Playing with Wolfram Alpha

I decided to play a bit with Wolfram Alpha. If I day traded, it would be a terrific resource. So far, that’s the only thing I have tried that has given me results that I knew what to do with. Now, it could very well be that WA is giving me results that are smarter than I am…

Here’s a [trial search](

Clicking on the link is just like visiting WA and typing in:

`caterpillar cummins john deere`

(Searching for makers of heavy equipment was the first thing that came to my mind.)

Some More Initial Thoughts on the iPad

First, the LED screen will not be there for long. Color e-ink with decent (enough) frame rates for watching video is on its way — or at least so I am told. Apple knows that this thing isn’t perfect, but I suspect they also saw that the technology in this category was lagging behind market interest and demand. iPad 1.0 is a placeholder in some ways.

Second, if I was 20 years younger, I would stop what I am doing now and immediately immerse myself in everything it took to develop native apps for this and the other devices that are going to copy it. This is the computing device that most people have wanted for a very long time. For better or worse, most folks are consumers, not producers. The IT revolution — Tim Berners-Lee core concept — was a blurring of that distinction. We have seen a lot of movement in that direction, and there are certainly a lot more people producing content than there was twenty years ago, but I think we are also seeing a flattening of the growth curve and a kind of stabilizing of who is going to do what for the time being. The iPad addresses that flattened curve very, very well.


The Rise of the Mechanics

I am delighted, and fascinated, by the emergence in the last few years of interest in the *mechanical arts*, for lack of a better description. Mechanics, machinists, and metal workers of various kinds (welders and fabricators among many others) suddenly find themselves in the spotlight. While only a few people are familiar with Douglas Harper’s classic study of a one-man agricultural equipment repair and fabrication shop, [_Local Knowledge_][lk], most will have seen Richard Sennett’s somewhat overly-romanticized [_The Craftsman_][tc] as well as Matthew Crawford’s [_Shop Class as Soul Craft_][scsc].

These books are, of course, joined by shows like the Discovery Channel’s [Dirty Jobs][dj] and the Travel Channels [Made in America][mia] (which is no longer in production). If you throw into the bargain the *assembly-line porn* that is Science Channel’s [How It’s Made][him], which regularly re-runs on the History Channel I believe, and the Food Network’s [Unwrapped][un], then what seems to have been revealed is huge thirst in America for, as our president put it in his inaugural address, “the makers of things.”

And, it seems, those makers seems to be folks with dirt underneath their fingernails.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in their discussion of “the new industrial revolution” that [Wired]( chose for their cover the image of a wrench turning a nut … powered by a greasy hand, which is exposed to the world by the presence of a rolled-up shirt sleeve.


One of the dominant figures for “let’s get to work” is rolling up one’s sleeve. The arm and the hand go away, but the wrench remains in this Shell ad for “ideas into action”:


The abstracted wrench here transforms into a pencil, both emphasizing the “work of creativity,” of idea generation, and also the necessity of finding “ideas that work.”[^1]

There is also, I would argue, a subtle reinforcing of the leveling of the playing field between hand-work and idea-work. In fact, a recent article in the _Harvard Business Review_ makes precisely that argument. In “Restoring American Competitiveness”, Gary Pisano and Willy Shih argue that the rush to commoditize manufacturing — resulting in outsourcing — of contemporary corporations has resulted in a breaking of the link between the folks in research and development on the one hand and the folks on the shop floor actually making the products.[^2] What is lost is the productive conversation, the feedback loop, between those two groups, and that means ideas are lost. There suggestion is that the U.S. must encourage the rebuilding of an “industrial commons.” (Here’s a [link][hbr] to the article but be forewarned that it’s only to a summary page and that the download requires payment.)

[^1]: My thanks to my colleague Mary Ann Wilson for loaning me her copy of [_The Atlantic_]( She noted: “The wrench poster reminds me of the WWII poster, *WE Can Do It*, of the working woman with her sleeves rolled up, and nothing but muscle — and brain — power suggested.” The Shell advertisement appears on page 45 of the February 2010 issue.
[^2]: Interestingly, it’s been Harvard itself, and HBR, which have led the attack on the MBA as the source of business problems and not the solution. Pisano and Shih argue that it’s MBAs who have led the charge to see manufacturing as a “low value” endeavor deserving outsourcing. Crawford’s argument is much the same, but he goes further to note that, in the end, many blue-collar jobs will be safe precisely because they must be local — your car mechanic, plumber, electrician — while many white collar jobs will eventually be outsourced, e.g. radiological analyses now being done in the Philippines.


Of Flash, the Web, and iDevices

John Nash over at Adobe has published a [great essay]( on his personal blog about the nature and status of Flash vis-a-vis web standards, functionality, and the iPhone (and now iPad) embargo:

> I came to Adobe ten years ago to build an open standards (SVG)-based Web animation tool. I like standards, and I have some experience here. … Here’s a quick summary of my long piece below:

> Flash is flawed, but it has moved the world forward.
> Open standards are great, but they can be achingly slow to arrive.
> Talk of “what’s good for standards is bad for Adobe” is misinformed nonsense.
> Flash will innovate or die. I’m betting on innovation.

Note that Nash actually worked on Flash’s competitor — remember Flash was created by Macromedia, then Adobe’s competitor for authoring applications — and is well aware of its history and its limitations. Most importantly, it’s a thoughtful piece with lots of details. No screed. No paranoia. Not your typical internet.

It’s Officially the iPad

The Apple tablet/slate computer is out as of yesterday and it’s called the *iPad* — despite all the terrible [jokes][] using that exact same name. It’s a sweet looking bit of hardware, and the pieces of the presentation I caught reveal some terrific software, too.

I’m going to leave to others to work out all the various ups, downs, ins, outs, and assorted other debating points that emerge after any Apple product release or upgrade. One thing and one thing only strikes me as immediately worth thinking about and which yesterday’s presentation flirted with: the iPad as one’s only computing device.

This question popped into my mind because while the iPad intrigues me as an addition to my own setup, it is even more interesting to think about it for someone like my mother. Everyone talks about “typical users,” and I suspect that a fair percentage of those “types” are really parents. For me, it’s my mother. My mother does exactly all those things everyone talks about being 90 percent of “typical computer usage”: e-mail, web browsing, some digital snapshot work, and … and that’s about it.

Say … those are all things you could do with an iPad. Why exactly do you need another computer if that’s all you do? In the case of the iPad, the other computer becomes a fairly large docking station. My guess is that Apple already knows this and is working on a more full-fledged docking station where users will manage the contents of their iPad *from* their iPad and not from iTunes on the docking computer.

That makes a lot more sense. Imagined this way, [Jon Gruber’s concern][jg] about packing a keyboard with his iPad when he travels is exactly the wrong direction:

> I can totally imagine traveling to conferences (or events like this) without a MacBook, but rather with an iPad and a keyboard.

The keyboard is for home or office, the iPad’s built-in keyboard will be what you use when you are away.


Saints Superbowl Folklore

At some point after the Saints won the playoff game against the Vikings I realized that that joke that regularly gets sent to me by a family member or friend suddenly had whole new possibilities. This bears watching, I thought to myself, maybe even collecting! And so was born the idea to collect various pieces of folklore relating to this rare historical moment:

### The Classic Joke

For those who either have never seen the joke or who do not remember it, here it is:

> A Cajun who died went to hell.

> The devil assigned him the usual punishment…put him in the mass pit where the heat was melting others. The devil came back sometime later surprised to find the Cajun just sitting around, not even misting, much less sweating. “How come you’re not so much as sweating here where everyone else is screaming for relief from the heat?”

> The Cajun laughed and said, “Man, I was raised in the bayous of Sout Looziana. Dis ain’t nothin’ but May in Morgan City to me!”

> The devil decided to really put the Cajun through it. He put him in a sealed off cave in the pit with open blazes and four extra furnaces blasting. When he came back, days later, the Cajun was sitting pretty, had barely begun to bead up with sweat. The devil was outraged.
“How is this possible!? You should be melted to a shrieking puddle in these conditions!.”

> The Cajun laughed even harder than before. “Hey, man! I done tole you. I was raised in Sout Looziana. You tink dis is heat?! Dis ain’t nothin’ but August in Cow Island !”

> So the devil thought, ‘Alright, a little reverse ought to do the trick.’ He put the Cajun into a corner of hell where no heat ever reached. It was freezing and to add to the Cajun’s misery, he added massive icebergs and blasting frozen air. When he returned, the Cajun was shivering, ice hung from every part of him but he was grinning like it was Christmas.

> Exasperated, the devil asked “HOW!? How is it possible?! You’re impervious to heat and here you sit in conditions you can’t be used to…freezing cold and yet you’re happier than if you were in heaven. WHY?!”

> The Cajun kept grinning and asked, “Don’t dis mean de Saints won da Super Bowl?”

### New Jokes

#### Dear Commissioner

> Dear NFL Commissioner,

> Sesame Street just called and said that they own the letters, “N”, “F”, and “L”. This message is being brought to you today by the Who Dat Nation, and the number 1 … !

### The Image Gallery

Drew Brees Walks on Water
E-mail subject line read “Recently seen in New Orleans”

The Sign Outside Our Lady of Fatima Church in Lafayette, LA
Our Lady of Fatima is located in Lafayette, Louisiana

Priest at Saint Louis Cathedral
E-mail subject line read “Priest at Saint Louis Cathedral”

The Future of App Stores

This essay might have also been titled *The Coming Differentiation of Trust* but that seemed like a really ugly slug.

### The (In)Security of Apps

Only on rare occasions do I wander into the territory of security, a domain I consider to be almost as complex as religious experience in America, but the recent scare on the Google Martketplace as well as the ongoing furor over the slow, and often byzantine, nature of app reviews at Apple’s iTunes Store has got me thinking about where the acquisition of apps might be going in the future.

For those who are not familiar with the news story, the gist (from USAA’s own press release):

> USAA recently stopped a software developer from selling an imposter USAA application designed for use with Google’s new Android phone. The developer had posted it for sale within Google’s Android Marketplace, but USAA took immediate action and had the application removed.

The scary part, from the point of view of victims of this fraud is that it could have captured their sensitive banking data — user id, login, password, account information — without their realizing that there was anything wrong other than the app didn’t work correctly.

One possible response to this is that Apple’s App Store is better because applications there have to pass a vetting process. A number of stories — too many to link here; I leave it to my readers to search on their own — have revealed that (1) the app store reviewers are mostly looking for applications that misbehave within the context of the operating system or misbehave in terms of the content they deliver and (2) app store reviewers are incredibly overworked and prone to make mistakes as a result.

Is there an alternative to [Google’s bazaar and Apple’s cathedral][esr]? I would argue that when it comes to applications, especially those that deal with sensitive data, there is: the vendor itself. That is, the very best place for me to download an application with which to do on-line banking is from my bank itself. Why would I want to risk either downloading from an open third-party site — be it Marketplace or VersionTracker (both fine places for software to be sure but not sites that can guarantee certain levels of trustworthiness — and nor should they be in that business)? My relationship is with my bank.

I can’t help but imagine that much the same thing would be preferable for other kinds of applications as well. After all, there already exists at least one decent platform for the [on-line distribution of games][steam]. Why wouldn’t I want to use them as well for my iPhone games?

This suggestion is sure not to go over well with Apple. After all, it looks like everyone wants to be in the content distribution/delivery business. (The middle man always makes his/her money.)

But the promise of the internet was the disintermediation of middle-men. And I think we should continue to hold out that as an ideal. Buying my software and content directly from its producers means the producers get more money and could, as a result, potentially afford to sell to me for less.

At the same time, one of the things we’ve discovered during this initial foray into disintermediation is that curation is, well, it’s nice to have. Librarians add value. Middlemen, in fact, add value. They add value in the form of potentially being objective purveyors and reviewers of comparable apps that then must compete. Functionality and features increase in such an environment, where the relationship is the more complex producer-channel-consumer as opposed to the simpler producer consumer dyad — which always seems ideal.

Middlemen are bound to proliferate in some fashion as more devices — including now things like cars (see Ford’s [Sync][sync]) for example — become capable of extending their functionality through software, i.e., apps. Middlemen offer us curation and the creation of certain kinds of trust but we are going to have accept that trust must now be differentiated: apps for my car should come from my car’s manufacturer and apps having to do with banking should come from my bank.

The flip side of “get your apps a lot of places” is the dangerous nature of just how easily people will download apps from a variety of websites or will swap things with friends and family. That is, we have not yet had a disaster of such scope and significance that most Americans practice any form of safe computing. Too many people are just too ready to click on PowerPoint slideshows or go to websites found in e-mails from people they don’t know. (Hi, mom and dad, thanks for all those PowerPoint shows! Really!)

Finally, my thanks to [Jon Gruber]( for writing the way he does and encouraging people like me to stretch my legs a bit.


GM Crops Are Toxic According to Monsanto’s Own Data

The title about says it all. The article that does the analysis is [here]( and is published by the [International Journal of Biological Sciences]( The abstract states:

> We present for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. NK 603 has been modified to be tolerant to the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup and thus contains residues of this formulation. MON 810 and MON 863 are engineered to synthesize two different Bt toxins used as insecticides. Approximately 60 different biochemical parameters were classified per organ and measured in serum and urine after 5 and 14 weeks of feeding. GM maize-fed rats were compared first to their respective isogenic or parental non-GM equivalent control groups. This was followed by comparison to six reference groups, which had consumed various other non-GM maize varieties. We applied nonparametric methods, including multiple pairwise comparisons with a False Discovery Rate approach. Principal Component Analysis allowed the investigation of scattering of different factors (sex, weeks of feeding, diet, dose and group). Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.

I read the article to the best of my abilities, but that doesn’t mean I am in a position to evaluate it. GM crops seems like such a terrific thing, but it may be that the technology has outpaced our ability to understand its impact on complex ecosystems, including ourselves.

Markdown in Brief

# Header 1 #
## Header 2 ##
### Header 3 ###             (Hashes on right are optional)
#### Header 4 ####
##### Header 5 #####

This is a paragraph, which is text surrounded by whitespace.
Paragraphs can be on one line (or many), and can drone on
for hours.  

Here is a Markdown link to [Warped](, 
and a literal .  Now some SimpleLinks, like 
one to google (autolinks to are-you-feeling-lucky), a test 
link to a Wikipedia page, and a CPU at foldoc. 

Now some inline markup like _italics_,  **bold**, and `code()`.

![picture alt](/images/photo.jpeg "Title is optional")     

> Blockquotes are like quoted text in email replies
>> And, they can be nested

* Bullet lists are easy too
- Another one
+ Another one

1. A numbered list
2. Which is numbered
3. With periods and a space

And now some code:

    // Code is just text indented a bit
    which(is_easy) to_remember();

Text with  
two trailing spaces  
(on the right)  
can be used  
for things like poems  

Some horizontal rules ...

* * * *