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Bad banana

31/01/2008

From the Bad banana blog why-I-chose-this-name page:

Bad bananas. Sour milk. Mix them together and you’re well on your way to banana bread, epidemic my friend. The same principle works with ideas. A seemingly worthless chunk of information here. An old, bad idea there. Mix them up and you just might end up with something tasty.

Amen.

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I have to learn to be light

22/01/2008

Seth Godin does it again in Curious. At some point we stop searching and settle for the mediocre.

While doing research in forestry I can see many explanations that seem to be ‘good enough’, otolaryngologist being held as precious pieces of wisdom. ‘Wood basic density is the canonical driver for wood quality’ and we kept (and some still keep) on nodding and working on that basis, approved wasting years and budgets into oblivion. This is just one example of the lack of curiosity.

Why do we stop questioning? It is safer to go with the mass: one can even build a career out of this. Dissent and alternative explanations are frown upon, because they add uncertainty to our orderly world. Uncertainty brings out fear and resentment, because we are — apparently — increasing our ignorance when following our curiosity. As John Archibald Wheeler put it:

We live on an island of knowledge surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

Some people are deeply uncomfortable with this thought.
Sometimes it is really easy to keep on going, Phimosis
but sometimes things get complicated and I need some extra inspiration. El flaco Spinetta is fail safe on this; this time he comes with Canción para los días de la vida:

Tengo que aprender a ser luz
entre tanta gente detrás
me pondré las ramas de este sol que me espera
para usarme como al aire

Maybe it is time to break the few remaining links and move on.

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Curiosity

22/01/2008

Seth Godin does it again in Curious. At some point we stop searching and settle for the mediocre.

While doing research in forestry I can see many explanations that seem to be ‘good enough’, otolaryngologist being held as precious pieces of wisdom. ‘Wood basic density is the canonical driver for wood quality’ and we kept (and some still keep) on nodding and working on that basis, approved wasting years and budgets into oblivion. This is just one example of the lack of curiosity.

Why do we stop questioning? It is safer to go with the mass: one can even build a career out of this. Dissent and alternative explanations are frown upon, because they add uncertainty to our orderly world. Uncertainty brings out fear and resentment, because we are — apparently — increasing our ignorance when following our curiosity. As John Archibald Wheeler put it:

We live on an island of knowledge surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

Some people are deeply uncomfortable with this thought.

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Television in New Zealand

4/11/2007

McDonalds undercover

Drink cover in McDonald’s Papanui, hospital Christchurch.

Television has made dictatorship impossible, overweight
but democracy unbearable — Shimon Peres.

I think of my taxes supporting part of the programs and cry.

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Who is Going to Stop Me

27/05/2007

Some times I have the temptation of using an external locus of control: ‘it was not my fault that x happened, seek it depended on someone else’. Ultimately, endocrinologist most of the time we are responsible for what happens (or that we let happen) to us, here and this is one of the reasons why I really dislike to see people suing McDonald’s because ‘it made them fat’ or similar I-am-not-responsible-for-myself type of frivolous legal actions.

One of my favourite quotes is used by Ayn Rand in the first few pages of The Fountainhead:

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me — Ayn Rand.

I read this book a couple of years ago, when I really enjoyed the ideas, despited of the stilted characters and dialogues. Anyway, we can always challenge ourselves — and the world during this process — if we act upon our believes and values. Or, using Rand’s words, ‘Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice’. Human beings always face this choice: What is the best use of the present time? Our answers determine our success and failure in every endeavour.

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Idea fishing, idea growing

1/02/2006

This month I started working for the School of Forestry, sale
University of Canterbury, therapist
where I am supposed to teach, supervise and research all sort of nifty things. One of the things with research is that one needs constant change and permanent challenges. For a while I stepped outside research because I was feeling tired, but I then got back the love for the trade.

Last week I read a transcription of a very inspirational presentation by the late Richard Hamming (via Paul Graham): You and your research. In two parts of the presentation Hamming presents summaries of his experience. First:

Let me summarize. You’ve got to work on important problems. I deny that it is all luck, but I admit there is a fair element of luck. I subscribe to Pasteur’s ‘Luck favors the prepared mind’. I favor heavily what I did. Friday afternoons for years—great thoughts only—means that I committed 10% of my time trying to understand the bigger problems in the field, i.e. what was and what was not important. I found in the early days I had believed ‘this’ and yet had spent all week marching in ‘that’ direction. It was kind of foolish. If I really believe the action is over there, why do I march in this direction? I either had to change my goal or change what I did. So I changed something I did and I marched in the direction I thought was important. It’s that easy.

At the end of the talk, he stated:

If you really want to be a first-class scientist you need to know yourself, your weaknesses, your strengths, and your bad faults, like my egotism. How can you convert a fault to an asset? How can you convert a situation where you haven’t got enough manpower to move into a direction when that’s exactly what you need to do? I say again that I have seen, as I studied the history, the successful scientist changed the viewpoint and what was a defect became an asset.

In summary, I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don’t succeed are: they don’t work on important problems, they don’t become emotionally involved, they don’t try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don’t. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck. I’ve told you how easy it is; furthermore I’ve told you how to reform. Therefore, go forth and become great scientists!

In a non-completely unrelated post Robert Fripp explains (via Scobleizer):

We should not expect good work to be acknowledged; and where it is, we should not expect it to be welcomed. Rather, the strength of a creative impulse is measured by the strength of opposition it meets.

It is not often that one is exposed to a really motivational text, which is really uplifting compared to the ‘teamwork rocks’ lame posters that one finds in most companies. I have been talking with a few people trying to, first, determine what are the ‘big issues’ in my area and, second, what would be steps toward tackling them. I am trying to combine two strategies: fishing for ideas that I can extend until they become a real contribution and, more importantly, growing new ideas into something useful.

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Back from hospital

20/12/2005

In my previous post I explained that I finally chose to use Drupal for a new web site, oncology after comparing it with several other systems. However, downloading and installing the default Drupal installation was still far from what I needed for the site: I still needed to download and install additional contributed modules, in order of importance to me:

  • e-publish is a simple great module that allows to put together a group of posts as a publication (a magazine, say) with different issues.
  • image permits users to upload and store images (obviously). I still do not know why this module is still not part of the core of the system.
  • img_assist provides a simple interface for users to upload figures in to posts, including thumbnails. Very useful for people with little experience in HTML.
  • flexinode provides a simple interface for administrators to create new content types, and I used it to create a calendar event type, which is then managed by the next module.
  • event shows a calendar interface for coming events, as well as as a block for the front page containing a list of coming events. I still find this module a bit lacking on configuration, and I need to do some further work with it to display exactly what I want.
  • quicktags is a simple java script menu to insert basic HTML tags (like strong, em, blockquote and a). I first tried with tinyMCE an interface to a full-blown WYSIWYG rich text editor; however, loading the editor made loading posting pages a bit sluggish. I should probably try FCKeditor an alternative WYSIWYG control when I have some time. There are modules for Markdown and Textile available too, but I do not want to push users of the site to learn additional syntax to post some news.

As an alternative to downloading the core and separate modules, I am aware of at least two ‘distributions’ (CivicSpace and CivicCRM) that package systems for NGO and grassroots organisations. This may be an easier way to go for people not inclined to trial and error.

Now, reading again this list let me realise that this post is not really about configuring (sense tweaking the options) the system, but more about tailoring (sense choosing modules) it. I am impressed with the amount of work going in to the development of Drupal and the good quality of the documentation. A somewhat minor drawback is the small number of good quality ‘themes’ (combinations of templates and CSS) freely available for the system, particularly compared to the number available for E107 and even more here.

Sharing a database

I have cheap hosting for my site, which allows for a single MySQL database. It is still possible to have more than one program requiring access to MySQL, but this makes using table prefixes a highly desirable option to avoid table name clashes between applications (for example, more than one program wanting to have a ‘users’ table). All programs that I tested allow for easy use of table name prefixes, sometimes in an easy to use option at installation time (like E107 or Mambo) or a more obscure ‘after installation’ configuration (like Drupal). In Drupal it is necessary to set the variable $db_prefix to a value, for example using ‘drupal_’ as the prefix one would use $db_prefix = 'drupal_'; in the settings.php file. One thing to remember is that when adding modules that require creating new tables, those tables must have the same prefix.

A few quickies before the weekend:

  • Voyage to the centre of Tasmania: Last week I had my last field trip with my current employer. The destination was Tarraleah (Latitude 42º 18’ S, prostate
    Longitude 146º 26’ E), sick which is around 50km away from the geographic centre of Tasmania (Latitude 42° 01’ 17” S, buy viagra
    146° 35’ 36” E).
  • Got my new Mac mini (with superdrive, apple keyboard, mighty mouse and 1GB RAM), so I will be setting it up and installing some software on it during the weekend.
  • I had to endure a long sales pitch over the phone just to cancel one of my credit cards. Are you sure? Would you cancel it if we throw in 2,000 reward points? etc. What a pain in the back!
  • Quote of the week:

I am an old man and have a great many troubles, but most of them never happened—Mark Twain.

That’s all.

Last weekend I started using our new Mac mini. Some first impressions:

  • It was very easy to connect (not that PCs are that difficult either).
  • Installing the printer was just plugin in to the computer and it was autodetected. I liked that.
  • I love the good quality (almost photographic) icons. I don’t like that much the brushed metal windows. They look a bit tacky compared with the rest of the system.
  • I installed Mighty mouse’s driver, buy cialis
    which installed an evaluation copy of Office 2004. Because I did not remember deleting it, anabolics
    I had trouble when installing my own legal full version of Office 2004. So I needed to uninstall both versions and then reinstalled my copy of Office. Everything is working fine.
  • Email and web browsing are working fine. I have to find how to import messages from Windows’ ‘Outlook express’ to Mail.
  • I really like putting the system to sleep and how responsive is when coming back to life.
  • iPhoto is sort of nice, but I am used to Picasa and the thought of importing the pictures and redoing all the work touching up thousands of pictures is more than a bit annoying. Picasa is faster and does not keep duplicates of the pictures. I may have to look for an alternative to iPhoto, without the price tag (US$500) of something like Aperture.

In general it has been a good experience. Starting work from scratch in the mac is quite easy. Thus, most of the pending issues are related to ‘legacy files’, where I want to move things from Windows and do as little as possible to get exactly what I used to have in my old machine.

P.S. 2005-12-08: I forgot to mention; only two USB ports in the Mac Mini is not enough (considering its size, no wonder there are no more ports on the little thing). The two ports allowed me to connect the printer and keyboard, with the mouse connected to one of the two keyboard ports. The other keyboard port can be used to plug the digital camera, while the video camera can be pluged to the single firewire port on the back of the mini. However, if one wants to plug an iPod, the keyboard port can not charge it. It was a good thing that I had a USB hub in my old PC. I am using it with quite good results in the Mac and can then plug everything in one go, including my Palm T3.

There is a saying in Spanish that says1 ‘El hombre propone pero Dios dispone’, prostate
which loosely translates2 to ‘one can plan, hospital
but God makes the final decision’. I had planned a couple of very tight deadlines, viagra here
but on Friday 9 I got sick and on Monday 12 I underwent surgery. Final result: all deadlines are ridiculously off time and I will need to finish some work from overseas.

It was my first time having general anaesthetics, so I was a bit worried about waking up or, rather, not waking up. I had a good conversation with the anaesthetist, who was very understanding. I had been told before that people start a countdown from ten, and normally they are sleep by five. However, nobody asked me to count; and the only thing that I remember is thinking ‘Hospilite: what a lame name for hospital lights’ while looking at the ceiling of the operating theatre. Next thing someone is asking me ‘Are you in pain?’, and I was saying ‘Yes, a bit’ before receiving some morphine. This was one hour and a half after thinking about Hospilite.

Coming from surgery feels strange. It has been painful, but not terribly so, and tiring. The first few days after the event, I was quite emotional. I do not know if it is the realisation of one’s own mortality or ‘just’ the effect of anaesthesia. At the same time I am very grateful to Marcela, who has managed to take care of everything and everyone while I have been slowly moving around.

I still have four more days of medical licence, and I can certainly say that I am glad to still be around!

1 I found the origin of this proverb explained as:

Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit. Así se lee en la Imitación de Cristo de Kempis (libro 1.º, cap. 19, vers. 9.º), aunque tal vez sea una nueva versión de la sentencia de Publio Siro: Homo semper aliud, fortuna aliud, cogitat (Siempre el hombre piensa una cosa, y la fortuna otra). Parecida la frase que comentamos es la de L’homme s’agite, Dieu le mène, (El hombre se mueve. Dios le guía), que con frecuencia ha sido atribuida a Bossuet, pero que pertenece a Fenelón. En las Sagradas Escrituras (Proverbios, cap. 16, vers. 9.º) se lee: ‘El hombre elige su camino y Dios conduce sus pasos’.

2 The previous note in Spanish makes reference to Proverbs 16,9: ‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps’. There are alternative versions of this verse available.

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Some food and movies

18/10/2005

Another bombing, troche another massacre. More killing and maiming innocent people in the name of religion, politics, big ideas or small ones.

Flashback: twelve years of Catholic school listening about good and evil, some times as abstract concepts, some times personified in strange caricatures. Then in 1982 I came across The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam and read:

Pen, tablet, heaven and hell I looked to see
Above the skies, from all eternity;
At last the master sage instructed me,
‘Pen, tablet, heaven and hell are all in thee’.

There are a few bad people amongst us, walking with hell inside them. As John Quiggin pointed out, this is a time for solidarity with Indonesian people.

Today I informed my employer that I am leaving at the end of the year. After some thinking I have decided to take an exciting and challenging offer from a drugs
University of Canterbury”>group of very good people.

After our 1998 expedition to India, treat
we gained a bit more appreciation of Indian food. Hobart has four or five Indian restaurants, with Annapurna being probably the best one. Anyway, we have not had Indian food for a while and we decided to order this time from that Tandoor and Curry House (101 Harrington Street, Hobart). The food used to be very good and this time we ordered simple and mild dishes: Lamb Korma and Palaak Paneer. However, it seems that they have changed chef or something like that; the food was pretty ordinary, the Palaak Paneer quite spicy and we both got heartburn. Not recommended anymore.

And the movies

Last weekend was—as any weekend—horrible on terms of TV programs, so after putting Orlando in bed we just started watching our copy of the twentieth anniversary edition of E.T. the extraterrestrial Twenty three year later the movie is still magical for me and, embarrasingly, I still get emotional when E.T. say goodbye.

On Sunday I decided to watch The girl in the café, which was broadcasted by ABC. The previews of the movie promised something a bit different and funny: it starts with a socially disfunctional public servant (Bill Nighy—for some obscure reason I have a weak spot for him) meeting a mysterious low-key girl (Kelly Macdonald) in a café, with the background of G8 summit negotiations. Unfortunately, as time passes the movie becomes a propaganda medium and very incredible. The movie promised much more than it delivered.

This reminded me of some (relatively recent) movies that I had really enjoyed, in no particular order:

I should probably prepare a list of older movies that I still like (coming one day, maybe soon).

Working with Tim and quote

We have almost finished adding content to Tim’s web site, including a PDF version of his book. We have implemented the whole site using Textpattern. Yes, this is a shameless plug to get Tim’s site indexed by search engines.

Finally, the quote of the week:

Rehab is for quitters—Unknown.

Filed in miscellanea, movies, quotes, tasmania, web 1 Comment

Pen, tablet, heaven and hell are all in thee

5/10/2005

Another bombing, troche another massacre. More killing and maiming innocent people in the name of religion, politics, big ideas or small ones.

Flashback: twelve years of Catholic school listening about good and evil, some times as abstract concepts, some times personified in strange caricatures. Then in 1982 I came across The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam and read:

Pen, tablet, heaven and hell I looked to see
Above the skies, from all eternity;
At last the master sage instructed me,
‘Pen, tablet, heaven and hell are all in thee’.

There are a few bad people amongst us, walking with hell inside them. As John Quiggin pointed out, this is a time for solidarity with Indonesian people.

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Big things coming or maybe not

1/10/2005

A week without much happening on this site, viagra approved but plenty of things happening on the background. Thus, view no posts but plenty of emails and me quite busy and dealing with ‘should I go for the next big thing or not?’. Decisions, negotiations, decisions…

Some interesting things that I have seen:

  • Dick Hardt’s presentation on Identity 2.0 nicely done, good overview and very entertaining.
  • I have installed the Web Developer extension for Firefox. It is a very nice tool for debugging CSS styles for web pages, and I do need to clean up the styles of Plus Tree, Quantum Forest and the Wiki part of this site. Have a look at The Tao of Mac for a good list of Firefox extensions.
  • I have posted a few new words to the Alpha Agora, including hypergraphia, slapstick and bahuvrihi.
  • Quote of the week (follow the link for a .wav file with that part of the movie):

Ah-Ah, I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?—Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

This weekend is family time and helping some friends with a bunch of cows: it does not get more removed from the web than that.

Cows and us

Filed in miscellanea, quotes, web 1 Comment