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Well, the world didn’t end (which is good, otherwise my end of world prediction would have been totally wrong).
I haven’t posted much this year. In fact, i think personal blog entries are in decline across the board. While there are some people who still write entries almost daily or at least weekly, i’m definitely not one of them. Social networking sites (ala Facebook) have pretty much supplanted the day-to-day electronic “hey, check this out”, and “ooh, i’m feeling…”, or “guess what just happened” posts.
But even so, i’ll continue to keep my blog around and i will even post to it occasionally, but mostly it’ll be for longer items or summaries of lots of littler items. If you want the day to day minutia check out my Facebook, Google+, or Twitter pages.
Here’s a great article i wanted to share. It just goes to show that we’re living in the future. It lists 12 things that happened in 2012 that could have come out of some sci-fi movies from 15-20 years ago. And these are all things that really happened this year!
I grouped these all together because they have a common theme: the merging of technology and biology in some way.
- A Cyborg Competes Against Able-Bodied Athletes at the Olympics
- Researchers Create a Robot With Legs That Can Run Faster Than any Human
- Scientists Enhance the Intelligence of Primates with a Chip
- The World’s First Cybernetic Hate Crime Occurs at a McDonalds in France
- A Paralyzed Woman Controls a Robotic Arm Using Only Her Mind
- Scientists Create an Artificial Retina
- Researchers Create the First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism
- A Child Attends School By Sending a Robot in His Place
Forget about who’s on drugs, now it’s all about what does it mean to be human – how many implants are too many before you can’t compete? Will everyone need implants to stay competitive in high-end sporting competitions? Will that bleed over into everyday life? Job discrimination ala Gattaca if you aren’t genetically enhanced?
If we can make outselves smarter, why not chimps. Or dogs, or cats, or mice? Will they eventually be at the point where they can compete for jobs, demand rights, own property, or even publish scientific papers? And if we can do it on a chip, why bother with bioligy anyway – let’s just do it all in silicone. It’s more durable and takes less resources. Maybe we start with a chip, combine with cybernetic implants, and eventually move on to full-on brain uploads in the cloud!
When will it get to the point where new laws need to be enacted? People always fear those who are different. But maybe eventually “unenhanced humans” will be the oddballs and they’ll be the ones discrimiated against.
Doctors Communicate With a Man in a Coma
Maybe some implants will help and eventually he can control a cyborg body with just his mind.
NASA Starts to Work on a Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive
This is a serious attempt with actual NASA engineers using real (and according to them, plausible) math to achieve faster-than-life travel.
The Earth Experiences its First True Superstorm
Well, maybe not the first, but certainly the first in modern history.
The First Successful Commercial Cargo Delivery to Space Goes Off Without a Hitch
Who needs big government anymore? Maybe we will finally get to take that 2 week vacation to the moon someday (soon-ish).
The First Large-Scale Geoengineering Project is Detected Off Canada’s West Coast
This sounds like a James Bond super-villian storyline.
Self-Driving Cars Become Legal in Several States
It’ll be a while before people are ready to let the car drive itself, but every year the cars get smarter and have more features. Back-up collision detection, anti-lock breaks, off-road steering correction, self-park mode, enhanced HUD’s with relevant traffic/weather information. Slowly but inexorably they’re all moving towards self-driving with humans as simply passengers along for the ride.
Last night i decided to do a digital reset of sorts. Ok, well maybe it was thrust upon me because silly me forgot to do a backup before i flashed a new custom rom on my phone. ALWAYS DO A FULL BACKUP FIRST!!!!
I usually do a backup. But i’d flashed this particular rom on several previous occasions and it had always worked flawlessly. Enter Murphy and his annoying law. This was at about 11pm. You know that sinking feeling you get when something really REALLY bad has happened and you’re not sure you can fix it? Ya, that’s what i felt when i was looking at my blank screen. Welcome to “you’ve been bricked”.
After several hours of frustration (at 2am i finally gave up, resigned to having to get a new phone soon – wasn’t that going to be a fun conversation to have with the wife. $$$). But wait, the story has a happy ending. Bear with me. I crashed, and woke up early (it’s impossible to sleep in with young school aged kids in the house). And within about 30 minutes my phone was humming along nicely. Moral of the story? Well. 1st moral: ALWAYS BACKUP before you do something potentially dangerous. 2nd moral: Never try to solve complicated tech problems at 2am.
Sadly, since i hadn’t backed up recently, the best i could do was restore an older backup from 2 months ago. Which might not seem all that bad. But … 2 months of angry birds 3 star levels lost? Seriously. That’s what i was most worried about. Everything else i could either get back through “the cloud” or my other backups. But my angry birds data was irretrievably lost
But as the day went on and i starting bringing things back online one by one, i realized something. Probably 90% of the “stuff” i had on my phone was digital clutter that i didn’t really care about. I hightly doubt i’ll miss it (including the angry birds, angry birds rio, angry birds seasons, angry birds space, and bad piggies games that sucked so much of my time). I’m curious to see what i do end up putting back on. Liberation!
Nothing says “I’m going to own today” like breaking out the power drill first thing in the morning to solve a problem.
What problem is this? Well, what’s up with all those fat straws in the convenience stores now? I have a 32 ounce mug that I’ve been using for refills for 15 years now. It’s been perfect … until the last few months when it seems everyone decided that fat straws were better.
Except that my mugs straw hole only fits the skinny straws. Enter the drill. And the 5/9th” drill bit. Problem solved.
I wonder what other problems will fall before me today?
I recently completed a major version of an Android client for work. I guess no program is every really “complete”. But, it’s at a good stopping point for the moment so i thought i would jot down some of the lessons i learned. These can really apply to any type of development, not just mobile Android.
- The network layer is unreliable
First of all, cell phones have flaky connections that come and go. They might be on wi-fi, they might be on a cell connection. They might be in a tunnel. Maybe they’re in airplane mode. Doesn’t matter. You can’t count on a network always being there, and even when it is there, you have to assume that it will be flaky and return strange errors. It’s important to have a robust network layer that has retries built into it for various errors such as timeouts, unavailable, etc. Don’t just assume the backend is down. Assume first that their connection is temporarily out of sorts, retry a few times, and THEN give up. That will eliminate 90% of the network errors a user has to be aware of. Oh, and some phones, vendors, flavors of Android all have weird little network quirks that only they exhibit. Yet another reason for a robust network abstraction.
- Deal with threading issues
If you don’t want to die from a thousand little cuts, design your code to be thread-safe from the beginning. Many phones now have multiple cores and really do execute things in parallel. Add to that fact that any complex app will likely have multiple IO requests in flight at the same time (whether from the file system, database, or network) that can return asynchronously, and you are ripe for threading problems. Deadlock, data switching out from underneath you, etc. Use the threading tools. Synchronize, lock, atomic operations and especially the concurrent package are your friend.
- Be asynchronous
Seriously. Don’t block the UI thread for any reason. If you’re loading a file from the file system, accessing the database, making a network call, or even doing some heavy number crunching, do it on a thread and call back to the UI when you’re done. Android has some nice abstractions to help with this, including AsyncTask, and Handler classes. You can also do traditional Runnable’s if you like. But whatever method you use, make sure you have an async layer built into your app that’s easy to use. Make sure your main application logic can deal with everything being asynchronous. Your users will thank you for a snappy app. Corollary: Don’t block the UI needlessly with modal dialogs unless you absolutely have to wait for a result. Let the user do other things while your background processes are running.
- Be aware of constrained resources
Ya this is a fun one. You have very limited memory in which your application can run. We’re not on a desktop here. Some phones are far worse than others as far as how much memory they let you have. Loading images is especially dangerous for running out of memory. Have a strategy in place to only keep in memory what you need. Don’t keep things lying around longer than you must. Memory is fast, but disk is cheap and certainly faster than the network and definitely better to take a few milliseconds to reload an image from the drive all the time rather than running out of memory and crashing the program. So load it from the network, save it to disk, cash in memory until you run out, then just have some type of LRU cache.
- Understand and work with the application lifecycle
This one may be somewhat android specific, but the general idea is sound for anything: Each activity (screen/window) has a lifecycle. It’s created, setup, running, paused, and eventually destroyed. It might also be resumed and restored in the middle of all that. The framework provides rules about when all these things happen and how you should deal with them. Make sure you do the correct thing at the correct time. Expect that since this is a mobile environment with lots of stuff going on that your activity might be asked to pause or shutdown at any time, even mid-process. Save off your state, be able to restore it, and know how to deal with data inconsistencies that might result. Don’t expect that x then y then z will always happen. X and Y might happen, and you’ve started Z, but then a phone call comes in and your activity goes away. When you come back, what do you do? Make sure you do the right thing.
Steampunk can be loosely defined as a setting where technology is as it was during Victorian era Britain, wild-west United States, or even some imaginary post-apocalyptic retro-future. However, the technology is advanced beyond what was available at that time. It often uses steam power rather than electricity, is made of shiny metals such as brass, copper, or gold or other gemstones. It contains knobs and dials and plush leather coverings, and often relates to/gives access to/is powered by supernatural powers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk)
While I was at church today listening to a lesson, the Liahona was mentioned as being a spiritual compass. My mind began to spin as I realized that the Liahona is an ideal example steampunk.
Could the Liahona’s obvious steampunk-ness be a coincidence (or my crazy imagination)? I don’t think so. The Liahona is just one of many scriptural examples of steampunk. We’ve got the Liahona, rods of iron, books made of brass and gold, Urim and Thummim’s, gold plated gem-encrused breastplates, and the Ark of the Covenant (just to name a few).
Let’s examine each of these in turn.
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the afaith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.
And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.
I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it. And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship.
In short, it’s a ball made of brass and spindles, ahead of its time (‘there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship’), and is powered by a spirtual force: ‘the pointers … they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them … new writing … changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it’.
And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?
And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.
During Lehi’s dream of the ‘tree of life’, there is a rod of iron that leads the way to the tree. Why choose an iron rod? It’s strong (as steampunk tech goes) and gives spiritual protection and guidance.
Plates of brass and gold
Sheets of brass and gold are the perfect medium for a steampunk instruction manual. Scrolls don’t tend to last very long, stone flakes away, but soft(er) metals such as brass and gold can keep for a LONG time (certainly longer than any tech we use today) and are fairly easy to write on. And they look oh so cool.
Urim and Thummim
There are several references to these stones in the old testament (Leviticus 8:8, Nehemiah 7:65, Ezra 2:63, Deuteronomy 33:8, Exodus 28:30). Also a reference in Revelation 2:17 about a white stone that is presumably a personal Urim and Thummim everyone will receive (in white no less – like a white smartphone). The D&C further clarifies (D&C 130:10):
Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known.
But what do they look like? We get a description in Joseph Smith History 1:35:
There were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times.
Precious gemstones that give knowlege and power. This is the latest in steampunk accessories. You can slip it in your pocket, drop it into a tophat, or (as the Jewish high priests used to do in the Old Testament), stick it in your gem encrusted breastplate (more on this next). Never be without the answers to life, the universe, and everything ever again.
The High Priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28)
A species of pouch, adorned with precious stones, worn by the high priest on his breast. The directions specify that it was to be made “of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen”. On the front face of this square were set, in four rows, twelve precious stones, on each of which was engraved the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It hung over the breast of the wearer, and was secured to the shoulders of the ephod by gold cords (or chains).
It doesn’t get much more steampunk than that. Except, of course, the ultimate in religious steampunk …
Ark of the Covenant
Nowhere is God’s love of steampunk more evident than in the Ark of the Covenant. It is a box plated in gold (inside and out), topped by golden cherubim (angels). It houses the ten commandments, written by the finger of God Himself. Some of the powers of the Ark (some type of awesome steampunk machine?) include parting the Jordan River, helping topple the walls of Jericho, winning battles by destroying the enemies of the Ark, and running off poisonous animals. But don’t try to open it, or else your face will melt.
I was passing out vitamins to the kids. Andrea and Gwyneth share what color they got. Purple, Pink! As i’m putting the bottle away, Andrea asks what happens if you take two vitamins. Is it bad? Well … probably taking two won’t do any harm, but i don’t tell her that. Have to teach the kids that overdosing on pills is bad, right? So i tell her it might make her sick, and that if she takes too many she could die.
“Just like Michael Jackson”, says Gwyneth. What’s that? “Mom and i were watching a show where they talked about that”. Hmm, news to me, but hey – maybe? So anyway, out of the blue Andrea asks, “Is Michael Jackson a zombie?”
I take a moment as i compose myself. “Why yes, as a matter of fact. There’s a video of him when he turned into a zombie. Do you want to watch it?” “YES”. Queue Thriller.
Darkness falls across the land The midnight hour is close at hand Creatures crawl in search of blood To terrorize y'alls neighborhood
Later (after watching it two or three times), Luann comes home and the girls jump up and down. “Did you know Michael Jackson is a zombie? And he’s in a video where all the actors turn into zombies too! Do you want to watch it with us?”
This afternoon i stayed home from church with my youngest who was sick. Her two older sisters went by themselves. After church was over, i left to pick them up. As i was leaving, she asked me where i was headed. ‘To pick up the kiddies’ i said. Well, she gets a big smile and goes “ooooohh, how many are you getting? Can i have one in my room?”. Obviously thinking i’d said “kitties”. Well .. who am i to dash a young girls dreams? I said sure, i’ll let of the kiddies sleep in her room. I didn’t tell her it would be her cute little redheaded sister…
A few minutes later i arrived home with the kiddies in tow. Cute little girl – rather than be all said and disappointed (apparently she did nothing but talk about the new kittens while i was gone), she goes “ahhhh DDAAAAAD, you tricked me!”, with a big smile. Which naturally was the reaction i was hoping for
Who comes to mind when you think of the greatest engineers of science fiction? I give it a 90% chance that you probably said ‘Scotty’ or ‘Dr. Who’. Both good choices to be sure. But we often forget the other guys. Who can fix a time machine using a can of peaches and a wad of bubble gum? That’s right – Bill and Ted baby. Be excellent to each other! But wait … I think this adorable creature might have them beat. He built an interstellar communications device using a coat hanger, an umbrella and a speak and spell. Nobody is badder than E.T. Phooooone Hooome.
In a recent conference sponsored by DARPA titled “100 Year Starship Symposium” a number of interesting topics were broached. One of these was around religious views and how discovery of intelligent aliens would affect religion. Or as one scientist put it, “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” Interesting!
Well .. lots of viewpoints were discussed. Some a bit out there, some a little more rational. If you take the typical Christian viewpoint, God performed an infinite atonement. What is infinite if not everything, including Klingons? It becomes much more clear in the added books of Moses, where God says “worlds without number have I created.” If God created them, it stands to reason there are people on them (maybe Klingons although if man is created in God’s image, the Klingons probably look like us) and that they commit sin and need to be saved too. So sure – i’ll bet he accounted for the Klingons.
Did He go there personally like here? Did He send His Son personally like He did here? “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” Guess we’ll have to wait to find out on that one. Or I suppose if we run into any Klingons we can ask them. Personally i don’t think it will shatter any belief systems. Some may have to adjust, but truth is truth and religion is supposed to be about truth. People often think it’s only about faith, but it encompasses everything, including scientific truths. And Klingons.