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At last, someone to blame: fish
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It has been 9 months since I got my right lateral meniscus repaired. It has been a slow recovery, but I'm just about back to normal.

It's incredible how rapidly muscles deteriorate. I was off my right leg for 6 weeks and it it almost disappeared. You don't know who to blame, but I feel much better by blaming fish. Apparently, we owe our weak skeletal structure to our share of evolution to fish.

A University of Chicago magazine article, written by Neil Shubin, states:
    Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers?and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world?one with no history?we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.
I knew those delicious fish were up to no good, with all their evolving and what not.

10:44 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Are genomics the next information revolution?

I think so. I think genetics and computer science are a perfect match. Both fields are driven by large quantities of information and both are advancing very rapidly. We have been doing computer science for around 60 years now, and, of course, we are just finding out how to program the human code. On both accounts, we will be able to do amazing things in the next 10 years or so. Beyond the 10 years, we will treading on uncharted territory, e.g., using super computers to digitally manipulate cancer cells

Currently, there are a few companies working on how to use the decoded human genome. Fortunately, VCs will start looking into this field, as opposed to the Web 2.0 craze. Ask your neighborhood's friendly VC and he or she will tell you that he or she is only interested in the next Facebook or YouTube. Boring, really. There's a lot more business models that don't rely on "social networking" to pimp out products. The net is more than just advertising.

I think software engineers will gravitate towards this field. I shouldn't generalize, but the field fascinating: it's a natural progression (I really want to program my own genes to do something), specially after reading this very good introduction to DNA for programmers. I also recommend Juan Enriquez's 2004 TED talk on genomics.

If your interest is peaked, I suggest you read Genome, by Matt Ridley. The book is a good introduction to the human genome and it's proving to be a good reminder of the little chemistry and biology I took in high school. I particularly like his introduction, which reads:
    In four thousand million years of earth history, I am lucky enough to be alive today. In five million species, I was fortunate enough to be born a conscious human being. Among six thousand million people on the planet, I was privileged enough to be born in the country where the word was discovered [the word is DNA]. In all of the earth's history, biology and geography, I was born just five years after the moment when, and just two hundred miles from the place where, two members of my own species discovered the structure of DNA and hence uncovered the greatest, simplest and most surprising secret in the universe.
It all sounds very romantic, but reality will kick in: there is money to be made and whole industries will be developed around this DNA stuff.

I'm starting to build the basis for the future. It reminds of how I got into web stuff: playing around with CGI programs in 1993, and Java applets in 1996/1997. I think the word I'm looking for is serendipity.

8:37 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Why did Sun acquire MySQL?

I don't think it's a bad move that Sun acquired MySQL. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that two of the most popular development platforms are under one roof. I also wonder if Schwartz is going to change Sun's trading symbol to MySQL or something.

This acquisition proves that there is money in Open Source product development: sure, the code is "free," but you make up on the support--and there will be a lot of support packages sold.

Finally, Sun has gone from a hardware shop to an Open Source Microsoft wannabe shop. I can't help to think of the parallels:
    Solaris - Windows

    OpenOffice - MS Office

    MySQL - MS SQL

    Java - .Net

    NetBeans - Visual Studio

    JavaFX - MS SilverLight
All that we need to make the software industry more interesting is for Microsoft to stop charging for their software.

There is more information here: Sun acquires MySQL, Helping Dolphins Fly.

3:13 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Broken Digital Laws
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We don't hear about these things too often, but as Canadians we should have a say about "Canada's version of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act." We already pay a hefty levy on any blank media we buy, so what's with the new proposed law?

Well, it will be very similar to the US version, where children and dead people are sued by media corporations.

What can you, as a citizen, do about it? There are 30 things you can do (according to the author). Find them here: The Canadian DMCA: What You Can Do

10:44 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Words have meaning

I'm a student of language--well, as anyone is a student of anything--thus, having the desire to learn to write, I read things in excruciating detail and pay attention to things that I really shouldn't.

I find common prose fascinating. From time to time, I read things that are published in important web sites or publications that make no sense. For example, I found the following paragraph on a Canadian Government site:
    The company has been highly successful ever since. COMPANY_NAME replaced the Internet network system for the NAME District School Board, which comprises 71 schools and over 33,000 students. The solution provided by COMPANY_NAME made the new system infinitely times faster than the previous one [emphasis is mine], and at a competitive price.
I'm neither using the real company name nor the real school board, but what does "infinitely times faster" mean?

It's a bold statement, as infinite is a really big number. It either means that the original solution didn't exist; or existed in an alternate universe, where bandwidth worked backwards (instead of giving it took at infinite rates); or this company has access to internet pipes the rest of us don't. But even fiber optic connections have a finite limit (the speed of light and some packet switching degradation), so the statement is just an exaggeration.

Of course, the promise of infinitely times faster is really appealing--even if it means nothing.

Note that "infinitely times" anything works for everything. For example, this entry is "infinitely times better" than my previous entry. Prove me wrong, if not. Note that there are an infinite number of numbers between 0.0 and 0.1. For example, 0.00000004950394053...etc. No end in sight; therefore, infinitely separated by numbers.

2:32 PM | 0 comment(s) |

MacBook Air...Nice...

What a nice piece of hardware. I still think that 3 lbs is too heavy, but I may try one of those babies. Doesn't it look like a notebook should look like (no offense to my ThinkPad X60s)? Thin, light, durable.

I prefer the black colour of the ThinkPad line, but this machine is thin. I'm also not too fond of the MacBook keyboard, so I would have to try one to really make a buying decision.

All and all, a nice laptop.

1:54 PM | 4 comment(s) |

Is www still needed?

The web is all grown up. We all know that www stands for "World Wide Web," so most organizations drop the www from print and just give their web address as, for example,

Well, there are some instances where this doesn't work. Last week, I found this error message:

Out of all web companies, you would think google would take care of this "minor" issue. I know what the problem is, but other google users may not and decide that what they are trying to do in this google site has been hacked since that is the implication of the warning (it's a FireFox warning).

Testing an entire system is not trivial, but with enough resources the coverage of every creak increases, thus increasing the chances of finding the most obvious broken things. This warning shouldn't really happen at google.

As for the error, the problem is that the SSL certificate was issued for the website I went to (I dropped the www). The two addresses are one an the same, as they resolve to the same IP address. However, the certificate doesn't know this: it only has the concept of the string

I'm always amazed at how the whole internet thing works: the whole system is so fragile, yet robust enough to withstand major outages and packets still find their way to their destination. All thanks to TCP/IP. I believe TCP/IP to be one of the greatest legacies of the 20th century.

11:14 AM | 0 comment(s) |

Bite my shining wood and fiberglass a$$
Tuesday, January 08, 2008

This is just cool: Building a Beer Brewing Bender.

3:57 PM | 0 comment(s) |

The internet has the answer
Monday, January 07, 2008

From time to time, I like to give Gabriel (my son who is 7 years old) small problems for him to solve without any help. His latest obsession, aside from Wii's Super Mario Galaxy, is a book called Earth And Space. He picked it up on one of our weekly trips to the local Chapters bookstore. This book has easy to digest tidbits of information about everything related to Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe. He's fascinated by black holes and wants to know why nothing can scape their gravitational pull. The concept is reinforce by Mario Galaxy, one of the best designed games I have seen in a long time, as it has black holes scattered all over the place that suck you in if you fall into them.

While reading his book, we found something about time zones. The section explains that when it is day time in Canada, it is night time across the world. It explains that we rotate around the sun and that our days are made from Earth's axis 24 hour rotation.

The problem I gave him was as follows: if it is day time in Canada, in what country around the world will it be night time? He said he didn't know and asked for a clue. I told him that we can use one specific object in the house to find the answer.

His first answer: use the computer and go to the internet to find the country. His second answer: create a globe in the computer and look around.

Although he is entirely correct on what tool to use to get his solution, I was thinking more locally: our old school world globe. He doesn't have an answer yet, but I'm hoping he'll pick it up to look for the point on the sphere that is across the North American continent.

I realized a long time ago that our generation has shifted the way we do things. Our parents relied on memorization to succeed academically and in the work place. We no longer need to memorize useless facts to succeed. We still need to remember where to find information, but our strength comes from knowing how to mix and match data to create useful solutions. (To a certain extent, we still need to memorize things. For one, high school students still need to do tedious work to get good grades; my suggestion for the high schoolers, jump the hoops for a couple of years and then do interesting work at the university level.)

Searching the web is a natural way to answer questions; however, we need to learn to differentiate between good and bad resources. Our children (my son, for example) know that this thing exists where they can play and learn things from. He is still too young to tell the the good from the bad (even we fall into that trap: "if it's in the internet, it's true" syndrome). With time, he (and we) will learn.

Now imagine the corporate shift that will be taking place, because the first tool we use to answer questions and solve problems is the internet. The corporate world will shift dramatically from the technology resistant management stiles of today to something incredibly connected.

We, the technorati-gen-Xers, will move into leading roles soon enough. We, who grew up with the internet, the web, P2P, will replace the wave of retiring executives, who have little use for the internet. Not all of them are resisting the winds of change, but there are leaders of industry and government that don't use technology the way the rest of world do. Did you know Bill Clinton sent only 2 email messages while in his 8 years at the White House? That is an incredible statistic, considering he was the president at the time where most of the technology we use today started to being commercialized.

Now, imagine what's coming in the next 10 to 20 years on management and government innovation, with all our "surfing" experience under our belt?

I'm not saying we will forget about the basics of running a business and make technology the center of our universe. We tried that and it's now called the "web bubble." It didn't work, but we seem to be doing the same with all the "Web 2.0" talk. Regardless of VCs' enthusiasm for a quick buck, our MBAs have taught us well, and we have evolved to respect business fundamentals. Furthermore, we will be making strategic decisions at the speed of light.

True enough, we will have terabytes of information at our disposal, where a large percentage will be garbage; nonetheless, we've been training for a long time to make use of all the information that is out there: we don't memorize facts, but we know where to find them--and we do it rather efficiently; we know how to create new information systems with open sourced technologies; we have learnt to collaborate wiki stile; we share information, across the globe, instantaneously; in one word, we are "connected" all the time.

Just imagine what we and these kids will be able to accomplish. We are part of the generation that doesn't know a world without top-of-the-line laptops and high-speed internet connections. We will solve unimaginable problems; problems that our current generation is leaving us to deal with: pollution, over population, oil dependency, broken digital laws, etc., etc.

I'm very optimistic about my future and my children's future. And the internet has and will have the answer, according to Gabriel.

1:46 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Regular Expressions Library
Saturday, January 05, 2008

If you ever get bored of creating your own regex search patterns, you can always go to

The question is, however, how can anyone get bored of regex search patterns? ;)

1:41 AM | 0 comment(s) |

Proust was not a software engineer
Wednesday, January 02, 2008

With time, you begin to understand that software engineering is a combination of science and art. There are a few aspects of the software creation process that are mechanical; however, there are also a great deal of things that require intuition. Algorithm design can be taught; the trouble is that intuition can't. In the end, we chose how to go about doing what we do; whether it is designing software, running multinational conglomerates, or digging holes in the ground, anything can be creative. The interesting part of our being is to find the right balance between making decisions based on mechanical knowledge and making decisions using our intuition.

I tend to think about this often. And lately, I was reminded of this duality by the book Proust was a Neuroscientist, written by Jonah Lehrer. Although there are no "aha" moments, as the book is not a in-depth study of neuroscience, Lehrer is able to tie a few knots between the current scientific understanding of the mind and the body of work of past artists such as Walt Whitman, Paul Cezanne, Virginia Woolf, and, of course, Marcel Proust. There are a couple of more artists, but you have to read the book to find out who they are. You will also have to read the book to get the connections that Lehrer claims exist, and how science is rediscovering facts that these artists already "knew."

I don't fully buy his main hypothesis that these artists were set to revolutionize their genres by fully understanding the mind at the beginning of the 1900s. Sure, dedicating themselves to their art 100% of their time made them a bit more qualified than the rest of us about writing, creating music, and painting. But I think the need to create drove them to leave conventions aside and just make and do. In the process, some of them were alienated by their peers, but creating was their profession--they needed to compose or paint to eat and provide for their families. It is difficult to conclude that a revolution was in their minds.

Moreover, self-awareness helps us decipher our place in the context of history. Gouging the impact of our discoveries right at the moment when the creative process is taking over is next to impossible. For example, Einstein "knew" his new theories would change our fundamental understanding of the universe, but nothing I have read about him indicates he purposely set to epitomize the millions of hours of physics created before him. He knew what he was creating was truth: mechanically the math worked out and intuitively it felt right. I don't think the same can be said of Cezanne's post-impressionist paintings, or the rest of the artists used by Lehrer: they had gut feels and the need to create, which he is trying to connect to knowing the mind.

Even though I like how he connects the dots, I don't fully agree with his conclusions: after all, anything can be correlated to anything. This doesn't mean I don't like the book. On the contrary, I think it is a great read (a short read: 200 pages), and it is well researched. In the last part of the book, however, Lehrer states that "[he] wasn't good enough" to be a full fledged scientist, so he became a writer. I appreciate his humility, as we are all students of everything--even that which we practice every day--yet it felt self referential in the sense that art and neurosciense go hand in hand (plus, he was Rhodes Scholar: quite a few things need to be aligned to gain access to such scholarships). He is, perhaps, trying to become the fourth culture of science, as he discusses in his "coda" (tail of the book). Very clever: a full circle.

7:59 PM | 0 comment(s) |

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