My BlackBerry Knows Where I Am

I’m in NYC to see people and catch Suzanne Vega later tonight.  And my BlackBerry knows it thanks to “My Location” on Google Maps.

No big deal in a GPS world, right?  I don’t have GPS though.  Google’s doing some kind of rough triangulation based on cell phone towers which so far has been much more accurate than the 1.7 km disclaimer.  Urbanites faring better is no surprise given the density of towers here and in Philly.  Not sure what extras Google has in store, but it’s free and it’s geeky-cool and gives me Google Maps (and traffic and search) with less Suretyping–and that’s a Good Thing.

I looked at GPS units for road trips during my time between but they’re still bulky and/or expensive.   Will “My Location” be enough?  The price sure is right. Especially since I still haven’t taken one road trip into unknown territory in my two months off.

Android starting to make more sense to you last few Luddites out there?  Google gets phones.  They are making me get phones, and I HATE phones.  More precisely, I get all my Google stuff on my phone, my Touch, my boxes, and even at kiosks with a well-scaled experience.

My iPhoned friends should particularly rejoice given the obvious synergy between this feature and their interface.  First time since my Touch shacked up with my BlackBerry that it’s been jealous of its older brother.

From My Blackberry Pearl

Sometimes the Good Guys Win

Nova recounts the latest defeat of gussied-up creation science in Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. This fantastic two hour special explores the legal and scientific aspects of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It’s also fantastic primer on the underlying question, “What is science?”

Born and raised here, I know “Mississippi in the middle” describes Pennsylvania all too well. A town outside of the very Republican state capital, Harrisburg, looked like a favorable battlefield for the religious fundamentalists. Having a Bush-appointed conservative federal judge presiding should have tipped the scales even more. (In retrospect a jury trial might have been worse if my personal experience with juries is any indication.) The fundamentalists were emboldened to fight the next round of the culture wars by Republican victories and Bush’s “mandate” (by barely getting reelected) in 2004. The odds didn’t look good.

The program shows how smart, dedicated people not only won this lopsided battle but trounced their opponents. Inspiring, even for a cynic like me! I was particularly struck by how articulate and even funny the plaintiffs’ lawyers and experts were. Nova uses a series of reenactments taken word for word from the transcripts since no filming was allowed during the trial. Don’t worry; they did a good job. This won’t feel like an unseemly episode of A Current Affair.

I particularly enjoyed the part where Barbara Forrest is testifying about how she compared versions of the Intelligent Design (ID) textbook Of Pandas and People before and after the Supreme Court ruling in 1987 that threw creation science out on its ear. Somebody makes a quip about the glaring search/eplace error “cdesign proponentsists” being a transitional form (i.e., missing link) between “creationist” and “design proponent”. I appreciated it on so many levels–as a science geek, a verbal fencer, and even as a Document Management expert!

My only gripe with the program is how it ends with the notion that science and religion can coexist. That’s just wishful thinking in a world filled with religious fundamentalists. Here’s why: Science and religion are trying to answer some of the same questions about natural phenomena like the origin of man, the Earth, and everything. They go about it in very different ways:

  • Science uses processes for generating, testing, and refining assertions about the natural world based on experimentally validated facts. This continuous refinement means science gets more accurate over time as more facts accumulate and theories evolve to better fit the facts. Time is on science’s side.
  • Fundamentalists believe their sacred texts are the infallible words of some deity, so their assertions about natural phenomena must all be absolutely true even though they were penned hundreds or thousands of years ago. Time works against religion because new facts accumulate over time that may challenge or contradict those infallible assertions.

Time has indeed favored science, and no burning bush or tablets of errata have appeared to reconcile any of those infallible sacred texts with the growing body of scientific knowledge. It’s not really a fair fight, and some religions have come to terms with that fact.

The Catholic Church doesn’t only acknowledge the Earth goes around the Sun now, the Catholic Church accepts the theory of evolution. These aren’t liberal secular humanists, they’re Catholics. They’re also pragmatists. It’s a losing battle, so why fight anymore and take more shots to the head? The Baha’i faith even builds an “until proven wrong” clause into their sacred texts to avoid conflict altogether. It’s certainly easier for science and religion to coexist peacefully when religion pleads no contest.

However, the United States is a country with a swelling fundamentalist Christian population at war with anybody believing differently. It’s not just the atheists or radical fundamentalist Islamics; in Dover they even attacked other Christians for not being Christian enough. These people know science will inevitably tread on their infallible truths by just doing its job. They aren’t pacifists despite lip service to their pacifist lord and savior. They’re going to fight, and there are only two ways they can win:

  • Turn everybody into fundamentalist Christians so nobody questions their infallible truths.
  • Outlaw any activity, belief, or lack thereof that conflicts with their infallible truths.

Either we all drink the Kool Aid, or anybody who’s different becomes a second class citizen in the Theocratic States of America. Let’s be clear about how this started. It wasn’t scientists persecuting fundamentalists. Biochemists aren’t in their labs sequencing genomes to discredit Genesis. Authors aren’t penning Biology texts because they hate the Bible. It’s the fundamentalists that have the agenda and use back-door political maneuvering to sucker-punch well-supported science like evolution.

Dover didn’t end this, but we can learn from Dover. Take heart that sometimes the good guys win. Prepare for the next onslaught by the fundamentalists.

A Victory for Primates Everywhere!

Google Reader Is Amazing

As much as I love Safari as an RSS reader, my loyalties have shifted to Google Reader. Here’s why:

Read Anywhere — Google Reader works on any of my desktops and laptops. It works on my Blackberry Pearl. It not only works on my iPod Touch, it looks fabulous and is fun to flick. It works at an internet kiosk. Now I can tame the feeds any place/time I like. Hopefully that’ll mean fewer marathon catch-up sessions.

Flagging — With Safari, my bookmarks bar is overflowing with articles that either required more time to finish or needed some kind of follow-up. Now I can flag them just like I would an email message. This is a feature I didn’t know I couldn’t live without.

Sharing — I can mark articles and share them through a web page/RSS feed. This is so much easier than blogging about each item, especially things I just want to share without additional comments. [My Shared Google Reader, also available in the nav bar under About Me]

There are still some web comic feeds I’ll leave in Safari since they’ll be difficult to manage on mobile devices. My first glance at Mail.app’s new RSS capabilities didn’t impress, but it’s worth a second look now that Google Reader’s exposed the utility of mail-like features with feeds.

It’s got me thinking about pointing my acm.org email address back to GMail to explore for synergies between various Google apps. It’s getting harder to resist the siren call of a company that does smart things like this–but even if they make their money from ads? Hmmmm.

Making Blogging Easier from Anywhere

As much as I adore my Blackberry Pearl, it doesn’t do a good job with
my WordPress dashboard given its limited screen real estate. The
logical alternative for in-field posting is email, but something needs
to trigger the WordPress page that does the processing. There are a
bunch of ways, and they recommend hacking the blog footer as the
easiest way.

A better way for an old UNIX hacker like me is a shell command in a
cron job. So it’s back a trusty old UNIX feature to kick my blog in
the anatomy every now and then. The testing is the hardest part, so I
set the job, using “GET -d”, to run every fifteen minutes. That’s
probably too often. Really, how often am I more than 10 feet from a
computer with an internet connection?

Five minutes to the next run, so please cross all appropriate
appendages one more time!


From My MacBook

What Passes for Morning

It took four hours to get out the door “this morning” at around 2pm.
Then the day really got started after an omelet at Marathon and now an
Americano at the gayborhood Starbucks. Even on a grey blustery Sunday
there’s people about. This particular Starbucks is overrun with
students whose books blanket many tables. After this it’s home to
work on the resume (that time again) and maybe fix WordPress if this
post-by-mail fails to hit the internet.

From My Blackberry Pearl

[UPDATED 17:07] Didn’t work because I never configured a cron job or the like to do the posting. Working on that right now.

Social Science

I’ve been following a few feeds about the local tech scene [PhillyGeeks.net, Independents Hall, Junto, P’unk Avenue Window] to see if my impression of Philly as technologically backwards still holds. It does and it doesn’t. While I’d be hard-pressed to find a juicy Documentum contract within city limits, there’s plenty of activity in new media as well as a growing geek culture.

Philly Geeks alerted me to an event by Philadelphia Area New Media Association (PANMA) just two blocks from my front door. Their Web Tools Shootout worked something like perl mongers lighting talks; people spoke for three minutes on about a dozen web/new media technologies. I’ll post more about the event on kominetz.com in the next few days. The final speaker talked about Twitter and offered tickets for another event to the first two people to add him on Twitter. Of course I pinged him from my Pearl before he even sat down. Anyway, I won what turned out to be my first in-the-flesh encounter with the local Maker community.

No, I don’t mean sandworms from Arrakis. They are people fiddling with do-it-yourself technology inspired by Make magazine. I’d seen segments on RocketBoom [warning: video plays on the jump] and Boing Boing about some really involved projects and large gatherings called Maker Faires, but I didn’t know anything about the local community.

Anyway, I spent Saturday morning in an EZ-LED course run by Josh and Far from The Hactory, a spin-off of Make:Philly. We made throwies, blinky bugs, and a push-button pulsating LED circuit on a breadboard based on a 555 chip. I haven’t messed around like this in over 20 years, and it brought back great memories of cobbled-together creations. Here are a few snapshots of my blinky bug from yesterday:

Blinky Bug 1/3 Blinky Bug 2/3 Blinky Bug 3/3

Ok, it’s a little primitive and my technique with anything other than bits is totally atrophied. But…it was a blast futzing around with it. My innovation was an LED as a firefly-like abdomenal appendage. The antenna flaps came from an exchange of conceptual DNA with another bug. I’d definitely go to more events like this.

And…Science strikes back by feeding people’s thirst for more than knowledge. An article in the New York Times [These Scientific Minds Think (and Drink) Alike, may require subscription] has me scouring the web for similar gatherings locally even if they’re not as evolved as New York’s Secret Science Club. AND…I haven’t been to a Philly Perl Mongers meeting in ages, a group as much about good beer and good programming.

 

Wire Head

Researchers are one step closer to granting my deepest desire of a direct neural interface [Paralysed man’s mind is ‘read’]. Yes, I will drop a wire into my brain the moment it’s safe and effective so I can think at my computers and meld with the Internet.  It’s also one step closer to my cyborg body replacement which, at 42, can’t come soon enough. The big question will soon be this:  Rocket launchers or jet pack? Decisions, decisions…