Interview with Dr.

On the Rands In Repose site I found this short interview with Joshua Schachter, the clever fellow behind the juggernaut. It’s a brief picture of someone who comes across as a laid-back slacker dude made good. He’s not looking for money. He has a day job (Late-breaking NEWSFLASH: not anymore). He made for himself and, hey! it’s pretty cool that 30,000 other people really like it too. I’m sure he’s more hard-driving than he sounds, given what he’s accomplished, but the really encouraging part of the story to me is the magnitude of what one clever person with limited resources can do. This is what makes our age a constant wonder… the unlocking of talent all over the world. And what about that goofy name? Here’s what he has to say about it.

I somewhat regret using the domain name, because it’s almost impossible to discuss or verify without sounding silly. I’ll probably have to rename it at some point, presumably as something ending in -ster or -zilla or whatever.

Whatever, man. Slacker slackers are lame, but Mover-shaker slackers like Schachter (even when they ironically tweak their interviewers) are my heroes. You go, dude!

After reading the interview, I was poking around the rest of the Rands in Repose site and I was rewarded with this gemstone. It is my gift to you today: Mahnamahna.

Comment spam be gone

I’m trying out some new anti-spam software called MT-Keystrokes. It’s got some JavaScript magic to determine whether or not you’re a bot when you create your feedback. Dealing with comment spam has gotten to be a real chore lately. It’s truly amazing how much of it there is. It all gets moderated automatically by MT-Blacklist, which is a great step forward by itself, but I still have to go scoop all the paste out of the rotors every now and again, and that’s a pain.

Incidentally, you might think that pornography is the number one spam item, but actually, far and away the biggest single topic is poker. After that it’s prescription drugs, and only then do you start getting into the incest, bondage, and whatnot. The quantity has increased a lot lately (over and above quantities that boggled my mind heretofore). So I’m trying this new technique, since it’s got the Jay Allen (of MT-Blacklist fame) seal of approval.

So let me know if you have any comment problems. Just don’t post comments about… you know… whatnot.

Flickr’ing Saturn

I continue to be impressed with the community energy going on over at Flickr. I was struck by this lovely set assembled by Kokogiak (Alan Taylor) of pictures from the Cassini space probe at Saturn. What’s especially interesting here is that all the pictures come from NASA’s official Cassini site. Anybody could make a set like it, but no one else has (including NASA). The Mars rover page does a much better job, comparatively, in letting you get at interesting pictures. Taylor has done us all a wonderful service… his collection has the Wow factor that the NASA hadn’t yet supplied. Here’s how he describes it.

I’ve been fanatic about space exploration since I was a kid, and have been giddy the past year or so with the constant feed of imagery from Mars and Saturn. I’ve been trolling the 35,000+ images from Saturn ever since they started coming online. All of the images in this photoset come from NASA’s JPL website. They are the best of the lot, in my judgment. As self-appointed curator, I chose 101 images that spoke to me, and that I thought would speak to others. Especially the ones that made me say “whoa” to myself the first time I saw them.

While you’re at it, take a minute to look at his compact Amazon Light interface that makes a clutter free version of the Amazon site using far less real estate. Thanks Alan!

Macintosh early days

Over at ITConversations I listened to an entertaining talk by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the first people on the Macintosh development team. I haven’t listened to it, but there’s also an interview with him on the site. Hertzfeld has been busy telling the world about his new book, Revolution in the Valley. Ancient Mac history is in vogue these days, I suppose, because of the recent twentieth anniversary of its introduction. That would explain why there’s also a talk by Steve Wozniak at ITConversations. This is one of the more entertaining and bizarre things I’ve listened to in a long time. Woz is clearly a very smart very odd guy. You knew that already, but it’s fun to see how plays out in his stories.

Hertzfeld’s book about the Mac grew out of a web site that he put together called Macintosh Stories. I believe most of his book is available on this site, but O’Reilly convinced him that people would buy the book anyway, so now you can read the book OR surf the site. For instance, read about the infamous Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. It’s easy to imagine that some of these stories are more fun to remember than to have experienced.

Electric muscles

Could you beat the EAP? At the recent artificial arm-wrestling contest, you almost certainly would have. EAP stands for electroactive polymer, also known as artificial muscle, and earlier this month, the best
artificial arms wrestled with a human opponent and lost decisively. (Note: the human opponent was a girl!)

We always hear about artificial intelligence, but never artificial muscle. Why? Because electric motors do our heavy lifting. But muscles have some powerful advantages over motors. When it comes to “real” muscle (that is, stretchy springy animal-like fibers) we are ignorant and unskilled. But good progress is being made, and when we have cheap reliable robot muscle, all kinds of interesting things will become possible. Even the simplest motor is quite complicated, but muscle offers quiet, cheap, scalable functionality. The potential for a wiggly landscape is appealingly weird. Perhaps your car will motor along on cilia. Your computer will be cooled by miniature lungs. And the Lazy Susan will stop being lazy, choosing instead to carry the mashed potatoes to your plate on tiny legs. If you could reel out electric muscle by the yard, Christmas tree lights might also be employed to have the tree dance and twist. Garden hoses could slither their way to the dry part of the lawn. Artificial muscle is a much bigger story than it first appears to be.

Synth bio rides the hype curve

Over at MIT, Thomas Knight, Drew Endy, et al. continue to draw glowing press on the subject of synthetic biology. Here’s the Guardian talking about MIT’s new undergraduate synth bio curriculum.

The synthetic biology story has been a matter of breathless anticipation for the science journalists out there, and the anti-genetic modification zealots and religious conservatives have yet to start beating on it. As soon as we start hearing the first horrified Luddite outrage about MIT’s new program, I’ll know that it’s really arrived. Here’s Douglas Lauffenburger predicting the future.

In a field so loaded with possibilities, it is difficult for the
researchers to map out the future. Lauffenburger is certain that within 50 years, the entire pharmaceutical industry will operate on an engineered basis, eliminating the need for messy trial and error
methods of drug discovery.

I believe that. But 50 years is a mighty long time.

Life in the cloud

I’m spending time these days “nesting” on my new computer: installing programs, getting the files I need, setting up preferences, logging into websites. The process is more pleasant this time around than the last time I bought a computer four years ago. Why? Because now I make more extensive use of net-based applications and resources.

The best example of this is Gmail. I don’t have to move any files at all. Once I log in, I’m done. I don’t have to commit to putting an email client on my machine or my wife’s machine. I can check my mail with equal ease from either computer (or from work, for that matter). Net-based email isn’t new, but my recent headaches with home networking (I still can’t get my two PCs to talk to each other) have driven home the point that moving my gear into the internet cloud has some powerful advantages. I’m willing to take a significant hit in functionality in order to stop being my own network administrator. My current solution for printing from my wife’s computer is to Gmail the file as an attachment to my computer and then print it. Roy uses Gmail as a mountable drive in order to share pictures with his brother.

Once a file is safely out there in the cloud somewhere, it’s somebody else’s job to keep it backed up, indexed, and accessible. Privacy, security, reliability, these are risks I’m willing to take. Does that make me foolhardy or ahead of the curve?

“Amongst” among us

Crikey! Has anyone else noticed the rise of the Britishisms “amongst” and “whilst” among American bloggers? I can’t decide if people are being pretentious or simply being pulled along in the verbal tide, but I attribute it to the fact that there are so many clever and influential Brits brightening the blogosphere. The Guardian has certainly strengthened its reputation as an international paper of record by wholly embracing the web. And if you read enough Ben Hammersley cracking on about cigars, RSS feeds, and Florentine caffes, you too might rather fancy the occasional “whilst”. Can an uptick in “colour” be far behind?

Now back to our regularly scheduled programme…

Ta-Da Lists, not there yet

Ta-Da List is a nifty free micro-web-app that helps you keep lists. That’s all it does. Brought to you by the same folks who make the online project management software Basecamp, Ta-Da List lets you set up shareable public lists (with RSS feeds, no less!) quickly and easily. I thought I had finally found what I’ve been looking for. But it was not. What am I looking for? I want a URL-based delicious-y way to post a new checklist item. I can add, for example, add a new item to my delicious bookmark list by using this URL.

Why are there no list sites that do this same thing? I want to be able to map some quick keys in the browser or in Dave’s excellent DQSD so that I can add items to my list.

Is it too much to ask for a RESTful to do list? Or an appropriate hack on the Ta-Da List interface? Oh LazyWeb hear my cry!

IP networking and murderous rage

I bought a new computer. It is shiny. It is fast. It is attached to my little home network. But my little home network does not work. My two XP machines have no love for one another. No, indeed they do not. I have been trying to make them speak to each other for two days. And now I am seething with a smoldering rage that threatens to combust into an incandescent homicidal mania.

All I want to do is share files from one computer to the other. Why is this so hard? I have found no shortage of advice and troubleshooting tips. I have tried to follow it all. What alarms me is how many people have this problem and how varied the “solutions” are. I have verified that both computers can see the net. I have enabled NetBIOS over TCP/IP. I have run the home networking wizard. I have poked the registry’s Lsarestrictanonymous bit. Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed, but still no joy. I have rebooted and three-finger saluted. I have IPCONFIG’d and PING’d. I have disabled firewalls and unplugged virus filters. I have renamed my workgroup and computers. And now, if only I could find someone remotely responsible, I would surely strangle them before it occurred to me to ask them for help.

Fortunately, venting my spleen by blog still works. I feel a little better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go outside and smash something noisy with a great big hammer.