Monday, April 30, 2012

5 Life Lessons from a Photography Debate

A few days ago Eric Kim wrote a provocative article explaining why he chooses film over digital for street photography. As you can imagine, this caused a ruckus and he responded with an excellent 5 point defense for his article.

Reading through his arguments, it occurred to me that his responses were actually 5 wonderful life lessons. So, here they are, translated to apply to more than photography:

  1. Choose a goal, not a team. For example: want to fix poverty in this country? Make that your goal. Sometime Democrats my have a good fix, other times Republicans may. Focus on accomplishing the goal, not picking and defending your team.
  2. Experiment. When you experiment, you try new things by collecting data. Even if you fail to accomplish your goal, you'll still have succeeded because you'll have collected the data (and learned the lesson).
  3. Look beyond platitudes. Sure, it may be conventional wisdom, but don't trust it just because everyone keeps repeating. See point #2: experiment for yourself.
  4. You should be contradicting yourself. If you're not changing at least some of your opinions over time, then that's a sign you're not open to new ideas. The last thing you want to be is the captain in this story.
  5. Keep an eye on the big picture. It's possible get mired in the details and end up arguing about stuff that truly doesn't matter. Find what counts and focus on it. As you do, you should end up putting #4 into effect.

As a side note: I do the think the setup that Eric talks about would make for a fun photography project for kids and adults alike. He talks about shooting black and white film, which I assumed meant (a) expensive development fees or (b) the need to have access to a darkroom. Turns out, he's not suggesting either. Instead he talks about developing the black and white film (which will need some equipment and chemistry, but not a darkroom) and then using a scanner to create prints. Clever stuff!

I may have to add some of these to my own set of rules for life.

How A Boostrapper Sees The World

Two common approaches to developing software: (a) hire an offshore team, (b) hire local. (a) is cheap, but has the potential for fatal communication gaps. (b) is often smoother, but is also typically quite a bit more expensive. What do you? Well, it's easy to throw your hands up and just not take any action. But, in a recent article about Klout, I learned about an option (c):

Once [Fernandez of] figured out a few basic principles, Fernandez hired a team of Singaporean coders to flesh out his ideas. Then, realizing the 13-hour time difference would impede their progress, he offshored himself. For four months, he lived in Singapore, sleeping on couches or in his programmers’ offices. On Christmas Eve of 2008, back in New York a year after his surgery, Fernandez launched Klout with a single tweet.

Amazing, right? He managed to find low cost programmers and get a high degree of communication; all it took was completely throwing out the most common models for getting software built.

I'm not suggesting that you need to move to some foreign land to get your software idea built, just that it's all about mindset and being creative.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why R is Popular and Scheme Isn't

I really enjoyed John Cook's talk on Why People Use R. The premise: to programmers, R is slow and messy. Yet, to statisticians, It Just Works. And works so well, they have no choice but to make it popular. I'm not a statistician, and so have no need or appreciate for R. But, I've worked with another DSL that that was plenty ugly yet and mighty popular. It's none other than PHP.

While PHP has spent years of effort to make itself into a legitimate general purpose language (it's even got anonymous functions now!), its roots very much match those of R. PHP started its life as a DSL for building web pages (back when the notion of a web application was in its infancy). It was a slow (compared to C, anyway) and clunky language. Like R, it contained shortcuts that users of the language loved, like having nl2br() as a built in primitive, or the use of register_globals, but were far from smart programming language decisions. You didn't learn PHP from the spec, you learned it from tutorials and copying and pasting code. Sure, PHP had some good ideas (like tightly coupling the language to a database), but it also contained plenty of duds.

So, Just Worksness trumps language beauty when it comes to DSLs. That's certainly a key point to consider when designing a DSL. One that is far from obvious to programmers.

It's also instructive to consider a language like Scheme, who is nearly the opposite of R in every way. You can, in fact, learn Scheme by printing out the spec and reading reading it (at least, until R5RS you could). But why would you want to bother? Scheme, out of the box, does almost nothing. Yet, in terms of elegance for building abstractions, Scheme brings plenty to the table. Clearly language elegance of specific functionality is preferred.

In reality, people don't download a pure version of Scheme. They use a system like Racket that not only provide the basic core, but also provide the libraries to do interesting things. Still, I think this is one more explanation as to why Scheme isn't popular. With no specialized niche to plant the seed (another example: Perl for text processing), there isn't a base of users clamoring for the language.

And you know, I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liberal Propaganda, Start 'Em Young

Spotted at the pediatrician's office.  Notice how there's a battery gauge and ethanol gauge, but no gas gauge?

And we wonder why our kid will want to grow up and drive Prius and not an SUV.

Review: Kicking Ass and Saving Souls: A True Story of a Life Over the Line

Kicking Ass and Saving Souls is a biography that's nearly the polar opposite of the one I just completed. Two things:

First off, the story really does read like a Hollywood Action Film. I kept having to remind myself that the main character, Stefan Templeton, is a real person. Think Bruce Willis meets Jackie Chan meets 007. He survives the rough streets of Baltimore (training in martial arts, and finally standing up to the bully just like you'd want him to), lives the playboy life in Europe (think 007 style seduction) and completes Bourne-Identity-esque training in both martial arts and deep sea diving. All along the way he makes mostly terrible life choices which just lead from one crisis to another. Yet, somehow, he perseveres.

Second of all, the book is really only half a biography. It leaves off not at the end of Templeton's life, but at a natural inflection point where he finally seems to be on the right track. In some respects, this is a bit ballsy—but I like it. For anyone who's ever felt like the game is over, and that they're all out of options, Templeton's story stands to show just how false this reasoning is.

His message is clear: as long as you're still kicking around this rock, there's a way to use the gifts you've got for good. You've just got to go out and find it.

A fun read and a wonderful message of redemption. Go read it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Trashcam Project - Down and Dirty Photography

Given my love of all things minimal and clever, I couldn't help but rejoice in the Trashcam Project. Here's the jist:

Four garbage collectors in Hamburg, Germany have converted large dumpsters into giant pinhole cameras to photograph their city. Dubbed the Trashcam Project, images were created by drilling a few tiny holes into the front of each trash bin and placing Ilford photo paper inside. The dumpsters are converted by drilling tiny holes into the front of the structure and then hanging large sheets of photo paper inside.

A trashcan, drill, some photo paper and a heck of a lot of ingenuity and you get this:

Berlin Cathedral Seen by a Dumpster

And this:

G+J Hamburg

More photos here.

Remarkable, no?

I've really got to give this pinhole camera thing a go...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wet and Cold Race Day Checklist

This last weekend, we completed the Parkway Classic, a 10 mile race. The weather only kind of cooperated. It spared us a downpour and lighting, but gave us a heavy dose of cold and wet. I'm always a bit wary about what I want to bring to a race, as I have visions of dropping off items a bag drop and then needing to wait in some long line to pick them up again. Usually this is solved by bringing the absolute essentials only: a key to the car, a credit card, license and cell phone (how else am I going to grab photos like this one?), and then keeping them on me throughout the race.

The cold weather and 2 hour wait complicated matters. Do I bring extra warm gear? And if I do, at what point should I drop it off at the bag drop?

In the end, I wore a wind breaker and hoped for the best. From talking with our friend Sue (a seasoned pro at events like these) and checking out others, it's pretty clear that to be prepared I should have brought along these items:

  • A hat - d'oh! What was I thinking not bringing a cap to keep the rain off my head, and the heat inside?
  • A big 'ol black trash bag. Improvised ponchos were clearly the order of the day. Tear it off at the last minute and you're all set. Even with all the fancy gear floating around, the black trash bag was still the preferred keep-dry solution.
  • A space blanket. They were handing sheets of mylar and they truly saved the day. Shira wore hers as a shawl, I wrapped mine around my legs as kilt. They absolutely provided warmth and helped made sitting on the ground a lot more pleasant. For more serious outdoor usage, I like Adventure Medical Kit's Heatsheets over plain old "emergency blankets." But, given that you're going to be tossing these after a few hours of use, I think buying and using some cheap ones from Amazon make sense.
  • A Styrofoam cup filled with hot tea or chocolate. I'd usually prefer a reusable thermos, but again, having a disposable solution would have worked perfectly.

Next time, I'll be prepared.

Biking (part of) The Rock Creek Trail

Last Friday, Shira and I had a chance to explore a chunk of the Rock Creek Trail on our bikes. We were actually pretty amazed how quickly we could make it from the trail start in George Town, up past the Zoo and beyond. It's a trail I hadn't heard much about, and really liked it's level of difficulty and scenery.

Apparently, you can connect the Rock Creek Trail up with a trip along the the Capital Crescent Trail - making for a 20 mile loop. I'll have to add that to my list.

I took a bunch of photos along our trip, but most of them came out pretty blah. Especially considering what a georgeous day was, I didn't do the trail justice. Still, here's a few shots regardless. Oh, the one of the Gas Station isn't so much art, as commentary - $5.79 for premium gas! Yikes!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Baltimore Aquarium, Round 2

This weekend, we went back to the Baltimore Aquarium, this time with our 7 year old, and some friends who had younger kids. Unlike last time, we took in the Dolphin show, which the kids (and adults) loved. As imagined, the 7 year old got quite a bit more out of the exhibits than our 17 month old but that's to be expected.

I'm still unimpressed by the fact that the snack bar isn't serving food at 10am, and the kids area is still underwhelming. And we spent almost as much time in our seat waiting for the Dolphin Show to start as we did for the entire show to complete. But still, the kids had a blast and the selection of sea critters is truly amazing. So, I've got continue to recommend the place. Though, I'm tempted to see if the DC Aquarium has improved at all - Baltimore's world class, but so are their prices.

All in all, we had 3 exhausted children, and 4 wiped out adults - so mission accomplished.

Parkway Classic - 10 Miles of Wet Fun

Today, Shira and I tackled our longest race to date: The Parkway Classic, a 10 mile haul down the George Washington Parkway. The weather was cold and rainy, but that didn't stop us from getting our butts out of bed at 5:30am to catch a bus to the starting line at 6am.

Fortunately, we ran into our friend, Sue, at the start, so we had another person to chat with as we waited out the rain and prepared to get under way.

The run went as well as could be expected. By the first mile, I shed the wind breaker I brought along, but by mile 7 I had to put it back on. The race leader completed the course in an amazing 51 minutes. That's smok'n fast.

I'm so proud of Shira for tackling this race - it's by far the longest distance she's ever run, and she did it with energy to spare (and a minimum of cussing).

When we arrived home, we found the most wonderful banner created by our little guy and David to celebrate the occasion. We were so impressed!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Bus Stop Bully That Wasn't

This morning, like nearly all mornings for the last 5 weeks, I walked our little guy to the bus. Right on time, the bus pulled up and all the kids at rushed towards the door forming a relatively neat single file line. I don't want to brag, but consistently our little guy is first in line. And he was today.

Then, all of a sudden, this older kid walks up and inserts himself between our guy and the door.

Oh No He Didn't! I'm thinking. What, you think just because you're bigger than the other kids you can cut in line? Not Cool Man.

Within a few moments the door opened up, and all the kids boarded. As they did, the bigger kid stepped aside. All of a sudden, the green safety sash he was wearing made sense - he was acting a safety office for the bus stop (why he hadn't been doing this the last few weeks, I don't know). Apparently, this was a bullying false alarm.

Our guy got on first, and grabbed the seat right behind the driver like always. The safety office/big kid, got on last.

Yet another reminder that I mostly have no idea what the heck I'm doing in the world of 7 year olds, and that doing more listening/observing than talking at this stage is probably a good thing. Oh, and apparently I need to chill at the bus stop.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

MailChimp - A Better RSS to E-mail Solution

I'm using Twitter to power the Omer Learning Project, which means that people can easily get content deliver to them via SMS, RSS and Twitter. And while that's all well in good, after talking to folks, I learned that we needed to offer an e-mail delivery solution, too. No doubt about it, E-mail is still king when it comes to tapping into content.

No problem, I thought, I'll use Feedburner's E-mail Subscription functionality to automatically convert the RSS to e-mail nightly. I went ahead and did this, but quickly learned that there was some issues with Feedburner: (1) the e-mail deliver wasn't reliable. I'd schedule it for 9pm, and some days it would be sent off, and other days it wouldn't. And (2), the RSS feed that Twitter generates is turned into an ugly e-mail. This isn't really Feedburner's fault - the RSS feed from Twitter puts the Tweet text as both the headline and body. The result is an e-mail mess.

The fact that the e-mail was blah was actually less of an issue than the missed deliveries.

Having had some good experience hacking the MailChimp API, I thought I give them a try to see what their e-mail options were. Turns out, they too offer RSS based e-mail campaigns. And a test showed that when I scheduled delivery for 9pm, sure enough, it went out pretty much at 9pm. The template for the e-mail was fairly trivial, just including the magic tag:


Alas, the e-mail was still ugly, but again I chalked that up to the cruddy RSS feed from Twitter.

While poking around, though, I learned that Mail Chimp actually gives you quite a bit of control when working with RSS e-mails. In fact, the default *|RSS:POST_HTML|* is jut that - a default and not your only option. A went ahead and updated my e-mail to say:




The result is an e-mail with all the Tweet text just spilled out in the e-mail, in nice neat paragraphs. No links, no duplicated headline, no Google+1 button. Just a nice clean e-mail.

On time delivery and clean e-mail? I'm sold. Nice job MailChimp.

Review: Dreams and Schemes: Stories of People and Architecture

I grabbed Dreams and Schemes: Stories of People and Architecture off the of Free, Take Me! shelf outside our library. It was such a thin little volume, I couldn't resist. I'm glad I didn't.

Dreams and Schemes is effectively what you would get if you sat down David Dibner, a seemingly accomplished architect in his field, and said 'tell me some stories!' There's a nice mix of funny and cautionary tales, most with a clear moral. Rather than focusing on anything technical, Dibner chose to focus on the people an architect comes into contact with, be it customers, builders or other architects. And man, does he run into some interesting personalities.

He opens with a couple of stories about the balance an architect has to strike between his own ideas and the customers who have hired him. For example, the customer asks for relatively large kids bedrooms, whereas the architect is convinced that children's rooms should be small and for sleeping only. Should the architect build what years of training and experience have lead him to believe is right? Or should he compromise his beliefs, and deliver what the customer is asking for? This is something I encounter regularly in my day job, and is actually one of the more interesting challenges I face. These stories alone were worth reading the book for.

A Google search didn't turn up much on Dibner. I did find his obituary, and learned that he actually lived in a town over from me. I'll admit it, Dreams and Schemes wasn't the most remarkable or exciting book I've read, but it was a pleasure to read none the less. It served as a wonderful reminder of what we all aspire to have in our careers: the respect of our peers, the opportunity to tackle big challenges and the chance to have lots of adventures, the interaction with interesting people. I also give him lots of credit for changing how I view what architects do.

All in all, a pleasant read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Eagle Board Of Review From The Other Side

I can't say that I can recall any details from my Eagle Board of Review. Heck, I can't recall any details from any of my Scout Boards of Reviews. That is, except for one question: what was the last good turn you did? And yeah, I got stumped on that question every time.

Last night, however, I got to experience an Eagle Board of review from the questioner's side. I participated in the eldest of the 4 Boys board of review. It was a quite surreal - here was a kid I've known since he was like 6 years old and now he's sitting in front of me as a man in the running for this prestigious award. It was hard to be anything but proud of him.

It was definitely a good feeling being back among guys in Scout uniforms. Ahhh, the good old days of being an irresponsible kid allowed to play with knives and fire. Good times, good times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spotting Discovery - The Shuttle Visits DC

Space Shuttle Discovery made its way around DC today and David and I were there to watch it. What a thrill it was to see it fly by, carried piggy back on a 747.

We chose to stand on the Memorial Bridge, which turned out to be a great location. Unfortunately, due to a unexpected gust of wind, my helmet was tossed overboard into the Potomac. Still, as prices of admissions go, that was a minor one to see such a remarkable sight.

Of the 342 photos, here's 14. Enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Most Badass Library. Ever.

As long as we're talking about making a difference in the community, here's another story on that topic. Apparently, artist Raul Lemesoff re-worked a tank into a mobile library.


And below is a video of the setup (in French. Le' D'oh!)

Gooooo books!


Cain's Arcade - Watch the video, Feel Good

The Cain's Arcade documentary is showing up everywhere. And the thing is, it's a wonderfully watchable little movie.

Sure, you could probably read too much into the movie. But the fact of the matter is, everyone in this movie plays their role perfectly. The kid with a huge imagination who doesn't quit. The father who matter-of-factly stands by and supports his kid. The community who shows up and cares. It's a story worth emulating in your life, day after day. Even if you probably won't get $130,000 scholarship out of the deal.

Here, give it a watch:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Exploring Daingerfield Island

I had about an hour and a half to kill with the little guy after we dropped Shira off at National Airport, so I thought I'd check out Daingerfield Island. It's one of those sites along the GW Parkway I've always passed but never had the time to stop.

First off, Daingerfield Island is no longer an island. And, if I was expecting big things, I would have been disappointed. But, I had a curious 7 year old with me, so we actually had quite a fun adventure.

The island (really a park) contains a marina which made for some fun boat spotting. It's also positioned across from the National Airport, so you get an excellent view of the planes taking off (though not quite as nice as Gravely Point - nothing beats that). While most of the docks are off limits, we did find some in the back area which had no gate or sign up telling us we couldn't be there, so we did some poking around there too.

The most unexpected find, though, was a trail entrance in the back of the overflow parking lot here. There was a sign up at the trail entry point that mentioned the Lyndon Johnson Memorial Grove (which is a few miles away). Not sure how to explain that.

Regardless, we ended up spending 45 minutes traipsing around unmarked trails, which I assume are used only by fishermen and hoodlums (which have to be sleeping at 8am on Sunday, right?). We eventually made our way out the Potomac river where we could do a little light shell collecting. Come to think of it, there must have been a geocache or two in the area, I'm sorry I didn't check.

All in all, a very productive outdoor adventure considering we were 5 minutes from home. I wouldn't go out of my way to visit the island, but if you're in the area and need a picnic place or some time to kill, definitely check it out. Come with the right mindset, and it will be an awesome time.

Of course I took photos (about 127 of them...most of which I'll spare you...):

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kid Activity To Try: Salt Dough

I stumbled on a book at the library about Salt Dough, and it seems like it would be the perfect kid crafting activity. Apparently Salt Dough is a make-at-home modeling clay created from flour (2 cups), salt (1 cup) and water (3/4 cup). I love that no special ingredients are needed. Just mix ingredients, knead, shape and bake.

Next time we're stuck indoors and need a fun activity, I hope to bust this one out.

More details on the recipe and a video demo can be found here.

Artist of the Day: d. sub0

Needed a little chill music to, well, chill to, and I found d. sub0 (aka Dejan Subotić) on SoundCloud and have been loving his work.

Here give a listen to one of his tracks:

And I totally got a kick out of this track, though I would have preferred a slightly less vulgar title:

Definitely a nice find. I'm also enjoying listening to his favorites.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Perfect Way To Kick Back After A Long Day

I'd been hacking code since 5am and our little one was wiped from a full day at First Grade. The best way to kick back and relax? Watch a bunch of buildings implode. Ahhh, the sheer joy of it!

I'd like to think I helped shape a young person's mind today. If he goes into civil engineering, it may all be traced back to today where he learned how explosives can be used in construction. How did we learn anything as kids, that is without being able to be shown a YouTube video of it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Recommending The Humble Whistle

One of my essential pieces of gear, whether it's hiking, traveling or just going for a run through the neighborhood, is a whistle. Specifically, a Fox 40 Micro Whistle.

If I have an emergency out on the trail, I assume it'll be the first bit of gear pressed into service. If I need to get someone's attention while in a strange city or if I'm out for a jog, it's always ready to go. It also serves as security blanket, reminding me that I can take some sort of action in a crisis. Luckily, I've never actually had to use it (well, other than during Purim services one morning, where I didn't have a functioning gragger).

So, you can imagine my sheer delight when I read Legal Nomad's travel advice and found her recommending a whistle as an essential pieces of kit. She links to a story where she outlines a number of times a whistle saved her butt. Like the time she fended off a pack of wild monkeys:

Gasping for breath and watching several of the bolder monkeys creep toward me, teeth bared, my eye caught the bright orange whistle of my safety whistle. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I inhaled deeply and pushed out the air as hard as I could, scaring those monkeys with a sound they’d likely never heard before. They yelped, they scattered. I kept moving as quickly as possible, looking behind me in a bit of a panic. But the monkeys had all disappeared.

You should definitely check out her other travel tips, lots of good advice here. And for gosh sakes, carry a whistle. If it was good enough for the Met, it's good enough for you.

Purim (yes, Purim!), The Perfect Time To Start Blogging

A Purim article in the middle of Pesach?! What, am I meshuganah? Not exactly. The article below is one I wrote for our shul's Chronicle, and just became public a day or two ago. Just consider it early for next year. Read the published version here.

Special thanks for the editing help to Shira and my friend Jen (who also helped make the Couting The Omer project come to life). Without these ladies, the article would have been an absolute mess.

Purim, The Perfect Time To Start Blogging

The story of Purim is made up of a series of remarkable events in which Jews have always seen the fingerprint of G-d. While some of these events are well known, such as Mordecai coincidentally overhearing the plot to kill king Ahasuerus, there is one event mentioned towards the end of the Magillah that I’ve always felt deserved more press (Megillat Esther 9:20):

And Mordecai wrote these things [the story of Purim], and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus … and he sent letters unto all the Jews, to the hundred twenty and seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth, to confirm these days of Purim in their appointed times, according as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined them, and as they had ordained for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the fastings and their cry. And the commandment of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim; and it was written in the book.

In other words, the story of Purim ends with one final miracle: the story was written down and told to Jews everywhere. Without this final act, the story of Purim may have been lost.

With this lesson in mind, I’d like to suggest that now is the perfect time to think about what story you would like to publish and start writing it today. Thankfully, in 2012, publishing has gotten quite a bit easier than back in Esther and Mordecai’s day. We no longer need to draft a letter and send it to 127 different provinces. In fact, thanks to the accessibility of blogging, publishing today couldn’t be easier. It’s free, requires no more knowledge than that of sending an e-mail, and enables you to reach a large, diverse audience. Before we delve into how to publish your own Magillah, it’s useful to consider the why.

What could you possibly have to blog about? Plenty, actually. First off, you can maintain a traditional online diary, the style of which that kicked off the blogging phenomenon. But that’s just the beginning. You can use a blog to publish your fiction, photographs, travelogue or even an entire book. You can use it to advocate for a cause or to turn adversity into adventure by writing about a difficult time with humor and inspiration. You can even use it just as a repository for links, jokes or quotes that inspire. A blog also makes an excellent website for a small startup company. A blog can serve to publicize an event you’re hosting or to start a revolution. As you can see, if you have information you want to share, be it your family vacation or your thoughts on the latest political wrangling, you can’t go wrong by starting a blog.

Now that you’re fired up about getting your creation out to the rest of the world, let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of how you do this. Head over to, a free blogging service that’s easy to use. During sign-up, you’ll create an account and choose a name for your blog. Most importantly, you’ll pick a web address for your blog.

Suppose I created a new blog, Lessons From Purim, that chronicled all the lessons I’ve learned from the holiday. My web address may be That may be quite a mouthful, but it’s all mine. That’s right, once you’ve signed up, you’ll have your own address on the World Wide Web. It is this address that you’ll share with friends.

Once you’ve started your blog, you can create a new blog post (or article) anytime you want, even from your cell phone. Typically, you’ll use the title of the post much like a newspaper uses headlines, to grab attention and pull in readers. As for the content, it can be anything you want - from dense prose to clips from cat videos from YouTube. While some blogs may be updated hourly, others may contain just a couple posts that never change. This should be fun for you, not a chore!

One of the most exciting parts of blogging is its interactive nature. If you wish, you can allow readers to submit comments about what you’ve posted. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of having a complete stranger (or your mom) give you positive feedback on what you’ve created. And since you’re the boss, you can delete any comments you don’t like. So go ahead, and take a lesson from Purim. Don’t let your stories, memories and thoughts be forgotten. Start a blog and share them today!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Two kinds of Hospital Hacking

First the "people" kind: Make has an excellent article up about creating hackable medical devices:

Instead of trying to change the global supply chain for medical devices, we have learned to embrace the existing one for toys. Go to your toy store, and you’ll see the same $2 toy gun that a Nicaraguan nurse spotted and hacked into an alarm for an IV fluid bag, after harvesting the electronics and adding a simple trip mechanism. Lego blocks have very precise tolerances for creating modular microfluidic components. On the way out, toward the bicycle section, pick up a bike foot pump so you can power your nebulizer for $5 instead of paying $75 for the electric compressor sold in medical supply catalogs. Bonus feature: when there’s an asthma emergency in the middle of nowhere, you won’t need electricity to save the patient.

Read the entire article here. Powerful stuff, and an excellent reminder that even in a field like medical hardware entrepreneurial (aka hacker) efforts can succeed.

Second, the "computer" kind: In the comments from the Make article above was a link to this one:

Luckily: An 11 year old girl decided to open a laptop hospital [to fix a common issue with the local laptops]. Unfortunately the boys really missed out here, because in this part of Nigeria “everyone knows” only girls work at hospitals, she eventually recruited girls as young as 5 to help out in the hospital. This group of girls armed with screwdrivers starting taking apart the laptops and reseating the cables. Sometimes they’d change out a screen, or a speaker. They learned about the hardware of their laptops. They got to see what was inside. They got better and better at fixing things by learning as they went.

Again, an awesome example of the power of entrepreneurship. Read the entire post here.

See, there's no industry or topic off limits to the clever hacker.

Gotcha of the Day: Building Handbrake on CentOS

Building Handbrake on CentOS started off painlessly enough. I just followed the instructions here. But then I ran into this compilation error:

set -e; cd ./contrib/libvorbis/aotuv-b6.03_20110424/; rm -fr aclocal.m4 autom4te.cache configure; autoreconf -I m4 -fiv; CC=/usr/bin/gcc CFLAGS="" CXX=/usr/bin/g++ CXXFLAGS="" CPPFLAGS="" LDFLAGS="" PKG_CONFIG_PATH="/home/ben/util/src/HandBrake-0.9.6/build/contrib/lib/pkgconfig" ./configure --prefix=/home/ben/util/src/HandBrake-0.9.6/build/contrib/ --disable-dependency-tracking --disable-shared --enable-static --with-ogg=/home/ben/util/src/HandBrake-0.9.6/build/contrib/ HAVE_PKG_CONFIG="no"
autoreconf: Entering directory `.'
autoreconf: not using Gettext
autoreconf: running: aclocal --force 
autoreconf: tracing
autoreconf: running: libtoolize --copy --force
libtoolize: putting auxiliary files in `.'.
libtoolize: copying file `./'
libtoolize: Consider adding `AC_CONFIG_MACRO_DIR([m4])' to and
libtoolize: rerunning libtoolize, to keep the correct libtool macros in-tree.
libtoolize: Consider adding `-I m4' to ACLOCAL_AMFLAGS in
autoreconf: running: /usr/bin/autoconf --include=m4 --force error: possibly undefined macro: AC_ADD_CFLAGS
      If this token and others are legitimate, please use m4_pattern_allow.
      See the Autoconf documentation.
autoreconf: /usr/bin/autoconf failed with exit status: 1
make: *** [contrib/libvorbis/.stamp.configure] Error 1

A Google and Forum search turned up no reports of anyone else with this issue. Yet, even the latest version of the source code from SVN turned up the same issue.

The fix turned out to be as follows. I edited the file:


and changed:

 LIBVORBIS.CONFIGURE.bootstrap = rm -fr aclocal.m4 autom4te.cache configure; autoreconf -I m4 -fiv;


LIBVORBIS.CONFIGURE.bootstrap = rm -fr aclocal.m4 autom4te.cache configure; sh;

(and yes, that trailing ';' is necessary)

Not sure why I'm the only one running into this. But, regardless, here's a fix.

Friday, April 06, 2012

What We'll Be Talking About At Our Seder

As you can see, we're in full Seder prep mode:

Some items we may get around to discussing at Tonight's Seder:

How about you? Any topics you've got planned?

Here's to a happy and meaningful Seder and Passover! L'Chaim!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Playing Carnegie Hall On Your Own Terms

So, Buddy Greene is a harmonica playing legend. And he wants to play Carnegie Hall. What does he do? He does exactly that:

Besides being an impressive feat, it sure does seem like an excellent metaphor for life. Be so good at what you do (whatever it is), that you can do it anywhere on your own terms.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Finding, But Not (Yet) Exploring Dora Kelly Nature Park

Today, Shira and I managed to squeeze in a quick bike ride to Dora Kelly Nature Park, a potential nature gem located in Alexandria. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, and 35 to get home, as the ride seemed all down hill on the way back.

Dora Kelly is supposed to be another example of Next Door Nature. Unfortunately, this trip we didn't see much more than the welcome sign and a nicely shaded paved path.

I'm definitely looking forward to getting back and fully exploring the park.