A penny for your thoughts

24 12 2012

Transitions are great times to be reflective. And no – that wasn’t a geek joke. OK – perhaps it was… sometimes I think physics would have been so much more fun at school if I was teaching it.

Whether it’s leaving high school; getting married; getting divorced even; having a child; losing a friend or relative; the end of a millennium… or even the drawing to a close of a “normal” year – the perceived leaving behind of one state and the contemplation of the opportunities ahead seems to be a natural time for us to be a little introspective and contemplative. But Auld Land Syne is just an excuse to drink – let’s be fair! And while we’re at it – what’s that iPhone bagpipes App all about FFS?!

As I walked the dog this morning, in the rainy We(s)t Coast of BC, I was in quite a good mood. A great friend and ex-colleague always quipped that I wasn’t truly happy unless I was miserable, so this good mood was worthy of self-exploration as the rain dripped off my nose.

2012 was certainly an eventful year. I changed jobs – leaving my old employer only a few weeks before the annual bonus was awarded. I like to think I do things because it’s right, not because it’s necessarily advantageous to me. I recently watched a TED talk about the shame question around abortion. Worth a few minutes of your life, no matter which side of the debate you stand on: http://bit.ly/WBoCwb

Anyway, it taught me a couple of things: (i) even great thinkers can over-simplify and (ii) the wartime king of Denmark was my kind of person!

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

- Martin Niemöller

Ms Cannold is very careful to show nothing but respect for Niemöller in her TED talk, but points out that though the self-preservation argument is sound (if I don’t stand up for you, why would you stand up for me?) it is not enough. She points to Pricess Di’s stance in the early days of AIDS awareness. Making a public, positive stance and embracing (literally) people who were suffering from HIV and full-blown AIDS. De-stigmatising the disease and making it acceptable to talk about. De-shaming it. Allowing sensible debate and research available to everyone.

Source BBC: 1989: Diana opens Landmark Aids Centre

And then Cannold mentioned the king of Denmark, who allegedly took a moral stance during the war. (Funny, don’t you think? “The” war! There have been so many before and since…). When Hitler demanded the Danes should force Jews to wear yellow stars, he is alleged to have said “sure – along with me and every other Dane”. According to Snopes – the myth busters, this isn’t actually true, but it is true that King Christian X of Denmark and Denmark as a nation did indeed protect many Jews during this particularly loathsome era of European history. Can you imagine the cojones it would take to do that? With no way of knowing what the reaction might be? Just because it was the right thing to do. Now that, dear reader gets my attention.

So – this walk in the park I was mentioning. It was wet and miserable this morning – hence my good mood, I suppose. The local park has several benches overlooking the duck ponds. On less damp occasions, or when people just don’t give a shit and need a rest, they are occupied by the gentle folk of White Rock watching the world go by. My dog on the other hand likes to pee up them. As she performed this doggy version of Twitter (I just went to the park – sniff me sometime!) I noticed that someone had left two pennies on the lower brace of the bench. Sure enough there were two on the other side too. I prodded with a finger to make sure they weren’t glued on (the difference between a statement and a prank).

Ha – so this got me thinking. What was the statement? I have too many coins in my pocket? If you really need a penny take it? Art? Interesting…

As I walked around the ponds I found the same “installation” on every bench but one. Here’s Spiketta the devil-dog guarding the last but one bench…

What're you looking' at?

Anyway, I returned home in fine spirits, ultimately pleased that I felt loved by those I love, and satisfied with most if not strictly all the choices I had made in 2012. And someone out there was doing weird, unexplained stuff in my manor because they felt like it. I like it that I’m not the only one.

Here’s wishing you a great 2013, and comfort in the choices you’ll make, still ahead of you…





Busy doin’ nothin’…

7 10 2012

I got an email the other day.

It said “We are pleased to announce that the Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy – Phase 2 and Computing for Sustainable Water projects are concluding.”

O…K…

It sounds like that should be a good thing I suppose. And?

I read on. It was from World Community Grid. Once upon a time I was a programmer. A geek’s geek. More geeky than a geeky thing. I still am a bit, I can’t deny it. But I like to think that these days I’ve broadened out a little into more general nerdity. I now embrace things like history and art. Photography, music and the joys of a perfect red maple leaf falling in autumn. But once upon a time I was intrigued by the SETI@home project.

Not, you must understand, because I had any particular expectation that they would find any aliens (SETI: Search for Extra Terrestrial  Intelligence). No – I was more interested in the basic project: to cut up an incredibly large set of data obtained from radio telescopes, send each of those data chunks to any one of an untold number of geeks like me, and have their computer grind away on it with presumably clever and sophisticated algorithms looking for patterns or inter-galactic phone numbers or something.

Basically, if you signed up, instead of drawing those pipes or Bézier curves as a screen saver, your computer used its idle time (while you were drinking coffee, having lunch, or wishing you’d eaten more bran the last few days) to grind away on these SETI data sets. It really didn’t matter how good a computer you had. Every time you stopped using it, the screen saver would kick in, and the SETI program would munch on its own little problem. When it had finished, it sent the results back to SETI and got another data chunk to work on. Plodding away at its own pace whenever you weren’t using the computer for more urgent things – like Minesweeper or Solitaire.

Well SETI@home came to an end (I guess they never found anything), but the infrastructure was still there. Enter World Community Grid. Same idea – big, computing intensive problems, and asking the general computing community to offer their unused computer time to collectively solve the problem. I’m in!

To spread the benefit, your PC might get packets of work from all manner of different projects. You can opt in or out of your favourite causes, join a “team” to focus your efforts on a particular cause, all manner of things. To encourage your involvement you get little “badges” after you’ve donated so many hours of computing time to one project or another.

Bottom line for me though – my computer would have been sat idle doing nothing at all otherwise! Why not use that idle time to better the world? Currently my computers (home and work) are working on cures for SchistosomaMalaria and Leishmaniasis. They’ve previously worked on Discovering Dengue Drugs, as well as researching cancer and AIDS.

I’m no hero. I do donate hard cash to several causes I deem worthy – but this is generating real hard data for researchers to progress new ideas, it’s not costing me anything except a few data packet transfers every day or so… and somehow that seems more worthwhile than watching Bézier curves… and I’m not just saying that because he was French!

If you’re interested, you can download the screensaver here and start adding your own little contribution to the massive thirst for data analysis that modern research requires.

My Statistics My Team: SCOUTS
Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) (Rank) 3:273:03:57:34 (#26,852) Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) (Rank) 278:135:14:10:31 (#190)
Points Generated (Rank) 2,711,652 (#28,931) Points Generated (Rank) 238,769,463 (#182)
Results Returned (Rank) 4,904 (#30,988) Results Returned (Rank) 437,386 (#192)

 

Project Points
Generated
Results Returned Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) Badges Earned
Computing for Sustainable Water 11,481 35 0:003:21:35:03
Say No to Schistosoma 31,019 34 0:012:02:25:52
GO Fight Against Malaria 73,224 81 0:024:23:09:32
Drug Search for Leishmaniasis 108,174 109 0:037:18:09:30
The Clean Energy Project – Phase 2 188,479 207 0:068:05:14:15
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy – Phase 2 277,597 567 0:111:22:22:56
Help Fight Childhood Cancer 212,226 278 0:090:02:16:55
Help Conquer Cancer 262,109 918 0:110:20:26:06
Human Proteome Folding – Phase 2 442,159 690 0:201:19:14:59
FightAIDS@Home 535,266 850 1:017:11:40:17
Computing for Clean Water 206,278 472 0:069:18:26:06
Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together – Phase 2 752 2 0:000:08:56:14
Influenza Antiviral Drug Search 9,942 15 0:005:14:37:34
The Clean Energy Project 3,645 4 0:001:21:10:19
Nutritious Rice for the World 258,915 384 0:132:05:16:18
Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together 16,923 34 0:009:18:52:49
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy 41,524 81 0:051:08:09:01
Genome Comparison 8,771 66 0:010:19:26:11
Help Defeat Cancer 8,836 28 0:012:13:20:56
Human Proteome Folding 14,332 49 0:029:17:06:41

Now come on – I dare you… tell me that’s not über-geeky!





Ever been affected by a girl?

22 04 2012

The world could use a good kick in the pants








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