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Despite attempts to get myself to use Things and OmniFocus, I've always gone back to a hand-maintained Excel document plus writing down physical to-do lists if I'm out running errands.  Maybe it's just inertia, or perhaps the simplicity of just typing tasks into cells made everything else feel cumbersome. 

It looks like OmniFocus has better mobile syncing these days, so perhaps it will be easier to use the second time round.  I just tricked the desktop version into giving me another 14-day trial period. 

I could also go for a web-based solution, which would be nice when I've booted my mac into Windows or Ubuntu.  However, none of the web-based versions had clear support for easy mobile use. 

Any advice?
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Enthiran is an Indian film that mashes up the major tropes of Indian cinema (weddings, elaborate song and dance numbers etc) with a completely over-the-top James-Cameron-lite action film, heavy science fiction themes of robotics and artificial intelligence, and some completely ridiculous surrealistic non-sequitors worthy of David Lynch.  There's a love triangle between a scientist, his fiancee, and the scientist's robot creation.  It's the sort of thing Neal Stephenson would put into one of his novels to show just how much cultures will mix in the future.  This cut of brain-melting action sequences has been going viral on the internet, but I looked at other parts of the movie, and there's a *lot* going on.

Here are some quick screenshots:






OK, so why would I think this might be one of the most influential movies of 2011? 

I will say, the special effects are ambitious but poorly executed by Western standards, there are plenty of predictable plot elements and piles of trite dialogue, and the very limited number of female characters are mainly there to look pretty. 

The film is obviously geek-bait (scientist-hero with sexy girlfriend, heavy technology focus, quirky enough origin and delivery that it's seen as "alt-y" and therefore embraceable by the subculture), and I'm sure it will take its place in the geek canon with The Matrix, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and whatnot. 

So why is this movie important?  I think it signals a lot of interesting developments:
- Increased acceptance of many new technologies into popular culture, including very traditional non-Western cultures.  (They're *singing* about *Google*!)
- Reorganization of social networks around the world along lines of shared interests as opposed to shared location.  We may get to a point where IT professionals in the US may have more connections with IT professionals in India than with people in a different cultural cluster in the US.   (I just about flipped my lid when I saw Freakonomics show up)
- Less American cultural dominance in media production.  This film cost $40 million to make, and there are only 70 million Tamil* speakers in the world, so this was definitely intended to be a global film.  Over time this will probably help more Americans realize that there's no one way to be a first-world country.  (There's a common misconception among Americans who haven't traveled much that all the gleaming cities in all the first world countries are similar, culturally speaking.  This is so far from the case that it's kind of laughable.)


---

The movie is headed for a US release soon, but if you're so inclined, you can watch the whole movie on youtube here, at least until the copyright cops take it down.  I'm also thinking of getting some people together to watch it at my house.  Let me know if you're interested.

---

*The film is not in Hindi but in Tamil, a language spoken primarily in the southern tip of India.  (Although only ~7% of India is Tamil, that's still ~70 million people). 
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Some really serious shit is about to go down in Egypt. The protestors are planning on marching on the Presidential palace in a couple of hours, and, the implication goes, remove Mubarak from power directly. I'm going to bed, and when I wake up the Middle East is going to be a different place, no matter what happens.

For details about how Egypt's revolution is causing upheavals all over the Middle East, see:
http://yonatanzunger.com/2011/02/03/the-middle-east-heats-up/
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Angry Birds is an iphone game where you use a slingshot to propel exploding birds (yes, really) at various structures containing pigs, which you're trying to kill by hitting directly or by causing the structures to collapse on them.  

The funny thing about Angry Birds is that it's actually not a great game in one sense -- while playing the game takes some skill, skill is no guarantee of success.  

The trouble is that your only control method,  the angle at which the bird is launched from the slingshot, is the input to a chaotic system with sensitive dependence on initial conditions.  If you launch the bird at an angle of 72 degrees, it hits a block off to one side and then stops.  If you launch the bird at 73 degrees, it hits the same block off to the side a little bit harder, which starts a crazy chain reaction that causes much of the structure to collapse.  If you launch the bird at 74 degrees, it hits the block even harder, and the force whacks another block way out of place, but it does so in such a way that the structure remains standing, making it even harder to hit the pigs.  Basically, it's the butterfly effect, the favorite metaphor of chaos theorists to describe phenomena like the weather where tiny changes in initial conditions make a big difference.  

Since you can't precisely aim the birds, it's difficult to control the angle -- you just know that you sometimes get good results from hitting a particular area.  

If you graphed the score you got from the full range of launch angles, it probably would have fairly chaotic properties in high-scoring regions.  It would probably look like a one-dimensional version of this, which is a map of which magnet a pendulum ends up attracted to when started from different angles:



See those messy regions?  Those are areas where your predictive power is diminished, where the score isn't up to you but instead up to something effectively outside your control.  Psychologists have a name for this -- partial reinforcement.  This basically means you only sometimes get rewarded for a behavior.  The ironic thing is that this is more effective at entraining that behavior than full reinforcement.  

There are other sports, such as bowling, that also exhibit these chaotic characteristics, but good bowlers have found a stable region in the chaos that they can hit consistently.  

Angry Birds, once you reach a basic level of prowess, is less like a game of skill and much more like something else entirely -- a slot machine.  
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It's a heart-wrenching and disturbing story of an oppressed minority. After surviving insult after insult, the minority is pushed over the edge when the ruling ethnic group kidnaps all of their children in an attempt to wipe out their race, driving them to physically hurl themselves at the buildings where the oppressors live and end their lives as suicide bombers in a desperate rage-fueled act of revenge that won't change their fate of extermination.  Yup, Angry Birds feels kind of different when you take the story seriously.
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I am tired of Russian spammers getting lj accounts and then using them to make comments on my blog.  I really should not have to remove 2-3 per day.  I don't want to restrict comments to friends only.  
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Every now and then when people complain about the music that "kids these days" listen to, I have to remind them of things like this from the '80s:
 

It seems as if when people reach the age of 30 or so, they forget everything that happened before age 18.
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This article spends about three lines on the benefits and several paragraphs on the drawbacks.  

Let me correct that a bit:

Even as an infrequent commuter, I really love the fact that I'm no longer slowed down by 2-20 minutes just to hand someone $5.  That time doesn't benefit anyone -- it's a secondary toll, a "cost of collection" that simply vanishes.  Sometimes, though, the lines are long enough that I can't get to the fastrak lane without waiting for a while in the toll lanes.  

It's true that their implementation could be better -- rental cars should have fastrak support built in, with the bill automatically added into the rental.  The places to buy prepaid passes should be next to the bridge, not somewhere else.  Maybe there should be one toll-collection line kept open, and people will quickly learn not to use it anymore.  

I didn't realize some people form social relationships with their toll collectors, but it seems like the loss of brief social interaction with them is more than outweighed by the gain in social interaction you'll get by having more time at your destination.  


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This video reminded me of how a lot of our dreams about robotics over the last 50 years are coming to fruition.  Ideas that have been dreams long deferred are starting to roll out quickly in research labs.  There are of course significant barriers to deploying some of these systems for consumer use but I expect that to change quickly.  

Watch a team of autonomous helicopters build a primitive structure:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W18Z3UnnS_0 -- lj sucks... youtube embed is broken


The developments appear to be coming quickly now; I was very excited by Google's recent ambitious yet underreported Manhattan project to build a truly robust self-driving car.  
Here's what I think will make the robotics revolution happen easily:

- Complex semi-automated production lines that can build robotic toys like the Pleo, which has almost 2000 parts -- This will make production costs for complex robots low enough to be viable for home use.
- 3D vision technologies like the PrimeSense camera (which is used in the Kinect I'm so fond of) -- This will enable robots to easily see and maneuver through a wide variety of environments.  A lot of hard 2D vision problems are easy in 3D
- Standards for robotics software systems such as Willow Garage's ROS, which will simplify the development of hardware and software ecosystems for robotics.  Willow Garage isn't trying very hard to make money despite being for-profit, but they are helping create the substrate to give birth to a new industry.   

---

Anyway, I'm home sick.   Time for a nap.
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 It's interesting to reflect how much my day-to-day life has changed in the last two months.  

In November, I was still scattered, splitting my time between numerous pursuits like snowboarding, hang-gliding, and various art projects.  Now I wake up on a Saturday and think "hey, how can I make progress on my 3D vision project".  The transformation's been very interesting.  Distractions that used to be highly alluring are much more easily resisted.  I ask myself how side activities relate to my core goals.  

Overturning the entrenched habits from my 2-year mini retirement seems like a daunting task but really all it took was an idea exciting enough that I convinced myself to take quick action.  Passion and urgency apparently trump methodical habit change when it comes to self-development.  

I have to be careful not to go too far and lose all the great habits I picked up in the last year.  I still want to reserve some time for travel, regular exercise, adventure sports, parties, and other things that keep my life balanced and ensure that my creative powers stay undiminished.
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Why are desserts too sweet?  Why don't they put yellow masala curry mix, paprika, uncandied ginger, copious amounts of nutmeg, or pepper into cupcakes?  What happens if we alter the flour/egg balance?  We are here to answer these questions.  Like good scientists, we will create lots of different samples, and then taste them all.  

Last time we discovered some interesting things trying to make the darkest dark chocolate cupcakes we could.  This time, we're going to mess with spices.

This will be at a house in Pacifica, not my house.  The event will run roughly 7pm-11pm.  I can take carless people with me if thet take BART to my house.  

LMK if you're interested.
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I also squeezed in a visit to Hoover Dam during my Vegas trip, paying an extra $20 to see a couple of more esoteric areas of the dam that are normally closed to tourists.  My experience of Hoover Dam was a bit bittersweet.  While I was impressed at the number of tourists who streamed in to see a large and technologically interesting but fairly unattractive-looking historic engineering project instead of simply gambling in Vegas, seeing the dam reminded me of the much larger Three Gorges dam in China, which I saw a few years back when it was under construction.  Hoover Dam was built during an era when US urban engineers dared to be big and bold with their projects -- buildings like the Empire State building, bridges like the Golden Gate bridge.  These were symbols of national pride.  However, the US has stopped pushing the limits of construction technology, leaving it instead to places like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Dubai. 

We are certainly making progress in subtler ways; energy efficiency has dramatically improved, and mass customization techniques are allowing for new types of structures with fine nonrepeating detail and an organic feel.  There are also certainly drawbacks to structures like dams, which can damage ecosystems despite providing clean power, and I don't advocate aggressive damming of every valley in sight.  Also, there are also certainly other areas in which America is excelling, including most major internet businesses.  However, it seems that new construction and civil engineering projects don't fire our imaginations anymore.  I don't want to see our urban development mired in a morass of entrenched interests and excess regulation, leading us to gradually fall behind as it becomes too difficult to make progress.  For example, building a modern SF-LA high speed rail seems hopelessly complex and political. 

Anyway, the visual experience of Hoover Dam, built in a jagged and lifeless canyon of burnt-brown with a tangle of power lines emerging from a central core deep in the ground, is not unlike a mid-1900s rendition of Mordor.  The stark landscape helps add to the feel of the project's audacity.

Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
 
The spillway was the most enormous pipe I had ever seen.  NOM!
Hoover Dam

From the interior... 80-year-old grafitti, among other things:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam

Faraway rocks had a burnt look -- here's a quick feel for what they'd look like without all that silly air in the way:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
 
Full Flickr set here
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A quick bit of typing in the wrong text entry box has revealed that I'm now in the top 10 results for "Nasu Dengaku" on Google. 

People looking for the Japanese eggplant dish will now find something totally useless to them, a blog about anything but grilled eggplant.

Allow me to remedy that:

Nasu Dengaku is a delicious dish that involves smearing miso sauce all over grilled eggplant.  Here's a recipe.



I originally picked nasu_dengaku when I was thinking this journal would be small and private, with me writing posts to a few close friends and keeping my real name hidden from public view.  Yeah, that changed a while ago.  

I'm again considering blogging on my wordpress site, with auto-copied posts over to livejournal.  The only downsides I'm aware of are that this would split comment discussions across 3 locations (wordpress, livejournal, facebook), and the wordpress livejournal importer is broken enough that I'd have to go in and fix ~100 old entries if I desired my entire blog in one place.
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There are already implantable glucose monitors.  Why not create one that causes harmless pain if blood glucose rises beyond a certain level, with the amount of pain increasing commensurate with the level?  People modify their behaviors quickly to avoid pain if there's a clear and rapid connection between the pain and a pain-causing stimulus.

Devices that intentionally cause pain might be difficult to get FDA-approved, but it seems like techniques like gastric bypass essentially accomplish the same thing, with far more side effects an irreversible changes. 

I feel like I have a natural version of this glucose-pain connection; when I eat many kinds of junk food, I start to feel sick within minutes.  It's trained me to not eat junk food, even if it once tasted good at the time of eating.
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Angel's Landing is the sort of trail that would probably never get built today.  The last section of the trail goes along an extremely narrow ridge with 1000' dropoffs on both sides, with only an occasional chain to help you keep your balance.  I was last here when I was 12 or so, and was too scared to complete the trail.  Thus, there was extra significance behind my return to the trail.  The challenge bar had been set a lot higher though -- in winter this trail is snowy and often icy, and the snow is often deceptive in hiding cliffs, crevices, and other dangerous locations.  I bought some Ice Trekkers traction control devices for my feet, but they turned out to be somewhat inadequate in dealing with the worst situations -- slick icy slopes.  It's hard to get a good view from a distance of this last part of the trail, but I did manage to take a very zoomed in picture from another trail that gives a sense for it.  If you look really close, you can see a person making her way along the ridge.


 

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
 
Fear was my constant companion as I made my way across.  I was acutely aware of the tiniest slipping of my feet, and moved extremely carefully as I contemplated both the physics of my motions and my intuitive rock climber sense of my movement.  Having this extended exercise of constant fear let me play with how I dealt with the fear; this situation was a reasonable one in which to be fearful, but some flavors of fear are more productive than others, and I was able to analyze what generated the different types of fear. 

I met some other people with better traction control devices -- I had chosen a good all-around solution that handled all kinds of terrain, but the trail really demanded long spikes for better control on ice. 

I climbed up the tree at one of the peaks and surveyed the view.  It was a hell of a drop.  The view was fantastic though.


Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter
  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
 


Angel's Landing isn't the only harrowing hike in Zion.  Here's Hidden Valley:
 

Zion in Winter

You call this a trail?  Oh right, I came in winter and am doing all this at my own risk.  Self-reliance is a good trait to develop.
 
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Zion is a canyon in Utah known for its variety of soft reddish sedimentary rocks.  The composition of these rocks has allowed rivers to carve exquisitely textured yet enormous ravines into them, creating an extremely beautiful place.  However, in winter, these rocks get covered with snow, enhancing the contrast and making the grinding work of the water even easier to see.  Pictures of Zion in winter were amazing enough to convince me to drive three hours from Vegas after my conference ended to check it out.  It did not disappoint.  I spent the day hiking four major trails, taking in as much as I could.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

The textures were fantastic.  The lines of snow deposited in darker and recessed areas highlighted the range of ways that the rock had been carved.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

I have a lot more photos on Flickr

Also, I'm shocked that Zion is practically empty in winter.  Unless you're going canyoning, there's really not much of a reason to go in the summer. 
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I'm the sort of person who'd be normally have nothing to do with Hooters.  Their lone San Francisco location sticks out like an archaic sexist relic, situated solely to pull in Fisherman's Wharf tourists from other parts of the country and provide solace to bridge-and-tunnel post-frat kids who failed to pick up women at North Beach clubs.

However, my friend's employer found her one of the few remaining hotel rooms in Las Vegas for CES, and she offered me the spare bed -- at the Hooters Hotel and Casino. 

I sheepishly told the taxi attendant where to take me, and he shouted it to the driver as I stood there slightly mortified.  I'm That Douchebag who booked a room at Hooters.

However, within a few hours I realized that Hooters is actually one of the least sexist hotels on the Las Vegas strip.  Let's review:

Women working the casino floor as most casinos wear some minimal sparkly (and probably itchy) uniform that covers just enough of the naughty bits to make them street legal.  They also walk around all day in sparkly and undoubtedly uncomfortable super-high heels serving drinks to gamblers.  Some casinos now have pole dancers strategically placed at the blackjack tables to distract the gamblers. 

At Hooters, the women wear either a tight-but-skin-covering t-shirt or some black-and-white striped shirt, and shorts.  They wear white sneakers.  They don't have to pole-dance.  Overall, their required dress and behavior is quite tame by Vegas standards.  They have a more relaxed down-home southern atmosphere compared to the rest of Vegas's often pretentious glitz.

Their famous chicken wings consisted primarily of corn syrup and batter.  The chicken breast sandwich I opted for instead was sliced 90% of the way and then flipped so that it formed a pair of breasts.  They do handle their branding reasonably well. 

Not everything is always as it seems.  Sometimes up is down, and sometimes Hooters is the least sexist place around.
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There's been a trend for several years now to lower the minimum effort required for social interaction.  Emailing is easier than letter-writing, blogging is easier than emailing, tweeting and texting are easier than blogging.  I predicted a couple of years back that soon services would come along and automate the horrible burden of tweeting mundane details of your life.

Now there's a new service that provides scripted sexy text messaging.  This way, you don't have to actually think about what you find attractive about your partner; you just choose between message "a" and "b".  Any button-pushing monkey can do that.  The dialogue system reminds me of early 1990s adventure games.  Of course the reason those dialogues were limited is because you were dealing with a primitive NPC (non-player-character) with no artificial intelligence.  In this case, you're dealing with two humans who (presumably) love each other, or at least want to get in each other's pants.

I doubt this is the decline of Western civilization; after all, Hallmark pre-packaged sentiment cards have been around for a while.  But I think if I found myself unable to carry on an actual conversation about my sexual desires with a partner, it would be time to move on, not use a handy crutch.  
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What?  No images?  Just click on the damn link.  You won't regret it.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/largest-cave/peter-photography

It's in Vietnam.  I want to find out if it's accessible to those who lack technical spelunking skills. 
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I've been working on other things with the Kinect, but I do want to keep making multiple reality videos.

I got a couple of friends who do acroyoga to come over.  Here's what we made:


In case you haven't been following along:

I wrote some software to merge multiple 3D video streams captured by the Kinect into a single 3D space. Objects from each video stream are superimposed as if they occupy the same physical space, with nearby objects from one video occluding more distant ones from another. Sometimes objects overlap, creating interesting mutant forms.

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