Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth

To wish you all hapy holidays and especially a great 2009 I'm sharing this video:

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.
[Thanks to Cynthia]

I also feel like sharing one of my favorite anonymous phrases:
"No es feliz quien tiene todo lo que quiere,
sino quien quiere todo lo que tiene"

An attempt at translating it:
"Happiness is not to have everything you love,
but to love everything you have."

Happy Holidays and make it a great year!

Friday, December 19, 2008


World TV allows you to set up your own TV channel in seconds. Good luck finding content ... specially with the quality of you tube videos in general. I collected a series of diverse drumming videos: Fun! Loved doing it!

Interesting to note, they are hosted by YouTube, so not so much of an investment as far as streaming.

I think we needed a product like this to see you tube and other user content on the web/TV. The simplicity of WorldTV is impressive, although until I read the email directing me to, I went nuts trying to find a way to login to their site. It's one of those things, very simple, but maybe too simple ...

I'm sure great things to come with it in the near future. It'd be really cool to be able to edit the videos online even if at a very basic level. Also, I'd love to see my own comments and my buddies comments along the movies.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Flutist Robot

Pretty cool flutist robot:
[via DesignFlute]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Spread the happiness

A new study by Harvard and San Diego Universities published that happiness seems to be contagious. This discovery came along after previous studies of tendencies for obesity patterns and smoking quitting in social networks. All of the studies seem to agree in the viral potential of social networks to be contagious regarding happiness among other things.

Over the weekend I conducted my own little experiment about happiness contagiedness (did I made up a word here?). For every casual encounter I would have with people that looked happy, I stopped for a second to be mindful of wether it affected me positively in my own feeling of happiness. The surprising result was that it did seem to make me happier to just pass by people that looked happy. So, now I am smiling to people much more in the hope I'm giving them a little bit of my own happiness. All this works pretty well in California, where people like to smile to most everybody most of the time anyway. Not sure how it would work somewhere else ...

My daughter is high

Genetics just work, and it's really interesting when you see it in action through your little ones.

My daughter Nicole (8) looks different than me and thankfully has a different personality as well, but there's one thing she got from me in a high percentage (close to 100% I'd say ;) and that is her brain's hardware. There's many ways in which this fact is true, but the one I want to write about today is her tendency to have natural highs.

There are some days in which my husband and I look at each other and just smile while we almost simultaneously say: OMG, she's high again!

Yesterday was one of those days. She came to me asking me how to write allowance, then later how to write business ... then I had to go check on her. She was sending ClubPenguin suggestions for their website.

The ideas:
1. To allow parents to give weekly coin allowances to their kid's penguins as a way to incentive home chores or school performance. Her ultimate goal: as she's the parent of one of her penguins (not sure how that happened, I think Edu was distracted and she took advantage), she wants to give coins to herself without the work of actually earning them.
2. To allow penguins to start stores in their igloos, so that they can have their own products and sell to other penguins for virtual currency.

There is a common denominator on her thoughts this week, she's evidently obsessed with getting more coins without the work. Of course she already explored all the hacks and cheats on the net she could find, with what she calls her "testing penguins" with almost irrational fear of getting "banned". She's hilarious!

Maybe her day was the logical outcome now that I remember she actually started the day telling me about a dream she had. She dreamed that there was a person, and the person had a diamond inside, and she had some kind of device hooked to the net which would allow her to set goals such as remove the diamond from the person's body ... weird! I offered her an interpretation: that she thinks people have great value inside and she could by using some kind of technology extract it (not clear if it would be for her own benefit or what, sometimes you don't want to ask that much).

Now we probably will have some more high days until it melts down. It'd be nice to be able to figure out the curve of ups and downs, something I always wanted to do with myself but never quite did.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Geminids Meteor Shower starting tonight

I was so lucky that August summer night back in 1994 as to find myself unexpectedly in the middle of the desert, in what seemed almost a lunar surface, when we started to notice something magically unusual was going on. Shooting stars were all over the sky, not one or two, but tens of them, non-stop showering all around. Later I found out it might have been the Perseids, peaking around Aug 12th.

Since then I have had this fascination for meteor showers although I did not have many more chances to experience them.

This next weekend we're heading to the desert for a camp out night to hopefully see the Geminids peak Dec 13th, although the moon will be interfering quite a bit with the experience. Also, more to come soon in Jan 3rd/4th: the Quadrantis.

In case anybody wonders, the best hours to observe meteor showers is from midnight til pre-down (regardless your time zone). For more info I recommend MeteorShowers blog.

Skype to Go ... great skype feature

This week I tried Skype to Go, a feature that allows you to dial out international calls through skype from your cellphone. It seems like it was available before in Europe but recently launched in the US. I've been waiting for this feature for a long time. With call forwarding I was able to get international calls in my cell but I could not initiate the calls. The setup was very simple and in no time I was being able to make my calls out (bye-bye to msn logging in to say a quick "call me" while driving). Now I feel like I can fully rely on Skype for my phone communications at a fairly good price.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Is this the begining of the end?

The world as we knew it is changing. The idealistic conservative capitalism, "the free market will work everything out" (as Steve Borsch would call it), is falling apart. Maybe Negroponte was right when in "The Dance of Shiva" he announced such a crazzy idea as a new era being about to emerge (the dialectic negation of the previous era, in terms being the dialectic negation of its previous era, ~(~p)=p. Maybe techonology's new ways of producing value such as cooperativism, open source, crowdsourcing, peer to peer, however you want to call it, will in the end produce a new global economy.

Viral videos like Annie Leonard's "The story of stuff" can surely help change the world:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Free the music:!

Sorry if I tricked you, I meant free the music as in let the music flow freely on the net. And that's what is doing, no more attachement to a particular software or device, your music on the net 10 cents a piece. The music goes on as you browse their site. I guess it'll be even more fun as more of our devices/cars/appliances/homes get more and more wired.

Don't be surprised if you see an iTuny look to it ;)

Start now, 50 free songs to try it out.

Podcasts coming soon I hope!!

Innovative data visual presentations

Some of the most innovative data visual presentations I've seen in a while are being created by

Although not having as much of a key functionality, these interfaces remind me of the first time I saw twittervision and other google maps mashups.

[Thanks to Mauro for the link]

The real question is: To regulate sooner or later?

From the individual to the collective, we all learn the hard way: by tough lessons involving some degree of suffering.

There are probably many lessons to be learned from the now dissolved real estate bubble. One that came to my mind recently is that debt should be treated as a health hazard.

Last year I watched "Maxed Out", a documentary movie that shows very clearly how the financing industry grew its roots by advertising this concept of buying without money. Only then it occurred to me that this "get in debt" concept that comes so naturally to me (although my south american culture is not so much about that, especially when compared with the american one), had to be "sold" to the public originally.

I suspect I'm being controversial here (for a change), but, the way I see it, financial institutions should be taxed and regulated instead of being bailed out.

I won't get on the bail out thing much, it's a lost battle and I admit I might not know what I'm saying here ... my only comment is, I would have invested and propped the next bubble (most likely energy) instead of trying to save the anyway sinking boat.

On the taxing thing, I believe the financial industry should be treated pretty much as the tobacco industry. People should be teached how to use credit wisely, warnings should be issued, recovery should be supported by the same industry that created the problem and beneffited from it in the first place. Education! That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying credit is bad. But credit without education is a hazard for everybody as we can see.

The question is not "To regulate or not to regulate?" the real question is "To regulater sooner or later?" and later did us no good.

[Update: great British humor video via Fabi]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Beta Website Preview

One day I was about to log to (the greatest free tool for remote pc control) when I was presented with the option to preview their beta website instead of using the regular site. Last week, faithful to the hackability and remixability principles of the web, I used the same concept for the website I manage.

Statistics don't show for now a big jump in access to our labs site, we'll see how the week progresses.

Friday, September 26, 2008

About grids and clouds

As anticipated by Nicholas Carr in the "Big Switch" cloud computing is becoming a reality and little by little companies will be switching from internal data centers to external ones as a paralelism to what happened with the passage from internally hosted electricity generators to the time in which everybody was connecting to the electricity grid.

GeneXus was up to speed with this concept and especifically Ignacio Roqueta's talk was very clarifying as far as the existing grids (Google apps and Amazon's grid) as well as future project ones (Microsoft's). Also, the talk unveiled that GeneXus will provide tools to automatically migrate to the main grids that are compatible with the main generators. Good news :)

An interesting trip

As I was heading to the GeneXus Event down in Uruguay I decided to "make sure" my brother's iPod "was working correctly".
Then, I had to throw in a few podcasts that made me have the best trip ever. What was part of this trip saving repertoire?

1. TED Talks Videos.
I loved seeing ted videos on the iPod, even with the little iPod Nano, it was just perfect. Couple talks that left me thinking for quite some time:

Sugata Mitra on "Can kids teach themselves?". Super interesting experiment done across India on technology enabling kids and let them learn in a collective way.

Craig Venter on "On the verge of creating synthetic life". How close are we to creating synthetic life? It's happenign righ now. Craig is booting up new software (synthetic chromosomes) on one of the oldest biologic hardware (bacteria). They're among other things on a quest on creating bacteria that can produce fuel out of CO2. It looks like he's not the only one on this holy grail: Turning bacteria into plastic factories replacing fossil fuels.

2. Bill Maher. It cracked me up as always, especially considering it was a podcast of his 9/13 show, when the prospect of having Palin as a president was still funny ...

3. Tiesto's music
I usually also buy a magazine when I travel, most likely a Scientific American. This one time, the only reason I ended up opening it was that Tiesto's music was asking for something to read.

The only one article I read in the magazine was "Big bang or big bounce". Astonishing. My friend Italo already had mentioned this alternative approach at solving the mystery of the moment for physicists some time ago, but this full explanation made so much sense and seems to be such a revolution that I'm still impressed. On a nutshell, the fresh new theory discusses the existence of space-time particles that are to the space-time what the atom is to matter. One of the consequences of the existence of these particles is that the Universe did not start on a singular point of infinite density with the Big Bang as we all tended to believe. Instead, the Universe would have been in a most likely infinite cycle of expand and collapse being the "Big Bang" a "Big Bounce" in reality. I think reading this article was the closest I've been to the feeling of being there when the atom itself was first speculated about around the sixteen hundreds.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My life without caffeine

It's always nice to experiment on theories. Some weeks ago I decided to put to the test the theory that "an action repeated for 21 days becomes a habit".

As my only source for caffeine was diet coke, I decided to be diet coke clean (therefore caffeine clean) for 21 days and then see the results for myself.

One memorable but horrible Sunday was my starting day. Hard not to remember that day ... I felt awful, I was almost self defined as officially depressed, I barely had any energy at all. I dragged myself through that Sunday until it passed by. Next couple days were ok, dealing with the firm decision not to take that first can. Following couple days, horrible again, every now and then finding myself day dreaming about the mouth watering possibility of drinking diet coke.

I survived my first week, trying to be aware and remember how hard this process was being. The only thing I could do was to stick with it for two more weeks. One more Sunday came by, my decision untouchable, I should be able to do this for two weeks, and three weeks as well.

By the middle of the third week I was feeling much better. Sooner than later, third week and "Prueba conseguida!!" (mission accomplished).

Now, it was time to re-evaluate my goal. Given how hard it was to quit diet coke, and how released and freed I was feeling after the three weeks broke the habit and I guess cleaned my system too. Dependency is gone! The next step was clear: never again let that thing trick me into getting just a sip! Diet coke and caffeine are history.
I feel fresh, energetic, nothing to envy from the caffeinated past.

Today I enjoy still water and more yet sparkling water. A friend found this sparkling making device that I ordered from a company in Israel. It even matches my kitchen appliances style! It took some time for the thing to arrive (interestingly enough, the fact that someone blogged about them blew their inventory) but it is great! I love it!!

Back to the beginning of this post, the 21 day break a habit theory was totally confirmed by my little experiment. It seems to be true!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Prophet, distributed database manager

When I was teaching databases back in 1992, I remember while I was preparing my classes, stumbling upon a subject that sounded as interesting as it use was remote and complex at the time: distributed databases. At that time anyone on their sane mind would try to avoid syncing nightmares by all possible means.

After centuries going by without ever hearing about distributed databases again, a few days ago I read about Prophet, a distributed database manager which is defined by its own buzz:

"A grounded, semirelational, peer to peer replicated, disconnected, versioned, property database with self-healing conflict resolution."

One of the reasons I would be interested in something like this, is the need to optimize website accessibility from different parts of the world by adding local servers with syncable databases. Other reason would be more device related.

I guess the one other thing that seduces me about this idea is the holographic nature of a distributed database, although I'm not sure this is the only way to go about getting to imitate our own holographic memory.

Drug brain interactions

This site has interesting animations explaining the effect of the most common drugs in the brain. It made a lot of sense to me when I learned ten years ago or more the effect of alcohol in the brain, letting neuron membranes all confused and allowing substances to travel back and forth without control.

I am very convinced that drugs do not have magically the ability to develop new programs on the brain. Their only possibility is to bring programs down and by doing so, they inhibit controls in place and people can show behaviors that they usually they don't exhibit. They might over a period of time develop new habits which are in a way new programs.

Looking at the biochemistry of the drug-neuron interaction only re-affirms this thought.

Particularly interesting was to see the effects of caffeine and long term use of nicotine.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Visionaries, John Lennon

The world is full of examples of man (and woman? ... I hope!) that were ahead of their own time. Clear examples, to name a few, would be Albert Einstein, Tesla and Julio Verne (one of his novels written in 1864 was recently adapted and a 3D movie was produced).

I have to confess I never liked The Beatles, not a little bit, but there is one John Lennon's song which has one of the best lyrics ever:

"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"

That to me is vision too ...
Found lots of Lennon's cool quotes here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

California went bluetooth

Begining July 1st California passed the cellphone hands-free law.

The law was long expected but the effects in the roads are not so visible yet. I was expecting to see everybody everywhere shining their little blue extensions but I did not notice such a big change. Most likely it'll happen more and more over time.

My multiple attempts with bluetooth since 2004 are ranging from not matching devices, to bad hearing quality, to losing it all the time: where is the little damn thing?, to all sort of battery issues both on the mic and cellphone side of things because of the bluetooth. I love the concept but the technology itself didn't match my expectations so far.

Motorola seems to have a promising one (not just because Beckam is wearing it):
"Motorola has launched the new headset which supports Bluetooth 2.0 wireless technology, the 32g Bluetooth stereo headset S9, in Korea. With stable behind-the-head style, the S9 lets you switch from music to calls with the press of a button. It features an integrated and touch-sensitive controls, the S9 is water and sweat resistant, which is nice for wearing in any weather."

I never had ones that could switch from music to calls!

Here's a map on how other states are dealing with it:

It's nice that law helps us become more cyborgs, no complains on my side, of course it's safer too.

Moore Law for multi-cores

The nicest thing of carpooling is that I get to mount my office on the back of the car. Today on my way back from work as I skimmed over google reader posts I found an interesting thought in GigaOM regarding the opportunities that the multi-core processors world will bring for the industry.

As I commented out loud, a friend who is an insider of the Sony Playstation gaming development team was reminding me of how playstation might have a definite development edge over Microsoft as they chose cheap multiple cores versus few powerful ones very early on. The advantage now seems to be that all their coding for years has been multi-core savy. If that is right, and Microsoft development did not go down that route, Sony's development edge and scalability possibilities are inmensly better.

On the words of Anant Agarwal: "I would like to call it a corollary of Moore's Law that the number of cores will double every 18 months," said Agarwal whose company currently ships a 64-core embedded processor.

One company that got my attention from GigaOm's list was Replay, by introducing what they call the computer-tivo. This is one of my favorite subjects, and although they're only focusing apparently on bug reply it's one of the first tools I see using this powerful concept.

I would bet on Moore Law being right one more time. And, I would also bet that developers will not be micro-managing core management. There will be software automatically taking care of this.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

About Buddhism and Science

For the last year or more I've been on and off studying Buddhist philosophy. I've been attending general practitioner meditation classes which are the very basic introduction to Buddhism.

In these classes I could enjoy a new way of meditating, which gave me new perspectives over Transcendental Meditation (basically mantra meditation that I have been using for the last 10 years or so. This meditation is centered on the heart chakra, which I loved. Also, it has two faces. First, it looks for an object of meditation and once you find the object you concentrate single-pointedly into it and abide into the feeling for as long as you can.

In addition to the meditation, there was the theory. Buddhist theory is so rich and extensive. Every Wednesday night I would get to listen, think and talk about diverse subjects such as: value of intention, patience as a spiritual value, compassion (meaning from Latin com-passion, to share other's passion), equality to all beings (loving everybody in the same way), delusions (such as mind of attachment, self-cherishing) versus wisdom, karma (as a law comparable to gravity), kindness and many others.

Last but not least, there were the people. In these meetings I could find the most exquisite people, in their quest to live a life of pure intentions, where the path to enlightenment is centered around the intention to help others.

The benefits from attending these classes I could feel incredibly during the whole week, being more relaxed, compassionate, understanding, loving, thankful and happy.

Eventually, I got to dig the central and hardest to grasp concept of the Buddhist philosophy: emptiness. I read about it, thought about it, asked questions about it and ended up tending to think that emptiness means in the end relativity of all things, in other words: ultimate relativity. A strong concept I grasped in the past when I was around 16 years old and I happen to call it relativity abysm (taken from Ortega y Gasset) as it felt like falling into an endless precipice by having reality de-materialize in front of my eyes in the light of relativity.

Problem for me was that even when the concepts seem so correct and the philosophy so interesting the explanations could not fulfill my logical thinking. From the beginning I had this feeling of how can this be so right but at the same time so outdated. How can it be using its own dictionary for English words having meanings that could be so off? How on the other hand could they grasp concepts such as conscious, subconscious and unconscious (which they call gross mind, subtle and very subtle mind respectively) thousands of years before Freud did?

My conclusion is that Buddhist meditation is an incredible tool, which allowed people to understand concepts way before they could be rationalized by science. When this same people tried to explain these concepts and rationalize about them the results are not so great. In other words, I loved the philosophical concepts in Buddhism but not so much the explanation and justification of why those things are the way they are.

In the end, I keep the meditation close to my heart and I go back to science to find rational explanations that are more according to my present culture and understanding of things.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Technology unconscious

What can make a process go down from days to minutes?
Given that hardware and software remain the same, the answer is obvious: database indexes!

As an ex-project manager and consultant for NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) I received a call when they were trying to process a big fat invoice from Prometric (leading provider of testing and assessment services) and instead of taking the usual few minutes it was getting stuck forever. Stuck forever after some monitoring ended up being amazingly slow processing due to non-existing indexes that were re-creating themselves temporarily again and again.

This situation made me think of the existence of a growing number of things that goes into the "technology unconscious", by definition: the mind operating well below the perception of the conscious mind. They're there, in the background, making things run smooth, we all use them, but most of the time we don't even remember that they're there or know the details of how they operate, and only realize about them when something fails. Other pieces of the technology unconscious are operative systems, the internet tcp/ip layer, even electricity itself (I get embarrassed when my daughter asks me questions about how things work all the time, thanks google for existing).

To string or not to string, 4D vs 11Dimensions

String theory made the universe extremely fun for scientists, mathematicians and mystics alike.

I heard before about alternatives to the string theory in the quest for unifying the theory of all things (integrating the four forces: strong and weak interaction, electromagnetism and gravity, into one nice beautiful equation) that would shed a much more "normal" 4D universe. Apparently, the alternative has to do with a structurally different conception of space-time, which instead of being a continuum would consist of discrete tiny building blocks.

Only a few days ago, reading the article "Using Causality to Solve the Puzzle of Quantum Spacetime" I could understand more what this alternative is about:
"if we think of empty spacetime as some immaterial substance, consisting of a very large number of minute, structureless pieces, and if we then let these microscopic building blocks interact with one another according to simple rules dictated by gravity and quantum theory, they will spontaneously arrange themselves into a whole that in many ways looks like the observed universe. It is similar to the way that molecules assemble themselves into crystalline or amorphous solids."

Computer simulation software is essentially what they use to produce different universe creations starting from small building blocks. Usually they start out with blocks called simplex. What was introduced in this particular approach is an added rule of causality (or time direction):
"Instead of disregarding causality when assembling individual universes and hoping for it to reappear through the collective wisdom of the superposition, we decided to incorporate the causal structure at a much earlier stage. The technical term for our method is causal dynamical triangulations. In it, we first assign each simplex an arrow of time pointing from the past to the future. Then we enforce causal gluing rules: two simplices must be glued together to keep their arrows pointing in the same direction. The simplices must share a notion of time, which unfolds steadily in the direction of these arrows and never stands still or runs backward. Space keeps its overall form as time advances; it cannot break up into disconnected pieces or create wormholes."

It's interesting that if they impose this arrow of time when building their universe they end up with a universe like the one we can perceive: a 4 dimensional one with an arrow of time. Simple ... and makes sense ... although it makes me wonder, are we limiting this way our conception of the world to our human perception? If we were other type of less evolved organism with no sense of time, would we end up building a 3D world just to conform to what our senses would tell us?

Scientists continue to try to find experiments that can shed light over this incredible questions about the nature of the universe. In the words of Janet Conrad: “There’s this cycle in physics,” she says, “where experiment pushes theory and then theory pushes experiment, and I really like the moment in which experiment is pushing theory”—which is what is happening now in the area of neutrinos.
She's basically referring to the Mini-Boo Neutrino Experiment which is studying one of the most elusive particles ever the neutrino. These particles are ubiquitous, actually according to this article: 100 trillion of these tiny particles just passed through your body in the last second. They might be accountable for some amount of lost mass that physicist expect to find in the universe. One of the explanations for this weird neutrino behavior involves more dimensions.

This seems to be a century of questions, not so sure it is one of answers even considering science can only provide tentative relativistic answers.
Long live to the mystery!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What can make a 4yr old beg for a membership

Since her sister is playing (or should I say living) day and night in her first virtual community ClubPenguin, Angelina (4) has been begging 'make me a number' which can be translated as 'make me a member'.

What hooks kids up in this kind of environment:
1. the social component of making friends, chatting, and hanging out, which usually evolves from I have hundreds of friends I don't even know, to a nice organized list of a few buddies I know (some personally from the outside world). We tried other games before, such as Jump start DVDs, and nick jr, etc, but the social thing really takes things to another level. MyePets, only adds to the social component apparently when kids know each other from the outside world, and being so much more on the safer side did not make the trick for Nicole. Combined with phone or skype with real friends I saw it be as addictive as can be imagined.
2. the freedom they feel by living the adult life of earning their money, buying their stuff, going to places on their own (coffee shop, night club, pizza place, etc).
3. Having this early experience of being "adults", in control, learning to spend their money, adopting pets (that would run away if not taken care of) balancing their time between the earning of the coins (games mostly), the spending and living their lives, seems like it could be so beneficial compared with generations that did not have this simulation chance and went all the way to the real thing.

Why is it so exciting to me?
1. I see it evolving into a virtual world where they will do most of the things we are doing outside, such as: watching tv/videos, listening to their music, syncing their ipods, sending emails, having school like activities, checking their cellphone voicemails, texting cellphones, uploading their pictures and videos, buying/selling real stuff.
2. Facebook would become so pale compared with a social network like the one they could build inside their virtual world including their virtual homes (in ClubPenguin their igloos).
3. Today being this a kids software there is all the usual paranoia about safety that we can all understand and be thankful for; but these kids that are playing in virtual worlds today, will not use "flat" software ever again. For them, Second Life type of communities would be just a natural thing. The open architecture of Second Life makes it the perfect virtual world for the future; the place where we all might be conducting most of our business in the next few years.
4. Summarizing, the excitement for me is the usual, having a little glimpse into the future. Imagining how "immersive" these virtual reality software will be in our lives. The kick I could not have using Second Life (I'll give it a second chance soon) I could find in these kids communities such as Club Penguin.

If only some explicitly educational features could be merged so every so many minutes they had to go through some reading/writing/math, it would be just heaven to us parents.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Interactivity Restoration

In the introduction of the book "Design for the Social Web" Joshua Porter has a brilliant opening with a quote by Douglas Adams, talking about getting back to connectedness:

“During [the twentieth] century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theater, music, sport—the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.

I expect that history will show “normal” mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’

“Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.”

“What was the Restoration again, please, miss?”

“The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.”

Very interesting and striking thought. Something we see often in evolution, new technology coming into the picture, adding and extending to our possibilities, sometimes first in a crippled way until a new wave of technology catches up with the past, restores in an even enhanced form.

On a side note, the book is very good, a fresh school usability approach looking into and capitalizing from the most recent web 2.0 hits.

The next new bubble

Back in 2000 when I heard for the first time of economic bubbles the dot com bubble was bursting out. At that time the theory remained in the informational side of things for me. Some years later after seeing the real state bubble boom and naturally later on burst things started clicking in more into the experience field of things.

Since I saw the housing bubble burst I started wondering what the next bubble would be. Now, if I had to bet, I'd have no doubt in my mind. The next bubble is about "alternative" energy sources. With gas prices going up insanely (which does not worry me as I started carpooling and my gas price reduced to one third of its original value) the bubble is already booming. Next thing we know, all those alternative sources will become sustainable, investment on those will grow, people and companies will bet on different ones, some will make it ... the old gold story, those who build infrastructure: products and services around alternative energy sources will hit the pot.
Now that I was googling for something related to this subject I found an article stating this same thing (in a much nicer way).

My next thought is that bubbles are a natural phenomenon that happens due to network characteristics and they sure have much more global properties beyond economy (as in social networks, neural networks, etc).

It was a very strong experience to watch the housing market offer and demand act in the local area of Temecula, California for the last year or so. The first thing you could observe was the obvious, houses with high prices were not selling as there is more offer than demand. But, later on, to my great surprise, we started seeing that houses that were priced under market would experience a process like a silent auction until they would reach very close to market price.

I used to have this illusion that bubbles were artificially created and controlled by a few people, but now I think of them as self-regulated networks presenting common emergent properties.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PenguinClub the kid's second life

Since the very first moment my daughter Nicole (almost 8) started being a Penguin in Club Penguin we spiraled into the most addictive craziness I've ever seen in her short life. Being this her first experience of having virtual friends, virtual pets, virtual money that she has to earn and decide how to spend (mostly on her pets), a whole virtual world, she's totally hooked and enjoying it incredibly (even a lil'too much if you ask me :|).

In the words of her older brother Chris: "Welcome to the world of online gaming".

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Scrum works with ScrumWorks

We recently decided to adpot a new flavor of agile methodology called Scrum.

We choose scrum as we are a small team with rapidly changing requirements and in need of involving the product owner heavily in our decisions. The idea is that by using this methodology we will be running all the time (in the characteristic sprints) instead of being in the relaxed until we get to a deadline mode ;)

There were two tools that we evaluated: Scrumworks and scrumdesk. We liked scrumdesk a lot, graphically it is superior, although it ended up not being that easy to use. Support was superb (thanks Dusan!). The only thing that ended up using Scrumworks was that in Scrumdesk the tasks inside stories could not be assigned to each particular resource in the team, they needed to be checked out by the person that would take care of it. I guess the reason we couldn't use it is because we were not doing 100% scrum, and our minimum need for planning was already too much for the tool.

Scrumworks was easier to use, although not nicer. It provided a little more flexibility in assigning resources. If it would have been all my choice, I probably would have adjusted more to the original methodology idea and would have sticked with Scrumdesk.

I was very surprised that we could not find an ASP solution. Both solutions we checked were installable solutions. I guess if you're a small company it might be harder to provide ASP trials and trat might be a reason for this lack of web tools in the area.

Deposit checks is now a breeze

I was nicely surprised last week when went to deposit couple checks in an Bank of America ATM. I was looking for the envelope and asking my husband if he had a calculator or something to do the addition of the checks values and he said: you don't need that! just insert the checks one by one and they'll be scanned. And so it was, I inserted the first check and got a very clean scan image in the ATM screen. It showed the amount in the check in the screen and it asked for confirmation. Same thing with the other two checks and boom! I was done!

It's one of these areas that didn't change much in a long time. Now, with a simple idea and a little more technology it is totally improved for all the parts. The client is surely happy with no envelope and no math involved. The bank and the client have all the security of their exact check being already in the system. Although I could not see the deposit scan online, I guess that will come soon.

I just learned in the web that other banks, such as Wells Fargo, are doing it too. While I was reading and I found out there's one company that allows to scan checks and "deposit" them through the internet ... That sounds interesting too, although I'm not sure security wise this is ready for prime time.

Talking about security, Bank of America also has an innovation in the area of website login securtity. They require the login id first. Then, they send you to a second screen that will bring a picture that is associated with the login account. If you recognize the picture you know you can login safely as there's no phishing involed. If you don't see your pic something is wrong, do not login. So, for a while until we get to a more personalized level of phishing this works great.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Painful: from SVN to Perforce

We just moved our SCM from SVN to Perforce. By the way, I've been laughed at to death at my tortoise pronunciation, but hey, it's a french word after all, I can't do the english thing with tortoise.

It's going to be a process, the outlook was pretty painful. I guess once I found out that if you install P4Win you get some windows system integration, although I read it can cause some problems, we'll see.

Now I can only hope that we can use SVN for our GeneXus projects when we migrate to X, haven't done that yet ...

Anyway, just wanted to share the mixed feelings, as in a way the branching will be much better and we are already benefiting of the workspace specs but of course we're losing the light gracious non-invasive advantages of SVN.

The illusion of consciousness and self

I've been kind of disconnected from this blog for some time (ok ... for a long time!) and I don't even feel bad about it (hey, that's freedom :). If I said that the main reason was that most of my reading in the past couple months was: paper books! it would be hard to believe by my previous posts, but it is true! (I sensed a connection between reading blogs and writing blogs in the past, but that's another subject)

By looking at one's blog in retrospective you can have a new glimpse into your own consciousness. Particularly you might find yourself surprised by how far away (even if not necessary contradictory) that mindset that you had in the past was. Most likely any state of mind you had in the past does not hold on and match your current state of mind. You might sometimes find yourself thinking: did I write that? Or you might find that the relevance or intensity of things totally changed in one or another direction. It might be that your attention was in totally different things or it might be that your curiosity was totally somewhere else.

This and other experiences in life lead me to grasp, in a more deeply way, that consciousness and self is only an illusion. We work hard every minute and specially when we sleep putting together the experiences of the previous day and creating the illusion of continuum. As a matter of fact even animals have this built-in illusion of time continuum; otherwise they would not be able to go for a pray or flight from a predator. But of course we humans brought this to a new level, we have this sense of self that is almost tangible, we firmly believe it exists: I am.

Then, my next thought was, that this feeling of self that we experience as our neural networks live in our brain, could be emulated in a greater scale. If a machine would have enough connected nodes of the nature of one mind being those biologic (as in humans) or not, and would have some mechanism of putting together all those experiences into one, a feeling of self would arise.

So now I have hope, that even if the experience is transcendental for us, there is some explanation for this sense of there has to be a greater purpose. It's not probably an ultimate purpose, but I think that sense of purpose that my daughter tells me she wonders about, as I did when I was her age, might after all exist in some level that transcends us.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Finally the OLPC laptops arrived home

I've got to admit that it was a long wait from end of the year til the end of march for the program 'give one get one' from OLPC (I believe discontinued now). Luckily as fitted part of the consuming society if gratification is not instant might as well just forget about it, so it wasn't that bad.

The girls were super excited about their arrival. With 4 and 7 they could use them with no major coaching and they had fun with notepad, tamtam (jamm tools), paint, basic stuff. Internet connectivity was kind of hard to setup just because we had a secure net that it didn't like to connect and I ended up opening it up. We still are trying to install the latest flash player version as most of the sites they go need it. I guess I'll have to refresh my linux abilities that are really dusty ...

As we went on our little trip to Las Vegas couple days after getting the laptops we had a perfect opportunity to experiment the effects of this technology on the road. Nothing like videos I tell you, but pretty good entertainment nevertheless ;)

My first impression is that they are great machines, seem to be child proof (keyboard is water and dirt proof and they already proved to be shock resistant), pretty easy intuitive interface. They could use a little more color on the basic interfaces. I already miss windows file explorer deeply, there's probably something I don't know of out there. I haven't explored around much on the web, I hope there are cool educational applications that can be downloaded ...

All in all, such a cool thing to see their faces and imagine the faces of the two other little ones among thousands somewhere in the world getting those as well.

Some family interesting comments this week

how did people come up with words for things they couldn't see, such as thought?
my boring answer about abstraction levels didn't do much ...

My sister:
dad doesn't stop sending and receiving text messages.
It was supposed to be the other way around, parents complaining from their kids on this regard ...

for the aliens we're the aliens!
who told you this?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flash as an API: the little runtime that could

A few days ago playing with Yahoo live I was wondering about the possibility of using an API to integrate it with other applications.

The APIs they provide are a combination of three things:
1. Two flash players, a regular and a skinless one.
2. A set of Javascript APIs mostly to modify the Flash player's behavior.
3. REST Web Services to query broadcasts, channels and their viewers.

The Flash players being called as APIs was kind of a revelation for me. I never thought of Flash as an API, although it makes total sense. It seems like the increasing relevance of video and audio on the internet as these reach a broader application base, are bringing Flash into a whole new status.

What other cases are becoming standard Flash applications on the web?
. Promotions such as sweepstakes
. Quick forms
. Demos, tutorials
. Product presentations, navigation, 3D views.
. Complex interface GUIs.
Together with web services you can build pretty powerful applications.

According to Adobe the penetration of the Flash Player is 98.8% above any other competitor. [Thanks to Mauro]
Silverlight doesn't seem to be putting up a real fight, although it'd only take including it with the distribution of IE or Updates and that'd do it ...

I believe one of the most overlooked revolutions to come in the short future is the un-sequentiality of video as it becomes augmented (GPS, timed) and searchable (image, sound searches) and I think Flash will have an interesting role on that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Learning: can Mindset change it all?

Reading "MindSet" from Carol S. Dweck was an inspiring source of understanding how our minds work specially when it comes to learning.

It explained why I went through most of my school years just focused on grades instead of learning itself. I adopted the mainstream belief of my time that was that intelligence was a fixed ability that you either had or not and in whatever amount you had it that was it. Once I got to get the label of "intelligent" my only worry was to keep up with it. When a kid focus is on keeping a label, all that's really important is lost. On the other hand, as the book explains, when you give a kid the opposite belief, that intelligence as any other ability is trainable and is attainable and increasable, they flourish carelessly while they focus on learning and satisfying their own curiosity.

Basically, the bottom line of the book is, never tell a kid how smart they are, always praise the effort they made and the results they obtained. In other words, instead of saying: "you're so smart!", tell them: "look how great you're doing now, after practicing your math today". It's kind of hard to believe that just such a small change in mindset can make such a difference, but in reading the book I realized this is the case.

It's been longly known now, that kids love to be presented with challenges. For something to be perceived by kids as a challenge, it has to be leveled to their present skills and just one notch up. If something is too hard, it'll be frustrating. Too easy? boring. It looks like computers will in the long term be able to impart a much better learning experience to kids than a teacher can, as they'll be able to personalize the experience to the exact degree needed in each case.

I hope my daughter's teacher doesn't take offense when I give her the book ;)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yahoo live!

We were thinking at home on how to install a webcam and share it with some family and friends, thinking on buying an IP webcam, getting the fixed IP with our service provider, when I stumbled on this new service from Yahoo called Yahoo Live.

I loved this little product. It allows you to broadcast with any simple webcam. We tried on Sunday and it was fun. Then, yesterday I worked from home and I used with the intention to communicate better with co-workers being live. I'm not too convinced of the fact that they don't allow for now broadcasting for a closed private group. I'm sure this is just part of their early strategy with the product which is now on experimental release.

While exploring I got to see a webcam in an apartment in Saudi Arabia with great windows showing the streets, as well as a guy showing what he could see from the windshield of his car while driving through Philadelphia streets. Also, there was a group of artists in Stokoholm painting live for 3 hours, it was pretty cool. It's kind of interesting, although right now it's mostly people checking out the technology itself or the typical dating crowd ...

I wish they provide APIs to implement mashups on top of them, although it's a not too complicated flash application, just the broadcasting part of it might be a little more complicated to figure out.

Unfortunately, the guy that was at the front of this and other cool new products in yahoo, such as yahoo pipes, has resigned and is heading to Google right now ... I have a deja vu with the times years ago when Microsoft was the one stealing talent across the board ....

Monday, February 18, 2008

PMOG, a fun multiplayer online game

According to Tim O'Reilly this is an example of Augmented Reality, which is the overlapping of layers of information on top of each other. In this case, the game is about completing missions that will involve navigating web pages avoiding mines and defending yourself with armors as you accumulate datapoints that allow you to purchase other digital arsenal.
I personally am not very affected to games but I wanted to get a taste of this one as beyond the game itself there's great innovation in the fact of having through a browser plug-in a layer of metainformation on top of the regular web browsing.
Don't wait for an invitation, just subscribe to the beta of the game and they'll send you an invite on your email.
One mission I found very cool was the Task and Project Management Online that guides you through a set of Project Management online tools. I'll have to come back to it as I'd like to start using one of these tools soon.

Yoga quickies

This page has quick yoga meditations or practices that last less than 2 or 3 min each:

Yoga quickies

More of my thoughts on yoga:

Digital veins art

[From szara's soup]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Maslow's pyramid

Maslow's hierarchy of needs was IMHO the representation of one of those great thoughts of humanity and I come back to it from time to time. It was written in 1943 as part of Maslow's theory of human motivations. Today, I still can use it to auto-diagnose where I'm at. If I'm worrying too much for the little stuff, for sure I'm heading towards the bottom of the pyramid.
If I'm loving, inspired, thinking creatively, then I'm heading towards the top. It's a nice graphical reminder and also for me an intention declaration.

I like to think that the pyramid is inverted in my daily life as I like to think that technology allows us to grow up in the pyramid, but I'm not convinced that either of them is really true.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Linked. How everything is connected to everything else.

This is the title of a great book by Albert-László Barabási.

The book narrates the history of networks from its origins around the eighteen century conceived as simple random graphs, growing to explain the complex networks we see today in every day's world from molecules to genes to neurons to the economy and the web.

As history progresses we start to understand that most networks in nature have common properties such as:

. Small worlds, there exist a small limited degree of separation between any two nodes. In other words, given any person in the planet, there are an average of six other people needed to reach any other person. The same is true for web pages in a number of 19. This property has become controversial lately (why can't be find Bin Laden if we live in a small world?) as a potential but not always a achievable property as it depends on the nodes cooperation and intentions.

. Hubs and connectors. Nodes are not randomly connected. There is a rule called the 80/20 rule (80% of the links are concentrated by 20% of the nodes), which establishes that some nodes concentrate links and act as connectors in the small worlds.

. Richer get reacher. These networks follow a power law distribution curve instead of a bell curve like a random network would. The reason for that is that new nodes attach to the network not in a randomic way but they follow the principle of preferential attachment. An example of this principle applied to the web would be that when choosing between two pages one with twice as nodes as the other, about twice as many people link to the more connected page.

. Survival of the fittest. Nodes always compete for connections because links represent survival in an interconnected world. Fit-get-rich is the rule, although some networks stop being scale free networks when winner takes all. This book written in 2003 mentions as an example the case of the Operating Systems area with a single hub and many tiny nodes. Interestingly enough, it mentions Google not being a winner takes all ... so far ... Anyway, fitness distribution might predict winner-takes-all behaviors.

. Achilles heel. Robustness is an emergent property of these networks, as the higher the interconnection and distribution the more guaranteed is their robustness. The Achilles heel are the hubs, a network could be bring to their feet just by damaging a few key nodes, its hubs. Anybody that has ever been stuck in Chicago airport knows what it means.

. Viruses and fads. Hubs, often referred to in marketing as "opinion leaders", "power users" are nodes with more connections than the average node. Usually, because of these same connections they are the first to know and experience the new cool stuff and they are responsible for "evangelizing" about them as well. If you want something to be viral in a certain net identify your hubs and preach to them

. Topology can be centralized (known as spider), decentralized (known as star, the internet for instance) or distributed (mesh like), the optimum and least vulnerable one, although not achievable for the internet or the web which took a live of their own.

. Fragmentation. Tendency to form communities shaping continents and islands. This explains why it's so hard to find some documents in the web with our current tools.

One of the last questions left open in the book is: as the planet seem to be evolving into one vast computer made of billions of interconnected processors and sensors, when will this computer become self-aware? Neuroscientists are kind of asking the same question in retrospective, how did we humans become aware as the result of our sensorial and neural networks? Without a doubt one of the deepest questions of this century.

Loved this little book, it has implications for all sorts of networks ranging from the genetic world to economics and the internet.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Gratitude and happiness

Little by little we see scientific proof for different popular sayings and beliefs.

This time, I came across an article talking about the link between gratitude and happiness.

If you don't believe, do what science would do:


Try waking up in the morning and practicing gratitude for any little thing you are/have or can think of. After a few you'll notice your happiness level going up.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How do you know you've been away from your blog for too long?

I'd say when not even your browser remembers your blog's url, you know it's been too long a stretch ;)

Anyway, between the end of the year, family visits, super crunch time at work and work traveling I feel like I do have enough excuses.

I thought I'd share a cool video from Shift Happens:

[thanks to Mauro]