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Work Talk, or How Biology Ticks

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Actually, the fledgling AI wasn’t on the list of trends I wanted to discuss. Talk about the elephant in the room.

It’s probably because hubby and I had a row about his working hours. He must have come close to a hundred a week. I’m not kidding. He summed it up thus, “Last week I clocked up sixty hours of CPU time.”

“So what? I clock up a few myself when Firefox freezes or Jarte goes into a sulk because I type ‘control-t’ for a new tab and it tries to access the online thesaurus instead.” It’s ‘control-n’ for new file. Jeez.

“No, I mean I clocked up sixty hours of meaningful CPU time on an eight core machine. It was processing.”

“Hrmph.” I shrugged.

“You never take any interest in my work!”

Now wait a minute! I thought we had agreed not to talk about work. Every time I—”

He dismissed me with a wave. “I still know more about any of your projects than you care to remember.”

That is true. I don’t have his memory. “Yeah, but compared to computer programming, biology is easy to understand. I need a degree in computer science to follow what you do. Biology’s intuitive. But doing it is another matter.”

And that brings me neatly to the next item on the list.
[read on]

Brave New World

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

I don’t usually science-blog (that niche has been well and truly filled), but three recent developments have caught my eye.

On May the first, the world will change when the first true AI comes online. No, it’s not Hal9000 and it’s not going to take over the world. Except in the sense that Google has taken over the world.

It will be the end of Google search, which is a shame because it’s the only thing that Google does well. Except for Google Earth. In yesterday’s Independent there was a small feature about cars sporting the Google logo and camera rigs that have been driving around London over the past year, getting a street-level view. This may be what will underlie the augmented reality applications coming to a cell phone near you (this is last year’s news but, hey, I’ve been travelling.) Crucially, this is an Open Source development, and with the release of the iPhone developer kit, Apple is about to dip into this self-same talent pool. And once the iPhone is in on it…

And the third? Well, I’ll have to talk to you tomorrow. I have a chicken in the oven. Just one more thing: Wolfram Alpha will not be alone. There is another one about to be hatched, and it’s in the family. And if I know of one, how many more do you think will be out there, waiting to be released into the wild?

From May 1st, everything will be just that little bit different.

Souvenirs from Indonesia

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

1) Baygone mosquito coils. I’ve still got some at home that survived the trip from Bali (in John’s luggage), but you can get them in the shops here.

2) The Brontok worm which weaseled itself onto my pendrive (which, sadly, can’t be locked). I have no idea what else might be on there and how to get rid of it since I can’t connect my EeePC anywhere.

Today hasn’t been my day (not that yesterday was either):

  • missing files
  • residual shakes (now gone)
  • empty bank account
  • no bus (more about that later)
  • and the Brontok Worm.

What next? Well, there’s always Carlos. But he has left me alone so far.

[EDIT: I forgot to add that my stories have been rejected. Both of them. And in record time.]

All Ur Computer…

Sunday, February 17th, 2008



Monday, February 4th, 2008

Flickr is part of Yahoo, and Yahoo is about to be swallowed up by Microsoft.

I’m one of several hundred users who are preparing to up sticks and remove their photostream from Flickr if that happens.

However, it’s not as simple as backing up the entire stream on a bunch of CDs, or even on my website. I have a lot of photos, a basic hosting package and no CD burner (no, really!) I also don’t believe in hard drives, which is why I just bought an EeePC with a 4 (four) GB solid state drive.

As you can probably tell, I believe that the future is in online storage and web-based applications. Even if that means putting my trust in Google, for now.

But this makes it difficult to export my Flickr photostream to another photo sharing site.

Until I discovered the Flickr Importer Tool on (via the Microsoft: keep your evil grubby hands off of our Flickr pool, natch).

This smart little script imports 200 of your photos at a time, starting at the beginning and keeps right on going.
[read on]

Birdsong in January

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

This is the summer that never was. We must have had at least 3 days of sunshine last week. And this morning I was in the kitchen, making sandwiches for John’s lunch, when I realised that I wasn’t wearing my dressing gown.

The downstairs of the house isn’t heated.

On Sunday, we arrived home from shopping to the sound of birds chirping in the bushes.

There is something wrong with this image, of course. The branches are still bare. It’s only January. And birds don’t sing to celebrate the sunshine; they sing to establish breeding territories.

Might be a lot of frozen little chicks out there, come February.


In other news: we are still house hunting. We almost found a place, but the landlord was pushing his luck, then bailed out and put the place on the market. Shame that he couldn’t have waited a year or so until the housing market has slumped more. But seriously, things are turning around in our favour, only the timing’s off. One or two years down the road, we might consider buying. Maybe Brown will deliver on his promise to develop housing on brownfield sites and put an end to this madness once and for all. There’s plenty of space, even in London.

The EeePC has left customs and—as of 7:04 this morning—is on its way. Now I’m just crossing my fingers that the thing isn’t damaged or the international bueraucratic merry-go-round will start up yet again. Honestly, stick to local markets.

I still wonder whether I should have bought a machine with twice the specs (1 GB RAM, 8 GB SDD) for a measly 68$ more. Probably, but it doesn’t come in light blue. Still, my little machine has 8 times the flash memory of the OLPC. And I’ve just seen a 2GB RAM upgrade for the 701 EeePC from a local Ebay seller 🙂

An OLPC for Grownups

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Have you noticed how brats are always the first to get access to decent computers? I bet that back in 1997 there were more laptops per primary school child than per postdoc, by about an order of magnitude. That’s not to say that I don’t think the OLPC project isn’t a great initiative (even if I would like to see it go out to older children first).

But it does mean that I’m (lime-)green with envy.


Having missed out on the buy one-give one campaign, I had a look at Ebay and I must say that the XO looks—well—childish.

However, it’s obviously an idea whose time has come, because my prayers from years ago seem to have been answered. An ultralight, mobile, capable laptop—for adults

Roll on the Asus EeePC (Easy to work, easy to learn, easy to play).

Watch this space.

Photo by luisramirezuchile

The Ultimate in Backwards Compatibility

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

You may not think it from our backgrounds, but both John and I are late adapters. Dating from our poor student days, our attitude has always been ‘why fix (replace) it if it ain’t broken’, which is why John’s anno 1997 desktop is still standing next to mine (complete with dial-up modem, a new-ish DVD reader and hard drive upgraded to 12 GB. I think it still runs on 124 MB RAM, but the point is, it still runs.)

When the TV we inherited from John’s parents gave out after a quarter-century’s reliable service, he opened it up and took a look inside before declaring it buggered.

We opted for a new model from the same company. It came with a built-in video recorder and gave out about one week after the warranty expired. The picture just stopped, leaving the screen covered with grey snow.
[read on]

Fuck Yahoo

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

(Cross-posted to LJ.)

You may not have been able to contact/PM me over the last couple of days or weeks, because Yahoo Mail constantly goes down.

With the company being as bloated as it is, there are no easy explanations, and I couldn’t read the helpdesk reply if there was one since I can’t access my account.

In an attempt to shed light on the problem, I have even joined Yahoo! Answers, but of course it won’t allow me to post a question from either Firefox or IE. I have the option to ‘preview’ or go to ‘previous’ in a never-ending loop.

I have two options open to me: use my Gmail account as my primary account (however reluctantly, after six years on Yahoo) and change over all my contacts/links/sites, or activate my website’s email option and ditto.

Having a personalized email address may actually be cute in an age of universal Gmail/Yahoo. My current host is reliable—dare I say even more so than Yahoo (they deal with actual financial transactions, and I reckon that reliability is in direct correlation with the amount of money that is at stake).


Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

(cross-posted to LJ)

One of the Scroogle Badges

I’ve ranted about Google’s intent at world domination before, and now Cory Doctorow has written a story about it (CC licenced, natch). It’s called ‘Scroogled’, and I quite like it, because it’s written from an insider perspective rather than being a paranoid account of Geek-Mages Conspiring To Do Evil, which I would probably have ended up writing.

In his Wall Street interview, Cory is defensive about Google, and he has a point. It’s difficult not to love them. Or as he put it succinctly: “I think one of the most heartbreaking things that any of us can live through is for an institution that we love to change in a way that makes us hate it…”.

There is no mention of China in that interview (although there is in the story). Of course Google are far from the only offenders in this regard. But they are the most heartbreaking.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be just another review of the story. Through one of my blogs’ referrer trackers, I’ve come across a site which is now the new homepage for my browser. You see, the name ‘Scroogle’ is real. Scroogle allows you to search Google anonymously, by taking cookies into their own servers, trashing them and deleting logs within 48 hours.

I’ve already set my browser to delete cookies after each session, but not only is that inconvenient, it’s probably not enough. So initiatives like Scroogle are to be welcomed.

Naturally, Microsoft doesn’t like it. So get Firefox or—better still—install Ubuntu on your machine (I’m due for an upgrade soon).

Google didn’t like it either at first (2003). But Scroogle seems to have resurfaced unscathed and is attracting quite a bit of attention this year. Just try Scroogling Scroogle for Google 😉