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      Conservative Christians are invoking their God-given right to support torture. Somehow, this does not surprise me. After all, conservatives are people who like to ignore the transcendental and instead refer to the Bible as a cosmic penal code. The Catholic Church has an unfortunate history in these matters (as do the Protestants) but I don’t […]
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      In light of the collapse of the Ruble I think it’s worth revisiting what controls exchange rates. Supply and Demand. Yeah, if you know something about the subject you’re probably shaking your head. Supply and Demand doesn’t set prices in many cases in the way that an Economics 101 course tells you. Such texts will [...]
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Wednesday News – Net (Non)Neutrality Edition

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Big news this week is the FCC ruling on net neutrality or in this case, the lack of net neutrality. Yet another case of Obama handing over what is the people’s to the few rich and powerful. But before we get to that, another cowardly Obama move deserves notice. Namely how the administration is preparing for their own indefinite dentition order for “terrorists”:

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

“We have a plan to close Guantanamo, and this detainee review process is one element,” said an administration official who discussed the order on the condition of anonymity because it has yet to reach the president.

So nice of them to add that bit about they can still “challenge” their continued incarceration. That doesn’t mean those don’t get put into the “circular file” of course. Another bit of information from the same article relates to what was in the defense authorization bill:

Provisions in the defense authorization bill, which has passed the House and is before the Senate, would effectively ban the transfer of any detainee to the United States for any purpose. That rules out civilian trials for all Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His potential prosecution had remained possible even though the administration had balked in the face of political opposition to a trial in New York.

The defense bill, if it passes the Senate, would effectively force the administration to conduct only military commissions and at Guantanamo Bay, which would also have to remain open to house those held indefinitely. The bill would also create new requirements before the administration could repatriate or resettle detainees who were cleared for release by the interagency task force.

So much kabuki theater. Notice that this is still a large majority Democratic congress doing this. And notice Guantanamo never closed. But I’m sure the president will be really disappointed in all this. As it turned out the bill didn’t pass (see below on the stop gap bill for even worse news).


OK, so back to possibly loosing the ability to watch Netflix online. What everyone not on the side of the big telco’s and cable companies wanted was a pretty simple net neutrality ruling that basically said you can’t discriminate network traffic based on its starting point or its end point. Clean, simple, and to the point. But that’s not what we got. What we got instead was a watered down “we really don’t think you should do that”, mostly. And some big loopholes you could drive a truck through. And on top of that, big exceptions. Really big exceptions. Basically the future of all internet, wireless, has no limitations whatsoever. So telco’s running wireless services are now free to charge different rates depending on where traffic is coming from or where it’s going. That is what Obama did today.

Let’s see some of the coverage. First from ars technica:

The Federal Communications Commission is releasing the details of its new net neutrality Order in stages. Although the FCC’s new ban on “unreasonable discrimination” for wired ISPs allows certain kinds of traffic discrimination (not all bits need be equal), the agency made clear after today’s meeting that “paid prioritization” deals with Internet companies are unlikely to be allowed. Critics had worried that the new Order would only affect outright website blocking, leaving paid prioritization untouched (or even implicitly sanctioned).

“Pay for Priority Unlikely to Satisfy ‘No Unreasonable Discrimination’ Rule,” advises one subheading of the new net neutrality rules. Ed Whitacre’s dream of directly charging Google and Yahoo to “use his pipes”—a key event in starting the entire net neutrality debate—appears to be dashed.

[…]

As we’ve reported, the FCC’s new rules forbid Internet providers from blocking lawful content and they require transparency from ISPs. They also require that network management and packet discrimination to be “reasonable,” but that only applies to wireline broadband. Wireless operators gets a free pass on rationality; they’re limited only to the transparency and blocking provisions.

[…]

“Specialized services” like IPTV (think AT&T”s U-Verse) will also be allowed over the last-mile broadband connection, although the FCC insists it will watch their deployment for anti-competitive behavior. But the Order rather strongly suggests that priority deals are “unlikely” to fit into this “reasonable” framework.

Let’s look at some of that closer. First there is some attempt to say it’s bad in normal, reasonable situations to have priority deals for either end of the internet connection. That is, it would be bad in normal situations to charge a starting point like a department store or netflix or a blogger different rates for different bit rate or quality of service priorities. And similarly in normal, reasonable situations it would be bad to charge end users or even low level ISPs different rates for different levels of priority traffic. OK. So what does normal and reasonable mean?

Well, it turns out they say some things aren’t normal and reasonable, and that includes things like video. So Netflix or Youtube or similar starting points can be charged more than others. And you as a user can be charged more to receive those. Don’t confuse that with prioritizing based on the type of data or “packet” which could reasonably say video is a bit lower priority (because it’s so big). Those types of rules are reasonable and effect data of certain shapes regardless of what video, who’s sending it, and who’s receiving it. In this case they don’t say that, they say that’s a special case and you can let, say, Comcast charge Netflix more to send data or you more more to receive Netflix data.

And look what else they say, they say wireless, e.g., cell, is exempt for the most part. They do say they should play nice, and they’ll be watching. You know, kind of like how the administration watched BP in the gulf. And remember, when you hear that about cell, keep in mind that’s very possibly the future of the internet as we move to 4G and then 5G cell systems; those will be faster than the alternatives. And by this ruling, those will already have unfair practices well in place. And you know how hard that is to get mega corporations to give up something. Kind of like how hard it will be to get any administration and congress to give up sucking 100M a year from social security and medicare after Obama pushed through that tax bill. So through your cell service, be prepared to pay different rates based on who you are and what you receive.

Two days ago, over on huff and puff, Al Franken had a column about the issue. Here’s a snippet from that:

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality” — and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

And sadly, we learned they did worse than nothing indeed. Here’s a follow up article at huff and puff on what eventually passed (emphasis mine):

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners indicated that they’re going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

For the first time in history of telecommunications law the FCC has given its stamp of approval to online discrimination.

Instead of a rule to protect Internet users’ freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola – letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

[…]

Internet users deserve far better, and we thought we were going to get it from a president who promised to “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” Watch now as he and his FCC chairman try to spin tomorrow’s betrayal as another “mission accomplished.”

Don’t believe it. This bogus victory has become all too familiar to those watching the Obama administration and its appointees squander opportunities for real change. The reality is that reform is just a rhetorical front for industry compromises that reward the biggest players and K-Street lobbyists while giving the public nothing.

Say it with me everyone: we told you so. He’s a stooge for the mega pro monopoly corporations. What else do you have to see to finally not say he failed, because he did exactly what he wanted to do, and finally not say, well he’s intelligent and he means well, because he does exactly what he means. What more needs to happen people. Well, at least they’re noticing he’s not on their side. Mostly. Got hope?


And speaking of faux messiahs like Obama or Assange on the left or similar ones on the right, why is it that some percentage of people on both sides of the political spectrum will follow someone like that? Here’s a nice quote from a early socialist and labor leader, Eugene Debs:

I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, somebody else would lead you out.

I wish people could keep that in mind when they mostly blindly follow a leader.


Let’s see what else is in the news. Oh yes, after a year or so of skyrocketing health insurance premium costs (mine when up nearly 100%, and that’s with no doctor visits as an excuse even), the Obama administration is looking into it. It looks like they’ll be writing some really stern letters again (emphasis mine):

Moving to restrain skyrocketing health insurance premiums, the Obama administration is proposing rules requiring insurers to justify increases of more than 10% a year in 2011.

At the same time, administration officials plan to step up federal review of premiums if state regulators cannot adequately protect consumers, a move cheered by many leading consumer advocates.

The increased oversight comes as consumers nationwide struggle with rate hikes that have exceeded 30% in some places, even as insurance industry profits have swelled.

In the lead-up to passage of the new law, the soaring rates fueled calls to give state and federal regulators more power to scrutinize premiums and even deny increases that appear unjustified. Only some states currently have such authority.

The draft regulations unveiled Tuesday would not give state or federal officials the ability to deny rate hikes. Instead, the administration is relying on state regulators to scrutinize proposed hikes and to assess if they are justified by increases in the cost of care or other factors.

Yep, mission accomplished again.


Oh yea, the large majority of Democrats in congress couldn’t get together on a spending bill, so they punted for a stop gap until March when the Repubs, sill a minority in the senate, will of course be in complete control and will demand massive cuts:

Congress passed a stopgap funding bill last night to keep the government open into March, when Republicans will have greater power to cut federal spending.

On a 193-to-165 vote, the House backed a stripped-down measure that would freeze pay for federal employees, provide $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and head off cuts in Pell grants for college tuition. The Senate approved the bill hours earlier, 79-16.

[…]

The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented breakdown of the budget process — has failed to pass a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

It’s a feature not a bug as a certain klown likes to say. Let’s start placing bets on what will be cut next year.


The other big news of late was the results of the census showing some shifts in congressional seats. Two states lost two seats each, New York and Ohio. And a number of states, mostly in the northeast lost one seat each. And a number of states in the south and west gained seats. Here’s some general coverage at Bloomberg, local coverages at the NYTimes and the Miami Herald for some sampling of results.

That’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re seeing.

Sunday News – Science Section

Lockheed Martin's Proposed L2-Farside Mission

The regular news is just to irritating with Obama working hard to cut Social Security benefits, surprise, surprise, among other things. So I thought I’d focus on just the science section of the TC paper today. Oh, and I’m horribly late due to getting back late from an away game (i.e., meetings, yuk), and sleeping in. So let’s see what’s happing with people actually trying to do something good in the world unlike our politicians.

First up, stars, stars, stars, my god, look at all the stars. It turns out we have been underestimating the number of stars, even in our own galaxy, by an order of 100. That’s a lot:

Red dwarfs are stars like the sun, but smaller, fainter and cooler, with somewhere between one-half and one-tenth the sun’s mass. They may be small, but they are legion—astronomers estimate that red dwarfs outnumber sun-like stars in the Milky Way by a factor of 100.

Until today’s result, astronomers had been forced to assume that the 100-to-1 ratio held in other galaxies, too. But evidence has been mounting recently that elliptical galaxies—which lack the distinctive spiral arms of galaxies like the Milky Way and are usually made of older, redder stars—had more stars relative to their dark matter than spiral galaxies do.

“Within these galaxies, a good chunk of the mass that had been ascribed to dark matter is probably stars,” said Pieter van Dokkum, the lead researcher on the project.

And of course you know what that means. More stars, more planets, more planets, more places where life exists. More things that say “eep, eep.” Wave at your new neighbors tonight.

Oxygen has been found on Saturn’s moon Rhea. The Cassini probe did a fly by and sniffed some sweet, sweet oxygen:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has taken a breath of oxygen while passing over the icy surface of Saturn’s second-largest moon, marking the first time a spacecraft has directly sampled oxygen in the atmosphere of another body. Cruising just 60 miles above Rhea, one of more than 60 moons orbiting Saturn, Cassini found an extremely thin atmosphere of oxygen and carbon dioxide likely sustained by high-energy particles slamming into the moon’s frozen surface.

Rhea’s isn’t the only other atmosphere in the universe, but it is so thin that Cassini had to fly through it just to confirm that it was there at all (other atmosphere’s have been detected and studied from afar by tools like the Hubble Space Telescope). According to Cassini’s onboard science instruments, Rhea’s atmosphere contains something like 50 billion oxygen molecules per cubic meter, matched by 20 billion carbon dioxide molecules.

Lockheed is pitching a program to go to the dark side of the moon (see image above). Of course the obvious question that comes to mind is, no, not can we afford it, but will Pink Floyd music be involved:

The mission, Lockheed says, will serve several purposes. Most immediately, it would allow astronauts to study, via unmanned robots, some lunar real estate that hasn’t been seen with human eyes since the Apollo missions. But its real function is to test out technologies and skills that will be necessary to make a manned trip to an asteroid, and then on to Mars.

The idea is to park an Orion space capsule at the L2 Lagrange point about 40,000 miles above the moon’s far side, where the combined gravity from the Earth and the moon would allow the spacecraft to essentially hover in one place in sync with the moon. From there, the astronauts would deploy and conduct remotely-operated surface science, collecting rock samples and exploring the South Pole-Aitken basin, one of the oldest craters in the solar system. From the L2 point, the capsule would continuously maintain line of sight with both the Earth and the far side of the moon.

I think unmanned missions is the way to go for a lot of these explorations. Much more cost effective and quicker to execute. We can revolutionize our materials science, our manufacturing, and our economy with such efforts. Or if we don’t, China can.

Some amazing progress has been made in our understanding of the aging process lately. Here are some recent results of interest:

Harvard scientists may be a step closer to a medical fountain of youth after figuring out how to reverse the aging process in mice. The breakthrough could lead to a way to slow the aging process in humans which in turn could extend quality of life by reducing the impact of age-related ailments like heart disease or dementia. That is, if it doesn’t kill them first.

Harvard Medical School scientists turned unhealthy old mice into youthful versions of themselves by tampering with an enzyme called telomerase. While the aging process is not totally understood, one of the many factors that causes the deterioration of the body’s tissues is tied to telomeres, which protect the end of each of the chromosomes in DNA. When cells divide, the telomeres are cut shorter and shorter until eventually they stop working altogether and the cell either dies or goes into a dormant state.

The researchers genetically engineered mice that lacked telomerase, an enzyme that stops telomeres from shortening. As such, the telomeres rapidly grew shorter and the mice aged quickly, developing all the signs of old age including damaged organs, a shrinking brain, and infertility. The researchers then injected the mice with a cocktail that reactivated their telomerase. This didn’t just slow the aging process, but actually reversed the effects of aging, essentially making the mice grow younger.

But rejuvenating old organs in mice does not necessarily mean a human treatment is on the way, the researchers warn. For one, mice make telomerase throughout their lives, but the enzyme is switched off in adult humans, as it can cause unchecked cell replication (read: cancer). None of the mice in the study developed cancer, but there’s no telling if human tissues would tolerate the treatment so well.

A lot of anti-aging research seems to come down to age vs. cancer. That is, if you can change cells so they don’t age, then the chances of cancer increases tremendously. And in fact there seems to be a direct relationship. It may turn out that in order to make more progress in dealing with aging issues, we need to get better at understanding and dealing with cancer. A win win in my opinion. More efforts to figuring out and stoping or reversing cancer sounds good to me.

We might be on the verge of a whole new computer technology revolution. Nanophotonic computing, or light based vs. electron based computing, has been under investigation for some time. IBM just showed off some new results lately that look promising:

Silicon chips will be communicating with pulses of light instead of electrical charge starting in 2011, according to International Business Machines Corp., which described its CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics (CISN) technology Wednesday (Dec. 1) at a tradeshow.

At Semicon Japan in Chiba, Japan, IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) heralded silicon nanophotonics as the enabler for future exascale processors that can execute a million trillion operations per second (1,000-times faster than today’s petascale supercomputers).

“The CMOS silicon nanophotonics technology we have developed at IBM can meet the requirements for exascale systems, by scaling up per-chip transceiver bandwidth and integration density,” said Will Green, an IBM researcher involved with the CISN project. Green worked on CISN with Yurii Vlasov, manager of silicon integrated nanophotonics at its T.J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and fellow researchers Solomon Assefa, Alexander Rylakov, Clint Schow and Folkert Horst.

I for one welcome our new nanophotonic based overlords.

In the slightly creepy news department, researchers are able to tag eggs and embryos with bar codes:

Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona have come up with an ingenious solution for keeping track of embryos and egg cells during in vitro fertilisation procedures: microscopic bar codes.

These mouse eggs were tagged by injecting microscopic silicon bar codes into their perivitelline space, the gap between the cell membrane and an outer membrane called the zona pellucida, which binds sperm cells during fertilisation.

The bar codes, which carry unique binary identification numbers, are biologically inert: they do not affect the rate of embryo development and are shed before the embryos implant into the wall of the uterus. The technique aims to simplify individual embryo identification, streamlining in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer procedures.

OK, sounds like it’s for a good reason. But still, a bit creepy.

And speaking of new technology and creepy, or rather bad, all our new wifi broadcasting may be hurting trees:

Studies on the impact of wireless radiation on humans are endlessly inconclusive, but a recent study on the effects of Wi-Fi radiation on trees–yes, trees–indicates that our woody friends may be much more vulnerable than we are. And trees can’t even enjoy the benefits of Wi-Fi. It’s all very unjust.

The study, conducted by Wageningen University, investigated findings that trees in areas with high Wi-Fi activity (urban areas, especially) were suffering from symptoms that couldn’t be tied to typical bacterial or viral causes. The symptoms included bleeding (!), fissures in the bark, the death of parts of leaves, and abnormal growth.

Oops. Of course it’s not an issue if forests and in rural areas. But still, it’s something to look into. Perhaps they’re only hurt by certain frequency ranges that we can avoid.

And finally, a nice development in methods to desalinate water also includes the ability to easily extract hydrogen:

Fresh water and reusable energy. Humans are on a constant hunt for a sustainable supply of both. Water purification requires a lot of energy, while utility companies need large amounts of water for energy production. Their goal is to find a low-energy-required treatment technology. Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science may have discovered an answer.

Last year, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology incorporated desalination into microbial fuel cells, a new technology that can treat wastewater and produce electricity simultaneously. However, putting it into practical use proved to be challenging due to current fluctuation. Zhiyong (Jason) Ren and his team with the University of Colorado Denver discovered, after six months from the initial hypothesis to completion, that they could produce hydrogen gas, which is collectible and storable, thus making improvements in the technology.

[…]

A recent study by Logan group at Penn State University also demonstrated similar findings in that the energy contained in hydrogen gas not only can offset the energy used for the desalination process but has surplus that can be used for downstream processing.

That would solve our two biggest resource problems, water and energy. Nice bit of work there people. More of that please.

There’s a bit of science news for you. Chime in with more of that or with other news. This is an open thread.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

The aftermath of last weeks election is still being felt. In fact, it’s not over yet. The Senate race in Alaska is still being counted. Regardless of whether the winner is Miller or Murkowski, the seat will be held by a Republican. But it will certainly be interesting to see who won. Both because of the tea party angle and because of the possibility of a write-in candidate winning. The latter outcome would be very interesting and perhaps eye opening to many citizens of the country. The fact that we don’t have to take the two choices given to us would be refreshing. Everyone seems to be talking about it including WaPo, Politico, and Reuters among, well, everyone. And of course as you’d expect, the lawyers are at the ready. Miller has already launched one lawsuit requiring that Murkowski name be spelled correctly and exactly as it is registered. That’s silly as the law clearly gives leeway to counters to determine intent. Some of the legal fun from WaPo:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) both urged supporters to donate money to Miller’s legal fund, in part to send enough lawyers and monitors to Juneau. In Anchorage, tea party supporters pooled their frequent-flier miles in hopes of sending about a dozen volunteers to be trained as official observers.

Murkowski, meanwhile, has reportedly hired lawyer Ben Ginsberg, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 recount fight and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in his 2008 recount battle in Minnesota.

Miller has also argued that the law requires Murkowski’s name to be spelled properly, though election officials ruled that misspellings are okay as long as the voter’s “intent” is clear – a subjective standard that could lead to a litany of disputes.

Continue reading

Standing in the iPhone 4 line

So, about a month ago, a terrible thing happened. I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. I felt like I lost a part of myself. The damn earbuds were permanently inserted in my ears. What to do?
Well, since the new iPhone was about to be released, I thought I’d just buy a cheap temporary replacement and wait it out. I’ve been cold turkey for the past month. No, I a haven’t gotten over it yet.

Then, the day apple and ATT started taking orders, I was in the lab and couldn’t get to a computer to order one until ATT *stopped* taking orders because their system was overwhelmed. I went to the apple store to see if I could still get one on launch day. Nope. The orders are now backlogged until the end of July. But there was an eensy weensy chance I could still get one if I came to the store on launch dat and stood in the walk-in line.

Which is where I am. I have no hope. The lines are really long. Steve, I am so disappointed. I have sold a ton of ipads recently. I am a walking talking advertisement. And this is the thanks I get.

Sigh.

What are you doing this morning?

Field testing the iPad

Long time, no see, guys.  My work life has gotten interesting lately and I find myself back in the lab after 20 years.  And I just have to say that all in all, this has been a very good move for me.  I recommend it to any former lab rat who has found themselves behind a monitor for too long.  Technology has changed a great deal in two decades and learning and relearning new things makes work challenging and fun.  It’s the best of both worlds, really.  I still get to park my fat ass behind the computer for part of the day to play with models but my ass is getting smaller from running around the bench.  So, two thumbs up for the lab.

Now, I have a company lab notebook that’s all legal and stuff that I write things down in but when I was in the lab recently, I found that I wanted a notebook for jotting things down of a more general nature.  It’s mostly reminders, calculations and procedural stuff that could apply to any particular experiment, nothing proprietary.  I recently bought an iPad to semi replace my macbook that’s on it’s last legs so I thought I’d give it a try.  There have been other reviews of the iPad, most recently Anglachel’s.  But I think that the mistake that many people make about the iPad is that they concentrate too much on the hardware.  (If you find the device “too heavy”, you need to hit the gym)  To really understand how the iPad fits into the device spectrum, you have to think out of the box and focus on the apps.  And even though the apps developed for the iPad are still few in number compared to the iPhone, it’s in this area where motivated developers are going to make the iPad a truly revolutionary device.

For my purposes in the lab, the iPad is off to a good start but it could be amazing.  I prop it up using the apple cover in type mode (see pic above) and leave it on the bench, coming back to it now and then to make notations using the Notes app that comes with the iPad.   I can type through my nitrile gloves and my lab is mercifully free from most solvents so I’m not worried about corrosion.  The screen cleans up nicely with a kimwipe.  Nevertheless, a waterproof cover or thin film screen protectent is probably a good idea for people who want to take their iPad into the lab.   There’s an app for making stock solution dilutions and molarity calculations called LabCal.  It’s an iPhone app that runs on the iPad.  Although the iPad doesn’t come with a calculator, there are plenty of cheap calculator apps in the apps store.  I found a nice scientific calculator called Calc XT that has a nifty little scratch pad.  For reading general procedures, I mail the published documents to my email account and access the pdfs using GoodReader.  And for planning my work, I use Todo by Appigo.  These are the main tools I need everyday. I don’t have access to wifi or the 3G network in my area so my scribbles stay on the ipad.  Essentially, what I have is the equivalent of a little steno pad, folder and calculator but the notes are stored by date and everything I need is in one slim device.

But there are a couple of additional apps that I’ve found lurking in the apps store that point the way to the future.  For example, the American Chemical Society has an app that allows the user to select a number of journals to browse.  Highlights and abstracts are delivered to the app and the full journal article can be accessed directly, provided the user has a subscription.  This would be a great way to deliver literature electronically.  Ordinarily, I print papers out from the pdfs because I don’t like reading them on a computer screen.  But on an iPad, literature has the feel of reading a printed document with all of the digital benefits.

Another app, iKinasePro, is a bit pricier but at $9.99 is still a steal.  It gives the user access to a curated database of kinases, along with published inhibitors, links to literature and patents, and a multitouch kinome tree.  But what really drew me to this app is that it features a molecular editor from Chemene that is similar to a ChemDraw widget.  The user can quickly draw a structure and do a

The Chemene Molecular Editor

substructure search of the database to find hits.  The app does require access to a wifi or 3G network, as does the ACS app.  The kinome diagram also doesn’t allow for the finer resolution multitouch, the user can only select certain groups of kinases.  But motivated developers {{hint, hint}} should be paying close attention to that editor because that’s the way we need to go with the electronic notebook app that I’m sure someone is going to make a killing on.

The mobile electronic notebook could be a godsend for labrats.  Imagine one app that does it all: records your steps, has a built in calculator, can calculate dilutions from stock solutions, can calculate the MW from the structure you draw, can fetch the synthetic pathway from the literature, can register your compound, and allow you to search for similar structures and their related activity and ADME data in the database.  Well, that’s just off the top of my head.  And if the lab pages are uploaded to a cloud server, there’s no reason to store anything on the iPad, making loss of proprietary data less likely.

Companies interested in protecting their proprietary information can get an enterprise version of the SDK.  Security of the local wifi and cloud server are out of my scope but where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Ahhhh, there’s the rub.  In many of the companies that I’m familiar with, there is a ginormous bureacracy of Microsoft borgs who will tell you that resistance is useless and that you will be assimilated to the same stupid image that the accountants use.  Mobility, without a mouse or a keyboard?  In. Your. Dreams.  In Microsoft’s holey products, there is a lifetime of employment security for hives full of corporate drones hired to test and patch the version of IE that is already several years out of date and to stamp out proliferating viruses.  Apple products are verboten.  They’re too sleek and simple.  The macbooks run on linux (One helpdesk borg asked me how to spell linux when I needed help with my HP linux workstation.  Yep, it’s that bad.)  The iPad uses an iPhone OS but still, Apple make the borgs antsy.  Which is why we may never get iPads for the labs. I don’t think this is going to change unless the borgs are given ultimatums employment incentives to experiment with other platforms.

Too bad, because I think there is a lot of potential on both the development and the efficiency side of the mobility equation.  It would be a shame to see the modern lab, stripped down and uber frugal, hobbled by a Microsoft mentality.  But whatever the fate of iPad in the lab, it’s a handy device to have around.  Still, if you can’t use it in the lab,  you can go home and use it to rent a movie from Netflix and forget all about work.

Ahhhh….

Technical Corner – The iPad hype edition

There has been so much hype over Apple’s forthcoming tablet offering that I thought it was worth a look. Not just because it may or may not be an interesting product, after all other tablets have been on the market for a while, but how it might effect things we’re interested in including print journalism and book publishing and blogging. Well, that and it might be a nice distraction from the SOTU speech. Oh, and this is my first post. I really meant to do something political first, but time just got away from me. Hope you like it.

Background/Rumors

Rumors of a tablet from Apple have been around for a long time. Since 1983 in fact. A really nice timeline and summary of events can be found in this Engadget article. Some of the speculation and wild Apple fandom has been a bit weird. Walt Mossberg is a technical reviewer at the WSJ and has gained some fame for his reviews. Here is a great spoof of a muppet version of him reviewing the Apple iPad (here called iSlate):

Publishing/Journalism

What I think is interesting though relates to what’s been happening to print journalism and to the book publishing world of late. As we’ve seen, a number of companies are pursuing e-book products from web based for the desktop to small handheld devices like Amazon’s Kindle. In addition, the boom of smart phones have also included e-book capabilities.

There are a number of interesting factors involved with the various offerings that have been worth watching. One is the store model. It would appear from Amazon’s recent changes, followed by Googles, that the iTunes store model has won out. This is a model where there is little in the way between the original creator (of music, applications, books, periodicals, etc.) and the user. And the ratio of 70% to the creator and 30% to the store is shared by most now. There are still music publishers and book publishers in the middle of many offerings, but independents in those areas are gaining ground. And interestingly what I think has made that possible, given the zillions of competing products, is social networking. More specifically it’s the advent of Crowd Sourcing which is one way to manage and make sense of too many offerings. But of course a stores own editorial staff providing reviews and featuring products is probably still a major factor.

The other area that makes a lot of difference in usability is the means of displaying the material on the screen. There are a number of competing screen technologies, and many of these are just emerging. The choice of technology here also depends on what you want  your device to do. If it’s only about reading text, then the current electronic ink based approaches are pretty nice. These e-ink systems require no backlighting and so are easier on the eyes. However if you want a multi-purpose device, then e-ink as it is won’t work because it is too slow at refreshing for complex graphics. There are newer technologies that can function like normal LCD screens, but then can switch to e-ink type screens. This appears to be the most promising for multi-purpose devices, but has a ways to go.

Now back to print publishing and journalism. As we all know, newspapers seem to be dying in the US. They offer their papers for free online using an ad based model for revenue. That is wildly popular. But to the detriment of print subscriptions. And unfortunately many newspaper businesses aren’t set up for an online only business. Previous attempts to charge for online papers has failed. WSJ being the main exception. In the textbook realm, Terry McGraw, McGraw-Hill CEO, Tuesday on CNBC said the following:

Yeah, Very exciting. Yes, they’ll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now is we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you’re going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific.

As much as newspapers might get a boost with this technology, I think e-books is where the action will be. Time will tell though.

Product Review

Today Apple introduced their “latest creation” the iPad:

The new iPad

iPad showing NYT

iPad Contacts Book

iPad Showing Contacts Book

It looks like they’ve done a nice job. We have a new slick gadget to be sure. They’ve nicely integrated audiobooks, music, video, TV/Movies, apps, etc. It has the benefits of mobile platforms which in the end will be the critical thing I think. It has 10 hours of battery life, which is pretty nifty. And similar to other efforts, it’s very green. But what’s interesting now is the e-book application and integration with the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing worlds. (Note: images above thanks to Engadget).

The New York Times has developed an application for the iPad. They’ve made quite a nice interface that, well, makes it really nice to navigate through sections and articles. And they’ve nicely integrated embedded video. They appear to be working with other newspaper publishers to do the same. The question not answered is what the business model will be for NYT. I suspect it will be free for basic stuff and subscription for additional functions like archives, etc. And like current online papers, the ad model will be used.

In the e-book world, they have initial deals with Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster, Macmillan, Hachett among others. The iPad has a bookshelf store, iBookStore (of course). And they have a book reader built in, iBooks (of course) that acts as a book reader and book library. Clearly the book and magazine world is where they’ve put most of their effort. Sorry newspapers. The current library of books seem to be in the range of $5 to $15. There is a big effort for educational/text books, so expect to see more there. This appears to be the biggest deal for the show today.

But to me, a big issue is that they’ve added creation related software since the device is powerful enough. So their iWorks product is available for the device. Which means you can use it for blogging, writing, etc. And you can get a hardware keyboard accessory if you like. There were lots of other applications demoed. I quite liked the Brushes demo which allows you to use the device as an art tablet.

And now the requisite price info:

WiFi (only): 16GB – $499, 32GB – $599; 64GB – $699 (available in 60 days)

3G (and WiFi): 16GB – $629, 32GB – $729, 64GB – $829 (available in 90 days, contract with AT&T)

End of the show shows a street sign showing Technology (street) and Liberal Arts (street) and Steve saying they’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. OK, completely cheesy. In fact it was a laugh out loud bit.

What does it all mean?

A nice gadget. Perhaps a big deal in the e-book business. Perhaps not. Time will tell. Will it change the world? No. To me though, it’s symbolic of our creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the face of a horrible economy and seemingly the end of our country as we know it. Unlike our administration and congress, it gives me a bit of hope. But then again, it’s just a gadget, and I’m clearly biased about cool techy gadgets. Tell me what you think.

Update

Just adding a photo that shows off the e-book aspect (the real winner I think):

iBooks on the iPad

Will the iSlate save journalism?

The tubez are all abuzz over Apple’s upcoming announcement on January 26.  Gadget enthusiasts all around the world are speculating about what Apple’s Steve Jobs is going to pack into the new iSlate, if that’s what it’s called.  There’s an online document of the alleged specs that have us scratching our heads and salivating at the same time.  The screen is either going to be 7.5 inches or 10 inches.  (Whip out your big ten inch, Steve!)  Other fantasy document specs include a 120 GB hard drive, a new OS called Clouded Leopard (Jeez, we should have seen that one comin’) and a built in projector.  OooooOOOOOoooo!  That one has piqued my curiosity.  It kind of makes sense too.  If the screen is only big enough to type on a touch screen, how will you view the content?  Ohhh, project it onto something.  D’oh!

Steve Jobs, if you’re out there, I promise to be your best friend if you let me review one of them big ten inches.  And I’ll be nice.  Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not but there are a lot of gearheads out there who think a WiFi Newton on speed is not really necessary, especially if you have a laptop or iPhone.  I can envision busloads of schoolchildren dumping their lead weight laden backpacks for iSlates.  Maybe there’s a way to turn this sucker into an electronic notebook device for labrats that they can use to jot down how many moles of whatever they used for their reactions and that they can upload to a server later.  And I guess the skeptics haven’t been through an airport in the last 9 years where you have to dump the contents of your carry-ons whenever some authority figure demands it.  Who wouldn’t want the convenience of a neat  device you can carry in your hands that is a little bigger than a Kindle while you listen to your music through your stereo bluetooth as you stand in the Security line reading a document your downloaded from your cloud account or a copy of the NYTimes from the iTunes store?

Now, about that media content the iSlate is supposedly going to deliver in living color.  The newspaper industry is hurting.  What Craigslist hasn’t snatched from the classified section, the internet has downloaded for free.  Of course, the newspapers have brought some of this down on themselves.  Someone at the Times with a degree from Acme Business School made the idiotic decision to charge for the Op/Ed columnists a couple of years ago at the same time that  blogs started teeming with good Op/Ed writers while leaving (what should have been) the news content unguarded on the net.  The real assets of the newspaper business, should they care to invest in them, are the news collecting bureaus around the world.  There’s no substitute for actually being there, as we have learned from the Iranian protest movement and Twitter.

With Twitter, the news certainly looks fresh and has the immediacy of being there but there’s virtually no way to make sure that what is being posted is true and not a plant.  Unfortunately for the Times, there’s no way for us to tell if they’re just reporting propaganda either.  Remember Judy “Gorgeous Glass” Miller and her quaking Aspen friends who were all connected at the roots?  Was that a bizarre story or what?  When the paper that writes the stories becomes the story, it starts to lose credibility.  I know that I dropped my subscription specifically because of Judy Miller.  But it I had a subscription today, I would probably have cancelled it this morning when I found out that Arthur “Punch” (or is it “Pinch”?) Sulzberger, the Times publisher, is friends with Steve Rattner who is trying to primary Kirsten Gillibrand by running Harold Ford Jr. for Senator of NY.   Great!  Just what we need.  Another pandering male conservative Democrat because female senators are so plentiful. I don’t even know Pinch (or Punch) and I already dislike the fact that he feels he can arrogantly use the power of his mighty ink to scuttle Gillibrand simply because his friend Caroline Kennedy didn’t get the plum appointment when Hillary resigned.  It makes him look vengeful, petty, selfish and careless.  Sort of like Arthur Frobisher or some other self-centered and corrupt uber rich person with a conscience that only extends to his own personal wealthy clique.

Would I pay a subscription for the NYTimes on an iSlate?  I guess it would all depend on the content.  I lived for a couple of years without Paul Krugman or had to get his column via backdoor means.  I suppose if Punch (or Pinch) would leave the writing and editorializing to the real journalists and if I could be certain that those journalists weren’t part of some bizzare neocon plan to take over the world, I might cough up a few cents every day to read it on an iSlate.  But I hope that Jobs is busily getting the rights to a bigger movie library to project onto a nearby wall.  I wouldn’t bet my company on the likes of Punch or Rupert Murdoch.  They can’t be trusted.

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