Archive: July 31, 2005
Gosh, it's nice to be back. I actually peeked at my server logs this morning, and guess what? When you post stuff, people come read it! I love it that you-all haven't left for good. I even had some links yesterday, thank you. I really have to stop these big gaps in posting.
I think I get into this mode where I have to post "everything". I stop posting for a little while, and suddenly "everything" becomes a lot, and then I feel like I need time to catch up, which I don't have... so I don't post at all. Silly. Right now I have 155 items in SharpReader waiting to be linked. Are they all that important? No. You've probably seen most of them already, and even if you haven't, I doubt very much that you depend on Critical Section for news. The one's that are most interesting and important, well, we'll get around to linking them. The others will be quietly dropped, with no consequences.
Anyway, thanks for tuning in again and please stay tuned!
I was gone sailing for a week, and then gone on vacation for a week, both in locations where I didn't have OLN and didn't have a fast internet connection. So I didn't get to watch the Tour de France live, I had to settle for daily updates and snippets here and there. (By the way, if you're into bike racing check out the Daily Peloton, I found they had the best blow-by-blow blogging and the best commentary. Great site.)
So last night I decided to catch up, and fired up Bittorrent to download the most interesting stages of the Tour. This morning I just finished watching Stage 20, the final time trial, which [of course] Lance Armstrong won, out-powering Jan Ullrich to put his final stamp on the 2005 Tour. It was really great; time trials are interesting because unlike the other stages, the riders are "naked" and they go all out the whole time - in this case for a bit over an hour, on a really nasty course featuring some steep climbs, some tricky descents, spectators all over the place, hairpin turns and slick roundabouts, and narrow little town streets. Quite a test. It was noticeable that Lance has a faster cadence than anyone else, he seems to be in fast-motion compared to all the other riders, just attacking the course. Awesome to be able to ride that hard, that well, for over an hour.
Of all the things I'm somewhat good at, the gap between me and professionals is largest in bike racing. I'm a decent sailor, a decent baseball player, a decent bike rider, etc. (Even a decent programmer :) Watching this morning I was struck by how hard it would be just to finish that course, let alone finish it for time, let alone ride that hard for that long, let alone ride that hard for that long on that course. My hat's off to every tour rider, not just Lance. He's the best of the best, but they are all amazing athletes. What an excellent sport.
I have to say OLN's coverage is pretty darn good. Too many commercials (which of course I don't watch), and too many promos for Survivor (does anyone really care about that any more?), but on balance it was really cool. And thanks to whomever scraped their Tivo to post the torrents. OLN should post them for sale - I for one would be happy to buy them - but since they don't the Internet fills the void nicely :)
In which your intrepid blogger attempts, futilely, to post the interesting doings of the day, the week, and the month... Most likely just the news of the day will make it, along with some interesting tidbits :)
I have to start with space, there is some exciting news as you know. First there was Deep Impact, which fired a missile into comet Tempel 1 and then filmed the results. (Great animation of the process here, by Dan Maas.) There were also some amazing pictures taken by Cassini, which is orbiting Saturn. (Including one entitled "Titan's true color", which I hope to see for myself someday.)
The latest cool news? Planet X! Actually, planet Xena! A Kuiper belt object which is 1.5 times larger than Pluto has been found. First there was Quaoar, then Sedna, now Xena. Either there are a bunch more planets out there, or Pluto really isn't a planet. It's orbit and other factors actually suggest the latter.
What's next, ice on Mars? I guess so. Not even that surprising, after all the evidence found for water on Mars by the Mars Rovers, but still quite exciting. What if - just think - there was a little Martian bacterium living in that crater? What if?
And if you want to hear something creepy from outer space, check out this eerie recording of Saturn's radio emissions. Couldn't be any better if it was in a scene from 2001 or Twilight Zone. (Seriously, click through to listen, I promise it will be worth it :)
Oh, and construction has started on Magellan, [which will be] the world's largest telescope. When completed in 2016 it will have a resolution 10 times higher than the Hubble.
Meanwhile, Clive Thompson wonders Why We're Still Alone. "Various SETI efforts -- the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence inside our galaxy, bien sur -- have been ongoing for thirty years, with no success yet. If there's intelligent life out there, we haven't been able to detect it with our arrays of radio telescopes and funky parallel-processing screensavers. But what if we're simply looking in the wrong place?" Excellent blogage from Clive, as usual...
Solomon explains why Peaceful Aliens must be Destroyed! "We are seriously in trouble if aliens visited our planet in peace." Hey, maybe it has already happened? I've met some awfully strange earthlings :)
And check out these weird clouds over Hastings, Nevada. Seem kind of alien, don't they? [ via Mark Frauenfelder ]
Did you see Google's Moon Explorer? Pretty cool, including waypoints for all the Apollo landings. Glad to see their corporate sense of humor is still intact, be sure to zoom in all the way :)
And sadly, James Doohan, aka Scotty from Star Trek, has died. Not only a cool actor with a cool role ("beam me up" has definitely entered the lexicon, as has "we need more dilithium crystals!"), but in a little known twist of fate he was actually PayPal's first and only celebrity spokesperson. Back when "beaming" money from one Palm to another was the company's primary product!
The various disciplines of medicine continue to barrel forward. I was so happy that Bill First, Senate Majority Leader and a physician, has broken with President Bush on the stem cell issue. [ via Glenn Reynolds ] You just cannot put these genies back in their bottles. I like Bush but definitely not on every issue.
Related; Wired: How to Save Stem-Cell Research. "Embryonic stem-cell research advocates are currently faced with a tough decision. They can continue to push pending legislation that would open up more embryonic stem-cell research, but which also faces a likely veto from President Bush; or they can face up to the current political climate in Washington, and back a different bill, which would fund alternative types of stem-cell research." It is so strange that so many politicians are afraid of medical technology. Maybe they're just reflecting the views of their constituents, but I actually don't think so; I think most people don't have a strong opinion, and their leaders are afraid to stick their toes into this water.
FuturePundit reports Replacement Human Muscles With Blood Vessels Grown In Rodents. Sounds like a headline from some science fiction novel, doesn't it? "What's even more exciting than being able to make skeletal muscles for reconstructive surgery or to repair congenitally defective muscles, for instance, is that this a generic approach that can be applied towards making other complex tissues. It could allow us to do really wonderful things." How long before genuine human replacement parts are grown? Soon, I think.
In another vein (so to speak), Randall Parker wonders Should Pregnant Drug Abusers be Institutionalized? My answer: of course! This hits at the very core of Unnatural Selection. The last thing we need is society picking up the tab for a bunch of drug abuser's children. Read it, for it is good...
CNN reports: Study: Hurricanes getting Stronger. "Is global warming making hurricanes more ferocious? New research suggests the answer is yes." The empirical evidence is definitely there; when I was a kid thirty years ago we didn't have three or four big hurricanes every year, right?
Good thing we're doing something about global warming; Powerline notes A Stroke of Genius. "What distinguishes this plan from the Kyoto protocol is that it will actually lead to a major reduction in carbon emissions! This substitution of practical impact for well-crafted verbiage stunned and infuriated European observers." Not that this is "the whole solution", but it is a good start.
There's been a lot of blogospheric discussion about aid to Africa, in the wake of the Live 8 concerts. I kind of agree with Hrairoo, who notes There's No Such Thing as a Free Concert, in an informative Q&A on the events. The core question is whether aid actually helps economies improve. Personally I'm skeptical, the track record is crummy. I think you have to fix the political systems in poor countries first.
Max Boot is pretty skeptical, too. "In the last 50 years, $2.3 trillion has been spent to help poor countries. Yet Africans' income and life expectancy have gone down, not up, during that period, while South Korea, Singapore and other Asian nations that received little if any assistance have moved from African-level poverty to European-level prosperity thanks to their superior economic policies." [ via Glenn Reynolds ] In some ways this situation reminds me of Child Tax Credits and the Mutilated Beggar Effect.
Anita Sharp considers Trade or Aid? "What's the best way to help impoverished Third-World countries -- give them money or help make it easier for them to sell their products competitively? 'People think more aid will help, but it won't,' actor Minnie Driver told the New York Times. 'Trade is the surest way of decreasing the savage amount of poverty in our world. These countries have got to be able to trade fairly.'" I sort of agree - free trade is important - but the tone of this quote suggests that the problem with fair trade is external; in actuality most of these countries are horribly protectionist, on top of being amazingly corrupt.
Did you see that Longhorn will officially be called "Windows Vista"? No word on whether they considered Shorthorn instead :) Although they keep cutting back content, I really doubt I'm going to get what I want; less "application" features, more low-level functionality like better paging and improved networking. There's a beta available, I'm trying to decide whether it is worth installing. The original "PDC bits" from 2003 was a joke.
Well I did it; I have a new baby. Today I bought a Mac Mini. Do I need one? No. Did I want one? Yes. Did I have a reason to get one? Well, yes, actually. And therein lies a story... In fact two of them.
I work for a startup called Aperio, we make digital microscope slide scanners (hardware) and systems for managing them (software). Our customers are Pathologists at clinical labs, pharma companies, research institutions, and medical schools. It turns out when you digitize a microscope slide at diagnostic resolution (about 100,000 dpi) you get big images (about 80,000x60,000 pixels, or 5 gigapixels). Displaying such large images requires special viewing software. We have a spiffy web viewer and an even spiffier desktop viewer called ImageScope.
ImageScope is a reasonably complicated combination of Visual Basic (for the GUI), a C++ ActiveX control (for the display logic), and a C++ library (for the low-level image and file handling). As such, it is Windows-only. Now it turns out that Aperio's customer base is not Windows-only. In fact there are a surprising number of Mac users. There are entire labs which are Mac-only, and even in labs which use Windows predominantly you often find Mac zealots. So for some time now we've had "build a Mac version of ImageScope" as a to-do, and earlier this year we bit the bullet and began working on it. Recently we reached the point where the new viewer is running and demo-able. Yay!
Migrating the C++ image library to the Mac turned out to be easy. Aside from some trivial endian-specific coding which had to be fixed, and some non-trivial threading logic which had to be abstracted into an implementation-specific class, the library ported with no problems; in fact we now have one code base which compiles on Windows, Linux, or Mac.
Migrating the VB GUI was a bit more challenging. After a bit of experimentation we decided to use RealBasic, which is a pretty nice development environment somewhat reminiscent of Visual Studio. It wasn't possible to move all the VB code directly to RB, but we were able to use the VB code as a starting point. The program organization is roughly the same, with the same windows, dialogs, menus, toolbars, etc. Aside from the ease of migration, this will also simplify documentation and support. Of course being a Mac program it does look and feel different, in subtle ways, but the essential functionality is the same.
Migrating the C++ ActiveX control was not easy. The first attempt was to build a RealBasic "plugin" using Metrowerks CodeWarrior. The Windows GDI is pretty different from the OS X OpenGL API. The second attempt is to build an RB plugin using Apple's Xcode IDE; this tool is now the only way to go with the Intel-architecture Macs on the horizon (and the consequent need to compile to "universal binaries"). That remains a work in progress.
Okay, sorry for the nerdy digression, where was I? Oh, yeah, the Mac Mini. So I've got this pre-release version of ImageScopeX I'm running around with, and I want to be able to give demos. I could use a Powerbook - in fact I have a Powerbook, or actually my wife has a Powerbook (like she'd let me use it :) - but the screen can only be so big. Demoing digital slides is best done on a 23" monitor running at 1920x1200. And guess what? The Mac Mini is not only tiny enough to be easily carried along (it even comes in a cute little box which doubles as a carrying case), it also supports LCD panels up to 1920x1200 via a DVI connector! Perfect! And it can use any old PC keyboard and mouse which happen to be lying around, so you don't even need to bring those along. Doubly perfect! So that's why I needed one.
Which model did I get? I decided on the lowest-end stock $500 model, with a 1.25GHz G4, 256MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. Why? Well, two reasons. First, I honestly think this computer is powerful enough for ImageScopeX. I'm a bit worried about the RAM, but Mac paging is so much better than Windows that I think it will work. If not, I'll upgrade. The CPU is going to be fast enough since in this application the real work is done by the video processor (an ATI Radeon 9200). The 40GB disk will be plenty for development and a handful of demo slides; if I need more later I can always add an external firewire disk. The second reason is that I want to be able to say "this computer cost $500" when I'm doing a demo!
Oh, I said there were two stories. You know, Apple seems to do everything right. The Apple retail stores are really cool, and in fact even their bags are cool. In fact their bags are so cool, they can be used as a backpack. And the combination of a tiny computer in a cute little case and a bag which doubles as a backpack meant that I was able to ride my bike over to the Apple store, buy the Mac Mini, and ride home with it on my back. Pretty cool. I actually don't think even a small laptop would have been as compact.
As usual with Apple you get an incredible out of the box experience. You really feel like you're really getting your money's worth. And have you held a Mac Mini in your hands? The workmanship is awesome.
I'm going to have more to say about this little computer going forward - stay tuned - but there was an important decision to make right up front: what to call it? My now-venerable iMac G4 is called icequeen - my daughters' reaction to the cool design and white color - so the Mac Mini is being called icebaby. And I must admit, that's a cool name :)
P.S. Yes of course that's a Tivo bike jersey I'm wearing.
Return to the archive.
this date in:
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji
Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
solving bongard problems
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker
where are the desktop apps?
still the first bird