Google Reader

I have long been an avid user of the Google Personalised Page, iGoogle as mentioned frequently. I have loaded it up with scores of RSS feeds and spend too much time on it. I have known for a while about Google Reader, but never preferred it over iGoogle. Recently though I have been converted, at least for blogs and magazines that update less than five posts per day. High frequency news sites such as the NY Times are better on iGoogle since they clutter the Reader. One of the nice features of Google Reader is the Shared Items which has been posted as a Gadget on the right side of this blog. It has its own syndication too.

*Update* Google Operating System also informs us of a powerful feature of Google Reader to reconstruct feed history not even available on the original site.


Gawking at Google Maps

I am absolutely blown away by the new dynamic route adjustment feature of Google Maps. This is years ahead of what I would have expected.


As announced in November, I have spent significant time this year programming fairly advanced webpages using the Google Web Toolkit. The toolkit was released spring of 2006. It features not a Java wrapper for Javascript as previously stated, but rather a full compiler which translates Java code resembling the Swing graphical interface package to pure Javascript. Google currently uses the toolkit to make services such as Google Groups and Picasa Web Albums although some of their most sophisticated services such as Gmail, iGoogle, and Docs and Spreadsheets still relies on low level Javascript.

I Cringely recently predicted that Javascript toolkits, especially GWT, would become the standard not just for web development, but especially and more immediately for applications designed to run securely on mobile devices such as the iPhone. Apple's recent move to open Safari to Windows (especially in a very broken condition) was a well thought out strategic move to encourage Javascript programmers to begin supporting Apple's proprietary web browser. The GWT connection comes from the fact that Google has put significant effort in ensuring that GWT compiled JS functions on all major browsers since most browsers process JS differently and often fail as a result. At the same time, Google is making concessions to Apple in making YouTube videos available in Apple format.

Let me pause and say that for all of its impressive strengths, Apple's critical weakness comes from its obsession with its own closed platforms and formats.

Back to GWT. I am honoured that the GWT news site, onGWT has on my recommendation posted the link to the Cringely article. onGWT is the best site available for the latest news and resources for GWT.


Blog Recommendation: Future Pundit

Future Pundit (RSS) is in many regards what I wish my blog were. He has an informed perspective on current world developments and understands their implications for the future of technology. Previous generations did not have the luxury of understanding the laws of physics and knowing what technologies would be possible in the future. Today, the physical laws are understood well enough to predict the general range of human technology for several millenia. In my opinion, a great deal more human discussion must focus on the future. Unfortunately, with a world all too focused on petty squables over land, primitive energy resources, and backwards religious belief, we loose sight of the larger picture to the detriment of the emerging future world.


More on Pigovian Taxes

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics has a great post in favour of further petroleum taxes. Interestingly, he argues that carbon taxation to prevent global warming is less important than reducing congestion and traffic accidents for social welfare. I suspect that he is not properly factoring in the globally felt negative externalities of global warming, but his conclusion is nonetheless correct that at least a tax of USD 1.00 on petroleum is dearly needed.

The most economically efficient solution to the issue of congestion, ie a proper Pigovian tax, would be a system like London's centre where only those vehicles which have paid a daily fee may enter. Their system relies on sophisticated network of cameras and plate recognition software to automatically bill and fine drivers.

Traffic accidents are doubtless a problem which should be seriously considered. I would expect that insurance and lawsuits already captures those externalities, but I do think a tax on vehicle size and weight per mile driven would help to counter the runaway arms race of personal safety that exists in vehicle addicted nations. I am mostly referring to the exorbitant demand for SUVs particularly for women. The individual driver, surrounded by an armada of SUVs piloted by cellphone distracted drivers, is not inclined to purchase a Volkswagon Golf. Thus the rational individual, in the interests of self preservation, chooses to join the backwards collective. This lesson I learned quite vividly on my first visit to Texas.

Nonetheless, a gasoline tax would as Levitt suggests have a beneficial effect on many things including congestion, traffic accidents, climate change and obeisity.

Petroleum and Obeisity

In the United States, a morbidly obese country, rising fuel prices will have a very positive effect on public health. Sustained high energy prices should accelerate the effect owing to increased investment in public transit and more rationally designed cities.


Film Review: Sicko

The propagandist Michael Moore, perhaps partly responsible for the Bush reelection, has produced a new film. Google's ratings suggest it is being received extremely well. Like all of his work, Sicko appeals much more to emotion than to reason. In seducing the American populace with the conveniences of socialism, he completely whitewashes the costs paid in high taxation, lower economic growth, high unemployment, and reduced technological advancement. Perhaps this is why country after country in Europe has been electing conservative governments; they have learnt the lessons of socialism the hard way. I agree that for poor, unproductive, and unambitious people such as those featured in Sicko, socialism is an absolutely fantastic deal. Goods and services are provided at someone else's expense. Michael Moore would lead one to believe that it is the greed of megacorporations who are responsible for all human suffering in the United States. The problem of unaffordable health care in the United States does not come from competing insurance companies. It is a problem of monopoly.

The American Medical Association, the State union of doctors, maintains medical school quotas and strictly suppresses the licencing of foreign trained doctors. This medical monopoly also maintains the sole ability to prescribe medication. Prescription fraud such as trying to fill a prescription in a higher amount than ordered by a doctor, is a felony punishable by prison sentencing. Doctors tend to prescribe medicines in artificially low quantity so as to encourage more overpriced visits for a refill. On top of this the medicine which is prescribed is sold at a large premium because of the lack of regulation in drug pricing as well as the overprotective intellectual property inherent in the American patent system.

Medical expenses are further inflated by the inordinate costs of doing business. Malpractice insurance is extremely expensive. There is no upper limit to the damages in a medical malpractice suit. Merck was famously ordered to pay USD 253 million for the death of one marathon runner. With 33% cuts, over-educated and overpaid lawyers are all too happy to help recover alleged damages. Lawyers such as John Edwards make fortunes preying upon the misfortunes of others.

There are of course some delightfully positive aspects of the US system. With the supply of doctors kept artificially small, the competition to be one of those doctors is increased so that American doctors, after they have been paid, are some of the best in the world. Maltreated patients do have the recourse to sue. Overprotected intellectual property drives innovation in medicine saving countless lives and improving quality of life in the long term. With drug price regulation in most other countries, America effectively subsidises medicine for the rest of the World.

Unfortunately, Michael Moore does not address any of these real issues. He is long on sob stories and short on understanding. American medicine is no doubt expensive and long overdue for anti-trust and tort reform, but calls for a medical socialist revolution are entirely inappropriate.



It took me a while to find a decent website for weather. Weather.com is owned by the weather channel and is mostly spam from what I can see. Sadly, this is where I would often go when I needed some weather information. Intellicast.com on the other hand is a great site. No advertising, global content, and readily-accessible multifactor weather forecasts. If you know of some other good weather sites, by all means share with the group.


Another Successful SCRAM Jet Test

SCRAM Jet engines offer the potential for up to Mach 15 atmospheric flight. At these speeds, one could fly from Ney York to Syndey in under 2 hours. Satellites could also be launched into orbit much more cheaply with a SCRAM jet than with rockets alone since rockets must carry their oxidiser. Unlike traditional jet engines, SCRAM jets have no moving parts and rely on air compression alone to ignite fuel at very high speeds.

While wind tunnel experiments have shown the potential of SCRAM jets for many years, expensive field tests have been rare but promising. Reuters reports that another successful field test has been carried out over the Australian outback. The experiment results from the collaboration of the Austrialian Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA, the original creator of the Internet, is one of the few truly profitable and effective components of the United States military.

*Update* I have been informed by an esteemed SCRAM Jet research engineer at Cal Tech that depending on fuel, the theoretical maximum speed could be as high as M 25.



Humanity has long been plagued with the very difficult task of bearing and birthing children. It is one of the most dangerous periods of life for both mother and child. Complications from this ordeal more often than not resulted in mortality. Today, modern medical science has drastically reduced the probability of death from such complications and has even given fertility hope to many couples who would have been doomed by their own biology never to produce viable offspring. Unfortunately, the innate drive to reproduce has caused many couples to push their own biology to the limit of medical science in trying to produce offspring. Once impregnated through a cocktail of drugs, hormones and possibly invasive procedures sometimes involving third parties as donors or hosts, couples will then decide to try to simultaneously bring multiple babies to term even as many as 7 at a time. If this is not a crime against those children and a crime against nature then I do not know what is. The children tend to be born prematurely and are at extreme risk through their entire development process. The most bizarre part is that these couples will not terminate some of the pregnancies for the good of the rest because of their religious hang-ups. I can appreciate an anti-abortionist position, but for a woman to undergo such unnatural and dangerous procedures and then claim a profound respect for the dignity of human life is well beyond my comprehension.

When technology is sufficiently advanced, one can more seriously consider a Brave New World in which children are grown by the hundreds in artificial wombs. In such a scenario, there would presumably be little danger to the child's safety or development. A person could then spawn as many genetically similar children as they had desire and means to support.

Here on early 21st Century Earth, upright, large brained humans cannot reproduce in litters. Reproductive technologies are very fresh and need not be used lightly to satisfy some perverted fantasy or primitive impulse. There are literally millions of unwanted or orphaned children around the world. Infertile parents should consider adoption. I propose that carrying greater than 3 unnaturally conceived children simultaneously to term should be criminally prosecuted or prohibitively taxed. Society might also consider removing the children from those households since clearly such parents are unfit.


Google Maps

I am frequently puzzled when I hear of people who still use MapQuest. MapQuest was indeed useful in the late '90s during the Dot Com era. Today Google Maps is the way to go. They recently rolled out a new feature, Street View.

Surface Computing

Popular Mechanics has an impressive demonstration of new human-computer interaction technology being developed with Microsoft.

Green Energy Technology

Last Friday, on NPR Science Friday, two developers of clean energy technology were interviewed.

Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, presented technology which could relatively cheaply sequester carbon directly from the atmosphere. His breakthrough was not so much in the basic principle, but in significantly reducing the cost. He believes that very soon the CO2 from a litre of petroleum could be sequestered for merely an additional USD 0.07 per litre. Emissions could be sequestered into sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or calcium carbonate (chalk, antacid).

Meanwhile, Jerry Woodall a very accomplished inventor at Perdue University has developed a simple means of using aluminum, gallium, and water to generate hydrogen. His proposed aluminum cycle could be a very useful way to allow hydrogen fuel portability at about 40% energy efficiency. The hydrogen could then be used in fuel cells or if necessary, combusted.

Today from New Scientist: University of Utah scientists have developed a means of recovering waste heat energy through an acoustic heat engine which converts heat to sound to electricity also at about 40% efficiency. One cubic centimetre of these small devices could recover about 1 W of power.


Andrew Sullivan

Notes from the Underground is back with an excellent review of Andrew Sullivan's new book. While I have always admired Sullivan's intellect, eloquence and 'eclectic' background, I lost most respect for him when I saw him transition from classical conservative thinker to Neoconservative attack dog. He became in my mind one of the most pernicious types of people alive today akin to wartime National Socialist supporters, and his reverence for the (divine) Lincoln makes him even more suspect. Nonetheless, he is yet worthy of some attention. His blog is the Daily Dish.

Another Reason Not to Smoke

If you are still a tobacco smoker, you may wish to take note of a new study out of Hellas, the country where tobacco consumption AVERAGES one pack per day per person making it the highest per capita. Tobacco absorbs large quantities of radionuclides making the deadly smoke not just chemically harmful, but also radioactive.


Google Compound Gadget

My readers will know how useful I find the Google Personalised Page which has been poorly renamed iGoogle. A Compound Gadget has been released which is very useful for decluttering the personalised page into tabbed gadgets. I will soon be reposting all the RSS and XML feeds to which I link on my own personalised page.

The Mandelbrot Set

Fractals - The Colours of Infinity is an excellent documentary on fractal geometry with particular regard to the Mandelbrot Set which is generated by iterating: fc(z) <-> z^2 + c. More can be learned from Wikipedia. The afore linked documentary is narrated by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. It features colour cycling of the Mandelbrot Set which result in stunningly beautiful visualisations of the infinite complexity and repetitive order inherent to this particular fractal at any magnification. Indeed, one begins to appreciate that the geometry of the natural world is seemingly a special case of fractal geometry.

Politics and US Healthcare

As I have mentioned before, the biggest flaw I see in the current US system is the problem of the limited supply from the American Medical Association doctor's labour union. This aside, I would like to draw attention to Brad DeLong's FT opinion article endorsing Barak Obama's proposed healthcare "solution." Obama should be applauded for having the courage to announce such a detailed proposal which exposes him to political attacks.


DNA Discoverer has Personal Genome Sequenced

Nobel laureate James Waston, together with Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of DNA along with the mechanism by which it is the medium for Genetic information. The entire human genome was sequenced only 4 years ago as a large collaborative effort costing USD 3 billion over 13 years. Gene sequencing technology, like computing is advancing exponentially such that in 60 days Watson's genome was sequenced for under USD 1 million. A genome's information will fit on a single DVD.

Watson is an active proponent of human genetic engineering, what could be termed "eugenics." While many support the idea of genetic therapy to cure or prevent disease, Watson goes farther, supporting genetic engineering even for cosmetic purposes. This issue will more and more come to the forefront of public policy and debate, hopefully even overshadowing the Anna Nicole Smith's baby daddy controversy or Paris Hilton's jail sentencing. I fully support reproductive freedom with the limits that parents are taxed for bringing new people into the world (perhaps progressively) and parents and doctors punished if their genetic or fertility experiments result in undue or unnatural human suffering. The unfortunate result of this may be that the human genome experiences fads where some celebrity's genes become very quickly overrepresented in the population, but overall I expect people will wish to preserve large sections of their own genome in the next generation while tweaking out negative carcinogenic genes and aiming for healthy life extension in the next generation. Meanwhile the cult of the "organic" will come to encompass the human population where a natural and more diseased segment of the population will remain reproductively exclusive. If I had the choice and the technology were sufficiently developed so as to be well understood and extremely reliable, my offspring would probably not be organic. To quote Watson, "If every girl were beautiful, I think it would be great!"

Personal genome sequencing has more immediate implications for health care, preventative medicine, insurance, and medical economics, but that is a topic for another time.