thinking about the world differently . . .
February 4th, 2017

URL Shortening

Waaay back when, when we started using the web, it became clear that URLs are hard to remember. Sure, we have domain names that are human-memorable like “meshar.net/blog” and “google.com”. But soon enough URL became “http://meshar.net/blog/?p=5004” (the URL (link) for this post) and much much worse and longer.

In stepped technology with ways to shorten URLs. Maybe they were not that human-memorable, but at least they were shorter. For example, a service called tinyurl.com sjortened the above to “http://tinyurl.com/hd3h62t”… Ok, that’s not much of a feat, shortening a 30 character URL to 28 chatacters. But it works. Imagine a URL like this monster: https://www.google.com/maps/place/48%C2%B051’32.2%22N+2%C2%B017’38.6%22E/@48.8586285,2.2941227,19z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d48.8589438!4d2.2940484 ?? 151 characters! Tinyurl.com squeezed this to “http://tinyurl.com/hpg2amr” – all of 26 characters. Click it, et voilá, you are transported on Google Maps to the corner of the Tour Eiffel in Paris.

So this is nice. But danger looms around the corner in the world on World Wide Web. Tha bad guys are out there trying to grab your secrets and make money off you.

You see: Many people are now conditioned enough to be wary of URLs like that monster above. It is weird looking, could be dangerous. Indeed. The characters can hide all sorts of attacks that would infect your computer and lead you astray.

So today I read a nice article on Make tech Easier about URL Shortening. It provided a link to another service that would give you a preview of what you are about to go to – http://checkshorturl.com – use the page there to enter the long URL and let the service tell you more where this URL will take you!

Nice deal.

I like to use a service available at v.gd. The monster above was shortened to “https://v.gd/R3Qk7a”… When you go to that URL, it does not automatically push you into the destination, but instead first shows you where the destination is, so you can make a more informed decision to continue to the ultimate destination, or forget it.

So now you know. Enjoy.

January 8th, 2017

Respect

Sean Spicer, the spokesperson for president-elect Trump, complained that the media does not accord DJT with the respect he deserves.

Pardon me, I always thought respect is something you work for, earn. That is is not something you get because of your genetics, good looks, or haircut… Apparently, along with other norms of this society, that respect earning bit is also flipped over on its head.

Along with this “good morning message” in the news, came the realization that indeed this reaction is just that bump in the rug that scurries around lookinh for an outlet, the problem is much deeper. Rob Goodman wrote this excellent article titled “What the King of Hawaii Can Teach Us About Trump – A political fable from 1819.

It explains the fate of norms. While it will not make you feel fuzzily relieved, you will understand where things are, where they could be, and outline a way for each of us to move forward and to imprint of ourselves anf our norms on the upcoming “new order” in the world. An important message…

December 27th, 2016

Google Calendar

On the desktop version of Google Calendar, one can add an event that takes the entire day, i.e. no start/stop time. There is a little checkbox designating the event as “all day”.

On the Android platform non-desktop form of the calendar, the “mobile version”, this is not readily possible. But the following trick works… The event should start at 12:00AM on the desired date, and end on the next day, at 12:00AM.

That schedule spans the entire 24 hours. The event will show as an “all day” event on the desired day, and no hint of it on the next day.

Now, I’ll keep a lookout for a trick to change the calendar without resorting to presenting the calendar in the desktop form and editing the event in that format. Google never put the ability to CHANGE the calendar in the edit screen, only to choose the calensar when initially creating the event.

March 29th, 2016

Here is a mindbender

J. Craig Venter - Wikipedia

J. Craig Venter – Wikipedia

Craig Venter is a genomics pioneer and an incredibly gifted and creative geneticist, biochemist, biotechnologist and a few other nearly unpronounceable professions. A new research article published in Science [link here and another, possibly easier to understand, here] on March 25, 2016 details work done to create what can be called the smallest possible living genome. Yes, this is on the serrated edge of “creating life” in the lab.

The team used a tiny microbe with a very simple genome consisting of several hundred genes, and then essentially carved out gene after gene to create the smallest viable organism. “Viable” is a big word since none of the organisms can survive outside a petri dish because the Venter team simply made up for deficiencies that were not essential by adding the needed parts in the lab. So if gene x is needed to create a food form, that food was added to the dish, and the gene came out of the “engineered” organism’s genome.

Syn 3.0

Ultimately, the final form they dubbed “Syn 3.0” had 473 genes. It was “viable” based on the definition explained above. Much to the surprise of the team, they had to add various genes just to accomplish that minimum viability test.

149 genes were added. So what is the surprise? The team hasn’t a clue what the function of these genes is!

Hmmm… Life is much more complicated and mysterious than we ever assumed! The plot thickens…

See here for another article in Extreme Tech that is slightly more accessible to non-science readers…

Seems as though the saying “Enjoy Life” takes on different meaning than we ever intended…

March 9th, 2016

Humans vs. AlphaGo: 0-1

You’ll hear more about the game of Go and the program called AlphaGo in the next months and years.

Go is a game played in Japan, Korea, and China (possibly other cultures in the far East.) It dates back over 3500 years. The game is played on a board marked with a grid of 19×19 upon which players place black or white pebbles in turn. They attempt to place their pebbles to surround and thus capture the opponents pebbles.

The rules are few and dead simple. Some people report mastering the rules (not the game, though!) in 10 minutes. The simplicity however is deceptive as the strategies, subtlety and intricacy is incredibly deep.

Go takes years to master although it is fun to play at any time and at any level.

Ladt night, in Seoul, South Korea Go player Lee Se-dol, a legendary player in the world, list the first of 5 games in an historic match between a human and a program.

The program, AlphaGo, was created by a Google unit dealing with neural networks, artificial intelligence and machine learning called DeepMind.

Lee resigned following more than three arduous hours. Lee said after the game “I was very surprised, I didn’t expect to lose. I didn’t think AlphaGo would play the game in such a perfect manner.”

I’ll post more later…

January 20th, 2016

Technology moves fast, even faster than the Pony Express

 

modern mailboxes

what kind of mailbox is this anyway???

Hmmm… Hard to believe, but there you have it. We are in danger of leaving the younger generation behind – they have a hard time using basic things like rotary phones, mailboxes… sheesh 🙂


[Wikipedia]

January 15th, 2016

On Quantum Computing

Many of us find computing a bit intriguing, perhaps intimidating, if it ventures into anything beyond pencil and paper or 4-function calculator. There is this mystique involved in computing because of the abstraction of numbers to something that is represented by zeros and ones, then calculating huge and complicated things at that level in tiny fractions of a second.

This mystique is augmented and magnified when the word “programming” enters the horizon. Now many of us get that queasy feeling of being overwhelmed by some geek, nerd, or worse – a 6-year old kid! 🙂

But really numbers are just abstractions of say cows you can see (and count) in the field, or piles of tomatoes in baskets. Sure you can tell someone else “I have 50 baskets of tomatoes, but you already abstract a picture of 50 baskets to a number “50”…

There are some people living in jungles who have had no need to abstract quantities in their lives beyond “one”, “two”, “three”, “many”. It is a simple culture that has no need for more detailed abstraction than that! Sure, they cannot easily calculate 20% of 40 had they lived in our culture, but we will be unable to survive more than 4 minutes after being bitten by some unusual beetle on the jungle floor if we visit their world – but they would simple reach to the nearest remedy, apply it to the bite, and we’ll be as good as new!

So much for the competitive edge of 20% of 40!

Back to the intimidation of programming: We cook things. Say an egg: Take a vessel, fill it with water. Gather some firewood and make fire – or just light up your stove. Take an egg and carefully place it in the water in the pan. Put the pan on the fire, and let it boil for 3-5 minutes, remove from the fire, add cold water – voila! A boiled egg!

You have done this many-many times. You already know several tricks to make things faster, better boiled eggs etc.

Congratulation! You have just finished a “programming job”. It consists of steps doing something in each step. Testing of certain results (say, the egg is too cold to put on a raging fire in boiling water, so you reduce the heat and wait, test again, and proceed) and taking alternative paths of action depending on the tests.

Then you process certain inputs in some steps, and eventually produce some specific, desired results – a perfectly boiled egg.

There. This really is a great model for a program running in a computer.

Let me take you to the start of this blog: The fearsome abstraction of numbers into zeros and ones.

Nearly no programmer calculates numbers in their heads using ones and zeros – except some fringe characters, which you should definitely stay away from.

But it happens to be a simple thing for a computer circuit to represent a state with these two values – “0” or “1”, “no voltage”, “voltage” – that’s it. We do not work in voltages and currents, but computer circuits do, so it is their language.

Traditional computing since Boole and Babbage – and Countess Ada! – have worked numbers in this fashion. Since the 1940s, the current/no current in a circuit became the implementation medium for computing, inside computer circuits.

We have heard so much about it the binary states in computing that we mostly have some rudimentary understanding of the two states.

Quantum computer artist renditionEnter quantums. Physics has been nice a fun for centuries, being described by rules (“Laws of Physics”) by many folks who experimented and derived the rules – Newton to Einstein to Hawking. Some experimented in their heads using mathematical tools, others used their heads to intercept falling apples (Newton!) And so our physical world was pretty well described by various laws, gravity, speed, momentum, optics, electricity-oriented laws and so on.

But this all held well with the physical world of non-atomic dimensions – big stuff, especially big as compared to atomic particles. When it comes to these little entities that are smaller than small, the laws of physics simply do not quite work the way we are used to from High School Physics classes.

Quantum computing is one such “critter” that behaves differently in the small-scale subatomic world. While computer circuits determine states by zero or one, quantum computing has these states as well, but also adds another state – the in between state, neither on, nor off.

Yes, it sounds weird to say – or read – that something can be neither on nor off, neither zero, nor one. But there you have it – while the bits that we use use to represent states in a computing device can have only these two states, qubits, the representations of state in quantum computing, can have the on state, the off state, and the in-between state.

The only way to grasp this is to accept it as an “IT IS SO!”

Imagine the total befuddlement of people in Newton’s age when he suggested gravity as a law of nature – “whoa!!! Wait a moment here, what do you mean Earth pulls stuff without even touching it?” But we we do not find gravity to be a strange notion, we know it, and have discussed it, performed experiments to measure it and so on.

Qubits are to us like gravity was to Newton’s contemporaries. The third state is also called by the lovely technical term “coherent superposition.”

But don’t get too happy yet! It gets better! So what is the point here, you may ask. Qubits when joined in large numbers, can perform mathematical computations that are quite complex. The complexity leads to new possibilities to compute things that used to take loooong time on traditional computers in mere fractions of seconds.

Here is a practical example: You were told that a good password is a long one which utilizes many all numerics, all letters – upper and lower case – and as many symbols as you can. Such passwords you were told CAN BE CRACKED by computer using trial and error, but the number of trials will be so large that it is not practical to crack passwords that way, it might take the fastest computers 15,000 years or something like that.

But what about quantum computers? Yeah, exactly! They might take a few seconds to crack a password that a traditional computer would need 15,000 years to crack.

Weird stuff.

Now, don’t panic, don’t run out to change your passwords – this is not quite ready for prime time, although who knows what the NSA is using ALREADY – maybe they have a fully functional quantum computer of significant power.

But realistically, it’ll be many many years before quantum computers are ready to crack your passwords and lay bare to the world the cat pictures you have been sending in your emails…

There is more strangeness in quanta! One interesting – and widely popularized – aspect is the introduction of the uncertainty principle into their world (and ours!) If you measure an aspect of a quantum, their other measurable aspects are no longer static and may change. You can search for a term “Schrödinger’s cat” (here on Wikipedia) and it may melt your brain, but it is a fun piece of reading. Great gymnastics for the brain…

Another interesting effect of the quantum-sized world is the remote effect – a change in a quantum in one location can convey a change in another quantum even while the distance between the quanta may be millions of miles. And the change happens instantaneously! So much for speed of light!

So you can change a qubit of info in Chicago, and that change is conveyed to some spaceship 3 billion miles away from Chicago instantly! Huh? Yep, these are the implications of the science.

Enjoy that brain melt!

January 1st, 2016

Scary future – Climate Change

Happy New Year 2016!!

Just when the world relaxed into the post-Paris Climate Summit sleepiness, the evidence and research begins to come out.

This one is titled “Sorry, You Can’t Have Fries With That: 10 Foods That May Disappear Thanks to Climate Change" [click] is about some foods that will begin to disappear as the climate changes and growing conditions for crops begin to shift to the detriment of these crops.

What can you do? Educate yourself in the ways that small actions can help delay the changes, in perhaps reverse (nah, probably too optimistic! Just go for delay…) climate changes.

You can shift your food habits from meat at most meals to focusing on vegetables, and use meat only as flavoring. It works, it is fun, and it is healthy to boot, not just for you, but the planet!

Michael Pollan coined a great phrase, his three rules for eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” [click] He has great books you can get at the library, read, study, and live by.

Did you notice the word “mostly” in his rules for food? It means that you don’t have to panic about becoming a vegetarian or vegan!

Just start shifting slowly. Instead of 3 bacon strips with breakfast, have just 2 for the next 2 weeks. Then cut another one. Etc… Instead of finishing the whole 8 oz. of burger, leave a forkful on the plate for the next 2 weeks. Then another forkful. Etc…

You won’t feel hungry doing those minor changes, but if you do, get a carrot, maybe a small tomato.

Your body (and the planet!) will thank you. Before too long, you will be following Michael Pollan’s advice – no pain, no weight gain.

But Pollan is just one of many many resources. Start reading.

November 23rd, 2015

“Call A Professional”, Indeed!

I have waged battle trying to setup a printer to work wirelessly. The technology is there. The technical details are likely to be VERY understandable by anyone with 8th grade education who is not drooling. So where’s the battle? Manuals and user guides written by persons with zero comprehension of sentence structure, zero attention or care that OTHERS read what they wrote. In fact, I suspect almost NO USER MANUALS were EVER read by whoever wrote them! Yeah, I am disgusted.

I won’t name names, these companies already have a sullied reputation without my slashing at them.

But today, facing the prospect of “back to the torture chamber” to continue the battle, I saw this cartoon in the November 23, 2015 edition of How To Geek Newsletter. It fits to a tee!

2015-11-23 Geek Comic Call A Professional

November 20th, 2015

Inspiration by Einstein

My previous 3 posts about big numbers, the one before about programming and my post about swimming with/against the current, all came into focus when I read the article in the New Yorker “The Space Doctor’s Big Idea” from November 18, 2015.

The New Yorker article is about Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Einstein was an extraordinary thinker, a fact that the article discusses with some nice emphasis. Big thoughts are not necessarily simple to explain, although the US Election Campaign raging in full force now would have you believe it is exactly that. Candidates right and left (and even center – wait… Are there any?) dummify ideas that take considerably more than 140 characters to describe and encapsulate them into a little dumbpill of a soundbite. All the nuances get lost, and with that, the real value of the ideas is tossed into the garbage heap of politics. That people lap this up and cherish these morsels of dung, and why, is another post for another time. But let me slap myself back into the topic I set to write about… The General Theory of Relativity [See Wikipedia article] was published in 1915, and over the last 100 years – yes it is 100 years old! – has been tested several times in elaborate experiments. It is quite complex because of the math that accompanies it (which is considerably longer than 140 character!) It followed the Special Theory of Relativity [See Wikipedia article] published in 1905.

Back to the New Yorker article: In the article, the author Randall Munroe, who is behind the comic xkcd [See Wikipedia article] attempts to explain the Special Theory of Relativity (and its big sister General Theory of Relativity) using a 1000 most used word vocabulary. He observes that, ironically, the word “thousand” is not among these words, and resorts to using “ten hundred” to express the number.

I read through the article and it is GREAT! Read it. You will easily understand it.

The next job for you will be to read through the gibberish of some narrative from speeches made by 2016 Presidential Canddiates (both side!) and see if you can make your way through these without losing your sanity and tear your hairs out. (Maybe just read the New Yorker article and stop there, huh?)

Have a lovely day…

October 27th, 2015

The power of programming

Scott Adams is the brilliant creator of the Dilbert cartoon in 1995. The cartoon below is from September 18, 1996, so quite an “oldie”. Still, you can see the distinct characters and “hear” the sardonic “voice” that permeates his cartoons even to this day.

I like this cartoon because I have been programming quite a lot lately and algorithms, functions, and how to solve problems has been filling my mind a lot. Thank you Scott Adams. (See this Wikipedia article about Mr. Adams.)

Enjoy…

dt960918dhc0

October 15th, 2015

A different way to swim with the current

No, this is NOT a political comment, although it might have been, considering Sen. Sanders performance in the Democratic Party primary debate two nights ago. He spoke his mind, and expressed the truth as he sees it and the public went wild. Public opinion on Twitter showed him to be a winner, opinion polls showed him to be the winner, focus groups conducted all over the country declared Bernie a winner, his campaign raised $1.5m in the same time frame, yet the US media and punditry, owned by and paid for by the 1%ers kept Hillary Clinton’s name as the “crushing winner”… I watched the debate myself and did not see her as the winner. Yeah, I am biased for Sen. Bernie Sanders!

But this post is about another anti-estsblishment hero (and it is not The Donald Trump!) The establishment here is organized sheepherding er… religion, of course. From Non Sequitur comic strip of today.

Enjoy.

nq151015

October 11th, 2015

Hilarious and utterly true

Saw this post early today in Naked Capitalism http://nakedcapitalism.com, an unabashed site reporting on events and happenings in a way few dare. NC also has brains, rock-solid analysis, and research.

Anyway, the video was apparently originally discovered by “abynormal” somewhere, and brought to NC’s attention. It is a skit by Jonathan Pie satirizing the “clean, sanitized” news.

Warning: the language is unsanitized! Sensitive ears might burn to a crisp.

 

Looks like the satirical sector of our society, always a harbinger of things to cone, is paying attention to “the news”. That news sector has long been seen as the mouthpiece of the oligarchical ownership, and not true voice of veracity.

The commentary on the post is equal in quality to the post itself, and worth reading.

March 11th, 2015

How to say “coffeeshop hotspot”

In my world, this is also a way to say “my office”!

My Office

My Office

Credit goes to The Register, where I found this image in an article about wi-fi calling, thank you El Reg…

March 10th, 2015

Government Efficiency

A political hot potato, undoubtedly… Extreme Republicans would like to shrink government to such a size that would make it possible to drown the governement in a tub. Of course, they would like to have the road to their homes ploughed out of the snow in the winter, potholes filled and repaired in the summer. Presumably, this would happen via that well-proven process called “magic”…

Government Efficiency

Government Efficiency


Let’s see, medical research on the disease afflicting them should be financed by another segment of aforementioned “magic”.

The other side of this coin is a behemoth, overburdened by regulations detailing how one may lift their little finger, when, and the necessary forms to fill out prior to such lifting. I doubt one needs to worry much about such beasts – they fall and may never be able to get back up because of their own weight…

Somewhere in the middle lies the answer. And the target efficiency moves aroind, never staying in exactly the same spot. Milk production, meat packing or medication safety, should be heavily regulated with plenty of money for inspection by competent and well educated inspectors. Our lives depend on such government processes – they better NOT be tiny and bathtub-drownable.

The only way to reach a spot that may be proper is by continuing to calibrate the optimal spot. It is called politics and it REQUIRES transparency.

Either you become part of it or yoi are a person looking for “magic”. Good luck to you, but please stay the heck out of politics, lest you are called delusional.

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