Bay Bridge Logistics

Fortunately I’m not affected at all by the added day of Bay Bridge Closure, but this quote about the repair amazes me:

The parts needed to make the fix were manufactured overnight by Stinger Welding Inc. in Coolidge, Ariz. Weighing about 18,000 pounds, they landed at Oakland International Airport aboard a chartered plane Sunday afternoon.

It reminds me of the MacArthur Maze Fire that was supposed to take half a year to repair, but ended up taking 25 days.

Yahoo! Korea: Webzari

Yahoo! Korea presented to Yahoo! Research Berkeley yesterday and showed us some of their work. I was completely blown away, and the meeting left a strange taste in my mouth, something akin to “I wish I lived in Korea.”

Yahoo! provides a service called Site Explorer that allows webmasters to do research on how their site is being linked from the rest of the web. As Jeongeun Lee of Y! Korea put it, “we wanted to make this experience more fun.” They took the metaphor of exploration quite literally, imagining the web to be a universe, putting the user on an interstellar expedition. The result is a service called Webzari, essentially a different interface on the same data. It looks something like this:


Essentially, it goes something like this: web sites are planets whose size is determined by the number of links they have. Planets are attracted to each other based on the links between them, and you are a little space ship that flies around the universe. Check out Webzari in action:

Webzari for

Webzari for

Webzari for Yahoo! Korea

Yellow planets denote websites in Korean while purple ones are “foreign” (and you’ll notice that the flag next to your spaceship changes depending on the planet you’re next to). If you click on a planet you’ll get details about the local flora and fauna and the ability to navigate to this part of the solar system. It may not be as useful for research as Site Explorer, but I have to hand it to them, it is definitely more fun.

By the end of next year I expect that they’ll probably have replicated the entire Spore game system, wherein when you start a blog your posts are little organisms fighting for control of the site. After for a while your links start to appear and suddenly you zoom out to this interface. Eventually your blog will take over the universe and Yahoo! Search will become artificially intelligent, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

Bedbug status quo

I’ve been hearing a lot of rumor and fact thrown around in conversations about bedbugs. They seem to be entering the popular consciousness in a big way, probably because most people are starting to have real personal interaction with the pests. Until now, they’ve been somewhat of an anachronism, something your grandmother would talk about. This is because we eradicated them from the American landscape in the 50’s with a little toxin known as DDT. Well, guess what, they’re back, and we don’t really have the DDT option this time.

Various news articles around the web report warnings about the recent growth of this trend. CNN cites Orkin having 0 reports in 200 with 390 house calls in 2003. Friends from New York say it’s a growing trend, and I’ve also heard reports of people here in San Francisco that neighbors and friends have had to deal with the pests. The CDC does not have a recent morbidity and mortality report on the subject, nor does there seem to be any nationwide statistics available from a valid health organization. How big is this problem? Inquiring (and frightened) minds want to know.

Assuming that we’re headed towards a nationwide epidemic, Ask Metafilter provides a number of pragmatic solutions to an infestation: throw out your furniture, wrap everything in plastic and put it in storage, or move to New Mexico. And in most cases, they end up surviving. I’d like to have a little peace of mind, anything really to let me sleep tight.

Update: SFist has two articles on bedbugs in San Francisco: Bedbug Army attacks San Francisco and Bedbugs bedbugs whatcha gonna do.

Update: I’ve also posted a question on Yahoo! Answers looking for bedbug statistics.

Kitchen quiz

While cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my mom over the weekend, I had the privilege of reorganizing her entire kitchen from the bottom up. Buried deep amidst the cherry pitters, pre-microplane zesters, and other seldom-used implements I found two items that are completely outside of my culinary vocabulary:

Tool 1

Tool 1 (alternate framed view)

Tool 2

Tool 2 (close-up arty view)

The last one is so strange, I took a short video of it in action. There is a short section in most Cook’s Illustrated issues that deals with this task of describing the indescribable. But I’m not a man that has 3 months to wait for an answer, so I am asking you, oh powerful web of knowledge, what are these strange devices? Free kudos to anyone that can provide a believable answer.

Upcoming superstar

Once upon a time...Once upon a time I had a friend who had a small website. We were such good friends that I became a poster child for said website, and everyone was happy. The sun was shining that day.

Then a BIG CORPORATION acquired the website, and corporate policy ensued. Privacies were policied, and policies were privatized. Somewhere in the mix, my poster-childhood was revoked. My picture was no longer an example for all those aspiring up-and-coming upcomingers. The fog rolled in that day.

But for a limited time, you can still see me in action! Quick, while supplies still last, go get your free autographed copy of Cameron Marlow, upcoming superstar!

Being quiet and cool

happy messagersThere are a number of studies that show younger people connecting more via instant messaging and SMS than other forms of communication. The Digital Chosunilbo reports that this transition has covered Korea under a veil of silence:

If in an age of near-ubiquitous communication people have become paradoxically quiet, it is because means of communication that replace the spoken word, like chat programs and text messengers, are cheap, convenient to use and accessible everywhere. There are people who say they could live comfortably without saying a word all day, and who send so many SMS and chat online so much that sometimes they find it awkward to talk.

There are also those who claim that the internet is making us withdraw socially from those around us, with communications that are less emotionally rich than face-to-face contact. This article provides one of the first theories of why messaging might be doing the same thing:

Yonsei University sociologist Kim Ho-gi says young-generation “cool” means a preference for writing over speech. “Speech is loaded with feeling, and because young people prefer communication styles that convey meaning simply and clearly while keeping their own emotions in check, they like communicating through text messages.”

Most of the research in this area suggests that those crazy kids are doing it because they can have multiple conversations simultaneously; if this article is correct, and indeed we message-to-be-cool, I’d have to agree that we’re headed in a socially scary direction. The emotional effects of messaging definitely warrent some more attention (via Smart Mobs).

Typesetting my thesis

doctor snapping his latex gloveI’m at the point where I’m beginning to think about actually writing my Ph.D. thesis, and that means deciding what to write it in. My last experience in this realm was a disaster: with three hours to finish and print my Masters thesis, my sections automagically renumbered themselves, something that took me an hour to reverse. If possible I want to avoid a situation where my word processor “fixes” things for me.

My needs are simple: I want a pretty document, with a nice layout, and good bibliographic support. Here’s a quick rundown of my options:

Microsoft Word
World standard, good bibliographic support through Endnote, pretty good global style control, sucks for editing large documents
Adobe InDesign
No bibliographic support, handles large documents, but most features (such as endnotes/footnotes) must be done by hand
No interface, good bibliographic support through Bibtex, handles large documents, good global style control

Like many a Ph.D. student before me, it appears that if I can do without the interface, LaTeX is the obvious solution. No weird side effects, total style control and great support for all kinds of sundries like equations, bibliographic data, and so on. The only thing I worried about were the fonts.

Contrary to previous accounts, installing LaTeX on OS X was a cinch: using the ii installer, packages for teTex were installed on my machine in seconds. And something I was not aware of is the fact that OS X provides a system called XeTeX that has full support for OS X and TrueType fonts. Seriously brother, can a man ask for more?

I took the MIT Thesis LaTeX files, added some Mac fonts like Hoefler Text and Optima (using the fontspec package, which is a breeze), and blamo! I’ve got a great looking thesis. After struggling with my last thesis, this is a weight off my chest.

Bicycle Defense Fund

An organization has arisen in NYC to help support those individuals arrested during Critical Mass events under the name Freewheels Bicycle Defense Fund. This past weekend they hosted an inaugural fund driving event in Brooklyn that apparently made upwards of $4k for the legal battling bikers.

According to my friend Jamie, most, if not all of the arrested cyclists have refused offers of Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) and decided to take their cases to court. Given the number of cases already pending, along with the expected number to arise from the first big ride of the year in April, the Critical Mass defendants will be needing quite a bit of support for what could be a very defining court battle for bikers rights in the city.

Laptop Withdrawal Affective Disorder

The symptoms started about two weeks ago when I first noticed that my 12″ Powerbook’s hard drive was on the fritz. My applications slowed down, movies stopped playing halfway through, and I was finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Then today when I went into my local Apple store for a diagnosis, things really started to set in. I’m grumpy, irritable, and constantly frustrated. I’m afraid I have classic symptoms of Laptop Withdrawal Affective Disorder (LWAD).

In all honesty, I’m telling the truth. Well, maybe the part about not getting up in the morning is more about me being lazy, but I am generally off since I realized I’d be without my laptop for a week. It’s not the service it provides, per se, it’s how it’s integrated itself into my life. I’ve had relationships with a few PC laptops in the past, but my Powerbook seems to be the first laptop I’ve ever truly loved. Without it I feel lost, aimless, and like I spend most of my time thinking about how much easier everything would be if I didn’t have to use this damn PC desktop.

It’s definitely a testament to the quality and usability of Apple’s laptops. Sure they’re not the fastest, lightest, or most eye-catching machines around, but they generally work better than anything else. Maybe Apple would settle out of court if I sued them over my current condition. I think my expensive AppleCare support should include some sort of counseling for my condition. Something—anything—to make this pain go away.

OS X keyboard locking issue

I’ve been dealing with this problem with my Powerbook 12″ lately which has been the source of neverending frustration: while using my laptop occassionally the keyboard will stop working. For a while I thought that the only way to cure my ill computer was to reboot it, and with Google providing no help, I was just about to stick my silver friend in the microwave to teach it a lesson.

Over the past month or so, I’ve discovered quite a few features of this peculiar bug. The first thing I recognized was that not all of the keys were frozen: most of the option and F-keys still provided their full functionality, such as App switching (Commant-Tab), brightness control (F1-F2), etc. Still nothing would repair this ailment, and I’d eventually end up rebooting.

But last night I made a major breakthrough: while locked, I tried to Force-quit (Command-Option-ESC), and suddenly my keyboard was returned to normal. I quickly tried seeing if it was related to any of my running applications: not iTerm, not BBEdit, none of them seemed to affect it. But, while switching applications once I tried to not use Command-Tab, and low and behold, the problem went away entirely.

Whenever I use Command-tab to switch applications now, there’s a good chance that my keyboard will lock. Has anyone ever encountered this problem before? Either I’m a really peculiar user or it’s something specific about the applications I use (I just reinstalled last week).

Very strange.

Update: I realized that when the machine gets into this state, any Cmd-Tab operation will render the keyboard unusable (until you run force-quit), but a reboot returns things to the normal operation. Relaunching the Finder has no effect, so it’s as if the kernel gets into a state where application switching causes the keyboard to hang.