Wolfram|Alpha is pretty darn cool, but what scares me is reading about what's under the hood, so to speak:
Today, Wolfram|Alpha uses existing models from science and other areas, then does computations based on these models.
But what if it could find new models? What if it could invent on the fly? Do science on the fly?
That is precisely what NKS suggests should be possible. Exploring the computational universe on request, and finding things out there that are useful for some particular specified purpose.
Great. Skynet, here we come. And we all thought Google was the evil empire in our midst.
I do dig the Schott's Original Miscellany site design, though.
Just saw ThinkGeek's animated Pong tshirt:
Remember that 80s William Gibson story where the cooler-than-thou hacker is wearing a tshirt that is playing a scene from Metropolis?
I guess the future is here already.
Yeah, I know, way too geeky. I'll get back to discussing serious martial arts, secret Thai boxing knee strikes, and the OODA cycle soon.
So my interview on using travel bidding forums like biddingfortravel.com (to get a better deal at Priceline) aired tonight in the San Francisco area, on Channel 7 (ABC):
I mumbled through 30 minutes or so of that interview, and luckily they were able to salvage a few seconds of tape for my portion. I'm just glad I didn't let them down.
You can catch the Flash video here:
Brian Singer, director of the great first two X-Men movies, discusses his work on Superman in Wired Magazine, and reveals that he used to be a wedding videographer:
Amazing, huh? Can you imagine having a big time Hollywood director do your wedding video? It would be like having Richard Avedon do your engagement photos.
Now even the New York Times has gotten on the "multiple monitors increases productivity" meme that's been floating around the blogosphere.
Somewhere, in the PR departments of ViewSonic, Sony, NEC, or even Corning, a flack is getting one heck of a bonus.
Merlin of the great 43 Folders lifehacking site blogged about the recent Washington Post article on carrying too much crap: how everyday people in this modern world feel compelled to tote around all sorts of ephemera as part of their daily routine:
This reminds me of a coder who joined Netscape just before the fall. We'd call him the Batman, because he had a bunch of black nylon pouches hanging from his belt, filled with all the tools a real software guy needs, like a big SAK, precision screwdrivers, flashlight, numerous pens and pencils, spare glasses, etc.
And that was just the things I could see from casually checking out his rig in the hallway (Ok, enough with the innuendos). If anybody at Netscape was equipped to fight the "browser wars" it was that guy. I'm sure if those cool ThinkGeek lightsabers were available in 1997 he'd have one hanging from that utility belt.
I've resisted the temptation to load up my person with gadgetry, but a preparedness mindset and an appreciation for fault-tolerance ensures that I have at least the Ten Essentials (or the ability to procure them) at close hand. Spyderco, check. Wallet preparedness kit, check.
One way around this "don't want to look too much like a dork" problem (Ok, enough with the innuendos) is to leverage ideas from fields where people are supposed to carry around lots of stuff. Like I love my builder rig and nail pouch--I have different setups for general house maintenance vs. makin' sawdust (er, framing). That way I don't have to think before grabbing my utility knife, speed square, vise grips, pencil, etc. Family Handyman did a piece a while back titled Organizing a Tool Belt, great advice for those of us who didn't grow up on a construction site.
Another idea would be to use clothes and rigs designed for undercover cops. The great 5.11 line is a cool example. The 5.11 jackets come equipped with reinforced pockets that zip into the lining and have neato built-in cord management for that Secret Service earpiece look. But of course you could just run your iPod cables through those, I'm sure. (And if you're in a place where dudes will try to kill you for your iPod, you could get the optional holster panel and take care of matters the old-fashioned way).
I remember my first presentation at a big corporate show, and the coach the company hired to ensure us geeks would do ok up on the podium. Like I never thought it would be ok to stick your hand in your pocket when doing a big preso. Or that the size of your gestures had to be proportionate to the size of the room and audience. Kind of common sense now, but it was news to me back then.
So the Yes on Prop 78/No on Prop 79 faction has been sending spam email, at least one a day:
Rather obnoxious. You'd think people would know better.
Which brings to mind--maybe this is a slick reverse-psychology social engineering virus. Maybe the actual instigators of this spam campaign is the other side: the No on 78/Yes on 79 faction, and they're just trying to piss people off by posing as the other folks?
All's fair in love and war and politics, I suppose.
Couple of news items caught my eye in the past few days:
Tennessee Escapee Caught: "Not Agressive Enough to be Real Amway Sellers"
Did you catch the story of the taxi driver who figured out who his prison escapee fare was because they didn't try to sell him on Amway?
"Amway people are all about Amway and when they didn't try to talk further about it that's when I figured they weren't with Amway and were doing something else".
That is just too funny.
And then there's the New York political scene:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton comes up for re-election next year, New York voters may well be choosing between a high-powered female attorney with a wayward husband and a high-powered female attorney with a wayward husband.
Evidently, someone has been reading The Paradox of Choice, figuring it's all in the best interest of the citizenry. Where's the Libertarian Party when you need it?
Just finished Liberty (A Jake Grafton Novel) by Stephen Coonts. Good no-thought-required entertainment, but marred in quite a few places by cliched phrases and just plain wrong facts.
One of the things that really irks me in action-adventure fiction is when writers don't get combat right, either unarmed (martial arts) or firearms. Coonts had one of the villians "setting the safety" on a Glock. That's an error Clancy would never have done.
Just started: The Master of Rain by Tom Bradby. This one is looking to be pretty good, set in 1920's Old Shanghai when it was a Berlin-like city-state with different foreign sectors. Like the Amazon reviewers say, it is turning out to be a modern serial killer vs. honest hard-working cops story, just set with period costumes and accents. Like the autopsy scene I just finished, where the cops and medical examiner discuss the murder of a Russian prostitute by a wacko sex fiend killer, is right out of a CSI: Miami episode.
A few posts ago, I commented on ThomasNet.com's outing of famous people as engineers. You know, the usual suspects, like Cindy Crawford.
Now I find out that Ashton Kucher was a biomedical engineering student at the University of Iowa before hitting the big time (hooking up with Demi Moore should be considered "the big time", shouldn't it?).
You know, lots of folks have the wrong idea about how to get fame and fortune--you really should just enroll in engineering school. Look what happened to William Hung.
Just got out of "Batman Begins". Great movie, faithful to the psycho nut case aspect of the mythos, but martial arts that just plain suck.
What, were Yuen Woo Ping or Sammo Hung busy on some other project or something?
Even George Lucas caught on to the new sophistication of the motion picture audience--since everyone has seen "Crouching Tiger" and Jet Li is finally now a mainstream movie star, he had the Jedi training for the past 3 years and learning some better moves. Hiring a wushu guy to kick things off (groan) as Darth Maul didn't hurt either.
But Batman is just a brawler, or at least Chris Nolan just directs fight scenes that way. Frank Miller's Batman got a lot of the unarmed fighting sensibility right--how does a guy--just some ordinary guy (ok, being a billionaire isn't that ordinary, but meaning no superpowers) defeat bad guys bigger and stronger than himself? Little things like strikes to arm nerve centers (dim mak, anybody?), the kind of stuff you read about in Black Belt magazine, that sort of thing.
We see Bruce Wayne training at the elite ninja academy on the side of some Himalayan mountain (so that's where Sho Kosugi has been all these years!) but don't really get a sense of his martial ability anywhere in the movie.
At least Qui-Gon (er, Liam Neeson in his role as senpai Henri Ducard) hasn't lost his touch with a sword.
Thomas.Net outs famous people you might've not known were...engineers. Gotta come out of the (wiring) closet sometime, I suppose.
But they forgot a few people who would've really put a different face on the industry:
Cindy Crawford was a Chemical Engineering major at Northwestern (on scholarship!) before getting into modeling. She was valedictorian of her high school too. Man, they must've had the most popular Chess Club of any high school in the world...
Teri Hatcher grew up in Sunnyvale, here in the middle of Silicon Valley, and was planning to go into engineering like her mom and dad. Now she's just a desparate housewife. The Merc interviewed her, now that she's famous:
"At the time, my father told me he wouldn't pay for me to go to college to study anything other than mathematics -- something he's now endlessly regretful for," says Hatcher. "He's apologized I can't tell you how many times."
Still, when Hatcher graduated from Fremont (High School) in 1982 -- her class voted her "Most Likely to Become a Solid Gold Dancer" -- she enrolled at De Anza College with the aim of following her parents' wishes and getting a degree in math and electrical engineering.
Then there are some sports types, like the following:
David Robinson, aka "The Admiral" who played for the San Antonio Spurs (NBA)--engineering graduate of the US Naval Academy.
Lee Labrada, pro bodybuilder.
Finished up Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I liked this book a lot--on audiobook with the great George Guidall voicing Mr. Wednesday and Easter and all the fantastic characters, you could really see things as Gaiman pictures them. Of course, this being Gaiman, this would've been really, really better in comic form, but I guess he's all "grown up now".
Next up: Without Remorse by Tom Clancy. This just about finishes up my run through the Clancy fiction stable--that guy better get crackin' on the sequel to Teeth of the Tiger before I run out of tapes...
So I've been catching up on the original trilogy in preparation for a long wait in line to see Episode III. I'm sure these observations have been written about for a long time now, probably even in someone's masters' thesis, but they just struck me when viewing the movies for the first time since the 1990's re-release:
I've already reached my saturation point with all the Star Wars-esque marketing materials from IT vendors. Ok, I know we geeks are the target demographic for the movie, but enough already! Case in point, this email from the Eclipse World conference:
Dear Padawan, Incomplete your training is!
Take the next step to becoming an Eclipse Master at EclipseWorld with more than 50 classes and tutorials that can help you slash your light saber through the open-source platform's most advanced capabilities.
Or, if you are an Eclipse youngling, EclipseWorld can begin your training on these key tools and technology. The event takes place August 29-31 in a galaxy far, far away, in an ancient land called New York City. (Feel free to fly into Mos Eisley, Anchorhead, or JFK, whichever is most convenient for your X-wing fighter.)
At EclipseWorld, a master you will become!
Use the Force to command the special eXtreme Early Bird rate of $775 for the full conference, a savings of more than $400. Even Jabba the Hutt wouldn't say no to a bargain like that!
May Eclipse be with you.
Ugh. And then McAfee invites me to a free screening of the actual movie, in exchange for sitting through a couple of hours of marketing hype (at least they provide lunch). But there are no sessions in Silicon Valley--the closest is Long Beach. Were they afraid they'd get 1000s of people if they hosted a screening here? Probably.
Remember the hit show "thirtysomething"? How it was kind of pretentious, not bothering to capitalize the first letter, kind of an e.e. cummings thumb of the nose at the world? Even the spelling of the show's name fit the demographic--the wine-collecting, beemer-driving sneering yuppie. I can be so sarcastic, of course, because I was too young (and poor) to join that sector of the economy (no matter how hard I tried).
Nowadays, of course, all those 30-somethings are 40-somethings (but they're still "desparate housewives"). I guess the new hipness of 40-year olds (like the hero of the Fire Ice book I just finished) is good news for me, as most of my high school friends (and ex-girlfriends--yikes!) are now in their 40s. My best friend's ex-wife is a grandma now. Is life just zooming by or what?
Finished up Fire Ice by Clive Cussler. I'm sure the author had Halle Berry in mind for the lead female character. It ended up being pretty formulaic--it would probably make a decent action movie but was kind of lacking as a book.
That's one thing that separates authors like Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton from the rest of these guys--the Clancys and Crichtons (hey, doesn't that sound like an old West family feud?) can fill up pages with well-researched techno-babble, where the other guys are using old plot hacks and devices.
Or maybe I need to branch out beyond the "C" shelf at the local library?
Just started Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The prison stuff in this one is reminiscent of Out of Sight, which I had finished before Fire Ice. I really liked Gaiman's work in comics--we'll see how well he can do with just words (and via audio book too) and no pictures. So far (just got through tape 1) it's been great. I actually busted out laughing a couple of times; Gaiman is totally inventive with his plot twists.
Finished listening to the audiobook version of Michael Crichton's Prey. Funny how it degenerated into the time-honored "person possessed by demon" story. Was it Joseph Campbell who collected all of the possible story archetypes? Shakespeare?
Nevertheless, it was entertaining. And Crichton is pretty good about making all that tech stuff sound believable.
Currently reading, again on audiobook: Fire Ice by Clive Cussler. The Dirk Pitt series are fun, especially with his bachelor pad with the garage full of classic vintage cars. Dan Tana anyone? This is the first of the Kurt Austin series I've sampled thus far.
One thing that irks me is the choice of firearms for lead character Kurt Austin. A Bowen custom Ruger Redhawk? I guess the S&W M29 has already been done to death. And the Desert Eagle is a cliche as well.
At least Cussler doesn't have Austin affixing a "silencer" to the big Redhawk--at least not yet...
Most of my "reading", at least for fiction, is listening to audiobooks in the car. Just finished Be Cool by Elmore Leonard. I didn't know who was actually in the new movie, so I had to look up it up in IMDB to match the cast with the characters.
In the book, especially because of the wonderful reading by Recorded Books' voice talent, I could really "see" John Travolta as Chili, and The Rock as Elliot Wilhelm. The movie's casting of the mobsters is good too. But Vince Vaughn as Raji? Too bad Snoop Dogg isn't at the self-deprecating stage yet.
Currently "reading": Prey by Michael Crichton. Funny how he places the storyline in Silicon Valley--he gets most of the feel right, but a lot is the usual "detached writer" stuff. But the plotline about the unemployed guy at home is hilarious--been there, done that...
Been listening to the sexed-up ex-Mousketeer's (not that one, the blond one. Oh. The real blonde. Oh. Ok, the one from Louisiana). "Greatest Hits" album. Sometimes you just need some mindless entertainment.
Hey, don't laugh. Last year I was hooked on George Michael's Best Of... album (especially Disc 2). That dude could spin some catchy tunes when he bothered to pretend he wasn't gay.
Like this graph really shows which nations are the most "powerful".
Primedia's putting About.com up for sale. Rumor is that the bids (from Google, AOL, NY Times, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeves) are coming in around the $300M to 500M range.
This seems like a totally Good Thing. I wonder what the chatter on the internal Guide boards is right now.
So I've been seeing a lot of Segways on De Anza Blvd in Cupertino these days. It's probably because of the record balmy weather we've been having (71 degrees! Take that, New England!).
Given that my Segway sitings have all been around the intersection of De Anza and Hwy 280, a block from the Apple main campus, I'd wager that the rise in AAPL has allowed some iPod engineers to go buy new toys. Good for them, I say.
For the past year, I've seen just one Segwayer--the blonde I was calling "the Apple Segway Chick". Fashionably dressed in her pink pea coat and bike helmet, she'd zip along the sidewalk while the rest of us lackeys would be stuck in traffic, burning up fossil fuels. But now there's a whole bunch of people streaming along.
What, is this Google or something?
It's about time!
Quick way to make a pedestrian lunch a bit special: At our cafeteria, the grill guy cooks your burger then sends you off to the salad bar for your mayo, lettuce and tomatoes. By just slipping in some spring mix, argula, and roasted red peppers, you now have a primo lunch instead of something just ok.
That the cafeteria operator buys Niman Ranch burgers is a plus too.
So my kid is well into the "...but why?" stage, asking for more details with ever lame answer I serve up. Of course, as an engineer, I do tell her how the clock works when she asks about the time ("...well honey, the case of the clock is injection molded and...").
But no one could do this as well as Calvin's dad. And he's a lawyer. Some of my favorites:
Q. Why does the sky turn red as the sun sets?
A. That's all the oxygen in the atmosphere catching fire.
Q. Where does the sun go when it sets?
A. The sun sets in the west. In Arizona actually, near Flagstaff. That's why the rocks there are so red.
Q. Don't the people get burned up?
A. No, the sun goes out as it sets. That's why it's dark at night.
Q. Doesn't the sun crush the whole state as it lands?
A. Ha ha, of course not. Hold a quarter up. See, the sun's just about the same size.
Q. I thought I read that the sun was really big.
A. You can't believe everything you read, I'm afraid.
Tip o' the hat to Elise for posting these.
My high school buds and I always coveted those cocktail table coin-op video games--wouldn't it be great to have one in your rec room? we always thought.
Nowadays, you can get the same games we plunked $100s of quarters into (Asteroids, Defender, Battlezone) on your Palm Pilot, or you can play free Flash versions on the Web.
And then there's those cheap all-inside-the-joystick versions that you just plug directly into the TV.
But Costco has done this one better, with this Multi-Game Table:
Now if they could only get the price point down a bit.
Or maybe the folks at hacks.oreilly.com will figure out a way to construct a table out of MDF, with a Tap Plastics top and some cheapo controllers, housing a Linux box with all the coin-op emulators you can find, for about a tenth of this baby's cost...
Back when I was a dot.com consultant, my employer ("The Firm") did a similar thing for Silicon Valley employees commuting up to SF every day. They enlisted a limo service to run the shuttle, and the idea was that the office would bill each employee's (er, "colleague") project $5 or $7 or whatever. Still cheaper than gas+parking in the City, of course. Pickup at 7am in the Valley, return shuttle leaves SF at 7pm. Nice way to ensure you get 10-12 hour days out of your employees, huh?
The shuttle was supposed to be a plain 10-passenger van, like the kind used for vanpools.
But the limo company would usually try to combine trips, and most days the "shuttle" would be a full-blown stretch limo, because the driver would have another appt at SFO or in the City or wherever. Sometimes they'd send the "Party Bus", a parking lot-shuttle bus outfitted with big screen TV, minibar, and disco balls.
During the dot.com downturn, the number of employees dwindled, and sometimes I'd find myself the only one on the "shuttle" each day. I felt like Donald Trump after a while, arriving in style at my hi-rise SF office tower, laptop in hand, in my sleek stretch limo.
Talk about your dot.com excesses. But it was the limo company's choice to send us a limo instead of the vanpool rig, and I'd say we did reduce the environmental damage we'd have caused by driving up separately.
I wonder what the Googlebus looks like--do they paint the sides with the Google logo? On one hand, that would be a nice huge moving billboard. On the other hand, it would be a big target for a terrorist or sulking competitor (Mr. Jeeves, I presume?).
KCBS reports that Angelo Cuanang was called as an expert witness in the Scott Peterson trial. Cuanang, along with his brother Abe, are the experts on fishing in the SF Bay Area. I used to read about their exploits in the short-lived but excellent Angler magazine, how these guys would climb down these crazy goat trails to get to prime shore fishing spots, or how they'd go out into the blue water in a 14' aluminum boat and haul in 150 lb sturgeon.
I never got anywhere near the kind of fish those two got, but it was interesting to see Angelo called into the Peterson trial.
Wow. Congratulations to Lance Armstrong, who inspires all of us in the cancer community everywhere. Fantastic.
Ok, I spoke too soon. :-(
You know, I have mixed feelings about Will and his rise to fame (infame?). He's exemplary of all the bad stereotypes of Asian males (in particular, Asian engineers, of which I guess I must include myself), and the media is exploiting his character to the fullest.
But then again, he definitely seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, at least at the beginning, and therefore deserving of some props. Like he had more balls ("kintama!!!") than any of the engineering nerds I knew in going to the initial audition. Hope he gets all the freebie babe groupies he can before his meme goes stale.
I felt a rare feeling of calm just now. Like peace and quiet and serenity all at the same time.
Then I figured out why...William Hung's 15 minutes must be over.
Back in school I had a classmate who worked at Alza, the folks who developed the patch method of drug delivery--now commonly seen in Nicoderm. Sylvia, can you still dunk?
I was reading a lot of cyberpunk back then, and Bill Gibson was writing about patches used for all sorts of drugs--legit and illicit. I found Sylvia a cartoon for the "Weed Patch." Too funny.
I've always been facinated by this stuff. It's like a whole different side of engineering; the interface between man and machine and technology. Science fiction always picks up on these things and postulates how they could be used for good or evil.
Like in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Gold Coast, where the drug dealer character dispenses his designer drugs via eyedroppers. For someone who grew up watching kids get high smoking joints, this was out-there stuff.
So it was with more than idle interest that I saw Forbes' profile of the drug delivery man, Alejandro Zaffaroni. I knew about the guy from Alza, but Forbes described how he's now working on a "cigarette-inspired" inhaler for fast-acting drugs.
A quick Google search led me to Zaffaroni's "hysterical letter" warning Ronald Reagan of the dangers of smokeless cigarettes. Now this pro-tobacco site might consider Zaffaroni hysterical, but I say, the dude is probably right. His new drug delivery device kind of does the same thing, except with Maxalt or whatever migraine drug. But what if it could deliver ice or crack?
Cool map generator for cataloging the places you've been... I guess I've missed out on the great tourist attractions of the American heartland:
I left before the credits finished rolling, but was that Rick Steves in the role as Vince Vaughn's right-hand man?
You be the judge:
So I arrived at our friends' house just in time to watch that exciting 4th quarter. But it turns out that I missed the really exciting part of the Super Bowl telecast, if all the controversy is to be trusted. My friend Rebecca asked, "Did you see the halftime show?" I was like, no, I wasn't really going to watch the game, figured it wasn't going to be that good (although I was proved wrong in the 4th Q). But now I've figured out what she was talking about.
My take? Intentional!
Letterman's going to have a field day with this one.
Timberlake for California govenor in 2034. If groping got Ahnold so far, this kid's got a chance.