Mild science, tech news, stories, reviews, opinion, maps and humor

23 November 2010

Guide Me Home

A Near-Future Science Fiction Short Story

My journey began near the site of Google's offices in Beijing, shuttered and dark after permanent closure some years earlier by the government of the People's Republic of China. My destination was Camelback Road in Phoenix, in the U.S.A. My home. I could return. I had completed the assignment.

Pacific crossing

Time was not of the essence, thankfully. My transport choices in China were limited, to say the least. I didn't even have a bicycle! I would be traveling on foot for much of the journey. Fortunately, some ferry boats were still in operation. A kayak was waiting for me. Promises were kept. By ferry, occasional kayaking and motorboat relays, I returned to  U.S. territory at long last, to Guam. Hawaii was next. I arrived without incident, intending to rest for a brief time.

         View larger map

Hawaii was beautiful. Photos on The Map did not lie. But I couldn't linger. I returned to my Map. It would be impossible to cross the treacherous waters from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland without it. I traveled by ferry boat and assorted small craft. This was the most difficult part of the route home.

Finally, after more than 100 days in transit, I reached the coastline of North America. I entered via the more negotiable waterways near  Vancouver, although I would've preferred Seattle-Tacoma. The directions said that several short intervals of kayaking would be necessary. I was prepared. I had kept my kayak, but was glad to see the last of it!

Paseo del Norte

I was very worried about the notoriously strict Canadian border patrol.

Fortunately, my contact at Google's Redmond headquarters was informed of the situation. He met me at the border, plying the guards with two crates of brand-new, shrink-wrapped Microsoft PCs with optical processors inside. They are, effectively, quantum computers, yet have the footprint of a Windows 7 wireless phone. Such wonderful contraband, complete with factory installed Chrome Operating System!

mobile phone steampunk style
Microsoft Optical PC: Small footprint prototype
 via the future and my imagination
You seem surprised. How so? Oh, my apologies!  I neglected to mention the massive consolidation that American industry and technology underwent during the economic and societal Aftermath.  That's how we refer to it now.

Euphemisms are a blessing.


Let me pause a moment and get you caught up. This is what happened. Google and Microsoft consolidated. There were no succession problems following Bill's demise. Melinda Gates had years of experience as a Microsoft product manager prior to her marriage.

MS Google, as the combined entity was known, was warmly welcomed by locals in Washington State and Oregon after the auto da fe that destroyed Facebook. The populations of both states were delighted when Facebook's not-so-secret coal slurry and brimstone fueled data center was finally decommissioned!

Poor Apple. They were not social enough to get along with the others.

All that remained of venerable IBM were the Armonk and Almaden research centers. These IBM Research folk had PhD's and such, but very different attitudes compared to their predecessors. They quickly, and sensibly, requested a non-hostile takeover by Amazon Web Services. The merged entity chose to drop the "B" from the former International Business Machines, and became AWSIM.

AWSIM soon joined with Intel and AMD. Nowadays, AWSIM provides cloud computing, toasters and nearly anything else that MS Google or General Motors doesn't. AWSIM also acts as exclusive contractor to the U.S. Government. Probably will continue that until we get caught up again. There isn't any need for competitive bidding, not when I've just listed the only high-tech companies still in existence!

What was that you asked me? GM? Yes, General Motors is still here. We wouldn't have buses and blimps if they weren't! I don't recall the details, but I'm certain that GM did a reverse-IPO a long time ago. It continues to be a 100% employee owned and managed company.

Well! Enough of that! I must be on my way. I still have miles and miles to go before I sleep, working my way south, home to Phoenix. The thick blue path of The Map is my ley line. It glows softly yet does not flicker. I have no fear of getting lost with that to guide me. No, no fear at all.

27 October 2010

Demise of Digg as we knew it

I spent yesterday afternoon reading about the latest controversy swirling around rapidly-failing, a mainstay of the social web. Digg founder and CEO, Kevin Rose, recently chose to follow in the footsteps of Goethe's Faustus when he sold his company's soul to advertising partners.

Digg advertising partners less accommodating

The new Digg error 500 page
Troubled transition
Dr. Faustus fared better in choosing to deal directly with The Devil. Dr. Faustus was granted many years of productive accomplishment in the term sheet of his bargain! Yet Kevin Rose departed Digg a scant two months after Digg 4.0 went live in August 2010! A replacement CEO was hired, who now struggles to triage the sinking ship that is all that remains of Digg.

During the past several weeks, Digg slashed one-third of its workforce while watching site traffic plummet by 40% as loyal users continued their mass exodus. However, yesterday's events may well be the coup de grace.

Tampering detected

Lt General Panda, a long-time Digg user, released a series of spreadsheets, documenting the means by which Digg management, perhaps led by the new CEO, perhaps instigated by former CEO Kevin Rose, chose to alter its news-story selection algorithm. The algorithm is intended to reflect the Voice of the Digg User.

new Digg problem description
Site is no longer beta, but not quite functional either

Article submissions are classified by topic: current events, computing, security, gaming, technology, education, business, policy, world news, health, entertainment and humor.

Algorithm-related background details

Digg's proprietary algorithm was developed by the now vanished Digg Labs. The algorithm monitors Digg user input regarding perceived merit of submitted articles, which is then used to determine and adjust each article's relative visibility on the "front page". That is oversimplified. Digg provides more detail in the FAQ.

Lt. Gen Panda's story was quickly picked up by TechCrunch, suggesting that Digg tampered with its own proprietary algorithm in order to give greater prominence to items of interest to advertisers, rather than users.

Digg Labs landing page
Digg Labs website offline since Aug 2010

Advertisers already had a strong presence on the site, with banner ads and sponsored stories. By removing the Digg user community's freedom to select content based on merit, Digg management effectively removed all motivation to use Digg. After all, one can view as much display advertising and media news feeds as one wants simply by subscribing for free to feeds delivering stories via browser or newsreader.

08 October 2010

FeedBurner Security and Sensibility

Universal Feed Symbol

Feed Security

For any blogger or creator of syndicated content who might happen to pass by The Annex, I'd like to pass on this tip about the importance of keeping your Feed Bulletin feed private.

Feed Function

Confirm that your feed is working correctly and captures the intended content, whether headlines only, headlines plus content etc.

The best way to accomplish this is with a periodic feed check-up. Once every month or every other month is usually adequate.

Two reputable sites offering secure feed validation are:
To use either, simply enter the address of your feed and click Validate. Any errors are listed, with suggested remedies for repair.

Feed Sense and Faux-pas Avoidance

Problem: Why is the Posterous website overstating my subscription count? I only subscribed to ten blogs. Yet my profile indicates that I have 20 subscriptions! See image below.

Root-Cause: Carelessness by the blog owner or administrator! Note that the blogs written by journalists, who earn their living through digital publishing, have but a single entry on the list. The Laughing Squid is the only exception. He has two entries. One is a link recommendation list. The other is the actual publication. It is possible that I am at fault for selecting both rather than the blog (publication) alone.

Screen Shot of my blog subscriptions.  Click on image to enlarge.

The other websites are run by experienced bloggers or website developers. They are not journalists, nor earn the majority of their income from writing. Yet they should know better than to make this mistake. But it is a very easy mistake to make, even for the savvy.

How did this happen?

This can occur if burning multiple feeds for the same blog, but forgetting to delete the old feeds. Or creating new blogs, and not tracking carefully enough which blogs have feeds already. It can be avoided by taking care to keep track of the names and resources used for one's feeds.

Glance again at the example image. Despite my fondness for Adam Rifkin's wit, I don't need four versions of his blog. Some are very puzzling e.g. who is "Trout Girl"?

The same can be said for Dustin Curtis's design and usability insights. One subscription is sufficient. This is how an unintentional spam-like duplication (or quadruplication) effect can occur, sometimes exacerbated for those who choose to subscribe by email rather than RSS feed. Such effect is one of the fastest ways of alienating readers. I have first hand experience, inflicting this (accidentally) on my own subscribers!

Note that all individuals mentioned by name are prominent in their fields of expertise. I did not disclose information, nor negatively impact professional reputations. All are well-established.

Better to learn from their mistakes. It is far more damaging for a novice to commit feed faux-pas!

17 September 2010

Progress or Merely the Illusion of Such

Are we realizing any real gains, or merely running in place?

As of 2010, we have much better internet infrastructure, but the World Wide Web has become so bloated with extraneous information and poor design that it chews it all up. ReadWriteWeb offers an insightful article  on the matter of technological innovation. The mysterious "Guest Writer" describes, in quantitative terms, citing multiple data sources, that a faster internet speed hasn't translated into any real gains for end-users, particularly in page load times.

Why not? Because of the vast preponderance of excessive CRUD that is loaded on web pages: links placed as much for SEO (search engine optimization) as elucidation, videos, related stories from the past, possibly related stories in the future, content-based advertising that is oddly prescient and so forth.

ReadWriteWeb uses the Official White House website in 1996 versus the current White House site as an example. Screen shots are included, and as always, make the point most eloquently.

Please be aware, this is no thinly veiled (nor blatantly obvious) partisan commentary. The trend is not associated with political party, nor with any Presidential Administration.
"We have the ability to deliver more content in the same amount of time as 1996, but we're doing it very inefficiently. End users haven't experienced any true acceleration in [page] load times".
For more, see the full story via ReadWriteWeb: It's Not About the Network Anymore.

Sheering Time Approaches: Let's Go Hyper-local Arizona

It's that time of year again. Navajo sheep herders will be coming down from the hills north of The Valley of the Sun, no doubt psychologically well-prepared for all the sordid news of the city:
  • A broken dam due to burst bladders at Tempe Town Lake,
  • The $1,000,000 price on the head of Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe by volatile Mexican drug lords, and 
  • The ever popular AZ Senate Bill 1070 a.k.a. Arizona Immigration Reform.
To commemorate sheep-shearing season, I'm presenting an extravaganza of gentle sheep-y imagery, from a variety of sources. Well, I admit, from two sources: Zazzle merchants, and The images are so nice, I thought you might enjoy looking at them too.

I need to find a better illustration source than advertisements, at some point. Until such time should arrive, well, if you'd be so kind and not breathe a word of this.

Consider this a follow-up to my earlier post about floatingsheep.

Our Cup Runneth Over

Or "Fun with Correlations and Obesity"?

Matthew Zook explores correlations (at the state level) between the number of internet references to beer, Christianity and obesity and much more, all neatly pulled together in the floatingsheep Working Papers Collection . He released a follow-up on the obesity theme, running the same data for correlation between "obesity" and "feminist" and other meaning-laden words.


Although I realize that correlation does not imply causality, I always enjoy this kind of thing.  Have a look at the full article: More Fun with Correlations.

12 September 2010

Plane Malfunction Illusion

Chris wanted to take a photo while on a Q400 airplane flight. He didn't have a camera with him, only his Apple iPhone 3GS. The scanning order of the sensor combined with the refraction from the window caused the "detaching blades" phenomenon seen. Rotating the camera warped the blades in different directions. The footage was brought into After Effects and rotated to match the physical rotation of the iPhone.

Q400 digression

08_03_12 sasq400fix
The Cranky Flier by Brett Snyder on Flickr
Coincidentally, there have been some recent issues associated with the Bombardier Dash Q400 Aeroplane as reported by The Wall Street Journal (August 2010), involving an inquiry by Canadian air safety regulators. Some of the negative sentiment associated with the Bombardier Q400 was depicted in the little drawing above, involving an earlier issue with the same model of aircraft. Faulty landing gear was one of the worst problems. Despite the appearance of Chris's photo, there have never been any problems with Q400 propellers e.g. falling off in mid-flight.

Blades by Jason on Flickr
Jason observed the same effect as Chris. I am uncertain what sort of aircraft he was traveling in. Jason took his pictures with an iPhone 4 rather than an iPhone 3GS, but as he explains, that isn't relevant:
Wanted to try this - flying to Guernsey [UK] and back today. It's an iPhone 4, and the scanning typically goes from top left to bottom right so moving objects lean to the left. Essentially any electronic shutter camera (i.e. not an SLR-like mechanical shutter) will give these effects. Wikipedia has some good articles.
For those who want to try this out, just point your simple electronic shutter camera at an object moving parallel to you, preferably fast, and take the photo. The faster the relative speed between you, the more the distortion. Rotating objects go really weird!"   

Traffic Congestion in the Twitterverse

This began with a random walk through photo-sharing site Flickr. My Twitter obsession promptly asserted itself when I caught a glimpse of an error message from the early days of Twitter Site Overload, originally uploaded by Hil.  Hil pointed out a rather puzzling typo in the warning header. Perhaps it was due to feelings of agitation experienced by the @twitengineering team?
Twitter is Well-Known for Capacity Overload

 Twitter Overload via Flickr

As the Twitter platform has evolved, so has the imagery associated with its well-known service outages during peak usage. The Fail Whale is an immediately recognizable indicator to Twitter users. It conveys very clearly that activity is temporarily blocked due to spikes in usage that the system cannot accommodate. This can occur during certain times of day/ week, and in response to surges of activity due to:
  • poorly administered contests using Twitter for entries and /or updates
  • Twitter Failwhale Swap,
    by RobCockerham via Flickr 
  • hacking exploits, to which Twitter is particularly vulnerable. There was a lot of this in the early days, but the novelty seems to have worn off somewhat.

There are many depictions of the eponymous Fail Whale. I'll hazard a guess that the Fail Whale represents the backlog of un-Tweeted communications, a large clog in the flow of Twitter information. Yet an answer is in sight, as the Fail Whale is located and  borne aloft by an enabling flock of helpful Twitter birds, soon to be back on line again!

Twitter - New 'Over Capacity' Graphic,  uploaded by Shovelling Son.

23 August 2010

Buzz Kill

Leo Laporte is a luminary of sorts, at least of the current Web 2.0 milieu. He is one of the few highly visible bloggers and pundits that actually earns a good living through his syndicated radio show, articles and podcasts. He certainly is in the top 2% of the sharing, blogging, streaming and advising social media elite.

I was aware of his sphere of influence, it would be difficult NOT to be, yet he never caught my interest. That changed a few days ago.

Leo Laporte wrote a very honest, very sensible post, full of wisdom based on a recent event in his own life:
Something happened tonight that made me question everything I’ve done with social media since I first joined Twitter in late 2006.... I sign up for every site, try every web app, use every service I can find. It’s my job, but I also love doing it. I believe in the Internet as a communication tool. I love trying the myriad new ways people are using it to connect and I believed that social media specifically had some magic new potential to bring us together. When Google announced Buzz last year I was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon.... I built a following of over 17,000 people. I was happy.

Then last night [August 22, 2010] I noticed that my Buzzes were no longer showing up. Nothing [had gone] public since August 6. Nothing. Maybe I did something wrong to my Google settings. I am completely willing to take the blame here. But I am also taking away a hugely important lesson.
No one noticed.  Not even me. 
It makes me feel like everything I’ve posted over the past four years... has been an immense waste of time. I was shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves. Thank God the content I deem most important, my broadcast radio shows, still stand. I'm very fortunate to have found an audience... I would have heard from people if there had been 16 days of dead silence [from my radio programs]... if we miss one show I get hundreds of emails! Social media, I gave you the best years of my life, but never again.  
Excerpted from Buzz Kill.

Leo, thank you so much for your candor and humility. I can benefit from your experience, as I realize I need to focus on the things I do well, rather than chasing micro-blogging and long-tail interests. I wish you continued success. You deserve it. Less IS more. "Firehose" type activity is no substitute for author interaction.

21 August 2010

xkcd with Love and Geohashing is an on-line comic (web comic) of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

Who's responsible for xkcd?

Randall Munroe has been writing xkcd for at least five years. Maybe longer.

Unknown territory
Unfamiliar territory
He describes himself as
... just this guy, you know? I'm a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center.

What do the letters x-k-c-d stand for?

Is it an abbreviation or an acronym? Mr. Munroe says:
It's not actually an acronym. It's just a word with no phonetic pronunciation -- a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings.
Regarding the matter of sorting algorithms, if in a quandry about which to use (because they taught you so many) Mr. Munroe observes:
This is tricky. Most of what they teach you in school is just as an example of how to think about algorithms; 99% of the time you shouldn't worry about optimizing your sorts. Just learn to implement Quicksort (which is very good) and use that without fretting about it too much.
Note: If you're interviewing for a company for a position with a focus on algorithms, the above is not an excuse not to know your stuff.
xkcd also offers an interesting little game.

Let's go geo-hashing!

Geo-hashing involves meet-ups which accomplish the admirable goal of getting us away from our computers, getting out doors, exploring the great wide open. That is not the stated objective of the game, merely my editorial commentary.

It resembles geo-caching but is a bit more complex, at least up front. Overcoming the initial hurdle is a completely sedentary activity. It only requires careful study of the instructions.

I confess that I haven't tried it, but it seemed at least as pleasant as geo-caching.

The xckd wiki provides complete details, including detailed accounts of many years of past geo-hashing events. I noticed that these geo-hashing excursions were held, literally, all over the world.

the algorithm by xckd for geohashing
The Algorithm as shown in xkcd comic #426
CC 2.0
The Algorithm captures the basics. I confess that I understood it very briefly, then not at all. But the wiki is extensive, and explains the rules quite clearly.

Randall Munroe is actually quite a talented illustrator. I scattered a selection of his geo-hashing illustrations throughout.

*All of Mr. Munroe's work is  reproduced here under terms of Creative Commons License 2.0, see icon above.

02 August 2010

Microsoft Tag at the Crossroads of Virtual and Physical Worlds

Will Microsoft clear the field as it enters the location-based service market? Microsoft provides this definition of Tag, whose scope is larger than I realized:
"A Tag is a high-capacity color bar code... Organizations and individuals can create specific Tags by using the Microsoft Tag Manager Web service. When the Microsoft Tag Reader application is installed on a mobile device, [it] can be used to scan a Tag using the built-in device camera. When a Tag is scanned by the Tag Reader, the information encoded into the Tag becomes available on the mobile device."
floatingsheep logo
Cyber sheep?
A tag is similar to a QR code. A tag must be
  • created and placed so that users can locate it in the physical world, NOT the virtual world of the interwebs AND 
  • rendered with adequate size and detail so it may be scanned accurately by mobile device cameras.
The purpose of this was not obvious to me. I had to approach it in steps.

Tag taxonomy

Let's start by defining a tag as a descriptive word or phrase associated with a noun, verb or idiom. I think of these as basic "virtual tags". Examples would be the word or word expression description associated by customers with merchandise. Since my own cognitive processes are driven by analogy to basic concepts learned, well, in elementary or middle-school, I think of a tag as a super-synonym. Better yet, a tag is a synonym with a promising future.

This is a mini-taxonomy of virtual and real-world tags:
  • Virtual Tags describe people, animals, objects and actions, but are applied within the virtual world, usually the internet.
  • Virtual Geo-tags are specific to physical location, and usually correspond to geo-spatial coordinates (GIS). Examples are the inverted teardrop place markers used to indicate locations in Google Maps and Mapquest. This type of tag is a virtual construct, despite its reference to a physical location.
  • Microsoft Tags are physical objects. They are associated with specific geo-spatial data, i.e. geographical locations in the real world. Using the Microsoft tag reader and a mobile phone camera, these physical Microsoft Tags can then be converted to Virtual Geo-tags.
Comprehension increases after viewing the image gallery of Microsoft Tag examples created by current users, or the implementation guide for web and mobile phone users. The latter is available as a PDF download.

Microsoft is offering its Tag service free of charge. They make no promises about the future though.


Microsoft Tag reminds me of Floating Sheep's visualization of the urban cyberscape, or maybe "cyberspace". Floatingsheep is focused on mapping and analyzing:
"a hybrid place: the online extension of the socially constructed human landscape in which the lines between material place and digital representations of place blur."
The internet is evolving at a brisk clip.

floating sheep cyberscape
Urban Cyberscape
The image above, which seemed fanciful a year ago, is growing into a reality with QR codes and now Microsoft Tag.

24 July 2010

CF-18 Crash Alberta International Airshow

Pilot ejects moments prior to crash, narrowly escaping certain death from the impact and fiery wreckage.

Canadian Forces pilot Capt. Brian Bews ejects as his CF-18 fighter jet plummets to the ground during a practice flight on Friday, July 23, 2010. He was preparing for the weekend airshow.

CF18 accident
Witnesses hear odd engine sounds

Jet about to crash
Pilot parachuting safe and clear of nosediving fighter jet

CF-18 Aircraft escape system works according to intended design

Plane crashes
Flaming crash in Lethbridge County, Alberta

All photo images by Ian Martens, Lethbridge Herald via Associate Press

16 July 2010

Performance Improvement in Government Healthcare

I noticed a job listing the other day, as "Director, Performance Improvement". It would likely be an intellectually satisfying and ethically fulfilling employment opportunity. The job is a full-time, direct hire position with Health Services Advisory Group Inc. (which goes by the unfortunate acronym, HSAG and pronounced as ay-ch SAG), in Phoenix, Arizona.

My previous work in Public Health was with the Medicare-funded Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs (OCSHCN), where I was actually an employee of the State of Arizona. In addition to performance evaluation and utilization management, I enjoyed a diverse range of duties that included epidemiological studies, PHI (Protected Health Information) security, pharma utilization and provider payment (and beneficiary claim) fraud detection. However, the downside was that it was very difficult to work as a performance and quality assessor for OCSHCN' Childrens' Rehabilitative Services (CRS) while an employee of the program itself.

Well, CRS's 17,000 members are a very vulnerable sub-strata of the population: eligibility requirements are defined by Arizona Revised Statutes for enrollee diagnosis and age. The intent is to provide a healthcare system oriented specifically to the needs of youth and children under the age of 18 whose lives are significantly or entirely circumbscribed by the severity of their mostly congenital and often intractable medical conditions. It was awkward, even emotionally upsetting to present findings that resulted in changes about delivery of care to this member population.

Pharma and formulary

Due to the actuarial principle of adverse selection, it was particularly difficult to make decisions on level of care when resources were limited. Should treatment of a debilitating genetic disorder, PKU (Phenylketonuria), with a wonderful new drug be authorized, given the price: approximately $40,000 per year, depending on the child's weight (grams/cm by age), then doubling, once an adult? The drug does not cure PKU. The treatment regimen is lifelong.

Durable Medical Equipment

In addition to drug therapy, there were also cost and utilization issues pertaining to DME including prosthetics. Regarding DME, relevant questions were:
  • whether to allow electric motorized wheelchairs?
  • how often should wheelchairs be replaced? Different standards must be applied to children than adults, as handicapped children grow just like other children, even if not at the same rate.
  • discontinue coverage of cochlear implants in order that many other services may continue? A pair of cochlear implants costs approximately $50,000 all-inclusive. Those same funds could be used instead for a dozen or more cleft lip or cleft palate surgeries, with funds remaining for a few club foot corrective surgeries too. 
When resources are scarce, decisions are difficult. Fortunately in the cochlear implants issue, a compromise was reached, which allowed for a single cochlear implant while the child was under CRS program care, along with audio therapy and support, with the second cochlear implant covered by AHCCCS, the state provider of Medicaid services once the child were 18 years of age, depending on the patient's level of satisfaction and interest in receiving the second implant.

Arizona - Progressive Exemplar

Contrary to popular belief due to the furor regarding Arizona State Bill 1070, also known as the "AZ State Immigration Law" and mentioned in a prior post, the State of Arizona is remarkably progressive in certain areas. My former employer, CRS, is an instance of such. Arizona is one of only three states in the Union with a program dedicated to providing services to children with special health care needs. By assembling health care providers attuned specifically to this segment of the population, these children receive much better care than they would through many private managed care programs.

In fact, there are a significant number of additional CRS enrollees who are not Medicare-eligible. Approximately 2,000 children, in addition to the 17,000 count cited above, are covered by private insurance as payor for services. These children could be enrolled with any provider or managed-care program covered by their insurance, yet CRS is considered the best choice. Of course, CRS is an accredited provider for many major commercial insurance carriers, and cost for services is adjusted accordingly.

I miss my work, and would welcome the opportunity to analyze and monitor performance and quality of services from outside the program provider. Alternatively, it would be great to do similar work for enrollee pools with a more diverse disease prevalence profile than chronically ill children.

12 July 2010

Succor for Soles and Souls

For my Phoenix area reader segment, have a gander at this shoemaker review from New Times publisher's online Transplants To Phoenix Examiner columnist Susan Rienzo,"A Shoe Repair Shop That Restores Soles AND Souls".
In many of the traditional old neighborhoods that a lot of transplants escaped from, there was a shoe repair shop. In my former hometown, it was run by an Italian guy with a strong accent and a stronger attitude. He always took Wednesdays off. When my best friend and I were in high school, we used to joke that he did so in order to play golf with all the doctors. God, we were brats! Anyway, in this throw-away culture, shoe fixers in the Valley are few and far between. Someone who takes pride in their work and does things the old-fashioned way is even harder to find.

But when the strap on one of your cutest, most favorite sandals breaks (and you know it will), fear no more... Affluent Scottsdale Shoe and Luggage Repair at 10855 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard (Suite 108), just north of Shea, provides quality work and so much more. The shoemaker, Rick, is a man who will practically rebuild a beloved purse, or pocketbook as they say in New Jersey, that another "fixed" in a slipshod way. (The only reason 'purse repair' isn't also in the shop's name is that it would be too long to fit on a sign.)
I had a recommendation of my own, which I'll reproduce here, from the comments section of the Examiner post:

So nice to read about a shoemaker and handbag repair store! Okay, I self-edited because I say "pocketbook" instead of handbag too!

I was raised in Arizona and New Mexico. After some years in California, I finally moved to New York City. I became accustomed to the convenience and savings from the shoemaker's shop two blocks from my tiny apartment in Gramercy Park.

Resoling shoes, restitching a fancy leather belt or pocketbook that was perfect otherwise, replacing raw hide laces, or adjusting woven leather sandals straps that would've cost $75 to repace, but merely $10 to repair like new): shoemakers do that and much more. I purchased rubber galoshes with ankle snaps to wear over my shoes for the winter, so that gray icy slush wouldn't pour over the tops of my work heels.

Overly tight shoes could be stretched and become comfortable again. Tiny holes in supple fur-lined leather gloves would be stitched while I waited. I even chose to have a cocoa brown suede skirt purchased from Saks Fith Avenue, and far too long for me, but with elaborate scalloped hemline, hemmed by my shoemaker! Most seamstresses were not eager to alter suede. Amazingly, my shoemaker, on the southwest corner of Third Avenue and East 23rd Street in Manhattan, even re-cut the scalloping in the hem!

In these days of "sustainabile technology", the shoemaker's services are what we need. Thank you so much for your article. And your readers comments too! I'm not the only one, there ARE others who remember!

For Central Phoenix residents far from Scottsdale, here's a suggestion: Try Colonnade Shoe Shop & Repair, on 1925 E. Camelback Rd, Ste D136 adjacent to Fry's Grocery on E. Highland and 20th St in Phoenix. I'm just getting to know them, but "so far so good"! Phone number is (602) 212-0784. A bonus feature which I appreciate is that they are open Sunday through Friday, 9:30am through 5:30pm, closed on Saturday. It is so very convenient to find a small business with hours on Sunday!

For additional corroboration, you may want to check out the recent reviews for Colonnade Shoe Shop posted on Yelp.

Post title courtesy of the Dept of Questionable Puns.

11 July 2010

Code for America in Binary

I've missed the boat for July 4th, but I felt like passing this around anyway.

The Gov 2.0 organization, Code for America has released a binary style image for eight American Patriots who were recognized for Independence Day 2010.

The images are available as Adobe Acrobat PDF files for download on the Rock the red, white, and blue -- In binary section of the Code for America site.

05 July 2010

The Personal World Clock

Need to know the time, exactly? The display on one's wireless telephone is usually sufficiently close to an atomic clock for most purposes. However, if you want a world clock with cities and/or times zones customized specifically for you, then it would be worth having a look at Time and Date dot com, the most frequently used time-and-date site on the internet, according to Alexa, the web analytics company.

The site has numerous offerings, two mainstays are Time and Date's configurable World Clock as well as a variety of traditional, clever modern and even historical calendars.

The company is privately-held and based in Norway. The site also offers links to something called Znake, "the Java game", with which I had no ability whatsoever!

The Personal World Clock is available in Java applet form and with a standard customization tool, as a free or fee-based service depending on usage requirements.

There are strict usage restrictions, which I adhered to in producing one version of their date and time clock. Have a look at the site and maybe you'll find something interesting for yourself.

28 May 2010

Open Data Standards

My response to Rhiza Labs CEO Josh Knauer:  On open government data, Tim Berners-Lee is almost right
I just watched the Gov 2.0 Expo video (May 27, 2010 in London, UK) featuring Tim Berners-Lee advocating government data standards, and your response [Rhiza Labs' Mr. Josh Knauer, see link to site above] that followed. I am a working practitioner of data standardization and transparency in data policy, and wanted to express my agreement with your commentary.

Tim Berners-Lee: Inventor of the World Wide Web (USA Today Lifeline Biographies)Mr. Tim Berners-Lee is a dynamic speaker. As the founder of Hyper-text Markup Language and plausibly the entire World Wide Web, he justifiably has the respect of all. However, his premise that linking to URL’s as the most effective mean of building a framework for data naming consistency reduces to glibness.

I worked as a Data Governance manager for two managed care programs, one federal, the other Medicare-funded at the state level. You are correct: uniform identifiers are the solution, and UUID’s (universal uniform identifiers, that are not language-specific) would be best. In the context of my healthcare related work, I would add the following data classifications used by CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dept of Health and Human Services) to the other United States government-related data standards you cited:
  • HCPCS, ICD-9 and CPT (maintained by Ingenix) for medical coding 
  • National Drug Codes (from the FDA) for pharmaceuticals
  • the taxonomy of 11-byte alphanumeric codes for medical specialties 
Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in PracticeNote that the medical and pharmaceutical codes are usable with OR without electronic health records, which isn't possible with Tim Berners-Lee's advocacy of URL based standards. Remember that not everything is electronic or internet linked. Not yet.

URL’s are not robust. Links often break in 10 years, let alone 1000 years, and are far too vulnerable.

Tim Berner-Lee’s appeal for standardization, and ability to hold the attention of an audience that is never excited about data policy is certainly helpful. (Who is excited about the subject, other than those who do it, and those who suffer from the lack of it?) I hope that the spirit of his message is what is acted upon, rather than being used as a starting point for implementation.

26 May 2010

A little more about PageRank

This page is intended as an overview only, briefly describing Google Toolbar features. A few quick facts about toolbar item PageRank:
- PageRank values are between 1 and 10.
- The little white slab on the tool bar is more green and less white as the ranking gets closer to 10, highest importance ranking.
- Any page not indexed by Google web analytics is not ranked. Note that this page with the topic "PageRank" is not ranked! Some Google Help pages are PageRanked, others are not.

in reference to: PageRank : Master advanced features - Toolbar Help (view on Google Sidewiki)

18 May 2010

Facebook, Google and Privacy [CARTOON]

Internet identity disclosure cautionary cartoon
I thought that the purple-hued face peering through the wall looked like Mark Zuckerberg.

Are Facebook users adequately aware of the status of their private or personally identifying information? Probably not.

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook is a recent analysis  by IBM Research scientist Matt McKeon.  (He did this as a personal project, not as part of work for his employer, IBM).

Matt's analysis was thorough and revealing. It is summarized by a series of charts depicting user growth and information sharing on Facebook, at multiple points in time: 2005, 2007, 2009 and early 2010.

Static 2005
Earliest "snapshot" of Facebook user privacy 2005

Matt's article has all six charts in chronological, as well as a complete explanation of his methodology, including data collection details. It demonstrates very clearly the dramatic increase in level of exposure of private data for Facebook users.

Privacy status 2010
Personal data and privacy status as of April 2010
Please note that these charts are part of a work-in-progress and may be updated at any time. They are reproduced here* with specific permission from Matt McKeon but are not Creative Commons licensed and may not be further reproduced except under the limited usage terms on Matt's website.

No privacy on Facebook nor trailer park
This real-life image via fffound is well-matched with the conclusions one may draw after reviewing  Matt's analytic work.

Facebook Addiction: The Life & Times of Social Networking AddictsAlso have a look at these eyebrow-raising product offering inspired by Facebook that I noticed on Amazon. (I am not endorsing them, nor encouraging anyone to purchase anything; I included them for amusement purposes only).
The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community

Keep in mind that this is a small sampling of Facebook-related books from Much more is available.  I admit, I chose the most sensational-sounding of the bunch.

Ellie K's inquiry about re-use permission in Disqus comments.

08 May 2010

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook is a recently released work by IBM Research scientist Matt McKeon. His analysis provides a series of charts depicting user growth and information sharing on Facebook, at multiple points in time: 2005, 2007, 2009 and early 2010.

Static 2005
Earliest "snapshot" of Facebook user privacy 2005

Matt's article has all six charts in chronological order, as well as a complete explanation of his methodology. He included data collection details. 

The overall message is the dramatic increase in the level of public exposure of Facebook users' private data over time.

Privacy status 2010
Personal data and privacy status as of April 2010
Please note that these charts are part of a work-in-progress and may be updated at any time. They are reproduced here* with specific permission from Matt McKeon but are not Creative Commons licensed and may not be further reproduced except under the limited usage terms on Matt's website.

No privacy on Facebook nor trailer park
This real-life image via fffound is well-suited to the conclusions one may draw after considering  Matt's analytic work.

Ellie K's inquiry about re-use permission in Disqus comments.

07 May 2010

Arizona Immigration Law

As you can see in the sidebar, my Annex is located in Arizona. I am part of the majority of the people of the State of Arizona in favor of our recently passed immigration law.

I am also a Jewish woman, and know the difference between the Nazi modus operandi of World War II versus the intent of Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Apparently, the current general manager of the Phoenix Suns, our local NBA basketball team, does not know the difference. Yesterday, he compared Arizona law to Nazi Germany. It bothered me, a lot.

Today, I was pleased to read this succinct description via a now-moribund website about our immigration law, AZ SB 1070:
...[SB 1070], according to constitutional lawyers, mimics federal immigration. All it does is give local authorities the same enforcement ability afforded to federal law enforcement.
Did you know that every non-citizen in the US has been required to carry 'proof of status' documents since Congress passed the Alien Registration Act in 1940?
And finally,
... an Arizona State University constitutional law professor who helped to draft this Arizona bill states that law enforcement officers "may not consider race, color or national origin" in making any stops* or determining any aliens' immigration status. That is in the bill...
Why has there been such a backlash in the national media? Perhaps it is because residents of other states do not have personal exposure to the impact of illegal immigration on their economy in a myriad of ways. Our current governor is Republican. There was support amongst non-Republicans too; approximately 70% were in favor of the bill.

AZ SB 1070 is merely a state-level mirror of already existing federal law, which is applicable in most instances, nationwide.

* Yes, I acknowledge that it would be difficult for police to avoid using appearance (as the basis for probable cause) in initiating an immigration document request.

Google Guide Tutorial

For a good interactive Google tutorial, see Google Guide is neither owned nor affiliated with Google. The tutorial is offered in English, German, Danish and Hebrew, and is also available as a free pdf download.

Interactive online Google tutorial and references - Google Guide

06 May 2010

Microwave Cooking For One

Here's a follow-up to's SFoodie story feature "Microwave Cooking for One". In early April, 2010 Pic of the Day - San Francisco Restaurants and Dining, SFoodie wrote
Let's make one thing clear: there's nothing wrong with eating alone. We do it all the time, not just out of necessity but because sometimes it's nice to enjoy a meal in solitude. As for microwave cooking, well, sometimes you're in a hurry...

But we wouldn't go so far as Marie T. Smith and cook what might be steak in a microwave. And while we're sure Marie is probably actually a very happy lady, we're going to have to blame the photographer for producing such a pained portrait. Is there someone standing off to the side with a gun, demanding that Marie hover over that microwave produced buffet of pastel-colored food?
SFoodie's caption for this image seemed apt, "The Saddest Cookbook Ever: Microwaving For One".

It was even more poignant when Marie T. Smith's daughter, Theresa, responded half-way throught the 47-count reader comment thread, describing her mother at the time of the book's publication in 1984. Marie Smith knew how it could be living alone, and felt that a single, divorced or widowed person deserved to eat as well as someone with a family. She had noticed the increasing numbers of single-person households in the early 1980's, according to her daughter. Marie addressed these concerns by offering free cooking classes for women who were trying to acclimate to such changes. Some were recent widows, others were homemakers entering the workforce after divorce, others were transitioning out of shelters to life on their own. Marie held many such cooking classes in her own home, and free-of-charge.

Marie T. Smith passed away in 1987. However, her daughter thanked the
publishers of SFoodie, and the commenters too, for the publicity. Apparently "Microwave Cooking for One" cookbook remains in print, generating revenue 24 years later! Sales picked up after the SFoodie article, said Theresa.

There are some amazing videos of Marie demonstrating how to cook a sunny-side up egg, cheeseburgers and more, in a microwave oven. microwavecooking on YouTube has four videos. All are segments from a Lakeland, FL network-news affiliate, most were on-air in 1986,

After my disasterous video embedding attempt of at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) video, topic was Social Network Dataflows, I'm a bit gunshy about posting them. My apologies for that: I have no idea why the audio volume was up at 100%, nor why a PARC research presentation had an all-musical soundtrack....?

Instead, I recommend a visit to YouTube, to the microwavecooking channel, where many microwave cooking demo's featuring Marie T. Smith are still available.
See sfweekly for entire twitter thread.

02 May 2010

Capturing the Zeitgeist

The Social Collider has arrived. I haven't heard news of any updates, although it was introduced about a year ago.

The Social Collider is a Google Chrome experiment. Its functional design objective is to reveal cross-connections between conversations on the Twitter platform. The actual intent of the application is quite a bit more interesting. As data is collected and accrues, the application's designers hope to uncover multiple layers of person-place-location-event relationships which can be fully comprehended best when viewed with the additional perspective of time history.

This description is an excerpt from the Social Collider website:
One can search for usernames or topics, which are tracked through time and visualized much like the way a particle collider draws pictures of subatomic matter. Posts that didn't resonate with anyone just connect to the next item in the stream. The ones that did, however, spin off and horizontally link to users or topics who relate to them, either directly or in terms of their content.
The Social Collider acts as a metaphorical instrument which can be used to make visible how memes get created and how they propagate. Ideally, it might catch the Zeitgeist at work.
Output is on display in a London museum, although primarily as a work of art.

I was curious if I could catch the Zeitgeist at work, so I tried entering a query with search term "facebook". That was probably unwise to do, for a web application. Windows 7 abended and I was forced to reboot my PC.

23 April 2010

Blue Box - The Free Information Society

Blue Box - The Free Information Society

Any idea what this is? Circuit diagram (schematic) says Copyright 2001, Whirlwind Software, lower right-hand corner and in the middle right is "2-chip Blue Box" and . Size is 25.354kB pdf file, says "for experimental purposes only, not to be used for toll evasion"!!!