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Tatchee Big Brother

Tatchee is 4.5 years older than his baby brother Hangchee. He was already excited and anticipating when he was born. So far they are getting along well. Tatchee often play a big brother role and helps from time to time.

Just a few things I notice from seeing him interacting with the brother. First, he baby talks to Hang Hang. That means he often switch to a higher pitched voice when talking to him, just like a lot of adults do. I think he is aware of what is a baby and how to interact with them.

Tatchee Hang Hang

Secondly he is able to pick up Hang Hang now. Right after he's born he is already asking to do it. We let him only when he is sitting in a bed or a big couch and then we put the baby into him. After almost a year he is really picking him off the floor. This is probably less to do with his own growth, which is unimpressive last year, than Hangchee is getting tougher and no longer a fragile baby. We still don't have full confidence in him. But now that Hangchee is crawling and going to places he shouldn't it helps to have him patrolling and pull him away sometimes.

Thirdly he is helping to spoon feed Hang Hang. He often do it quite successfully without messing up. When he bring a spoon full of food to his mouth, he will make a munching face himself to entice him to open his mouth to take the food. It is interesting because we are also doing the same thing spontaneously. Is this considered a sign of empathy?

2011.09.25 [] - comments

 

Contagion

Contagion Poster
© Warner Bros Pictures

We have a company movie outing today. Sure enough, us from "Kontagent" went out to see the movie "Contagion". This maybe the first movie I watch in a cinema for over a year. It really affected me emotionally. In the past years I've followed closely on the development of the SARS and H1N1 epidemic. Contagion feels like a very realistic story.

Businesswoman Beth contacted a bug from a business trip to Macau. The ailment that she dismiss as jetlag quickly progress to become fatal. A new virus has traveled with her on an airplane and spread around the world. It spirals out of control and killing scores of people all over the world. The medical community are helpless trying to stop it.

What makes it so emotional? For one thing, I just can't bear to see people die. The Emhoffs have two death in their family. The remaining father and daughter live under a dark cloud and the threat of more inflection. This is, above all, a very human story. You can see that from Dr. Cheever of CDC. When he finally received his personal vaccine ration from the first batch manufactured, he shows much caring by giving them to the people he cares for.

The movie develops in multiple story line all with strong characters.

Kate Winslet's Dr. Erin Mears answers her call of duty, going out to the field and putting herself in the front line of danger. She was an inspiring figure in the time of crisis.

I love the face of researcher Dr. Ally Hextall. She has a radiant expression that bring some rare optimism to the grim movie.

Jude Law plays blogger Alan. It depicts the dark side of social media, where the Internet amplifies skepticism and conspiracy view, causing much more confusion in the time of chaos.

Elliott Gould's Dr. Ian Sussman makes an important breakthrough in his University lab. It exemplify the global cooperation in combating diseases.

And I also like the ending. Soderbergh shows his cinematic skill to bring us some closure at the end.

Contagion recalls another great Soderbergh movie "Traffic". The story contains multiple plot lines revolving around the drug problem. It gives a realistic depiction and you come to see how drug affects everyone. The complexity of the problem defy rhetorics or any easy solution.

People should know new and unknown virus do indeed emerge regularly. We are always a risk of another global pandemic. In the 10 years after the movie Traffic, we are no closer in solving the drug problem than the start. In fact we see Mexico government losing control of the country to drug lords. And Afghanistan has emerged as a top opium producer. What will happen in 10 years after the movie Contagion? It is chilling to think that there is a real possibility that an epidemic as horrific as in the film could happen in real life.

2011.09.23 [] - comments

 

Subvert your Social Network!

Today's big news is Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has announced Facebook will have a new feature to capture and present the event of your whole life in a product called Timeline. I immediately grabbed my current avatar, which is a cartoon liking of mine, mark it with the letter 2011 and then uploaded it, in hope that this picture will be represented as a picture of me in 2011 in Timeline.

I'm rather ambivalent about these social network companies. I am never comfortable to have them assume the custodianship of my data, distribute it and present it in whatever form of their design. There are a lot for me to gain to participate in their channel, but not enough for me to give up my autonomy.

I finally realize what I am doing with these cartoon pictures as well as some other funky things I've done on other social networks. I am bending their rule. Timeline is suppose to present your life story. I intentionally trying to poison it with something different. I am trying to subvert the social network application.

What if lot more people start to subvert the social network? This can be a lot of fun! Cartoonize yourself! Fictionalize your profile! How about creating an entire alter ego on the social network? Use it to start interacting with your friends in a whole new way! This is far more creative than playing Facebook's game. To be clear, this is not about doing things with malicious purpose. This is about playfulness, fun, creativity and asserting your independency from these Internet overlord.

2011.09.22 [] - comments

 

Netflix - The Worst Apology One Ever Made

Many of you Netflix customers may have gotten an email or heard it from the news. Netflix' CEO has made a public apology about the recent price change with some further announcement. I think this is the worst apology I have ever seen. I am writing this mainly from a customer's perspective. I wasn't angry about the price change. Nor am I care about their business that much. They've asked me to pick between DVD or streaming. Since only about one third of movies I watch offer streaming, DVD only is the no-brainer option for me. This actually saved me a little bit of money.

What annoys me is that this is an apology that is not an apology. What exactly does Netflix believe they have done wrong? From they email they are absolutely convinced their business strategy is right, and I'm not here to dispute it. I just don't see what are they trying to apologize for? The are not back tracking the price change, nor are they offering any discount or compensation. In fact they are so convinced in what they are doing that they announce further change to spin off the DVD rental into a new company called Qwikster.

Some business pundits are nodding their head and approving of their bold move, often citing Innovator's Dilemma and such. But what is it in for the consumers? All the got is their service being spin into Qwikster, essentially a second rated brand name. The other difference is Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated, so

if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn't show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.

In other words, you customer are getting screwed. The interest of the company as a business is clearly different from the interest of the customers.

Why bother to write a super long email to the customers if you have nothing to offer to them? Why apologize if you have nothing to apologize for? In the announcement they regret that "many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming". I feel that they have just humiliated us again.

2011.09.19 [] - comments

 

Protovis pivot into D3

I have used Protovis to create some really interesting charts like the San Francisco Ranked Choice Voting and SFUSD School Assignment by Ethnicity. I have just found out the development of Protovis has pivot into a new library D3. Although I have not learned the detail of D3 yet, I am quite hopeful.

The biggest different seems to be that the chart is directly render into SVG elements rather than through an intermediate library. So we will have full access the the underlying feature of SVG. I'm a strong believer in SVG and I find this an excellent approach. SVG is like the best keep secret on the web. It provide such a powerful vector graphics functionality, yet so few people uses it directly or even understand it. Documentation is scarce however, depsite it has been standardlized so many years ago.

Protovis/D3 use a declarative and functional approach for building chart. I must say this is not intuitive to a programmer like me. And I have struggled a lot to get things right. Yet it has such great promises I am going to spend more time to dig into it.

2011.09.15 [] - comments

 

Army Ants And Me

When we think about predators, we usually think of those fearsome animals like lions and tigers. It may a surprise to learn that one of the most powerful predator is actually some lowly ants. In the forest of Central America there are a family of ants known as army ants. With a strong armor, shearing jaws and more importantly a great number of them, army ants is able to dominate its competitors. Each ant colony consist of a queen and about half a million of worker and soldier ants. They go out to raid in huge swarm. Large insects and invertebrates are no rival to them. Despite their size is much larger than any individual ant, they shear number of ants overwhelmed them. Inevitably any creatures in their path are going to fall prey to the ants.

Photo by Mark Moffett
Army Ants

I was watching a documentary on National Geographics about army ants. The most terrifying scene is to see them raid a wasp nest. A few wasp foolishly fight the ants in vain. Other have no choice but to evacuate the nest. The ants carry out the prize of the raid, which is the wasps' eggs. Having spend so much of their life to guard and nurture their offspring, the wasps watch helplessly as the ants steal them as their food.

This leads me thinking how does human rank against army ants? Humans are intelligent. The ants are dumb. We have only few offspring. But we invest a lot to nurture each one of them. The ants just produce lots and lots of interchangeable workers. You can stomp your foot and kill a dozen. This will do little harm to the colony because they will be replaced by countless others. In comparison human are more vulnerable. The is always a chance for some of us to fallen to diseases or to violence and die prematurely. When this happens, it will be a big loss that is hard to replace. Both species are very successful. Yet is one of these strategy is better from an evolutionary stand point?

Scanning electron microscope image of normal circulating human blood
scanning electron microscope image of normal circulating human blood

A more interesting view point is that we human can actually be a lot like army ants. Instead of looking at us as an individual, lets use a microscope to look inside. In our blood stream there are great number of white blood cells. They are part of our immune system that defend us against infectious diseases. When any invading microbes are detected, our immune system produce a great number of antibody to neutralize them. These microorganism has no intelligence to speak of. They just fight as they suppose to be and they die in great number. In a sense, our immune system work more like army ants. And we own our survival to the service of our immune system.

Studying the nature always fascinates me.

2011.09.10 [] - comments

 

2011-08 reading list

My reading activity has slowed somewhat since April. I have finished just 6 books in the last few months. The list is below:

Building Scalable Web Sites
By Cal Henderson (2006)

Cal Henderson explains everything you ever need to know to build a scalable web application. Draw upon his experience in building the Flickr.com, the book covers a wide range of technologies such as application building, database tuning, optimization and monitoring. A notable gap is cloud based infrastructure, which isn't on the radar screen when the book is published in 2006.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (Annotated Edition)
by Edwin Lefèvre, Jon D. Markman (1923)

A fictionalized account of Jesse Livermore, a stock trader of the early 20h century. Despite the decades passed, the war stories still resonates today. A lot of things haven't changed. I have learned a few things on how market making works. (His role is simply knowns stock manipulator, apparently legal and without negative connotation at the time). The frenzy speculation of railroad stocks back then is a reminiscent of Internet stocks bubble today.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1884)

A creative novel where the characters are simple geometrical shapes like squares and circles. Despite the simple idea, it manage to tells a good story and allude to a social commentary. For an object in 2 dimension space to perceive the existence of 3 dimension space is a great revelation!

Web services for the real world
By Leonard Richardson, Sam Ruby (2007)

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built
by Stewart Brand (1995)

Stewart Brand's book is exceptional. Will write about it when I have a chance.

Swarm Intelligence
by Russell Eberhart, Yuhui Shi, James Kennedy (2001)

2011.09.05 [] - comments

 

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