Update to NC – High Speed Rail

Link to the High Speed Rail Meeting in Raleigh 5 April 2011

An update on the High Speed Train’s bill. For those who read this blog, all 0.5 of you, will remember the letter I sent to Rep. Killian about attempts to block funding for high speed rail. I just thought I would post an update on proceedings in regards to this. The link included shows some of the debate going on. I was quite amused when Rep. Killian made this astounding claim: “Well of course the mayors are in favor of this, they benefit from it.” The amusing bit of this is that Killian unwittingly acknowledges that this service would be a benefit. Killian’s rhetoric implies that residents of Mecklinburg County would not benefit from this. This is counteracted by Rep Carney of Meckenburg, and Mayor Foxx (who rode to the meeting via Amtrak).

“The World Has Changed”

Many people claim that “The World Has Changed” when they see something they don’t recognize from before. This common phrase is a cliché. It is cliché that is used, and abused, without actual regard to gradual change or reflection of major influences. The most irritating resultant of this phrase is that it manages to provide little meaning, and prevents critical rebuttals. It is quite difficult to argue against the context in which this phrase is used. The phrase, however vague and meaningless, is not false, but it is not exactly true. Human civilization evolves, not necessarily in the biological sense, by taking existing ideas and improving on them. There are many who have claimed that they have created something that did not exist before, is that they are severely unaware of similar existing ideas, or of previous attempts.

The world has changed to attempt to bridge the content of one idea to another weakly connected idea. For example one could say: “People used to dig in the ground with stones, but the world has changed. Now people use backhoes [UK/AUS: diggers].” This phrase makes a statement that something that cannot be refuted. The phrase makes a magical leap to another similar connecting statement, similar to “hand waving,” that ignores the connections between the two phrases. The gap between the two phrases is not bounded. The amount of context connecting the two phrases could include wars, world peace, and space exploration. The typical westerner, with agricultural experience, would association the connection of digging with rocks to diggers to be rocks->sharpened rock->shovel->machinery/hydraulics->jackhammer->digger. However, the original intent [or persuasion] may have been to get the listener to open up to the idea of the gap being a magical entity creating the advancement [good for hyping up products and investment in organizations], or a massive leap in the human condition.

Clichés are phrases that are similar to slang, they are the disease of the everyday language. Easy to catch from another, easily spotted, and difficult to get rid of. These clichés are popular amongst cultures, and communicate generic feelings; however they also tend to hide realities. In summary, the phrase attempts to convince the listening party that humanity has drastically changed. Somehow, humanity can no longer satisfy their basic needs without advancements. Somehow, without the TV, humanity can’t feed itself, interact with others, or even reproduce without being directed. Inversely, it also implies that the notion that cultures which do not share the same opinion of the change are backwards and somewhat incompatible is inheritantly wrong.

Lastly, I leave with a visualization of behavior change in the last 10 years. Has the human population changed that much? Yes there have been minor changes in consumption of resources, but has the mobile phone really introduced communication as a new concept to human beings? Have we lost the same desires to interact with each others? No, we’ve been doing it for many years and will continue to do so.

Visualization 2000 vs. 2010 Behavior and Cultural Statistics

Letter To Rep Killian (R) on the bill “No High-Speed Rail Money from Federal Gov’t.”

Dear Mr. Killian,

I was rather shocked to see your support for House Bill 422. I was expecting to see the support for this bill by those who are in counties not served by Amtrak. The looks of the primary and cosponsors of the bill, you stand out. How does your proposal align with the needs of Charlotte/Mecklenberg county?

I have traveled via Amtrak many times over the last two years. I am not dependent upon it for long travel, mostly due to the low speed. I understand that this upgrade does not stand to provide a great increase in service or noticeable benefit to the user, however it does stand as an needed upgrade to the infrastructure within North Carolina. Additionally there have been reports, by the Association of American Railways, of increased usage of the railways.

Your stand does not seem to conform to the following interests:
1. Your personal interest in occupation [high speed rail is a selling point if there is a terminal in your area, its a way to get to either Atlanta or Washington DC (if you sell it right)]
2. The interests of the people that you represent [Mecklenburg Residents use public transport, if it is well maintained (we have the “Gold Rush Trolley” in addition to the light rail)
3. It does not fit the interest in the creation of jobs or investment in NC infrastructure. Improvements

Unless there is another reason, it appears to me that you are riding on the coat tails of the national party [republicans] rather than representing the people that voted you in. If this is the case, shame on you. Additionally if this is the case, you have motivated me to participate in the next election to campaign for your competitor and vote for them.

The grant is an easy way of getting money for improvements. Where else will you get this kind of benefit without resorting to interest barring municipal bonds?

Selling Technology Solutions to the Classroom

Technology, since the introduction of a computer that doesn’t take an entire room, has always been suggested for educational purposes. Technology is sold as an existing off the shelf solution for teaching the youth of the country that it happens to be in. Policymakers and lobbyists tend to sell the idea of technology as an easy solution that just takes money to solve a massive problem.

When an education organization purchases a technology solution many things happens. Typically, given a healthy market, products are evaluated, money is appropriated, and the solution providers bid [through their price, and service offerings]. The goal in this market is to provide business for the producer through a bulk sale, and reduces the price for the consumer [the people who run the educational organization]. This is the only place where the ultimate beneficiary, the students, is represented is by the purchaser of the products. However, since price is a consideration in the sale, the people who ultimately use and learn from the product have to compete with price.

Approximately fifteen years ago, the utopian goal of “high class education” was to have popular educational software or to have internet access in the classroom. By putting this in the classroom it was assumed that students would immediately consume it and use it to fulfill academic interests. Well intentioned as this might be, it wasn’t the case. Few students used the internet for research, and for those who did typically did, performed poor research. The research came from poor resources, and nothing was taught about how to identify a creditable source. However, can you blame the ten year old, teaching him about creditable sources isn’t extremely easy to explain when they’re struggling on algebra. Most students in schools used the internet to fulfill their immediate, typically non-education related, interests.

I would argue that most students below the age of mandatory education are unable to determine what subjects are the best investments of their time. Mandatory education provides a basic understanding of our world and the options available. It provides an understanding for the person that options exist outside of their small town or city, and that society is no longer a basic rudimentary system of barters and trades or tradition based.

Recently there has been a lot of hype over the use of embedded systems. This started with the introduction of “learning toys.” Some of these include {{LeapFrog}}, and {{VTech}} related products. Typically the premise of a learning toy is taking simple concepts, dressing them up in cute and popular characters and making an electronic version, which can be easily purchased at the local toy store. These are an easy way for a child to reinforce what is taught from another source, however, they are not a great teacher.

One of the more recent fads in technology purchases in education is the use of iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Ironically, these are all produced by the same company, which reduces competition in the market. These purchases are typically favorited by those who have a financial interest or for those who deem it hip. These devices are not built for educational use. These devices are all built to be generic multi-use devices for communication, or entertainment. Many argue that these devices can be used educational purposes; however they were not designed to entertain the needs that an educational experience requires.

For example, if an {{iPad}} is used for an educational purpose, what stops the user from switching to OMGmyFavoriateCeleb.com or texting their bff Jill when the material becomes dry and uninteresting? If anything, an iPad, in this manner, cuts down on educational value. The cost of the switch in context [going from information to a pleasure seeking mode] eliminates analysis on the material that was uninteresting. Without the device, the user may wonder why he or she did not like the subject or why it may be dull.

Additionally, the issue with selling devices that were mentioned is ignoring the actual value they may have. The value of an iInsertNameHere is completely reliant on the applications that are installed and the use of them. The users of the technology will ultimate install what they want on it. Why install the “utimate visual guide on history” when you can install the latest fart application for only $0.99 (now reduced from $50). The only few applications where I can see a tablet that would be useful for education is for reading material (books) or music (a Finale like application). However, typically the cost of the books, in the format for the tablet, and the device itself would never be less than the cost of the books themselves. Given that the only situation where the statement would be false is for rare books. Given a situation where everyone purposed books as ebooks, that possibility may not be far off.

Now for the content that is less doom and gloom. Technology can enable people to learn. There have been success stories. Two of the best success stories are electronic publishing of scholarly journals, and the second one being the OLPC project. Electronic publishing of scholarly journals, attempts to help the academics field to reduce the publishing of multiple research attempts of the same findings, create new fields of study, and providing access to academic materials to more people than ever before. Electronic journals are typically subscribed to by universities and access is provided to students. Without electronic access, this would become quite expensive at universities with large amounts of students (with a high demand for articles).

The second success story is an odd one. The project is the One Laptop Per Child project. This project’s goal is to put MORE computers in the hands of more children. However the difference in the people who are getting the machines and the ones I was ranting about before, is that these consumers are children in developing nations. The project is not putting laptops are specifically designed for situations where the internet may not be widely available, or electricity may be a concern.  Additionally these are designed for locations where educational materials may be rare or outdated. The main characteristic that makes this project successful is that these laptops are not built to be general purpose entertainment devices. These devices are created to limit the applications that the people can use.

When I was the target for these educational devices, also the time of the dinosaurs, there were a few educational games that came to mind. These games were “Mathblasters”, “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago,” and “Oregon Trail.” These were fun games that weren’t designed to replace the educational experience.


Review: “Fooled By Randomness” by N. Taleb

{{“Fooled by Randomness”}} is a book about the negative consequences of a dynamic financial market. More specifically, the book’s focus is due to the lack of a balance criticism of the potential negative outcomes and the evaluation of performance in the market.

There are some main features of the book that could be considered to be strong points. One of them being the topic of the book, compared to the neighboring books in its genre. The book attempts to debunk the hype surrounding popular strategies as being luck rather than an effective strategy. Another strength this book accounts for is randomness. It mentions that randomness may account for many successes that individuals attribute to events. Lastly, I must commend the author for advising the reader to stay out of short term markets. Short term markets are highly volatile and are not for individuals who cannot afford a loss.

Despite the redeeming qualities, “Fooled by Randomness” has a fair amount of distracting and vexing issues. Mainly the issue is with a personal bias. The author speaks with the reader in parts of the book and brags about how everyone is foolish not to see his point of view. For example he describes a radio debate, in which the radio host is talking with him about how a market downfall caught investors who had not properly considered the risk. His retort in the book was that he had been warning “these investors” for years.  This strikes me as rather off putting and ineffectual to put in the book. Assuming he has been issuing warnings, shouldn’t one consider the lack of response as an indicator of ineffectuality’s in communication?

Halfway-through the book I started to wonder: “Who is the target audience of this book?” Earlier in the book, while he is bragging, it’s obvious that he is targeting serious day traders and employees of investment groups. However, later in the book he attempts to debunk the effectiveness of these people. For example:  For brokers he claims that the people with a history are merely people who had gotten lucky. For analysis, they were merely lucky that history had a tendency to repeat itself. For academics, their work was really only good for the time period that they were in, and that it was too little too late (complex systems researchers).  I was quite shocked about his dismissal of Complex Systems Researchers. Typically Complex Systems advocates promote the idea of randomness influencing the system, and they can account of it.

Lastly, this book leaves me with the question:

If people are able to consistently make money on the market, then how do you successfully evaluate performance? His arguments attempt to ignore performance and claim that everything is merely luck.

Emerging QT/KDE On Gentoo

If you are having linking issues with building QT on Gentoo [similar to filexyz.o can not link] don’t forget to remove references to pipe in the CXXFLAGS, and the multiple processor arguments on the OPTIONS flag. (-j3 etc).

If you are having issues with getting KDE to recognize the battery status, or react to any hardware, check your D-BUS and HAL configuraiton. Make sure the services are started and added to boot time.

Why Data Visualization is the Wrong Solution and How to Fix It

Data visualization is a very useful tool for summarizing, and sometimes interacting with, complex datasets. It shifts a dataset from being a detail oriented process into a more comfortable visual process. Throughout evolution humans have had a great use for visual information. Being able to see the world and recognize its patterns has enabled us to spot the approaching danger, and choose healthier mates. It’s essential for the preservation and production of life. Granted, comparing the difference between data visualization and textual data is not the difference between life and death.

Despite the benefits data visualization is a methodology that presents itself as a panacea. It is presented as a technique that is “better than the alternative.” The issue with visualization is that it is rarely ever shown in context of the application that is requesting its services. It is the person that shows up to a Christmas party in their Halloween costume. The treatment of a visualization component typically attempts to dominate other modes of understanding on the screen. For example, when a visualization is displayed on a web page in the main content area it typically takes the eye away from any other descriptions within the content area or navigation options of the page. Descriptions of the visualization of the context of the visualization are more important than the visualization itself. The descriptions of the visualizations instruct the reader on what the visualization is summarizing and how to read the graph.

Since most visualizations are not contextually relevant the visualization tends to stand out from its surroundings. The goal of any visualization, unless it itself is the application, is to complement surrounding data give a visual overview. If the visualization is taking the eye away from the surrounding content the visualization moves from information to only data. Additionally, due to the lack of context, the user may become confuse or may underestimate the data behind it. This problem is amplified when the user is seeing the visualization for the first time. By creating more obstacles with the visualization the overall meaning becomes lost or ineffectively communicated. Additionally, differences in cultures may add another layer of complication in effectively communicating the data through visualization.

For the academic studying visualization, the issue of context of the application surrounding the visualization is not a main focus. The context disregarded as “window dressing.” After all, the academic has already had training on what the visualization is, what types of data that it’s good for, and possibly how to interpret the graph. However, they are not taught how to interpret the data from the graph. To effectively interpret the data from the graph, one has to have context.

News papers typically do not have the issues that I have outlined above. They do not have these issues because the focus of the article is not the visualization. Additionally, if a new article has a visualization, the visualization is non-interactive and takes up a very small percentage of the article it accompanies.

Some thoughts on how to improve existing visualization:

  • Involve Human Computer Interface researcher/specialist to fix issues with interactivity
  • Involve editors to fit the visualization within the context of the page and audience.
  • Get graphic designers involved in the design of the visualization, and to have it fit the application.
  • Maintain Constancy throughout the application/website
  • Make the visualization very simple to use
  • If the visualization is not common (most aren’t, and it is typically assumed they are)
  • Give the user a preview of the visualization before they use it. This gives the user time to process the visualization as “I’m looking at something new here, time to switch to right brain.”
  • If the visualization will not fit in the context of the application, then allow the user to open it in a new window.

Restaurant Review: The Thai House of Charlotte

The Thai House is a great example of how a restaurant should be run. The food is memorable, tasty, and is unique from the competition of the area. I ordered an appetizer of beef Satay, and a main entrée of Red Curry. The appetizer came with small chunks of cucumber, shreds of carrot and peanut sauce. My main entrée consisted of very thin chicken, peas, bamboo shoots, and curry ingredients. The appetizer, although very flat, was tasty and had a smoky grilled taste to it. The main entry was flavorful, just a tad under spicy, and plentiful. Additionally, it came with rice.

To those who have been to the Thai House with me before know, I liked this place. This review is nothing new. I believe this is the fifth time that I have been to the Thai House restaurant. The Thai House restaurant is a small group of restaurants owned by a family in Charlotte. They have places open in South Charlotte, the University, and Gastonia. According to their website, they are currently looking into opening a new restaurant in the Epicenter. I would love to see a proper Thai restaurant in downtown Charlotte. A good Thai restaurant in the area of average Chinese and Japanese places stands out. It’s the difference between spring and winter.

The bad: There isn’t much to say for this section. However, I was a little disappointed after consuming 90% of the curry. After eating all the bamboo shoots, peas, and chicken there was some gritty edible substance in the bottom. It could have been larger spices, parts of bamboo shoots, etc. I found this to be a little disappointing, but it did not take away from the meal. If the restaurant wishes go for fine dining a quick filtering of the liquid in the curry would be essential before serving.

For those who are interested in their website or visiting.

Privacy Activists, Rejoice! ZeoDecoderViewer is in alpha!

Privacy Activists, Rejoice! ZeoDecoderViewer is in alpha!.

As many of my acquaintances know, I am typically very skeptical of corporations. However, there occasionally comes a company or so that stands out. I believe that this is one of them.  Recently, I have purchased a Zeo. I’m quite pleased with it, and I am even more pleased to see the additional “value” added to the product. This software could have easily been dismissed at a company meeting for being something that doesn’t directly bring value to the device, or serve the immediate customers, or future customers. Additionally the software could have easily been released as a downloadable application that one could not change the source. To me this gives Zeo more credibility as a business.

For those who are interested in purchasing a Zeo or reading more click here. Yes this is a commision based link, but it does give you a $15 discount and free shipping.

What’s to come

This page is more of an page to say what’s to come on this blog.

Some of the things I’ve got queued up to write for this blog:

  1. Lots of reviews (Tea, Books, Sites)
  2. Musings and rants (this is a blog)
  3. Software reviews
  4. Interesting Software Engineering Tidbits
  5. I’ll try to minimize this as much as possible, but some political related observations..

Lastly, I intend on reviewing the “Zeo Sleep Monitor”