réserve (blue label)
Doppelbock
Oktoberfest
Hefeweizen
Allagash White
Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Ale

The bar keeps track of numbers, and makes a graph of the popularity of each beer throughout the year. What does that graph look like? I’m sure Summer Ale would have a peak in the summer, and Imperial Stout would have a peak in the winter, but how big are the peaks?

Would it be different in Europe? I assume Latin America and Australia would be somewhat different due to climate and demographics. Not sure if most other countries would be comparable, in terms of drinking culture.

Within a season, do preferences correlate much with weather? Do Boston bars sell more Guinness on a cold, rainy July day than a sunny July day? Do liquor stores in Seattle sell more Doppelbock than stores in L.A.?

And then there’s the reason. I have several theories. Most of these don’t perfectly correspond to the actual color of the beer; it’s more a matter of other qualities that have a loose correlation with color.

1. Temperature of beer. On average, dark beer is (or should be) served warmer than lighter beer (this correlation is heavily skewed by the fact that crappy adjunct lagers have to be served very cold to numb the taste buds). I don’t find this theory very compelling, because plenty of people drink red wine in the summer (though I think there’s a bit of seasonal difference in red vs. white wine too).

2. On average, dark beers are higher in calories, and people don’t want to ruin their beach bodies in the summer. This can’t possibly be the issue for most Americans. How much less Coke is sold in the summer?

3. Some other characteristics of the beer make it more “summery” or “wintery”. Possible characteristics include tartness, sweetness, hoppiness, overall strength of flavor, mouth feel (viscosity, carbonation, “heaviness”), and “fillingness”. Some of these kinda sorta make sense to me, in ways I can’t explain, though I don’t get the “less filling” thing.

4. People just associate light colors with sunlight.

5. Beers are actually seasonal. This isn’t really true anymore. Before modern climate control, weather affected brewing and storage, but these days seasonally-available beers are a matter of tradition, marketing, or demand. Unless you’re making true spontaneously-fermenting lambic in a Belgian cave or something.

6. Pure memetics (acquired biases and marketing, each reinforcing the other, originally jump-started by #5 above).

I suspect it’s some combination of 1, 3, and 6. Or is there something I’m missing?

Just curious. I’m going to keep drinking the dark stuff year round... when I can find it.
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In principle, no.  I think they tend to be in practice (but I've had some heavy natural-fermented Belgians that were both).
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If you think programming tools need a lot of improvement, you should be subscribed to the Alarming Development blog, written by Jonathan Edwards. He generally doesn't post too often, but his latest post and its comment thread are a bottomless fractal pit of interesting stuff to read about.

Don't miss the link to the Kickstarter project that currently has $156,843 out of $200,000 (and which Edwards is highly skeptical of). I'm curious what y'all think of it. There are a lot of other links that I haven't even explored yet.

I've come to see programming tools as the ultimate hairy yak. Yes, I'm unsatisfied with what's available, but even if I'm capable of making something better, it would probably take me so long that I'd have a high chance of dying before I actually get to use it for anything real.

(Hmm, does the same logic apply to my current plan of making artistic tools? Probably not, because I think I'm better qualified to make artistic tools than actual art. And hopefully I'll enjoy it just as much.)
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That's a fine set of arguments to make, and many of them I can get behind. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, Jonathan Edwards' Subtext system falls on the "wrong" side of several of those measures, as well (educational toyishness, speed). Which makes it hard to see depth in the rest of his arguments, at least for me.
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Business idea #2:

Actually more of a public service, but maybe it could be supported by donations.

When I get calls from scams claiming to lower interest rates, I think it's useful to waste their time (decreases their returns, at least). Of course it's not a good use of my time. But considering how easy it is to keep them talking, I almost think it could be automated...

I would have dropped the idea at that point, if I hadn't just been reading about twilio.com, which makes it easy (and pretty cheap) to develop interactive phone-answering apps. They have speech-to-text and text-to-speech. I bet there's some open-source Eliza-like program that could be plugged into it.

In fact, speech-to-text might not even be necessary; just have it say "yes" when they first stop talking. Their first question is always something like "Are you interested in having us lower your interest rates?". Then when you say "yes" they launch into a pretty long spiel. After that you could have it say "Just kidding; I'm a robot. Did you know that you're working for a criminal enterprise?".

Pros: Discourage criminals.
Cons: Might not fool them for long. Not a big money-maker.
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Starting with a valid 4-digit prefix, it's 12 random numbers, 8 multiplications, 15 to 23 additions, and one subtraction (all small numbers)...
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Are there earbuds that are specifically designed to leak more sound than they send into your ears, so you can project that "I'm such a badass I don't care if I go deaf" attitude, without actually going deaf? I hope so. If not, there's a product idea for you. Ideally they'd come with two earphone plugs, so you could secretly listen to Schubert.
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My iPhone headphones usually turn into what you describe after half a year or so (not the dual-channel version 2.0, just the simple louder-on-the-outside-than-the-inside version of your invention). I typically turn them around and jab them in my ears endways (the sound leakage is from the top) so that I can still hear, until +Psyche Loui takes pity on me and buys me a new pair. Want to try one of my old pairs? It's happened several times now.
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    EECS, 1990 - 1995
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