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Feb. 23rd, 2011

computer

Data Migration

I decided to move my LiveJournal blog over to my own server, to have more control over my data.

You can find it here: http://words.tev.net

Maybe I will even update it now and then!
Tags:

Oct. 29th, 2010

experiment

Morning thoughts

Often, random thoughts occur to me in the shower.

This morning, I was thinking - "do any Roman Catholics actually believe in transubstantiation?"

If they do, it's a pretty simple test scientifically - test the wafer before and after it enters the body.

You have to take a DNA sample from the ingester to eliminate contamination, but should be an easy test to see if the starch transforms into human DNA, specifically that of Christ. Ditto for the wine.

If it doesn't stand up to a simple test, what possible rebuttal is there?

If most Roman Catholics don't actually believe it (and probably many don't even know what the word "transubstantiation" means), then what does that mean about their beliefs as a whole? Isn't communion a cornerstone?

Of course, the overall problem with that is I'm applying logic to religion. ;)

Jun. 23rd, 2010

dreams

Google Dream

Dream last night:

I am driving through Westboro with some friends, and I see the Google headquarters there.
It is a moderate-sized building made of tan brick.
"I've always meant to stop in, I drive by all the time," I say. "C'mon, let's take a tour!"

We walk inside. To take a tour, I have to sign my name at the security desk. They already have my signature on file, so just signing my name verifies my identity. They give me a visitor badge.
The interior is kind of like a museum, very open. Rather than have offices with doors, most people have a desk in one corner of an open room that has open doorways to adjacent rooms.

I look at the map. "Maybe we should start on the top floor and work our way down?"
A security guard gestures to me. "You should start there," he says, pointing to a room.
It seems more like a suggestion than an order, so we go there.

It is a square room with a doorway on one side. Along the wall to the right of the entrance are a series of chairs, like the waiting area at a doctor's office. Straight ahead are a series of windows, placed very high on the wall. They are half-height, like basement windows. On the wall to the left, there is a blocky staircase, no railing, just a series of blocks, leading to a small opening that is carpeted. The rest of the room is empty.
I sit in one of the chairs and wait. I realize that this is a line to wait to meet Eric Meyer, who is the head of Google's UI and CSS department [in the dream, not in real life]. People are treating it like going to see the Wizard of Oz or something, they are all preparing the question they will ask. David Evans in there, he is excited, he turns to me, querying "what are you going to ask?" I say I'm not sure yet.

Gradually the line moves along. I watch people crawl out of the little hole, down the stairs, and out of the room, then the next person goes up the stairs and crawls into the little hole. It's carpeted to act as padding so you don't hurt yourself whacking your head or arms on the edge of the rectangular opening.
When my turn comes around, I go up the stairs and through the little doorway. On the other side is a good-sized office. Eric Meyer sits behind a mahogany desk. I hand him a scrap of paper I've been doodling on.
"Oh, you already know CSS," he says after looking at the piece of paper, "let's play a game, then."

We enter some kind of virtual reality world, I don't remember how. I am flying a plane of some kind, leading a squadron of planes against Eric. He is a Red Baron of sorts. He's very good, flying towards the sun, then diving back down, then looping back up towards the sun. It catches most of my squadron by surprise, and he shoots them down. But I anticipated it, and riddle his plane with bullets. It is still falling, crumpled into a ball, and I keep shooting it as it goes down. I am laughing, not in a mean way, but with playful exuberance.
I exit the game, and somehow I am back in the waiting room. Eric is on a gurney, being wheeled out by paramedics. Somehow shooting him in the game has wounded him in real life. "Oh, I'm sorry," I say, "I didn't know!"
He coughs and waves me off, "don't worry about it," he coughs again, "you only winged me." They wheel him off.

I'm not sure where to go next, so I wander through Google, wandering through different people's office areas.
Then I hear a click-clack sound. It sounds like a old-fashioned newsroom. I follow the sound and it leads me to an old-fashioned office door, wood with a frosted glass window. Gold lettering on the window reads "Typewriter and Fax Department". I open the door and go in. There are a couple rows of electric typewriters with people typing away on them. There is also a large device, half the size of a refrigerator, that buzzes and clunks. I realize it must be a fax machine. I also realize that a fax machine this old can only accept typed pages, and that is why they have the typewriters.

There are a few people gathered around one desk, and a woman is just finishing typing something. She reads off a number. "Wow," says another woman, head of the department, "that's twice as fast as I can type! Everyone, welcome our new employee!"
They are tryouts, where people can show of their typing skills for a chance at a job with Google.
There are a few people waiting to take their turn, at the end of the line, next to me, is an old woman, maybe 80 or 90.
She is there to try out. She is clutching a map and a thermos. She is wobbling a little, so she sits down at a school desk, one of the old ones where the chair is bolted to the desk with a metal arm. She sets down the map and the thermos. I can see the map, showing a red dot in Winslow, Maine. I realize this is where she is from. I mean to tell her that I was born in Waterville and went to high school there, but I never get around to mentioning it. It is her turn, so I help her up. She takes the lid off her thermos and pours some liquid into it. It is cool, clear water. She takes a sip and offers me the plastic cup. I take it and take a large sip. It tastes a little off but is very refreshing. She dotters up to take her turn at the typewriter, and I wander off down the hall.

Then I wake up.

Apr. 1st, 2010

experiment

The Future of Healthcare

Based on what's going on in the medical community, a series of consistent themes emerges that provides some insight into what the future of medicine will look like.

Here are some things rising to the top of the discussion of future medicine:

Digital Records


Currently, this is kind of a mess. Some hospitals and doctors can share patient records with each other, some can't. The ones that CAN often don't. Usually the patient is cut out of the equation entirely, and will only see their own records if they demand to. There needs to be legislation about this soon, to standardize secure digital medical records and require all health care providers to use them, and make them more easily available to patients. It also needs to ensure patient privacy and make sure insurance agencies won't take advantage, while at the same time perhaps making anonymized records more available to researchers. Shared data can be incredibly powerful, and increase knowledge about human health as a whole.


Cheap Sensors


Inexpensive sensors can provide continuous monitoring where previously a patient would have to come in and only get a single measurement.

Doctors seem to be both excited and terrified by this prospect. This is unfamiliar territory for many of them. They are used to seeing, for the most part, single data points when a patient comes in for care. They aren't sure what to do with more data, because they may not have a very good grasp of what is "normal". They are concerned that more data will reveal "false positives" where, for example, someone's blood pressure may spike several times a day - this might be normal in a healthy person but doctors fear it might be mistaken for high blood pressure.

This is why doctors don't like full-body MRI scans. They are presented with a vast amount of data, and there may be numerous things that appear to be wrong that are actually fine for that person. They don't have any easy way to sort through these false positives, so they'd rather not use the system at all.

This is a short-sighted view. As I like to say, more data is more fun. What if doctors had yearly full-body MRIs for all their patients, done as part of a yearly check-up? The vast amount of data not only for a single patient but all patients globally would provide huge insights into human health, and what is normal for each person. As we get more data, our methods of parsing it become more refined, software becomes more sophisticated.


Cheap Labs


Right now labs are slow, expensive, and generally inaccessible to consumers. Doctors are afraid to order tests because of cost, and afraid not to order tests because of lawsuits. But new tests are being developed that are not only better, but cheaper. What used to take a large lab might soon be a small piece of paper, or a cheap "lab-on-a-chip". Instead of sending samples to a remote lab, tests can be done directly at the point of care, or even remotely, administered by the patients themselves.

Genetic Testing


Along with cheap labs comes the possibility of cheap genetic testing. The Army already has a portable genetic analyzer, used mainly for identifying bodies on the battlefield. Currently most doctors wouldn't know what to do with genetic data if a patient gave it to them. But as the process gets cheaper and faster, genetic testing may become a standard part of medical care. Databases of genetic information cross-referenced with conditions and gene mapping will make this genetic data more and more useful. Maybe science will even begin to understand epigenetics.

Cellphones


Cellphones are one of the most prevalent pieces of technology in the world. Each generation is more sophisticated. Essentially, nearly every person either owns or has access to a tiny portable computer connected to a global network. Hospitals will take advantage of this, and be able to combine the use of cheap sensors, cheap labs, and cellphones, allowing patients to upload medical data directly from home. In poorer countries, mobile care facilitators - not doctors but volunteers - could serve communities with a backpack with cheap sensors, cheap labs, and a cellphone. Diagnostics could either be run directly on the cellphone, or data could be sent to a server and results returned to the cellphone.

Decentralized Medicine and Preventative Care


All of this inexpensive and networked medical technology also means the individual has more control over their own health care. Feeling sick? Pop over to CVS and pick up a lab-on-a-chip test that tests for all known viruses and bacteria. Then either view the results locally, or transmit them to your doctor.

Some doctors fear this, believing that individuals cannot handle their own care, that they will freak out over every piece of data. Undoubtedly, some people will obsess over this, but you can't let a few hypochondriacs ruin the entire concept of personal care. The vast majority of people will benefit from greater patient education and more access to their own health care data.

Currently, the medical system is a reactive one. When I go to my doctor for an annual checkup, he is literally uninterested if there is nothing wrong with me. If there is nothing wrong with you, there is no problem to solve, no puzzle to sort out, so nothing that interests the doctor. But with probability maps from genetic testing and increased focus on national health, this may shift to a more proactive view.

Regenerative Medicine


This is just starting to take off now, but has already made impressive strides. It is currently possible to grow a replacement bladder for a patient. Replacement muscle tissue and hearts are in the experimental phases. Through collagen lattices and cloned tissue, it may soon be possible to replace most internal organs with healthy new ones grown in a lab. And since they are based on the patient's own genetic material, they don't have the same problems with rejection that make organ donation so tricky.

It may seem like science fiction, but research is already underway, with lots of military funding - the goal eventually being that a soldier who comes home with a leg blown off could simply grow a new one.

And after that, the next logical step is to get the body to do its own repairs, or assist the body in this, so that instead of involving a lab, a patient's own body can repair damaged organs.

Inkjet Printers


Ok, so this one isn't directly obvious, but indirectly it's amazing the applications medical researchers have found for standard off-the-shelf inkjet printers. The aforementioned replacement organs can essentially be PRINTED, layer by layer, from a standard inkjet printer. And those paper lab kits can also be created on an inkjet printer. This means that the technological advancements could end up being extremely cheap to implement.

Suspended Animation


I had to mention this one after seeing an incredible TED talk on it. Researchers are currently in human testing phases of using a normally toxic gas in very low doses, along with cold, to basically put people into a state of suspended animation. The patient's body slows to a point of almost stopping, like a sort of hibernation. In this state, the patient needs very little oxygen and can survive damage or blood loss that would normally cause fatal shock. And revival from this state is simply a matter of putting the patient into a warm room and letting them "thaw out". We may soon see all ambulances and emergency crews equipped with this, allowing them to basically "pause" critical patients so they can get to the hospital to get treatment.

Dec. 11th, 2009

book

nook initial impressions

My birthday present to myself arrived yesterday: the new Barnes & Noble "nook" ebook reader.

As you probably know, ebooks and ebook readers have been a hobby of mine for a while now. I'm rather passionate about ebooks. So of course I had to get a nook to see how it stacks up.

nook

Design

The look of the nook is great. The front is smooth slightly glossy plastic, with a matte finish on the buttons on either side of the screen. The back is a slightly rubberized plastic that feels comfortable in my hand. The weight feels good, and it feels sturdy overall (though I wouldn't want to drop it). The buttons don't have seams, and have a nice click to them. The buttons are on both the left and right edges, so it's good for left or right handed use.

The side buttons do have one major flaw in my mind - they are reversed. When I hold the nook, my hand is comfortable gripping it by the side, with my fingers on the back and my thumb resting on the edge. But my thumb rests on the upper button, which is the "previous page" button. To go to the next page, I have to bend my thumb down every time, which is uncomfortable, or hold the nook by the bottom edge, which is also less comfortable. Lying on my side in bed, I found myself holding the nook with one hand and tapping the "next page" button with my other hand, obviously not ideal.

This button issue isn't a dealbreaker, but it's such a basic error it makes me wonder what sort of person tested it - after holding it for one minute, my conclusion was that the "next" and "previous" buttons should be switched.

The screens

The e-ink screen looks great, same e-ink technology as in the Sony and Amazon devices. It has a gray tone to it, nowhere near as white as paper, but is very easy to read. No built-in light source, so you'll need a reading lamp or some sunlight, same as a paper book.

As with other e-ink screens, the screen takes about a half-second to refresh, and does it with a sort of a blink, which some people find offputting. I've never had an issue with it, I find e-ink very easy to read from.

The nook's particular hook is the second screen, a small LCD touchscreen. I found the initial brightness of this screen way too high, especially next to the non-light-emitting e-ink screen, so I turned the LCD way down, to 7% brightness.

This screen is an interesting workaround to the slow refresh rate of the e-ink, and not cluttering up the device with lots of buttons, like the Kindle. In fact, all three major ebook makers have their own solution for interactivity: Sony has a touchscreen surface overlayed on the e-ink screen, which some say makes the screen harder to read; Amazon has a physical keyboard; Barnes&Noble has the small LCD touchscreen.

The LCD looks good, but is somewhat unresponsive. Using it as an on-screen keyboard works fine, but scrolling vertically through the iPod-style menus is clunky. As an iPhone user I am used to the buttery-smooth scrolling of the Apple device, in comparison the nook's touchscreen is barely working. It seems more like a software issue than a hardware one, so I'm hoping they can make it respond more smoothly with an update at some point. Right now though, it's very clunky.

The store

The B&N store on the nook is obviously a first attempt. It's not terribly well-designed, and in a lot of ways seems broken.

First and foremost, navigation is bad. Just going to "ebooks" gives a result something like "Page 1 (items 1-20 of 30,000)". While I'm sure B&N wants to show off how many books they have available, putting them all in one long list (with no apparent order to it) is absurd, who is going to page through thousands of screens of random books?

Going to a category isn't much better, I went to "reference" and the books there seemed to be random as well, there were things like "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" in there. In fact, most of them seemed to be fiction, not reference. So whoever categorized these (or wrote the category code) did a terrible job.

I think right now browsing the store is pretty unusable, I didn't try searching for a specific book, but that'd probably be the best bet for locating content.

Overall

The nook is a nice little device. I really like the feel of it and the design, aside from the flaws mentioned above. It seems like most of the issues are software ones, so it remains to be seen how aggressive B&N will be in doing updates. If they step up and work hard, they could rival Amazon. If they sit back, I think they're going to lose out.

nook

Oct. 27th, 2009

driving

Car Sensors

Why don't modern cars have more external sensors?

Sure, some minvans have backup sensors so it beeps if you're about to run over little Timmy, but it seems like sensor technology hasn't gone anywhere in a long time.



Why not a series of like 8 sensors arranged on the outside of the car, with a range of like 4 feet or so? I'm not sure the best sensor for the job, perhaps a laser tape measure type device, it just needs to return a reasonable directional distance to large objects.



This would give you a rough sensor sweep of the car's immediate surroundings.



You could sort of visualize it in a force-field style display.



If a car or other object triggered the sensor's proximity radius, the indicator would change color.



On the dash it would be a simple display, much like the door-open indicator on some cars.



This would not be a replacement for mirrors or anything, you would not rely solely on this indicator, but it would be an added safety mechanism to alert you to pay attention to that area, in case you didn't know there was a car there.

Another similar idea, but one that might be more distracting, would be a roof-mounted camera system that would provide a composite overhead view of your car and the immediate surroundings, so you could tell at a glance if there were a car in your blind spot.

Oct. 21st, 2009

money

On World of Warcraft and the Stock Market

Yesterday I sold some Apple stock I had purchased. It worked out well for me, I bought it when the economy was shaky and the stock market in shambles, it cost me $85 a share. Now, a year later, I sold it for $199 a share. So I made some money, not a huge sum, maybe $3K after taxes.

It got me thinking about the nature of money. After all, what had I done here? I had clicked a mouse a few times, waited a year, and clicked a mouse a few more times, resulting in almost doubling my money. It was very little effort, and a very abstracted process.

Now here's the thing - the amount I made was based on the amount I had initially. If I had millions, I would have made millions. It had nothing to do with skill or work, it was based entirely on what arbitrary amount of money I had to begin with. There is a sort of snowball effect that happens, the more money you have, the easier it is to make more money.

It reminded me of playing World of Warcraft three or so years ago. When you start playing in WoW, you have a low-level character. Tasks you do and enemies you defeat don't give you a lot of cash, so you earn copper and silver. For a low-level character, getting a gold piece is a big deal. I never played long enough or hard enough to build a high-level character, but built up to something like level 14 and ended up playing the auction house.

The auction house is essentially like an in-game eBay - you can put items you have found up for auction, set a price and an end time and then people can bid on them. I used a plug-in someone had written (legal in the game) which monitored the market, and tracked the going rate for each item. I would then look for items selling below market value, buy them, and sell them for a competitive but profitable price.

Out in the wilderness, my character had to fight monsters and save up meager coins to buy slightly better weapons. At the auction house, a little buying and selling made easily more profit than fighting monsters. And the more money my character had, the easier it was to get more. There was a leveling-up effect to trading - at first I could only afford to buy and sell cheap items, but then finally had enough cash to buy and sell some more expensive items. Eventually I moved from selling things worth silver to things worth gold. Suddenly, the gold that was hard to come by in the wilderness was flowing to my character with relative ease.

I eventually stopped playing WoW, as it was eating up a lot of time. But it had been fun while it lasted. What it had done is made true for me an old adage, "the rich get richer".

Money these days is such an abstract concept - with direct deposit and debit cards, we often never even see it in physical form. What's interesting is that there is little difference conceptually between money in WoW and money in the real world. They are both abstract representations on a computer somewhere. The difference is that people have agreed that virtual dollars can be exchanged for goods and services, while virtual WoW gold cannot. Even that's not entirely true, black markets exist that sell WoW gold for dollars, allowing conversion of one virtual currency into another.

I think this is part of the mentality of the rich, being able to deal with money as an abstract, to treat the system as a game. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, not poor but not rich either. I can think of an investment as a game, but at the same time, I have a mortgage to pay every month, and food to buy.

People are always talking about some "get rich quick" scheme, but the sad truth of it is that most of the time, "get rich quick" schemes only work if you are already rich. Even if you can double your money, it doesn't amount to much if you only had a small amount of money in the first place. Meanwhile, someone who is rich can earn an 8% return on an investment and make more than a pile of poor people do in a year.

It's a disparity that's a side effect of the capitalist system as a whole. The thing is, poor that decry this system usually support it at some level, because they see themselves as someday achieving wealth and getting their "piece of the pie". It is often a complaint of envy, not of justice. They don't object that the rich exist, they object that they are not rich themselves.

I find the whole thing very interesting, and sad in some ways, but don't have any solutions to offer. Alternative systems like communism tend to fail for the same reasons, corruption and the rich using influence to get richer.

Anyway, just something I was thinking about the last day or so.

Aug. 3rd, 2009

movie

Movies coming out soon that might be good

I Sell the Dead
8/7/2009
Grave robbers discover that selling the undead is very profitable.

How did I not hear of this? It looks Awesome!


District 9
8/14/2009
Aliens land in South Africa and become an oppressed minority.

Based on the short film Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp, which was awesome. Should be good.


Inglourious Basterds
8/21/2009
An elite team is dropped into Germany to kill as many Nazis as possible.

Quentin Tarantino does WWII, so expect lots of swearing and blood and violence, and probably a good time. Also, yeah, it's misspelled - on purpose, apparently.


World's Greatest Dad
8/21/2009
A poetry teacher cannot relate to his son.

Actually looks pretty good, a dark comedy written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.


9
9/9/09
Post-apocalyptic world where living toys try to fulfill a mission.

Looks awesome, I am so there!


The Invention of Lying
9/25/2009
In a world of only truth, one loser discovers the secret of lying.

Looks Ricky Gervais-y... kinda like Ghost Town, pretty good but not amazing. But worth a watch.


A Serious Man
10/2/2009
A man is overwhelmed by daily life.

Looks good, Cohen Bros doin' their thang.


Whip It
10/9/2009
A quiet, shy girl finds an outlet in roller derby.

Dunno about this one, but it stars Ellen Page and is directed by Drew Barrymore, so there's two reasons I wanna check it out.


Where the Wild Things Are
10/16/2009
A movie adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic.

Looks great!


The Box
10/30/2009
Based on a Twilight Zone episode, a couple is given a box with a button in it, and told if they push the button, someone they have never met will die, and they will be given a million dollars.

I dunno... was a cool Twilight Zone episode, but dunno if this looks as well written. Might be good, though.
Tags:

Jul. 7th, 2009

computer

The Tools I Use

If anyone's curious, here's a look at the development tools I use, day-to-day.

I use a Mac, so these are Mac-based, but many are also available for Windows.



MAMP

Free all-in-one webserver package, instantly sets up Apache, MySQL and PHP. Great for developing locally without all the hassle of trying to build a server yourself.

Zend Studio (plugin for Eclipse)

Eclipse, in my opinion, is slow, bloated, and lacking in some basic features like soft text wrap. Why use it as my primary IDE, then? PHP debugging. Zend Studio (which used to be a nice stand-alone IDE, but is now just a plugin for Eclipse) has a set of tools for runtime PHP debugging which in my opinion are essential to PHP devlopment.

TextMate

Although I work on big projects in Zend Studio, when I just want to try something out, I'll often fire up TextMate. It's small, quick, and pretty full-featured. Some people I work with prefer BBEdit, which I'll admit has more features than TextMate, but TextMate feels cleaner and... I dunno, more *modern* to me.

Photoshop

For graphics and occasional mockups.

Navicat

For working with MySQL, I love, love, love Navicat! If you are currently using PHPMyAdmin, ditch it and switch to Navicat. You won't regret it. I've heard a couple people complain that Navicat's icons look too "Windows-y" - good god people, get over it. They look fine, and it's certainly a lot better-looking that PHPMyAdmin. If you're not sure, Navicat Lite is free and does most of what the full version does, try it out!

Omnigraffle

Good for whipping up quick page wireframes and site flow diagrams for requirements documentation. Believe me, that doesn't sound like much, but it's important and the clients love the clean diagrams produced with it.

StarTeam

If I had my druthers, we'd probably be using SVN or something more industry-standard, but it's what we use at work, and someone else maintains the server so I don't have to, which is reason enough to use it. I have no desire to become a sysadmin. Like Eclipse, the StarTeam client is also Java-based, meaning it's slow and bloated. Plus Borland dropped Mac support, so it takes some hacking to get it working on the Mac, though once it's set up it works fine. There might be better packages out there, but StarTeam gets the job done, and that's all I need out of a source control system.

Parallels with Windows XP
IE Collection

For IE testing. IE Collection is great, lets me run IE6, IE7 & IE8 side-by-side.


Firefox

Although I test in multiple browsers, Firefox has great plugins available that make it my favorite browser for web development. I tried Webkit for a while, but the better plugins for Firefox brought me back.

Firefox plugins:

- Download Statusbar

Better display of download status than the standard window on Firefox.

- Firebug

A super-useful suite of web development tools. Essential!

- Screengrab

Take a screenshot of the entire page, regardless of scrollbars, automatically.

- Web Developer

A handy collection of tools for web development. Essential!

- Zend Studio Toolbar

Hooks into Zend Studio, allowing PHP debugging with the click of a button.


There are other apps I use now and then, but these are the primary ones that I use every day.

Jun. 24th, 2009

project

Edison vs. Tesla

"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."
Thomas A. Edison, Encyclopaedia Britannica

"Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration."
Thomas A. Edison, Harper's Monthly, 1932


"If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search... I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor."
Nikola Tesla, New York Times, October 19, 1931

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