Archive | December, 2009

Blue Moon

30 Dec

The New Year celebration will kick off with a “once in a blue moon” event – literally. Most years have one full moon a month, twelve full moons a year. However, since the lunar cycle is 28 days, each calendar year contains an excess of roughly eleven days which accumulate so that every two to three years there is an “extra” full moon in that given year. Every 20 years, one month gets two full moons, this year the second one will shine over the New Years Eve festivities.

The full moon will affect tides, so surfers should head to the beach in hopes of catching the high tide before going out to celebrate the new year. From experience I can say with certainty that it’s not smart to go surfing in Northern California in the middle of winter without the proper attire. Despite the wintry weather, I’ll brave the cold and don my wetsuit to safeguard from another close call with hypothermia…

Blue Moon

Besides the astronomical and tidal significance, there is the musical significance of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s song. “Blue Moon” has been covered by a myriad of musicians across genres over the years; here are four of my favorites:

no one sings it like Ella:

gotta love Nat King Cole:

still, The Marcels hold a special doo-wop place in my heart:

and my fav punk rockers, MxPx, go for it:

beat the txt

29 Dec

Along with the holidays comes the age-old tradition of hyped up enforcement of drunk driving laws around the country. No doubt you’ve seen the sobriety checkpoints, set up to thwart drunk drivers and deter anyone sober enough to fear arrest. But fear not my liquored-up friends, for technology is on your side… in a sense…

Drivers are using text messages, Twitter, iPhone apps and other savvy tech tools to inform others of sobriety checkpoint locations. While warning others about checkpoints is one thing, using that information to justify drunk driving is quite another. Checkpoints are set up to prevent individuals from driving in the first place and broadcasting this information has the potential to deter drunk individuals from driving. However, people could use location information to come up with routes avoiding these checkpoints and encouraging drunk driving… which is slightly problematic, both for law enforcement and drivers (drunk or not).

The primary goal of checkpoints is not to remove drunk drivers from the road, but to reduce driving after drinking by increasing the perceived risk of arrest. Unlike checkpoints,  saturation patrols are the real threat to drunk drivers. These patrols are areas with a high concentration of officers on the move. Compared to checkpoints, patrols produce about seven times as many DUI arrests.

I’m all for a good time and empowerment through technology, but seriously, if you’re going to drink, have a designated driver, take a taxi, or sober it up while you figure out (the lack of) public transportation at dark-thirty in the morning. Cheers.

i think, therefore i say

28 Dec

Yes, it’s another invasive procedure, but scientists, led by Frank Guenther at Boston University, have successfully demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. Studies have been conducted implanting an electrode into the brain of a person suffering from locked-in syndrome, a condition where one is aware and awake but physically paralyzed except for the eyes. Using the brain-machine interface, it takes about 50 milliseconds for the thought-to-speech process, which is about the same amount of time for a neurologically healthy individual to speak his or her thoughts aloud.

5 years ago, scientists implanted an electrode near the boundary between the speech-related premotor and primary motor cortex within the frontal lobe of a volunteer’s brain. Neurons began to develop and extend into the electrode, and, in three to four months, these neurites produced signaling patterns on the electrode wires.

The system is “telemetric” in that it requires no wires or connectors passing through the skin, eliminating the risk of infection. Instead, the electrode amplifies and converts neural signals into frequency modulated (FM) radio signals. These signals are wirelessly transmitted across the scalp to two coils, acting as receiving antenna, attached to the volunteer’s head. The implanted electrode is powered by an induction power supply via a power coil, which is also attached to the head – so yes, another breakthrough in future headgear fashion.

The signals are routed to a recording system that digitizes and sorts them. Spikes in signal convey when a neuron fired information and contain the relevant data for this thought-to-speech system.The sorted spikes are sent to a neural decoder which connects to a speech synthesizer. Finally, the speech synthesizer generates synthetic speech in just 50 milliseconds. In time, this system could enable individuals suffering from paralysis to partake in real-time conversation. Pretty damn spiffy.

Speech Synthesizer. Credit: Guenther, et al.

Speech Synthesizer. Credit: Guenther, et al.

150 days and counting

14 Dec

Okay. It’s starting to sink in… I’m going to be biking across the United States this summer. On Friday, I officially raised over $1,000…. $3,000 in counting and 150 days to do it.

Training has been pretty light lately, stymied by a little knee injury – no reason to be alarmed. I know exactly what caused my knee to FAIL and what I need to do in the future to avoid repeating this little misadventure. See the thing is, I do silly things, like waking up and deciding to run to work carrying my laptop and a slew of other very useful items that do not lend themselves to running long distances. I also don’t pay much attention to distances… I’m sure the 5.9 miles would’ve at least gotten me to reconsider what I decided to take to work…. maybe stretch a little. But the past is past and here I am reveling in the pain that shoots through my knee every time it bends.

Ah, well. It’s healing.

Once my knee decides to get back in gear, I’ll be increasing my training and getting into a more regimented routine. All things considered, I’m in better shape than I had expected!

Christmastime at 157th

13 Dec

It’s been a harrowing few weeks here. All sorts of madness and mayhem, riots and the like- just my kind of tea party. I’ve had an incredible stroke of good fortune hand in hand with a myriad of low blows and downright downers. Why, just the other night my apartment was burglarized.

It was Saturday and I spent it like any other day – working. I left the apartment around 1pm to go to the library with hopes of focusing my energy. 10 hours later, I had accomplished less than I had hoped, but more than I had expected- considering the fact that I’d been burning the candle at both ends for a while and was both mentally and physically fatigued. I packed up my things and opted to take the subway home, coming to terms with my state of being and realizing the usual walk home would be a nail in the coffin, so to speak.

Most nights, Stephanie or Hans is home before I arrive. The usual routine is for me to stumble into the apartment and spend my last stores of energy catching up with the roommates before passing out from exhaustion or catching a second wind and working ’til dark-thirty in the morning. Had Saturday been like most nights, I’d have placed money on the former, all things considered. But it was unlike any other night I’ve experienced yet.

I walked the 6 flights of stairs in defiance, muttering deliriously to myself that my knee better heal itself (I ran to work last week, shouldering a laptop+accessories without stretching… my knee has yet to forgive me). I reached the top and my body immediately began shutting down. I was home. I’d say hello to Stephanie or Hans- whoever was there- and I’d be in bed in less than a minute, asleep in 5. But all this was fantasy.

The door opened a few inches before being stopped abruptly by the chain. From the opening I could see Angel’s television boxed up and sitting beside the couch. My hiking backpack was in the hallway. All the lights were on. I heard shuffling inside, then silence. Neither Stephanie or Hans had told me they’d be going out and I hadn’t seen or heard from either all day- so in my stupor I assumed that one or both of them were playing a prank on me. Confused, I closed the door and sent them both text messages: “who is home right now?…”

The little hour-glass was turning perpetually in my head, or for those apple aficionados: the spiral of doom, nothing was processing. I was perplexed and totally unprepared to deal with the situation at hand. Waiting for response from my roommates I opened the door again and sat there yelling into the apartment something along the lines of ninja kicking a person’s face or some such nonsense. Expecting one of my roommates to burst into view laughing at my helplessness, I kept my vigil at the door, still completely unaware that anything was out of sorts. Then Stephanie’s texts arrived: “I’m not home”, “I’m pretty sure Hans isn’t home”…

Stephanie was the first to get back and it wasn’t until then that I realized what had transpired: I had come home while someone was in the middle of ransacking our apartment. Stephanie called the cops who promptly kicked in our door and made a sweep of the premises. Not long after they arrived, Hans came home and we all made a list of missing items from our visual analysis of the apartment, we had to be careful not to touch anything because CSI was on its way. The compiled list was an extensive array of electronics and valuables: laptops, a monitor, jewelry, Christmas presents, a Columbia ski jacket, digital cameras, debit cards…

CSI arrived, focusing on my room, where the individual entered and exited through the fire-escape window, and the boxed up television. After finishing up in my room and checking the television for fingerprints, the police allowed us to start sorting through the mayhem to see if we could find any of our missing items. Stephanie’s laundry bag was bulging and propped up in the middle of the common area. Inside, most of our missing items were recovered! Unfortunately, at the end of our clean up, the digital cameras, a laptop, debit cards, jewelry, and a backpack were still missing… and I was still only half aware of what was going on around me.

Satisfied with the evidence collected, CSI and the police called it a night. Not long after they left, Angel came by and helped us clean up our apartment. By 3 am, it looked like nothing had happened- save for the plank of wood missing from the door frame and some half-opened Christmas presents beneath the tree. Had I been in my full self and known that neither of my roommates was home, it is very likely that I would have done something extremely rash and dangerous… luckily, I walked in on the heist and no one was hurt. My window has since been fortified. Huzzah.

cyberpunk dreams

11 Dec

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have harnessed the power of your thoughts to type. This technology is too cool to go under the radar. Just think of the possibilities. Next step: Telekinesis, Kyle.

Electrode grids implanted in patients’ brains are being calibrated to recognize brainwaves associated with written language. Patients participating in the experiment have successfully typed by thought. This awesomeness does require a craniotomy, where a part of your skull is removed to expose brain surface… so people will be thinking twice before running to the nearest brain surgeon, especially when there is a non-invasive technique that has similar results and trendy headgear:

EEG wear this in style

EEG head-gear, the latest in fashion

Despite having to go under the knife, brain-computer interface technology and its possible applications are impressive. 10, 20 years down the road we’ll all be Jean Greys (hotness not included and spandex body suit optional of course).

we’re all pirates

8 Dec

Here in the good ol’USA when we hear mention of the RIAA, we all get the warm fuzzies whilst we recall grandmothers and children getting sued for copyright infringement – at least I do… But let’s shift our attention north to our friendly neighbors in the fine land of Canada where a slightly different manner of lawsuit is being played out now.

The headline from Ars Technica caught my eye: “Artists’ lawsuit: major record labels are the real pirates“. I nearly flipped my chair when I jumped out of my seat in pure elation. This was worth a read. A $50 million – $6 billion music infringement lawsuit has been filed against members of the  Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) and even our big four favorites: Warner, Sony BMG, EMI, and Universal. This case was opened up back in 2008, but more and more musicians are raising their voices against the labels.

Apparently the issue is founded upon the notorious “pending list’ which was established back in the 1980s. Canada refined its compulsory license law allowing record companies to use songs without authorization/payment to copyright holders as long as the song was added to a list of music pending said authorization/payment… so artists got to twiddle their thumbs while their work was exploited with only the promise of compensation.

Well you know how things go and how lists can get out of control. Let’s not get all up in arms over the fact that the record industry completely blew off artists,  and continued to add more and more songs to the pending list without compensation or authorization. I’m sure they were busy cashing in on compilation albums like “NOW That’s What I Call Music ∞!” or “BEST OF [insert exploited artist here]”. Apparently the infamous pending list is comprised of over 300,000 songs from major and independent artists- at least this is one area where the record industry is completely unbiased.

So now the Canadian music industry is getting slammed with the same lawsuit they’ve been advocating since the dawn of the digital age and music discovery sites like Grogster and Napster. This whole situation is dripping in irony and I’m soaking it up for everything its worth – which could be as much as $20,000 per infringement, the same standards used against individual file sharers in the past. Joy.

If you’re interested in reading the fine details, here’s the lawsuit.

musing over the google giant

2 Dec

The New York Times features an interesting discussion over the future of the internet giant we all know (and dare-I-say love) as Google.

What Should Google Fear? and Google vs. Government are covered in part 1, while part 2 considers whether Google is Good or Bad for Journalism? and Privacy Concerns.

Part 1 | Part 2

The internet has evolved since its creation and mass inception, so too has Google over the past 10 years since its founding. It’s an ever-changing environment and technology is pushing forward at a break-neck speed. That’s why the first topic, What Should Google Fear, immediately caught my attention. What Google should fear today is definitely not the same as what it feared yesterday or what it will have to watch out for in the future (if there is a Google as we know it 10 years down the road).

Right now, there is definite pressure from social networks and alternative gateways that provide niche environments ripe with relevant and quality content. These spaces provide a much more focused environment than Google (or any search engine) results that could have you skimming thousands upon thousands of links. Depending on your purpose, going to a dedicated social network or gateway could save you a lot of time and provide you with a much better “user experience” than using Google.