New Pope brings end to Google Reader

White smoke was seen rising from my browser today; Google announced the sunset of Google Reader. The official Google Reader blog says it’s retiring Reader due to declining use, but I’m not sure we can rule out Papal involvement…

I’ve been using Reader for a while now and I have over forty subscriptions. That may sound like a lot, but it’s very easy to navigate the categories and quickly scan the feeds. Also, Reader support Gmail-like shortcuts, which make it even easier.

I don’t want email based subscriptions filling up my inbox, so a cloud based alternative would be ideal. IMHO, they are better than desktop based clients since if I read a feed on my phone, or on another browser, that status is synced across all devices. This feature alone made me switch off of client based RSS readers.

What’s everybody favorite RSS reader, or if you don’t use one, what do you do instead?


Long live the independent bookshop!

In the spirit of Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, I’m going to make a prediction: independent bookshops will survive and Barnes and Nobles will cease to be (like an ex-parrot). I walked into Joseph Fox’s Bookshop in Center City Philadelphia today, which is my favorite independent bookshop and immediately found a series of interesting books. It’s not to say that I couldn’t find these books in another store, but constraint breeds ingenuity and with the limited shelf room at Joseph Fox, more interesting books seem to float to the surface.

But I didn’t buy a single book. Instead, I noted the books with my phone and added them to my Amazon wish list. So, Mr. Hypocrite, how do you explain yourself in light of your prediction? Continue reading “Long live the independent bookshop!”

Don’t fear the sequester

Yesterday, after failing to come to any consensus on a new budget, President Obama initiated the sequester. Honestly, I don’t understand the reaction to this “devastating” act. Our national debt is substantial and we are spending more than we are saving so to speak. The options are simple: increase revenue (taxes) and/or reducing spending.

I’m not sure what’s involved in the other cuts, but I agree, in general, with defense cuts. Source article here.

There is a lot of animosity against not raising taxes for the wealthy. Certainly, this increases government revenue. But do we need to spend so much? The President specifically called out that Navy shipbuilding will be affected. People may lose their jobs, which is unfortunate. But why do we need so many ships? As an ex-Naval officer and defense contractor, the defense industry can certainly trim the fat. The military by and large does what it’s told, with the resources it’s given. But the populous needs to keep them in check. Having been to Afghanistan, albeit briefly, I am not sure the progress made there is worth the price we are paying. There is a great TED talk by Rory Stewart about leaving Afghanistan (in 2011) and how the surge only increased the violence in the country.  His book, was the best preparation for going my deployment to Afghanistan.

Continue reading “Don’t fear the sequester”

Twenty Thousand Leagues and still No Safe Harbor

Yesterday, the Copyright Alert System (CAS) was unveiled with little fanfare. Prominently supported by the RIAA, MPAA and major Internet Service Providers, the CAS works as follows: the CAS monitors file sharing sites and identifies material that violates copyright. When a user downloads said tainted file, the CAS records such violation and forwards the details of the incident to your ISP, who in turn, informs you. After an escalation of threats, you may be required to watch videos or acknowledge the warnings before the “mitigation” phase, where your bandwidth is throttled, to a limit that approaches, but does not reach, zero.

The Copyright Attack System’s website has a video explaining everything, except the details. Of course, the CAS is not evil, after all it allows you “the opportunity to ask for a review [of a copyright alert]” if you believe you received one in error. How considerate.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published their reaction and criticism showing, among many valid counter-points, that even the CAS website defines copyright incorrectly by failing to acknowledge the doctrine of fair use.

If being forced to watch re-education videos or having to prove your innocence to keep your Internet connection is a bit too Clockwork Orange for you, I heartily recommend the book, No Safe Harbor. Continue reading “Twenty Thousand Leagues and still No Safe Harbor”

ShareLaTeX: Collaborative LaTeX editing with style

For anyone who is a fan of \LaTeX, there is a great site, ShareLaTeX, that allows editing of LaTeX files via the browser. Never used \LaTeX? Well, it’s a rich typesetting system that among other things, allows for pretty printing of mathematics, like this: P(A|B) = \frac{P(B|A)P(A)}{P(B)}. (Bayes’ theorem has been on my mind a lot lately…).

Ok, that looks cool, but why would one anyone use this? Well, you might have to if you are a grad student. 😉 The \LaTeX learning curve can be quite steep, since it’s a completely different philosophy to editing documents than the “Microsoft Word” way. It is not a WYSIWYG system. Similar to how one compiles source code, \LaTeX documents are compiled into pdfs, dvis, etc…

ShareLaTeX closes the write / compile / view loop and has a nice side-by-side edit and view display. In the spirit of Bret Victor’s life principle that creator’s need an immediate connection, ShareLaTeX allows for instant feedback with the typesetting process.

Lastly, they just incorporated some pretty advanced features. Their blog has the latest news, but latexdiff looks especially cool.

latexdiff in action
Wow! Let’s see Word do this! :p

If you are an Emacs/ AUCTeX user there is still a good use case for shareLaTeX.  Until you get Emacs on your Chromebook, you’ll need an online \LaTeX editor. 😉  And they even support Emacs key bindings! (and also cough vi cough)


Ich liebe Freie Software

Today’s title is a tip of the hat to the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), which celebrates “I love Free Software Day” each Valentine’s Day.

I love Free Software!
…and everybody loves ASCII art 🙂

Much of the software I use on a daily basis is free software, including Emacs which I’m using to compose this post and WordPress, the software running this blog. Free software lives on as a result of dedicated volunteers all over the world. Without them, I would not be enjoying Emacs on my Chromebook!

Lots of other people love free software too. So show your support for free software today. But if you have spouse, partner, significant other, or whatever, you may want to wish them Happy Valentine’s Day first. Don’t worry, free software will understand…

My personal emacs doctor was not as supportive as I would have thought.  Maybe she's just maintaining a professional boundary...
My personal emacs doctor was not as supportive as I would have thought. Maybe she’s just maintaining a professional boundary…

Nemo found Central Park

Friday night, the blizzard “Nemo” hit the northeast portion of the United States. Mainly affecting areas north of NYC, it blanketed NYC in a few inches of snow. The serendipitous timing provided hours of entertainment for children and adults in Central Park. It seemed like all of the city was out enjoying the snow.  Including dogs in snow boots, which I think is a NYC thing.

Saturday morning I had breakfast at Cafe Sabarsky, which is one of my favorite, albeit infrequent, breakfast restaurants.  Although if you do visit the cafe, the breakfast hours on weekends are 9 – 11 am and they are quite strict on the timeliness of the cutoff.  So, my breakfast was more of a brunch 😉

Anyway, walking down from 86th street I passed many of my favorite landmarks now covered in snow. Sadly, the Strand kiosk was closed but the Waffles & Dinges stand was still going strong (having just had a Sachertorte, I skipped the cart this time…). For those of you who like amateur photos shot from a phone, enjoy the following collection. Continue reading “Nemo found Central Park”

chruboot: ChrUbuntu and ChromeOS boot selector

Trying to remember the command to set the active boot partition on the Chromebook was driving me crazy. I wanted one script to switch between the two so I didn’t have to remember sudo cgpt add -i 6 -P 5 -S 1 /dev/mmcblk0. Anyway, I’m sure a lot of people wrote their own bash script for this, but in the case you haven’t yet, you can pick mine up here. This is based on the original instructions from this blog.

I’ll eventually migrate the trackpad fix over to this same repo as well. Eventually, I’ll make an open source contribution where the code is longer than the license :p

That’s two posts in a day… I really got to get back to studying…

Emacs24 in ChrUbuntu on Samsung ARM Chromebook

All good things happen while procrastinating… In this case I now have emacs24 running in ChrUbuntu on my Chromebook!

Emacs 24 on the ARM chromebook
Emacs 24 on the ARM chromebook under ChrUbuntu

Here’s what I did:

  1. Make sure to run apt-get update and refresh all of your packages.
  2. I used the update manager gui to update a ton of packages.
  3. Download the emacs 24 source: emacs-24.2.tar.gz
  4. There are a few other packages missing, which I learned through multiple configure grumblings. But this line should get you all the required dependencies: sudo apt-get install libgtk2.0-dev libjpeg-dev libxpm-dev libgif-dev libtiff-dev libncurses-dev
  5. Then fire off the normal build steps of: configure; make; sudo make install

Enjoy 🙂

The first configure error I ran into
The first configure error I ran into

Supporting Open Access research

I’ve started a small, graduate research project for my AI class that’s been stealing my attention lately. I’ll be data mining a large data set with the machine learning software Weka, to train the software how to predict prognosis (estimated survivability from diagnosis) of stage IV breast cancer patients. Weka seems to have an impressive array of machine learning tools, but most of my time is being spent converting data from one format to the other.  It feels a lot like moving sand from one pile to the other with tweezers.

This research, like all research, is incremental. Several researchers have done a similar study and fortunately their papers are available here, here, here, here and here. Having ready and open access to these papers is crucial for me to be able to learn past techniques and build upon them. I’m not expecting to cure cancer here, only to maybe add a little piece of information to the puzzle, if I’m lucky.

Now imagine an environment where those papers were blocked or were cost prohibitive to the point of being inaccessible. Continue reading “Supporting Open Access research”