Mob Solves AIDS Puzzle

AIDS researchers have spent ten years trying to map a protein enzyme of the AIDS virus. A complete view of the protein will give researchers a window into how the virus works and thus enable them to create better, more effective drugs. A group from the University of Washington turned the problem into a competitive game and handed it over to gamers.

The gamers solved the puzzle and mapped the protein in three short weeks. (link is a pdf of the article) A program called Foldit was used to turn the problem into a game. Seth Cooper, co-creator of Foldit, was quoted saying:

People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at. Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.

There are two things that I find interesting about this discovery. One, that humans brains succeeded where computer modeling failed. Two, that a group of gamers spent three weeks solving something ten years of toil by traditional methods could not untangle. Computer modeling is very useful and important, but sometimes we forget that humans are very smart and capable of more than we know. We also forget that sometimes a different approach and a different viewpoint are all we need to find our way out of the woods. That and a mob of dedicated people working to solve the problem with us.

–Jane, prefers first person RPGs

Now Showing

Now showing on a TechSource Blog near you… little me, again!

TechSource was my first real writing gig and I am fabulously happy to be back writing for them again. My first post will go up tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled, lovely readers!

Other fun things happening:

I finished most of the work I have been doing on a book for Information Today, Inc. This means I can actually write other things now, in this space and for TechSource. I am very glad about having that mostly done. There will be more information about the book, Mob Rule Learning, in the coming months.

The Bairn Rochester is in pre-school twice a week which means, besides a quiet hours for a few hours, I can sit down and write without yelling things like, “That is not a toy!” or “Stop trying to sit on the dog’s head!” or “Calm down!” or “What are you doing?” Pure bliss, I tell you and worth every penny.

The Bairn Rochester will be joined by another wee one in March. I will have to think of something fun to call it here, since Bairn is already taken.

–Jane, busy bee

You’re Welcome

I married a man who can be as full of the snark as I am and Lord does that ever make me happy. Today he sent me a link to a CNN article about Apple admitting their iPhones have reception issues. Really? I never knew.

The best thing about the email was that he said not even to read the article. He had wrote a summary for me which I would like to share with you.

Let me translate what Apple says here.

We have been trying to deceive you for years. We tried to make it seem like you had good phone reception by purposely miscalculating the number of bars to display higher than the actual signal strength. We have been doing this since the first iPhone but now that enough people are buying the iPhone 4 the low din of complaints has turned into a loud roar as more and more of you are not the brainwashed fanboys that market our products as genius. So, now that you have discovered our deception, we will no longer ignore our deficient hardware, which can be seen in other smartphones too, by the way. Instead we will spin this as great customer service by releasing a software update that will remove the deceptive calculation of signal strength and now you will be able to tell better how poor your reception is before attempting to make a phone call that you clearly can’t. You’re welcome.

–Jane, no Apple fanboys here

Unala is now a morning only event… and you can still come

All my posts these days seem to be about the unconference at ALA. I am hoping to remedy that, tomorrow.

For possibly several reasons, the unconference at ALA has low registration numbers, compared to last year. Perhaps the largest reason is that Friday, and honestly every day at Annual, is packed with many, many great things with which you can fill your schedule. Setting aside an entire day for an event can be hard for many people. I also think that the unconference was not as high profile this year, not being an officially sponsored President’s Program. Whatever the reason, registration remained low and Sean and I decided to have a half day event instead.

We did not want to cancel the unconference altogether, we like the idea and the concept too much (I wrote a book about it for the love of chaos). We decided that with the handful of people coming, 21 plus volunteers at this juncture, we would shift the format and reduce the time. The unconference will now be held Friday, June 25, 2010 from 9am-Noon in 207A at the Washington Convention Center.

It is my hope that a morning only unconference will also draw in a few more people. If you hesitated to sign up for an all day event, please come join us for this new half day extravaganza.

We have a new format as well. Unless a participant comes up with something better (you never know at an unconference), the day will consist of the large group brainstorming trending topics in libraries, choosing the top 5 topics, dispersing into smaller groups, and then creating on the fly Pecha Kucha presentations. It will be a time to meet new people, learn new things, and share ways to make libraries and our profession better.

–Jane, everyone wants to change the world

Visiting With the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

I am trying to get back into the swing of reading some of my feeds every some most days. It is a lurch and go process, but we shall see. I have trouble getting in the mood to write when I feel so disconnected from everything and I need to get motivated about writing, like yesterday.

I think I may have failed at my job of influencing Mr. Rochester for the good when this morning he informed me that he did not know who Cory Doctorow or Lawrence Lessig were, though he admitted that Lessig sounded familiar. *sigh* I read part of Doctorow’s speech given recently, “How to Destroy the Book.” His description of Book People made my insides melt in that way they do when you realize that these words are about you in the most visceral way possible.

We are the people of the book. We love our books. We fill our houses with books. We treasure books we inherit from our parents, and we cherish the idea of passing those books on to our children. Indeed, how many of us started reading with a beloved book that belonged to one of our parents? We force worthy books on our friends, and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird kinship for the people we see on buses or airplanes reading our books, the books that we claim. If anyone tries to take away our books—some oppressive government, some censor gone off the rails—we would defend them with everything that we have. We know our tribespeople when we visit their homes because every wall is lined with books. There are teetering piles of books beside the bed and on the floor; there are masses of swollen paperbacks in the bathroom. Our books are us. They are our outboard memory banks and they contain the moral, intellectual, and imaginative influences that make us the people we are today.

The whole speech is amazing and should be a rallying cry, especially given all the news lately surrounding monoliths and their inability to see the writing on their tombstones, in the way that Scrooge saw his tombstone and then had the opportunity to change.

The truth is the music industry, the publishing houses, companies who make proprietary software (or anything), and traditional phone companies are now looking at their graves and they face the same choice that Ebenezer faced: to continue to be miserly, unloved, and bitter or they can choose to open up, be generous, and realize that they have to give and let go to grow, live, and thrive.

–Jane, God bless us, every one!

Net Neutrality Needs a Cooler Name

I have been listening to TWiT, The Week in Tech podcast, for a little while now and I really like the banter on the show. I am a couple weeks behind, but show 219 had a great discussion of net neutrality. The transcript is available, but here are my two favorite quotes:

Jason Calacanis: But for the leadership [of Comcast and AT&T], gosh how do you sleep at night knowing that you want to take something that’s been so valuable to so many. You don’t need to corrupt this, I mean you are making a lot of money already, last time I saw Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are crushing it, I mean how much more money do you DBs need to make? F you guys, greedy bastards. Really, I mean what..[ph] No, seriously these greedy mother effers (1:34:02) are going to, now they will start like oh, by the way, yeah, which level of internet service did you want, or do you, oh you haven’t subscribed to the voice over IP channel, we will get you HBO and VOIP and oh, there’s an extra fee for gaming packets and oh, you are a level 57…

Patrick Norton: It’s so scumbaggy. That’s the problem. It’s Internet – it’s the ‘Internet large ISPs Right to Take You Anyway They Can’ Act. That’s what this is all about. This is about AT&T wanting to be able to restrict VOIP access. It’s about Comcast wanting to rake it in on crushing P2P and other traffic they find annoying like video traffic. And what it comes down to is that in many cases they don’t deliver the level of service they want or they feel they are incapable of delivering a level of service the customers think they have paid for. You’ve got 16 megabits except we only want to give it to you when you are downloading one webpage at a time. Not for video, not for software downloads, certainly not for peer-to-peer. And you look at what’s going on and it’s really depressing. I mean how much money is AT&T spending on technical economists – I love that name. Well, if people actually really want to have this level of service 24×7 for downloads they would need to be equivalent of corporate account and that’s a $400 a month fee. We can’t afford to do this.

I liked that Patrick Norton pointed out that many people turn to the Internet to fill gaps in the services provided by Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. The Rochester house used to have Comcast everything and we got tired of being fleeced by them while being provided a sub-par service. We now have TiVo and no cable. Sadly,we still have Comcast Internet because there is not other alternative in our area that doe not require a phone line.

If you would like more information on Net Neutrality and the oxymoronic named Internet Freedom Act, please do some research. Here are some places to start.

Save the Internet
: you can send a letter to your rep

What is Net Neutrality?

Daily Show on Net Neutrality (from 2006! This issue is not new!)

Internet Freedom Act (official govt. page where you can indicate your support or not)

Also, the above act should not be confused with a similar bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which does support net neutrality. Net neutrality needs a better name so that ordinary people know what it means.

–Jane, the Internet should be an equal playing field

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

You will never be able to make everyone happy. Please accept this and move on.

I am going to poke my head out of Dragon Age Origins long enough to write this post and make sure the Dog is still watching the Bairn. For more about how Dragon Age has disrupted the Rochester household, see these two posts.

There were two stories Thursday about ereaders and how they do or do not serve people with disabilities.

The first, was about how the Amazon Kindle has come under fire from the National Federation of the Blind who is suing Arizona State University for a program to use the Kindle as a textbook distribution system (though that was unclear from the article). The real, and only issue, as far as I can tell, would be if these schools only distributed books on Kindle (or ebook) devices meaning that no other formats were available. None of the schools mentioned in the article seem to have gotten rid of all their print books in favor of ebook readers, so I am not sure what the real issue is here.

If the issue is that schools should not get any ereaders at all because the Kindle is not accessible, that is simply ridiculous. As long as the library does provide other formats, then people should be satisfied. There is still a format available for them to use. I see this as similar to libraries spending money on books I do not like. I do not demand libraries only buy things I like to read or understand or in my language (I would argue mathematics texts are inaccessible to my brain as are languages other than English). Libraries serve many different kinds of people and they must, and should, decide how to best spend their money.

If we try to serve everyone equally, we will succeed in serving everyone in a mediocre way. Never good or even great. Again, we must choose the best way to spend our money to make the greatest impact. The libraries that have chosen to circulate Kindles did not choose to do so because they wanted to discriminate against a particular group; they wanted to serve their population with a new service. Toddler story times do not serve every constituency of a library either, but no one is suggesting we get rid of them. To me, this is just another service that is meant to serve a part of the population. We can not limit ourselves to things that only serve every single person that walks through our doors. That is not a realistic expectation.

On Thursday, the same day everyone was complaining that there were no ereaders accessible to the blind, Intel announced an ereader for… the seeing impaired. This announcement, in my mind, makes the above gripes against the Kindle moot.

If schools have students who would benefit from Intel’s new ereader for the blind, they can afford to acquire one, and it fits the vision the library has for service (i.e. offering more digital formats), they should consider purchasing some of the new devices.

If groups, like the National Federation of the Blind, are angry about the Kindle’s inaccessibility, they should simply not give Amazon their business.

–Jane, only makes one person happy today and you, sadly, are not that person

To whom does this belong?

Last week something happened that did not make big news, but it should have.

Timothy Vernor, an eBay vendor, won a court case in the state of Washington against Autodesk, the makers of AutoCAD.

Verner was selling used versions, not copies, of AutoCAD in his eBay store. Autodesk contended that because software is licensed by users and not owned, that Vernor had no right to sell the software to a third party.

The court ruled against Autodesk, saying that by calling the purchase transaction a lease does not make it one. The court said that the purchase of software is a purchase and the owner, the buyer, has the right to resell the item.

This court ruling could have very far flung implications within the software market. Charging ridiculous amounts of money and using licensing agreements instead of transferring ownership are how the software industry makes money. If I actually own the software on my computer, I should be free to copy it for my personal use or sell the item once I am done with it.

The Rochester house is dealing with some software issues at the moment. Mr. R is building a computer and wants to run Windows 7 as the OS. Unfortunately, only the upgrade version of Windows 7 is sold at an educational discount. This means we can not get the drastically cheaper educational version and use it on a clean hardrive. Mr. R has determined that we will have to pay for a full version of Windows for our new PC. Frankly, I would love to just use Linux and be done with it, but then we would not have a gaming PC.

Because of some issues I have been having with my laptop, I am going to, soon and very soon, wipe it clean and install all open source software. Goodbye Windows. Goodbye IE. Goodbye Office. Farewell Windows Media player. Good riddance to you all.

–Jane, who owns this?

That Old Ballgame

There has been some controversy regarding baseball’s origins recently. According to Julian Norridge, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey mentions baseball well before it was reported to have been invented in America. Furthermore, Norridge says that there is mention of the sport in a diary from Surrey dated 1775.

I do not care where or when baseball originated, but Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert Report, gave Jane Austen a “Wag of His Finger” last week. The Austen bit is directly after the wag at the Pope. Colbert’s take on Austenian romance had me quite diverted.

–Jane, loves diversion

Jane’s Ike Adventure

All is well in the Rochester household, though we are still without cable and internet. A small loss, comparatively, but largely felt by all concerned. I have appropriated the Grandparents Eyre’s computer for a couple hours to go through my obese email inbox and type this missive.

When it became apparent two weeks ago that Hurricane Ike was indeed bearing down upon Houston, we started making plans about what we would do. We live in Evacuation Zone A, 3 miles from the Kemah boardwalk which I have been told was all over the national news. (Sadly, that gaudy strip is still there while the houses around it are in shambles.) Had the storm surge been the 18+ feet that was predicted, we likely would have had water in our house. As it was, God was watching over us, and our house, at least, was safe from the water.

We boarded up the front windows, the ones which were the most vulnerable and which were closest to the TV and stereo system. Priorities, you see. I put four bags of ice in our deep freezer and crossed my fingers that it would be enough. We packed our car with a few days clothes, our important documents, the Wee Bairn Rochester, the dog, and the sugar glider and headed north.

We landed on the north side of Houston proper, in an area called The Heights, where Mr. Rochester’s sister, brother-in-law, and parents live. Thursday night was uneventful. Friday dawned and we watched the sky and the trees as they started their windy dance.

We stayed up playing games and checking the news as the weather deteriorated. The lights flickered on and off all evening and they finally went out for good around 9:30. I always find it strange how quiet things are when we are not surrounded by the hum of our electronic lives. We continued playing cards by candlelight and went to bed after midnight.

The wind woke me up around 3:30. I remember Hurricane Alicia as a child, but I had forgotten that particular noise 110 mph wind makes as it whips everything in its path. A wind that fast can not even be called a howling wind; it is altogether something else. Every now and then a gust would come that would suck the air before it, as if it had to breathe in to achieve a Big Bad Wolf moment, and then it would roar past, rattling the windows and the walls ferociously.

We were in what I figured was a pretty strong house, having been newly built, so I was not worried about the roof caving in and I listened to the storm with awe instead of fear. Pullo, the Rochester dog, became restless sometime after 4, and would not quiet down. It occurred to me that I heard dripping coming from the floor above. I went to check it out and the ceiling was leaking in a couple places on that level. The whole house was roused and we quickly placed various containers for catching the water under the drips.

Minus the influx of water, which was minor, comparatively, we weathered the storm well. We sweltered away in the heat and humidity for a couple days. Without electricity, we were at the mercy of the slightest breeze and clouds for comfort. We had two crank radios with which we listened to for a few minutes every hour or so to try to hear what was going on in the world around us. We drank water from our water container we had filled before the storm and forwent showers.

The nights were hot. Unlike other places, Houston does not enjoy a cooling period at night in the summer. It remains hot and humid 24 hours a day. We drank warm beer and wine and played cards. One night, over poker and the last of the beer, I told Mr. Rochester that it felt like were in extras in the movie A Time to Kill, where they were always sweaty and drinking beer. Of course, the actors looked much better than we did. At least they had had showers before sweating profusely.

Monday, we decided to brave the roads and see what had become of our neighborhood. Everywhere along our route home there were buildings, awnings, and various things that had lost the battle between wind and rain. Most of the traffic lights were either out or completely gone. It is hard traveling home, not knowing what you will find.

We live in a newer neighborhood, so there are only small trees. As a result, there was very little damage in our area. Even roofs appeared intact. Amazingly, our house was exactly as we had left it. We even had electricity and all the meat in the freezer was still frozen. Even the sour cream in the fridgerator was good enough to eat. We had not been without power long. It was quite wonderful and I again felt blessed for the things I have been given.

Other neighborhoods did not fare so well. Areas with a lot of tree coverage had a lot more damage to power lines and structures. Driving to my grandparent’s and uncle’s houses was interesting. Piles of tree limbs and debris, larger than my car (I drive a large SUV), sat at the end of every driveway and yard. We went by Kemah on Sunday as we went to church and the piles of limbs were joined by the entire contents of houses and businesses as people tossed away lives that had been flooded in the surge.

Life is slowly getting back to normal. Many of our favorite places were flooded and will be closed for weeks or months. Activities that filled my week, like things at church, are still suspended as our efforts are given to others instead of ourselves. My in-laws still do not have power, almost two sweltering weeks later. The mosquitos, suddenly larger than normal (they could carry off small children in a pinch), are everywhere. We are without cable or the internet. I have been at the mercy of the local news (Lord, help me) and if it were not for NPR, I would have no idea what was transpiring outside of my region.

I will try to post intermittently when I can get online access, but we have no promise about when the cable issue will be fixed. It is a small one, but one that once fixed, will greatly help me feel like life is back to normal. I never realized how very much I am in love with my DVR.

In sum, the Rochesters are doing well. Thankful to have survived another storm in our lives with relatively little bruising and each other intact.

–Jane, feels blessed