Documenting the Coming Century

PBS is currently airing a program called 22nd Century to showcase some possible future technologies, and I really hope that these shows are used in educational settings to foster discussion on technology's role in our social evolution.  The first of three possible pilots was aired in January, and is available for viewing on PBS' site.  Depending on viewer responses, the show with the most positive feedback will be turned into a series.

The first pilot was quite enjoyable.  Some of the most intelligent proponents and opponents were showcased in this episode and they explained their case.  Rodolfo Llinas had the opportunity to discuss some of his incredible work with nanowire bundles being wired directly into brains, Steve Mann had the opportunity to show his wearable computer glasses (the Eyetap), and Bill McKibben  had a chance to discuss some of the concerns that arise when we're too connected.

I must apologize for all the links, but when discussing subjects such as this I can go on and on ...

When I was still a student, the thought of connecting myself directly to a computer was appealing.  Having the ability to quickly access information stored on computers anywhere in the world and make use of that information without the distractions of going to a computer or opening a book would have been a dream come true.  Learning a language in minutes and having the ability to have incredibly complex calculations solved in the space of seconds by sending the question to a computer only to receive the answer moments later would be euphoric.  Just imagine how easy it would be to communicate with any person anywhere on the planet!  Just imagine how simple it would be to instantly tally up the cost of your groceries before getting to the checkout!  The potential uses for this ability is endless.

Exciting, indeed.  But what must we forfeit in return for these benefits?

Over the last few years I've come to learn that humans would not be a very happy lot if everything was perfect.  We thrive in imperfect conditions.  What challenges would we have if everything was automatic?  Would we get bored of life?  How would we regard people who weren't "plugged in"?  Would we consider them sub-human?  Would we even be human ourselves?

I can't claim to have the answers to these questions, and since many of my ideas on the subject are very close to Mr. McKibben's, I'd recommend that people buy his book, Enough.  The arguments are structured a million times better in that book than I could ever hope to write on this site.

I look forward to the future episodes of this new documentary.  Hopefully it will inspire some of our youth to examine the potential benefits and consequences of our increasing dependance on technology.

Any Room for a Gaijin?

Over the last few months I've been doing some leg work in order to find employment in Japan.  I'll be getting married to a Japanese woman in just over a year, so it only makes sense that I get myself a job over there in order to provide, right?

When I talk to people here in Canada about finding work in Japan, I'm told that it will be relatively simple.  As a foreigner, I'll have my choice of careers where native English is a key skill that can set me apart from the rest.  Well ... that's what I'm told.

When I discuss this with people who are living in Japan (not only my fiancee, but other people from various parts of the globe), I'm told that it's not half as easy as one would think.  Not only is there the legal paperwork to get out of the way (work visas are apparently quite limiting and requires that I have a sponsor before actually getting the position in the company), but there's also the rather large corporate culture differences.  I've spoken to more than one programmer who worked in Japan for over five years, and spent the first three running errands and cleaning toilets instead of writing code.

Could I do the same without feeling frustrated by the lack of mental stimulation?  I'm really curious to know just how common this scenario is.

I understand that immigrants to any nation typically do the jobs that nobody else wants to do.  Because an immigrant moves to a country with goals of a better life for them and their children (usually), should I expect the same type of scenario?  Either way, I'll be over there in a matter of years.  Sooner if I can manage it.

Does anyone have any experience with this?  I'd be interested to know what difficulties (if any) you've faced.

From the Earth to Jupiter in 400 Days

Does anyone else get excited when they visit the NASA website?

New Horizons Jupiter Fly-by

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever made.  It's currently traveling at 69,200 KM/h (43,000 mph) and will increase to about 83,700 KM/h (52,000 mph) once it accelerates through Jupiter's gravity well.  As of this writing, the probe has been traveling for 395 days toward the gas giant and it will make its closest approach in another nine.

From Earth to Jupiter in just over 400 days ... that's amazing.

Ever since I was a young boy I've wanted to do something with the space program.  I know that I could never be an astronaut, as this body isn't really designed for that kind of thrashing.  But being an engineer and solving the complex problems that are presented with sending vehicles into the vacuum of space would be even more exciting.

Like many of the people at NASA, I grew up watching Star Trek and imagining myself cruising through space in a star ship capable of faster-than-light travel.  Seeking out life and new civilizations and studying the cosmos up close.  Of course these dreams are centuries ahead of our time but, with a healthy and active imagination, children can imagine anything.

I do believe that the future of our industrialization relies on space.  What better way to preserve our world than by mining asteroids for raw material and sending the refined ores and minerals back to earth?  Of course this would mean that we would pollute space instead, but how many will argue that the vacuum is already littered with trace elements and debris?  There have already been many case studies and reports written on the benefits of constructing a space elevator to make orbital placements much more cost effective, as well as making it easier to send materials or passengers back down to the earth in an efficient manner.  Could this truly work for us?

If I'm lucky, I will live long enough to see some of the great strides we humans will make into space.  There are lots of problems that need to be solved here on Earth before we can truly venture out to new worlds, but with steady focus and determination, we can grow as a global society and explore the galaxy together.

WordPress Global Translator and FireStats

 Update:  For those of you interested in getting Global Translator 0.6 to work with FireStats, go here.

 I've had several requests from people who use Omry Yadan's FireStats and want to use Davide Pozza's Global Translator Plugin, as the two plugins tend to behave poorly together.  For anyone that hasn't used these two together, what happens is the wrong source page is sent to the Google Translation service, and readers receive either a 404 or a white blank page.  This appears to be a mod_rewrite issue that only affects Global Translator.  Luckily, there is a very quick and dirty fix that will resolve the issue.

First off, I'd like to say that this fix has been tested on both WordPress 2.0.x and 2.1 with FireStats 1.1.0 through to the current 1.1.5 Stable and Global Translator 0.4.1.  I have not updated to the most current version of Global Translator because this one suits my needs just fine.

Now the fun stuff.

There are only two lines that need to be changed in the translator.php file found in your /wp-content/plugins/global-translator/ directory, and in the translate function.

$url_to_translate = BLOG_HOME . '/' . $url;
should be changed to:
$url_to_translate = preg_replace('(it|ko|zh-CN|pt|en|de|fr|ja|es|ar|//)', '', $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI']);

And below that:
$resource = $translator_base_url . $language . '&u=' . $url_to_translate;
should be changed to:
$resource = $translator_base_url . $language . '&u=' . BLOG_HOME . $url_to_translate;

These changes eliminate the $url variable's use from the translate($lang, $url) function, but the second variable should not be removed from the definition.  This is not a complete solution to the matter, but it's a quick solution that will work for the majority of sites.

Keep in mind that you need to use "Date and Name based" permalinks and your .htaccess file should be updated acccordingly (this is done by WordPress automatically if the appropriate permissions have been granted).  All of this is outlined in the Global Translator instructions, but it's a critical component that I've seen missed elsewhere.

For anyone that has not used these plugins, I highly recommend them.  The Global Translator is a great way to help foreign visitors enjoy your site (despite the occasional inaccuracies in machine translation), and FireStats will give you a great idea of where your readers are coming from and what browsers they're using.  This last point is important if you are designing sites to be optimized for certain browsers.

If there are any questions with this change, just drop me a line.  I'll be sure to offer what help I can.

Update: 

As requested, here is the modified translator.php file that I use on this site.  Please note that this is from version 0.4.1 rather than the current release.

Before using this file, please make sure that your site has the "WordPress should compress articles (gzip) if browsers ask for them)" checkbox cleared.  This can be found in the Options menu, under Reading, down at the very bottom.  Several users have reported that after this is cleared out, Global Stats will work without fail on their site.

Enjoy,

Amazon's Typo? Or Intentional 'Glitch'?

Today I was reading on SlashDot about a promotional problem that Amazon encountered just before Christmas of last year, and their subsequent method of recovering lost earnings from this problem.  At first I found their solution to be wrong, but as I continued thinking about it, I realized that Amazon is partially right to pursue their course of action.

The jist of the problem is this:  Amazon advertised a "Buy One, Get One Free" DVD promotion, and the online shopping cart would glitch when the order was placed, effectively allowing a buyer to get two DVDs for free or a small fraction of the actual cost.  Shortly thereafter, Amazon sent an email to customers asking that they either return the unopened merchandise to them or their credit cards would be charged for the proper amount.  People who did not respond to Amazon's request had about a month before the company started putting through (what some consider) to be unauthorized charges on their cards.

When I first read this, my initial reaction was: "No.  If Amazon screwed up their pricing, then Amazon should take the hit."  But then I started thinking about this from a legal point of view.  In many countries, this would be considered theft.

The customers knew that Amazon had a pricing glitch in their system.  Some may have even taken gross advantage of this glitch ordering dozens or hundreds of Box Set DVDs for a fraction of their actual cost.  Many legal systems make it the obligation of the consumer to advise the retailer of this error and ensure it's correctness.  If the consumer does not let the retailer know, then the store does have the legal right to go after the consumer for the remainder of the proper balance within a short timeframe.

I'm forced to agree with Amazon regarding their recovery policy.  Customers would have seen immediately that two or more DVD Box Sets were incredibly under-priced at the Check-Out.  Why didn't these people say "Wait a minute?  This is only going to come back to haunt me if I take advantage of this." ?  Where is the moral compass of the people who may have abused this error?

There are way too many people who think that the world owes them something for nothing.  The loudest shouters are usually the ones who knowingly break laws and agreements for their own personal gain thinking that "big giants like Amazon should take it up the rear" when a mistake is made.  But Heaven forbid someone does the same to these people in a sale.

Some conspiracy theorists believe this was just a tactic by Amazon to boost their bottom line during the busy Christmas season.  However, I see no pattern to this.  Web-based companies have made mistakes before.  We're all human, and are not impervious to the occasional typo.  While it might have been prudent to have someone test this on the live web server, consumers should know the difference between right and wrong.

Just because we can do a thing, does not mean we must do a thing.  Greed will only consume us.

If There Was Ever a Crew In Need of Shore Leave ...

I feel so bad for the crews manning five Japanese whaling vessels.

It seems that since leaving port the crews have had to deal with super cold weather, constant hassling from a small group of environmental terrorists, and now a fire on their primary ship.

First, I'd like to say "WTF!?!" to the environmental terrorists that have been harassing the people on these vessels.  They call themselves the "Sea Shepherd Conservation Society", but I think it's a typo on their part.  I think they meant to call themselves "Unemployable Jackasses From Mars".  I use the term "terrorist" as a descriptor because of the tactics they employ.  I can't believe this is a Canadian organization ... it just doesn't make sense.

I can understand that people may not be happy with whaling, considering how we (humans) have been hunting these creatures for centuries to harvest not only for food, but lamp fuel, mechanical lubricant and a host of other uses.  We've brought some species right to the brink of extinction in our carelessness, but we've learned from our mistakes and many species are begining to make a slight comeback.

Do these life forms deserve to have some kind of protection from us?  Absolutely.

Does this give other humans the right to be retards?  No.

There are ways to accomplish goals in this world, and there are ways to make yourself look like an idiot to the world.  I admit that I look like an idiot quite often, but even I have my limits as to how far I'll sink in the eyes of my peers.  The fishing vessels that were being harassed were operating on legal permit from their government.  If the Sea Shepherd's want to raise a stink, they should discuss it with our politicians and request some form of dialog be opened with the offending government.  If these "conservationists" want to send a vessel out to monitor the actions of these whaling vessels to ensure the legal limits are not breached, and no other endangered species are accidentally captured or killed, then so be it.  But observe.   Don't assault crew members with bottles of acid.

I often wonder where these groups get the money to make all these global trips.  Filling an ocean-going vessel with enough fuel to chase five Japanese cruisers around the Antarctic isn't cheap.  You'd think the SSCS would send some more intelligent people instead.

I'll admit that it's not easy to get governments to listen to the people they've sworn to serve.  They have lots of people shouting at them, and only so many hours in a day.  While working with governments it's often wise to show some form of restraint to ensure your messages are better heard.  Being stupid will just destroy any credibility you may have once carried.

It's also important to look at why certain countries are whaling, and try to offer solutions to their needs.

Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Japan are some countries that still whale.  But these countries do not go out and slaughter these creatures en masse.  Each country has their own imposed limitations.  Greenland and Japan still eat whale meat.  Iceland collects less than 40 in the name of science.  Norway also gets a few under the guise of science.  While these numbers are still higher than the zero that many conservationists would like to see, it's a much better sight than the horrid slaughter that took place by many of the European nations up until the early 20th century.

I'm not saying that we should go out and take the life of whatever animal we choose so long as we benefit from it.  Heck, I still have a hard enough time eating meat twice a week knowing that something died to give me nourishment.  But while the earth seems to shrink all the time, the planet is still large enough for most of us.  Rather than make yourself look inept on a global scale by sending your dullest, it may be better to work with the systems in place with your brightest.  It's not perfect, but only through open and frank discussion can differences in opinion be ironed out and a compromise met.

I only hope it happens before potentially irreversible damage is caused.

Isn't It Time We Stopped Being Scared?

It seems that since September of 2001, the media has made it a habit to scare the public into paying attention.  While this may have worked great for the first few years, isn't it about time they change tactics?

In the last few years we've heard how everything and anything can be used against us by terrorists, pedophiles, bored children and the government.  A perfect example of this unnecessary fear mongering would be the recent Vancouver Sun article talking about a possible terrorist threat that a city-wide WiFi network would introduce.  This is the fourth "possible threat" that has plastered the newspapers and news channels in the last 3 days.

I hate the be the bearer of bad news, but a 4-inch aluminum pipe purchased at Home Depot and stuffed full of incendiary material for a total cost of $30 is much more likely than some Al-Queda member sitting in some remote part of Vancouver with a notebook and hacking some dam, causing it to release too much water and flooding a city.

Of course this raises another question.  In the article, they say:

"The plan calls for much of the city's infrastructure, from traffic signals and TransLink systems to BC Hydro generators and Terasen gas meters, to use the wireless platform for communications and remote operations."

What genius thought of this?  Someone in the higher levels of management, clearly.  This is about as intelligent as hiring a convicted theif as an armoured truck driver.  Critical infrastructure shoud never be placed on a public network.  Anyone who thinks this is a great way to save money is just asking for trouble.  Because of this, I highly doubt it will actually come to pass.  Informed technology consultants will likely recommend against this kind of design as it's just foolish.

Humans are a pretty clever bunch.  No sooner had we learned that we could more effectively kill healthy animals with spears that we were doing the same to our cave-dwelling rivals.  You take almost any tool that we've created, from the wooden club to the wrench to the pen, and if we've found a way to use it to our advantage for a purpose it was not intended to serve.

A city-wide wireless internet infrastructure would be pretty cool.  The likelyhood of the city connecting critical devices such as hydro-electric dams, traffic lights and bridges to this network is likely nil.  Like every other subject that's been in the news recently regarding some sort of technology and a faceless criminal who'll take advantage of it, this story was likely conjured up and misconscrued long before it even made it to print.

We know that fear sells.
... The media breeds fear.
... ... Is big media our faceless terrorist enemy?

Somebody tell Dubya!  The terrorists were here all along!

It's time we stop being scared.  The world is no worse today than it was 100 years ago.  Sure, we have more tools to bastardise for terrible acts, but we also have more tools to use for incredible feats.  Let's focus on our potential rather than some abstract "what if?" fantasies.

Learning More Than I Wanted to Know

Typically I will not discuss work on this site, but this is going to be an exception.

For the last few days I've been working on a problem that one person has faced when sending email through a powerful software package called SugarCRM.  This is a great application and I would recommend it for anyone that's looking for a slick web-based CRM suite.  That said, there are occasionally some pains from time to time when users uncover specific areas that have not been fully tackled by the programmers.

Last week, one of those issues was passed to me.  A user who had a special accent in their name was reporting their displayed name would show up very weird whenever an email was sent.  This looked to be a character set issue, but after several hours, this proved to not be the case.  Over the course of the next 60 hours I learned how emails worked, their history, their requirements and read seemingly all the RFC's that have been published on the subject in the last 20 years (including the 1993 RFC on the Japanese Japanese Character Encoding for Internet Messages).  After all this time, I had determined where the problem originated and resolved the matter for the user.

Yay!

I had never thought I would need to learn so much about email.  Now that I have, though, I can see why certain decisions have been made over the years regarding the many different standards that are out.  I'm also confident enough in what I've learned to actually build an alternate version of PHP's sendmail() function should it become necessary.

Now the hard part will be billing the appropriate customer for the right amount of time ... for the sake of a single user's display name, we will be billing them 60 hours of work.  Somehow I doubt that it will fly.

Times May Change, but People Don't

This is a story from last week, but speed is irrellevant to something as timeless as love.  Last week construction crews unearthed a pair of skeletons that have been dubbed a pre-historic Romeo and Juliet.

In this caffiene-induced world full of fast cars, fast computers and fast foods, it's good to see that some things never change.  This pair met their end together, the depth of their feelings apparent by the position they were found in.  Naturally, it's only our imagination that creates their story, but it's one that's as true today as it would have been so many thousands of years ago. 

Despite the constant distractions we face on a daily basis, we all eventually fall in love.  When we picture our end, which even the most positive of us will do from time to time, we want to know that we were loved and that the person who is most important to us is there.  Nobody wants to die alone, even if that's what they say.

Human experience is as unchanged today as it was ten thousand years ago.  Our environment has altered drastically, but what makes us all human has  not.  Skeletons like this have been found all over the planet.  What I like about this the most is that it shows that no matter where we may have come from, we all share many common traits.

Race, color and gender mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.  These self-imposed constructs only limit our acceptance of each other.  I only wish that the people today would realize this.

Open Invitation to DSL Providers in Vancouver

To mark the 100th published post on my site, I was hoping to discuss something cheery and positive.  Instead, I've just spent the last 10 minutes fighting with Telus regarding their unreliable service.  I will not take their consistent failures any longer.  I'm looking for a new ISP.

I don't ask for much, really.  I would like to be able to have a sustained 40 Kb/s stream so that Reiko and I can video chat in peace.  I would like to have notice when upgrades or service interruptions will be happening.  I would like to have roughly 130 Gig per month of transfer.  And I would like to have a tech help desk that can answer my call in less than half an hour for those rare occasions I need to call in (which is usually only during a prolonged outtage).

I'm currently spending $80 with Telus, for my phone and DSL service.  I'll gladly pay $100 to any other DSL provider that can offer superior reliability.  I don't need VoIP, or port 80 usage.  I don't need any special packages, per se.  Just a nice, reliable connection to the internet, with speeds that are suitable for video chatting two hours a day and IRC the rest of the time.

I admit that I will be using Torrents quite a bit (note the 130 Gig of transfer requirement), and I will be sharing the connection across 2 PCs.  I will not need seperate IPs.

I don't think my requirements are out of line.  I think that providing something like this would be simple for any 1.5 Mbit service, though I would enjoy 3.0 or higher.

I know there aren't too many residential DSL providers in the Vancouver area, but someone else must provide an alternate option for those that have gotten tired of the Shaw and Telus limitations ... right?

I'll begin my investigation.  Hopefully I can make the switch in the next few weeks.  The $120 Telus cancellation charge isn't even a problem if it means I don't have to deal with such an inconsistent and unworkable network.

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