Take a Swing

Every year at the SXSW conference in Austin, they invite 20 speakers to answer the same question in 2 minutes each. It’s called 20×2. Two years ago, Glenda Bautista gave her answer to the question, “What If?” Glenda grew up as a New Yorker, and when an opportunity arose for her to take a job in San Francisco with Technorati, she had to decide whether she could risk leaving everything she knew behind to start a new life in a new city on the other side of the country. Her short video is definitely worth a watch.

I also kind of like the song playing in the background. It’s called “Leaving Ohio” by Brandtson. The video also includes a great quote by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Cellphone Economics

I’m relatively new to Skype. I’ve known about it for quite some time, but never really used it until recently. Sadie moved into a dorm at school for a few months to save herself the headache of driving 2 hours in the snow every day. Since she would get lonely by herself sometimes, we started finally using the video camera set we bought a few months back on a regular basis. We had tried it originally in Ekiga, a FOSS video conferencing application. Things were kind of buggy, but looking back, I think it’s because we were both trying to send video over Wifi connections, which also fails a lot on Skype. Regardless, we decided to try out Skype, and it works pretty well. They even have a Linux client available, although it’s 2 entire versions behind the latest Windows client (2.0 vs 4.0). In the end, Skype offers a pretty good service. I think the newest Ekiga would be just as good, if not better, but Skype is what we’re using for now.

If you’ve talked with me about cell phones recently, you know I’ve been pretty torn. I’m not very happy with my current plan (AT&T), which runs me $48-50 a month after taxes, and all I get is mediocre reception phone service. No texting. No Internet. I’m torn between wanting to embrace my inner geek and buy one of the new-fangled smartphones like the T-mobile G1 or iPhone and wanting to save myself a big expense that I don’t really need. The problem is that they each have a mandatory data plan that costs an extra $25-30 a month. We’d be talking $80 a month (minimum) for a cell phone, and that doesn’t even include text messaging. On the flip side, I like how inexpensive Sadie’s prepaid phone from T-mobile is. She pays $100 for 1000 minutes, which don’t expire for a year. I thought about just getting one, but since my cell is my only phone, those minutes would go awfully fast. We usually talk on the phone 30-60 minutes a day.

Also, I’m much more keen on the idea of spending my $200-300 on a netbook instead of a smartphone to use in my hospital clerkships next year simply because I won’t have to pay $30/month for data. Both my apartment and the hospital (and a lot of other places) have Wifi available. It may seem like I’m just being cheap or trying to save money. While that’s partially true, the bigger reason that I’d rather get a netbook is that I don’t feel like the current smartphone plans offer particularly good value for their money. I’d be much more willing to pay the $80/month if I was getting an exceptional service. Unfortunately despite the “awesomeness” of 3G, the Internet connection is still pretty slow. I already feel like my cell phone plan is not worth the money, so adding $30 a month for a crappy Internet connection that I’ll probably only use occasionally just exacerbates the problem.

Once we started using Skype, I considered getting a prepaid phone and just using Skype-to-Skype voice-chat with Sadie every night, but she doesn’t normally like to be tied to her computer while we talk. I had heard that Skype offered the ability to call landline phones for a fee, but I assumed it would end up costing just as much as my cell. Well, you know what they say about assumptions, right? I was talking with my friend Jimmy the other day, and it turns out that a Skype subscription only costs $30/year for “unlimited”1 calling! Jimmy even connects his bluetooth headset to his laptop, making it very similar to a phone. For an additional $30/year, you can purchase an “online number”, which is a regular phone number that will ring on your computer when people call it. I’m not sure I’d need this, but it’s a good option to have.

This made me start crunching some numbers, and here’s what I came up with. My current cell plan gives me 400 daytime minutes and unlimited nights/weekends for ~$48/month (probably an underestimate). That comes out to $576/year. Ouch! If I were to buy a prepaid phone ($30) with two 1000 minute refills ($200) and a Skype subscription ($30) with an online number ($30) it would cost me $290/year. That’s half the price. It also assumes that I burn through 2000 minutes on my cell and that I buy the online number, neither of which I think will happen. Subtracting those things would make my total $160/year!

Of course, there are some disadvantages to Skype. I can’t use it without an Internet connection. I could use it without a computer by purchasing a Skype phone ($65), which is a definite plus for my apartment. That said, I can’t use it like a cell phone, so if I’m away from my apartment, I’ll have to rely on my prepaid cellphone, landlines, or someone else’s wireless and my laptop with Skype. Like I said, I will probably be getting a netbook soon, which should ease some of the portability issues. Also, if my mother ever gets the Internet at her house, there will be very few places I go without an Internet connection. (Update: It turns out, with a Skype subscription, you also get a free “Skype To Go” number, which is a local number that works like a calling card but uses your “unlimited” Skype minutes. Awesome!)

There are also some advantages to this plan. Obviously, it’s much cheaper than my current situation. Since I’m no longer under contract with AT&T, it won’t cost me anything to cancel my cell phone, and I can transfer my number to the prepaid phone. (I only wish I could transfer my actual phone, since I really like my W810i.) I dig the ultra-portability of a netbook compared to a laptop, and I can use Skype on a netbook anywhere with Wifi, which is nearly everywhere these days. Not to mention, with an actual computer I’ll have applications at my disposal not available on a smartphone. I will still have a cell phone for when I’m traveling. Plus, if I decide to purchase a Skype phone and an online number, it will be just like I’ve got a landline phone in my apartment without that $35/month fee.

Of course, I’m also looking into other MIDs that aren’t phones. I’ve thought about the iPod Touch, which Usama got for similar reasons. The nice thing about the iTouch is that you get access to most of the fun apps from the App Store and the sleek design. There are 2 major downsides I see to it (personally). First, I want something with a physical keyboard. Since I’m going to have it with me in the hospital next year, I plan on using it for some actual hardcore typing. The touchscreen keyboard on the iTouch works really well, but it’s not practical for extended typing. This is also why I’m being picky about the keyboard on netbooks. Secondly, the iTouch only works with iTunes. There are currently people hacking solutions together to get it to work with Linux, but if Apple doesn’t want my business, I see no point in giving it to them.

I’ve got a big decision to make over Spring Break, but it seems like I’ve already kind of made it. I’ll probably be making the Skype/cell phone switch. I won’t be buying a netbook until June or July. There’s no hurry for me to get one, and newer models might bring a killer new feature. Plus, I’m hoping that good netbook deals will start popping up in the next few months.

If you’ve read this far, I’ve got a couple of questions for you. Do you think your wireless bill is too high? Are you satisfied with the service and features that you get for the price? If you have a smartphone, do you think the applications and constant Internet connection is worth the fee for the data plan? Any thoughts on my post? I feel like more people probably could be taking this route, so I’m curious as to why people haven’t. Or am I the only one who feels like my cell phone plan is overpriced for what I get?

1 – Unlimited = 10,000 minutes/month or 6 hours/day

Making Mistakes

Making Mistakes | iface thoughts.  This was a great realization by Mr. Nadgouda.  Making mistakes (and learning from them) is the key to true innovation in any field.  Unfortunately, mistakes are not so “affordable” in medical treatment.

What can we do to continue to advance our field without endangering the lives of patients?  Is the only way to innovate in medicine through approved research?  Or is there a place for innovating and learning from mistakes in every medical practice that will not harm our patients?  What about the efficiency of your office and its dynamics?  What about innovation in the economics of the health care industry?

It’s something to think about.  Unfortunately, I think the threat of being slapped with a lawsuit has stifled a lot of potential innovation in medicine.  There is a fear of making mistakes, and a desire to maintain the status quo.  No doubt we want to reduce the number of negative patient outcomes, but that should not be done at the expense of the future of medicine and its practice.

Windows 7 finally catching Ubuntu?

There’s been a lot of talk since Microsoft’s PDC about what to expect from Windows 7. It’s due out in late 2009 or 2010, but MS gave a taste of what’s to come at their PDC. Gina Trapani over at Lifehacker posted a good list of the new features they’re working on for Windows 7. Usama and I have talked a little bit about some of the new stuff since he’s very excited about the next product out of Redmond. I’m not trying to be cynical, but as I read through the list of their “latest and greatest” improvements for Windows, I kept thinking to myself, “Sounds like they’re playing catch-up with Ubuntu and Linux.”

10. Ding-dong, the Sidebar is dead.
Windows is losing Vista’s “sidebar” in favor of a desktop-wide “Gadgets“. Doesn’t this sound strikingly similar to Screenlets? I mean there’s no optional hidden “widget layer” in Aero, but at least they’re trying.

9. Calculator, WordPad, and Paint got overhauled.
They stripped out “useless” built-in programs like a photo gallery, movie maker, and calendar. I guess if you can’t make worthwhile programs, you should probably just quit trying. Oh, but they added “useful” features to the Calculator and added their famous “Ribbon” view to many of their built-in programs. Many people love this “Ribbon” view that debuted in Office 2007, which explains its further incorporation into Windows programs. I can’t say much about it because I haven’t used it. Maybe it’s great. I just don’t think many average users appreciate them trimming down their built-in software when adding interesting new features.

8. Windows 7 will run longer on your notebook’s battery power.
Improved battery life. Apparently Windows 7 is making it easier to control the power usage for your laptop. Hmm, I bet something like powertop would really help you pinpoint what’s eating your power. Of course, if Windows was fully customizable, I’d be able to do things like disable my dvd drive, bluetooth, USB ports, and PCMCIA port whenever I’m on battery like I do in Linux.

7. You can switch between Wi-Fi networks in one click from the system tray.
Clicking on the “wireless icon” brings up a list of available wireless networks. Wow, I can’t believe they didn’t already have something like this. This has been available in every version of Ubuntu I’ve used, and now with NetworkManager 0.7 they’ve even added things like Mobile Broadband and VPN connections to the “wireless icon.” Maybe Windows will get there some day. While we’re on the subject of networking, shouldn’t you have proper Zero-Configuration Networking for all types of devices like Linux has with Avahi and Apple has with Bonjour?

6. You can decide what you do and don’t want to see in the system tray.
This one cracks me up. When I first read it, I thought, “Well that’s not such a bad idea.” Of course, I’m able to customize panels in Gnome and tell it what stuff I want on there and where I want it. Yet, if I’ve got the “Notification Area” applet displayed on my Gnome Panel, I can’t pick and choose what programs I want it to display. I don’t ever normally have more than 3 or 4 things on there at once. Then I started wondering why I’d want to hide the 2 programs I currently have running that show up in the Notification Area. Isn’t that its whole purpose? That’s when I remembered the Windows system tray and all the crap-tastic applications that put icons in there that you can’t get rid of, and this all seemed much more reasonable. I guess I just got used to programs that actually gave me an option on whether I’d like an icon in my tray (like gnome-do) and an OS that let me easily customize what applications start when I boot into my system. Of course, there’s also no need to have 50 different icons telling me I have updates for my PDF viewer, printer, and antivirus. I just get the 1 icon from Update Manager telling me that all these things need to be upgraded. But the real kicker here is that Windows isn’t actually disabling these programs from running. It’s just hiding them. That sounds like a great way to fool people into clogging up system resources with a bunch of applications running in the background so they never see them.

5. You get more control of User Account Control.
Let’s admit the UAC was just a really bad implementation of sudo/gksudo that incessantly nagged people trying to do even some simple tasks. Well it looks like Windows 7 has “fixed” that issue. Of course, instead of implementing a proper sudo knock-off and opting to make users understand the importance security, they let you customize how much UAC nags you. Many people will say, “Don’t ever bug me” instead of giving proper credence to the warnings. It doesn’t matter how many security features you add if people just disable them all.

4. Libraries group similar content; Homegroups to make sharing libraries easier.
I see now that Windows has given some thought to networking. If I’m understanding “Libraries” correctly, they will be able to dynamically scan multiple folders for certain types of files (like music), which can then be shared on a network. I’m not able to tell whether this dynamic scanning would have to be manually set up (I would assume) or if it would automatically scan your entire User directory for music files. That’s actually a pretty good idea (assuming it’s manually configured). Of course, none of that does you any good if you can’t easily connect to other computers on your network, which is where Windows drop the ball. Instead of implementing a proper Zero Configuration Network utility, it looks like “Homegroups” replaces the useless “Workgroups” with “Zero Config Windows 7 only networking.” So that sucks if you have other devices, Mac or Linux systems, a network printer, or even an “old school” Vista computer on your network. Networking will still be a pain in the ass. I guess you’d better be ready to shell out some cash to upgrade everything you own to Windows 7 so your networking works better.

3. You can instantly snap your windows to size, and clear the desktop in one motion.
This one kind of leaves me at a loss. Clear the desktop by shaking a window? So does that mean that every time I start moving a Window around, Windows will think I’m “shaking” and minimize everything? Sounds great… Why not just implement something like Compiz’s ADD Helper, where I can press Win+p to activate it? That way I don’t have to worry that every time I move my window I’m going to minimize everything behind it. Then, there’s the “instantly snap your windows to size” feature. It’s actually not a bad idea if you’ve got a big enough screen where having multiple tiled windows open at the same time might be beneficial. I don’t think I’d use this feature much on my laptop, but if I ever get that 24″ HD monitor I’ve been after, maybe this would come in handy. I’d also worry that someone just meaning to drag a window would accidentally have it’s size and position changed without meaning too. Talk about something to confuse novice users. With more and more users on laptops whose screen sizes are shrinking, I wonder how much use it will get. I think a much better idea would be to implement multiple virtual workspaces, but I’ll touch on that more in a minute.

2. Windows 7 starts up faster.
Whoa, faster boot time? Sounds an awful lot like what I’m going to be getting in 6 months. “Let’s see if we can make booting or resuming Ubuntu blindingly quick.” And as a recent proof of concept demonstrates, I think Linux will be winning the “boot time” battle in a few months.

1. You can do MUCH more from the Windows 7 taskbar.
We finally come to the Windows 7 topic of the week: a reworked taskbar. This definitely has been the hottest topic in news about Windows 7. There are at least 2 big features under this heading. First, they’ve made the task bar much more “Dock-like” by combining the quicklaunch icons with a traditional window list. It’s obvious that Windows needs a feature to compete with the Mac OS X Dock, which is beautifully emulated in Avant Window Navigator for Linux. It’s also obvious that they want something of their own, not just a Dock for Windows. The new task bar shows “live previews” of windows, like can be achieved with Compiz and even using Aero with Vista. One nice feature is that you can close windows using the live preview. It’s also interesting that when having multiple windows open for the same application, they get condensed down into one icon that has multiple “live previews” when you hover over it. Both of those seem like worthwhile ideas.

The second big feature is called Peek. Basically whenever you hover the mouse over an application in the new task bar, all other windows will turn temporarily transparent. It’s meant to be non-interactive, just if you need to glance at another window. There is also a built-in Desktop button so that you can peek at the desktop with all your Gadgets on it. This also seems like an interesting feature. I’m not convinced it could replace the quickness of Alt+Tab for me, but for the point-and-click crowd, this could be a time-saver.

It looks like the new Windows 7 task bar is adding some interesting new features to the Windows desktop. My question is, “Is it enough for Windows to save face?” They’re working on making more efficient use of desktop space. Linux and Mac OS X are already doing an OK job of that with their Dock applications, but they’re also giving the option to have multiple virtual desktops for people who want to separate their applications. On my Ubuntu installation, I can have up to 32 virtual desktops. Of course, I normally have only have 4. This makes it easy for me to keep a word processor open on one desktop and my instant messaging client and web browser open on another.

If it makes the Windows fans happy, though, I’ll give them that the new taskbar design in Windows 7 has some potential to be a good new feature. The rest of its new features still make me feel like the folks at Microsoft are trying to catch up with some of the innovation taking place in Linux and Mac OS. With the rapid progression of Linux in the past 2 years, how will the comparison look when Window 7 is released (theoretically) in late 2009? By that point, Gnome should be well on its way to the transition to version 3.0. That will mean a significant change to the user experience by attempting to rework the idea of the desktop, including making the desktop more task-based and less application-specific. For example, imagine having desktop-wide “contacts” that you could email, instant message, chat via video, follow on RSS feeds, and more. With that information built into the desktop, it wouldn’t matter what application you used for a feed reader or email client. Plus, there are other ideas floating around, like Long Term Vision. With the amount of development and innovation going on with Linux, Gnome, and Ubuntu combined with an aggressive 6 month release schedule, I think it’s going to be hard for Windows to keep up!

Of Freedom and Trademarks

I read an article this past weekend that brought up some interesting issues that I tend to forget about concerning free software. Most people these days are familiar with Firefox. While Firefox is open-source and “essentially” free software, the key area that makes it non-free is in its trademark and copyright. The brand name “Firefox” is a trademark of the Mozilla Foundation, as is the Firefox logo. Since the logo is artwork, it also falls under copyright restrictions.

Trademarks are a funny business. Unlike copyright, which is inherent from the minute that pen touches paper, a quotation is voiced, or a blog post is published, a trademark is not inherent. As such, copyright is enforceable in general. If you find a person violating that copyright, you are empowered to make them stop, but if you choose to ignore it, that’s your decision. Trademarks on the other hand are a “branding” and are not inherent. If you find someone in violation of your trademark, you must act to stop them (or help them to comply). Otherwise, you are forfeiting your right to the trademark.

In general, this is thought to be a good thing because trademarks are “branding” used to ensure quality. I probably don’t want to install just any piece of software on my computer, but if it’s “Mozilla Firefox” then I will. This is especially important when discussing open-source software. With proprietary software, it would be difficult to distribute a “fake” copy without people noticing a difference. But with open-source software, everyone has access to the application’s source code. This means that anyone could build it, modify it, and tell it to collect all of your private information for them. If they can convince you to install “their version” of your favorite program, that’s a major security threat. Sharing code is also the hallmark of free and open-source software, and users are encouraged to modify it. But it doesn’t mean that after doing that, they deserve to still call it “Firefox”. Of course, Firefox should be credited as the basis for the work. It’s good to know when something has been stamped “Mozilla Firefox” because it tells you that it’s endorsed by the Mozilla Foundation and you can trust it.

Now you might be sitting there, scratching your head, and asking, “What’s the big deal? Can’t I just assume that anything I get from mozilla.com is what I want?” For many people, the answer to that is “Yes, you can.” But according to its license, Firefox is free to distribute under its brand name as long as any changes to it have been approved by the developers. This is something that many GNU/Linux distributions take advantage of so that they can package “Firefox” as the official web browser of their operating system. This helps user-friendly distributions like Ubuntu because potential users instantly recognize the brand Firefox and are comfortable with it. This works well for just about everyone involved.

Debian is another GNU/Linux distribution. It has roots as one of the first GNU/Linux distributions, and it defines itself by its commitment to being free. You may have developed a great program that a lot of people like, but if it’s not free software, it’s not good enough to be called “Debian” and included in their operating systems. They would like to be able to use Firefox as their default web browser like other, less “freedom-oriented” distributions do. If it were just a trademark issue, there would be no problem. Debian could easily show Mozilla exactly what changes (if any) are in their version of Firefox. Since the Firefox logo is also under restrictive copyright protection, however, Debian can’t include it. They also can’t just exchange the logo for a non-copyrighted one because the Firefox logo is part of the trademark. This copyright could be changed to a more permissive license by Mozilla, but it looks like their theory is that Debian could just as easily bend their rules. This is where Debian has taken a stand. Since they’re committed to providing a completely free operating system, they do not include Firefox as their browser.

Firefox is a good browser, and Debian doesn’t want to try to code another browser or use a less popular alternative. Since the only real problem they have is with the trademark and artwork, they’d much rather keep the rest of the Firefox code intact. Plus, with the number of Firefox plug-ins available, a lot of users want to use it. So what does Debian do? Since Firefox is open-source, they just strip out the copyrighted logo and come up with their own. This means that they lose the “Firefox” branding, so they chose the name IceWeasel (and a free logo) to replace it.

Now it may seem like kind of a moot point in the long run, but it makes me proud to see that a distribution like Debian will stick to their guns in a situation like this. It may not be for everyone (I’m still using Firefox on Ubuntu), but they chose not to back down on the ideals of their organization and their users when it would have been very easy to do so. So kudos to Debian and IceWeasel.

Learning to Love Linux?

I noticed an interesting article on ifacethoughts stating “Linux Education Is The Key To Popularity.” I agree to an extent, but there are some caveats. This started off as a comment on his blog, but I decided it was long enough to merit its own post here.

I agree that Linux should be sold on being different than Windows, but I disagree that it’s entirely an education problem. I think there are 2 large issues that make things difficult for new users, and they’re quasi-related. First is that 99.9% of user’s tasks (even complicated ones) need to be GUI-fied for a Windows migrant to feel comfortable. This is quickly gaining momentum (for example, xorg.conf is all but eliminated in Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex), but it’s still not quite there.

The second, and even more important, piece of the puzzle is the need for a central, well-maintained, well-written set of instructions for how to do anything and everything imaginable in Linux. I think one of the hardest things for new users is when they don’t know how to do something, they don’t know where to go next. They can do a quick Google search or a forum search, but these are often filled with outdated information and they can be hard to sift through, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus, when you don’t really know what you’re doing, you might just go with the first thing you read, which many times is not a good idea. I also think it’s important for the OS itself to be integrated with these instructions and “Help” should point directly toward them.

I say the 2 issues of GUI and documentation are quasi-related because many times there are GUI options available for something, but instructions are given by old-school experts who find terminal commands quicker and easier. While that may be, to most Windows and Mac users, it’s intimidating. A good example would be adding Medibuntu repositories in Ubuntu. The wiki guide is all command-line, despite the fact that things are basically just as easy in the GUI to complete the same task. Even better might be to just supply repository and GPG key links and then link to a fuller article about how to install external repositories and what their advantages and disadvantages are.

I also feel like proper documentation could help users learn a lot more while they’re doing this stuff. Interspersed with the instructions could be brief descriptions about some of the inner-workings and why things are the way they are. In the previous example, maybe mentioning GPG keys and why they’re used or a link to learn more about external repositories. Some of this has been done with Ubuntu, but it needs to be more comprehensive, clear, and up-to-date. It also needs to be written for lay people and not by developers unless they’re very effective communicators.

It’s one thing to say that people need to “learn Linux” if they’re going to use it. It’s another to expect them to do it without the proper tools and guidance, especially since many aspects are non-intuitive to non-native users.

Summer Research

science-xkcdI’ve started a new research project this summer in Marcello Del Carlo‘s lab. Dr. Del Carlo is a new faculty member at Rush in the Department of Biochemistry. Our lab is affiliated with a clinical urologist faculty and we’re researching a urological disease called Peyronie’s Disease (PD) [Warning: male nudity]. From a biochemical perspective, we’re studying the process of growth and formation of a fibrous plaque underneath the skin of the male penis in a layer of connective tissue called the tunica albuginea. Currently, we’re analyzing both diseased and non-diseased tissue samples that have been surgically removed from patients with PD. In the future, we’ll also be working with a cultured fibroblast cell line doing similar work. So far we’re using Western Blots to identify and characterize proteins that are up- or down-regulated in diseased tissue compared to that of non-diseased. Our hope is that the studies will lead to a better understanding of PD and how the plaques form to aid in treatment.

In addition to research, Dr. Del Carlo is very interested in using FOSS as it relates to scientific research. By the time I met with him, he had already set up a database using PASSIM in order to keep track of tissue samples from patients. He also had the idea of using a WordPress blog as a sort of “online laboratory notebook”. I thought this seemed very in line with the Science Commons project, a derivative of Creative Commons. Science Commons is attempting to lower the barriers of scientific research, which is currently not nearly as “open” as it should be, considering almost all of it is funded by the U.S. Government. Most people believe that the fruits of governmentally funded projects should be available to the general public. In many cases, however, scientific research is locked down (for varying periods of time) due to copyright after being published in scientific journals. Since a scientist’s credibility is often judged by previous publications in journals, Science Commons is working to reduce the hold of copyright on this process, so that labs can publish data immediately to the web, allowing it to be indexed, freely searchable, and available immediately to anyone wanting to read it. This will continue to be an uphill battle since journals make a large amount of their money by licensing access to large academic institutions for their faculty. The idea that labs can make their data freely available on their own personal websites is being met with resistance. Still, I feel as a society we must push forward, despite the corporate interests, in order to do what’s best for the public. Plus, my thought is that journals will not suffer any major economic hardship. Their “seal of approval” by publishing the content will continue to be the scale by which research is judged. They would also continue to act as a collecting ground so that researchers looking for the latest data don’t need to worry about sorting through Google search results to find the latest findings in a field. Instead, some publishing groups have the gall to say that in order to publish in their journal you must leave the rights to your work on their doorstep, no matter who did the experiments. This will continue to be a very important issue in the scientific community in the future, and I’m hoping to gain a keener understanding of it over the next few weeks and months.

At least for now, I am the only one updating the Peyronie’s Disease Information Repository and it contains all of our experiments and results to date. Feel free to check it out, but unless it’s scientifically relevant, keep personal comments to my site.

Ultimate HTPC?

I began wondering how easy it would be to build an awesome HTPC these days. I then began to wonder about price and abilities of software. Here’s what I came up with. Would you add or change anything?

  • Tasks
    • Play DVDs
    • Copy full DVDs to HDD
    • Shrink DVDs
    • Burn Shrunk DVDs
    • Record TV
    • Watch recorded shows
    • Burn recorded TV to DVD
    • Stream media from other computers on LAN
    • Stream TV and Movies from Hulu and Netflix easily
    • Play music w/ visualizations and/or album art
    • Browse internet*
    • Easily Catalog dvds/shows/movies*
  • Hardware Requirements
    • Abstract: small form factor, silent, remote control, low cost, fast start-up, low power
    • dual-core or quad processor for fast encoding
    • video output with hdmi/hdcp options
    • ATSC tv tuner card (pcHDTV HD-5500?)
    • 2+ large storage (500gb+) SATA hdds (raid)
    • 2gb ram
  • Probable Software

I don’t actually plan on building one of these any time soon (unless I come into some money or something), just thought it would be fun to think about. Oh and * means that I could live without it, but it would be nice to have.

Why We Fight

Has med school taught me to appreciate the complexity of the human body and the intricacy of human disease? Hell no! What has it taught me? That the human body is a freakin’ mine field. Every which way you turn there are 10 more ways stuff can go wrong with your body. Some of them are worse than others, but let’s suffice it to say, there’s a lot of bad diseases out there and a lot of ways for you to die. It sometimes makes you wonder how we’ve got so many relatively healthy people out there. I suppose at least part of that is a credit to the human body’s resilience to withstand the barrage of daily attacks on its integrity.

The thing that sucks about the body is that we only get one, and it only takes one bad event to land us in “game over” territory. It’s not like a car, where there may be a lot of ways things can go wrong, but you can replace a blown out tire or just buy a new car if things get bad enough. If you blow out your liver though, you’re taking out the major player in the regulation of your body’s biochemistry. You lose that, and you do not pass Go and collect $200. That’s not to mention all the junk that gets old and wears out just through regular use. It scares the hell out of me because I don’t want my car to break down.

So what has all this knowledge of the body taught me? People are screwed. They’re gonna get sick. I mean really sick when one of these systems breaks down. And at least some of the time, there’s not a whole lot you can do to avoid it. It’s scary, and sometimes it makes me want to curl up in a ball and not leave my room. It makes me worry about every little pain, bump, or abnormality. Is this going to be my blow out?

But then I realized that this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m going to get really sick. So are you. We could both be really sick right now and not even know it. This is what the training is all about. It’s so that when someone is really sick, we’re ready for ‘em. You don’t practice and train for a sport because you like to beat yourself up. You do it so that when the time comes, you’re ready to face the challenge head-on and kick its ass with barely a thought.

The only problem is that there’s always going to be a better opponent. So we train and we fight, but ultimately it’s a losing battle. And that’s OK. The point is to do all you can, and to do that you’ve got to be well-trained. What good does it do to be scared? Being scared does nothing; neither does being ambivalent. The fight’s coming to you, whether you’ll have it or not. The best you can do is be ready and waiting for it.

Medical Pastiche

I learned that a friend of mine at Rush, Peter Zavislak, has a few websites. The most notable is his current work, Medical Pastiche. I don’t encourage you to read it though, or you’ll quickly figure out how silly my blog is. (Just kidding, check it out even though it makes me look bad!). Why do I waste so much time writing about computer-related crap?