Tuesday, 28-Jul-09 11:33
Crowd-sourced image recognition project makes science

I've written before about Galaxy Zoo, a site where anyone gets to make cutting-edge science by helping scientists classify galaxies. After a short tutorial, you can just keep clicking through images to see if you can find something really interesting. I've spent several... ehm, slow mornings looking at those images, since at least it's something useful you can do while your brain is starting.

And they did make science - turns out there's a whole new class of galaxies which are green, just like small peas in the sky. And it was all thanks to this massive parallel processing: “No one person could have done this on their own,” Cardamone said. “Even if we had managed to look through 10,000 of these images, we would have only come across a few Green Peas and wouldn’t have recognized them as a unique class of galaxies.”

Of course, all sci-fi geeks are immediately reminded by David Brin's Heaven's Reach, and its green galaxies (he said, not daring to say any more lest I spoil something). Unfortunately, these are all way, way in the past of the universe, so no proof of intelligent life it is. But they are pretty.

Friday, 24-Jul-09 00:47
There's just something special about having someone else's poop under your fingernails

So the little one turned six months old. No, we did not have fancy celebrations - I've always found these "Oh look, we've dated for 100 hours" -things kinda contrived. But we've progressed pretty far: from being a stimulus-response package to a solid-eating poop machine with a charming personality and a will, though not yet the means, to be self-motile.

While it's really amazing to see the changes in the kid, I've also been quite fascinated by the changes we, the parents, are going through. People did warn me in advance that "everything changes". I disagreed then, and I still do: I still put on my pants one leg at a time, just like before. Then again, I am a trained physicist, so my definitions of "everything" and "change" are probably not the same as everybody else's. But I have to admit I have a far better understanding of what they meant now.

You see, the stuff they don't mention is that your brain changes. It's not the lack of sleep, nor the responsibility, nor the lack of free time, nor the rearrangement of the priorities, nor the endless discussion about poop - but the fact that hormones jump into your brain and play a little whack-a-mole with your personality. The mothers notice this more clearly (or not, but usually everybody around them does), since the changes are more radical, but yeah, it works the same way for the non-pregnant adults in the family too, even men.

And because all of this, you actually start to enjoy playing endless, mindless games like Peekaboo. You don't really mind poking into the diaper with a finger to check whether the smell has attained a solid form. You cherish waking up two hours earlier than usual just because the kid looks so insanely happy to see you and flashes his big, toothless grin just at the sight of your face when he manages to wake you up. You start finding Peter Pan anxiety-inducing because the children are left to survive on their own. Dead Baby -jokes stop being funny. And a dark corner of your mind knows that if this was because of anyone else, you would've already brought out the shotgun. It's love, Jim, but not as we know it.

Yeah, my brain is totally bonkers. And that changes the way you experience things, and, in some definitions, changes everything - and that is why it is so difficult to be prepared for parenthood. Even if you have read every single Dr Spock equivalent there is, and have spent tons of time babysitting other kids, you will still get mindfucked by the experience. You'll have a million generations of primordial survival/breeding instinct kicking in, and it gets really hard to keep the education in mind in all that turmoil.

But it's okay. It's what all animals are supposed to do, and these instincts and changes are there for a good reason. And who are we to argue with ourselves anyway?

Monday, 20-Jul-09 19:01
Why I don't like Web 2.0 anymore

Lately I've had this strange feeling that perhaps web tools are reaching their limits. Yes, I know, people are building really cool-looking tools like Google Wave, using a gazillion different toolkits like JQuery, and that everybody believes that in the future all the apps and the data live in the cloud and are accessible by browsers on any device whatsoever.

But I've got a few arguments why I think the tide may change.

First of all - Javascript and the browser are a lousy, lousy environment for development. Your layout engines have wildly differing notions as to how stuff should be rendered. You spend a LOT of time figuring out what works on which browser. You have to choose among a dozen of incompatible frameworks (JQuery, Dojo, Prototype, Mootools, etc) to build your app - and you need to do that in at least two languages, since you don't develop the server side on Javascript. The tools you write your code with have so far been really crappy (but tools like Firebug and Aptana Studio are helping).

Most importantly, you can only choose Javascript and HTML as your development environment. There is no other practical choice (Silverlight, Flash and JavaFX are not real contenders here). In fact, they have to invent new standards to go around all the crappiness that is HTML, CSS and JS, and it's going to take a long time before all reasonable environments support them. For chrissakes, people still use IE6!

I was also reminded by the harsh realities of web-based life when the cell connectivity went down (Joikuspot FTW, usually). No more doing anything with the apps that I needed. Luckily I'm pretty paranoid and keep a local copy of everything important. If I spend money on my laptop in order to be mobile, and able to work without wires or power, then why would I tie my productivity to the whims of the cell operator?

Anyhoo, I'm just so frustrated at the generic unusability of web-based apps compared to local apps running on my mobile or my laptop. However, there are some incredible benefits to keeping your data in the cloud, too.

My guess is that now that we're pretty much down to three operating systems on the personal computer area, and three operating systems on the mobile phone area, it again becomes cost-efficient to provide thick clients that have a copy of the data locally and the master copy in the cloud. That makes the benefits of working with cloud-based apps tangible, yet invisible. Version control systems like Git are very good at keeping track and sync of local and remote copies; storage systems like Amazon S3 are readily available; and most of the modern computers have way more horsepower than what is required to run a browser, since they have to deal with gaming requirements. There will be less need to target multiple browser environments simply because there just won't be that many operating systems anymore.

Google Earth is a good example of this new breed of applications: it keeps a local copy of the map data so that it's actually useful even if you're not online. With Ovi Maps you can keep a local copy of the map data, yet benefit from upgrades on the server side. Ovi Files stores a copy of your local files in the cloud, so that they're accessible from anywhere. (Yes, I had to work in a few references to my company products, didn't I? ;-)

Anyhoo. I might be wrong. Time will tell. Perhaps it's just my personal dislike for Javascript...

Saturday, 11-Jul-09 10:11
Nice surprise

I opened my mailbox on Thursday evening, and I heard that I had been invited to be a Member at the Apache Software Foundation. It's an honour to be invited to be in such an organization, and it's made even more important by the fact that it's bestowed upon me by my peers, which means that there are people out there who don't think I'm completely nuts.

And, to boot, this happened on a day before I leave for vacation - so it was like the perfect news to start my holidays with. Yay!

(BTW, we (Nokia) are looking for a good person to fulfil a Lead Architect role for a service line. The position is in US, but if you're interested, ping me.)


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"Main" last changed on 10-Aug-2015 21:44:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.

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