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February 26, 2005

PDAs or Cellphones?

Eric Dolecki asks if PDA'a are about to be a thing of the past--are cellphones going to replace them?

If you use them just for contact information, then I'd say yes. But with wifi, and other data transfer methods, becoming widespread I can see more applications being developed for hand-held devices. Unless cellphones start using much larger screens, a PDA will be the way to go for data collection and display.

Hmmm...which is more like a Star Trek device now, a flip-cellphone or a PDA that takes photos, functions as a sketch-pad, has character recognition, and connects to a database via wifi?

Cool tech is the way to keep geeks interested, but what about the mainstream market? If PDAs are going to stick around, and not be replaced by cellphones, some useful applications have to be developed--like connecting to your personal recipe database when in the grocery store.

February 25, 2005

First Post -- From Neuroscience to ColdFusion

Hello, my name is Steven Erat and I'm the new kid on the GalaxyGoo block, er..., blog. I've been invited by Kristin Henry of GalaxyGoo to contribute blog entries based on my experience in both scientific research and software development. You might even know me already from my blog on TalkingTree.com or through my employer Macromedia.

Let me introduce myself with a little background. I've previously worked in science for about 10 years, mostly with the Gerontology Research Center at the National Institute of Aging, part of NIH, and later with the USDA HNRCA (Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging) at Tufts University in Boston. In both of those capacities I was a neuroscience laboratory research assistant for Dr. James A Joseph who generously took me under his wing, so to speak. Jim contributed greatly to my ability to think critically when reviewing the research of others, how to ask the right questions when approaching a new problem, and how to apply rigor when conducting research projects. During my tenure in Jim's lab our focus was on the aging process in brain; specifically, how oxidative damage alters G-Protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR) mediated signal transduction pathways of neurons, with emphasis on the corpus striatum, also known as the basal ganglia, where high levels of free radicals are released from dopamine metabolism. Parkinson's disease can be considered an extreme case of the normal type of aging process that occurs in this brain area, where the basal ganglia essentially deteriorates over time leading to uncontrolled shaking and poor motor coordination because the dopamine pathway in this brain area is involved in fine regulation of movement. At the USDA, our primary focus was to assess the effect of fruits and vegetables as antioxidants and how they could reduce or eliminate age related declines. I have to say that our research was so compelling that ever since then I try to eat as much blueberries, strawberries, and spinach as possible, and drink red wine on a regular basis. Its the colorants in those foods, the Flavonoids or Phytochemicals, that actually provide the antioxidant cocktail (no, not that cocktail, but rather a natural mixture of compounds) and have all been shown to decrease age related disease.

Over the years I've also worked as Laboratory Animal Technologist on xenotransplantation projects for the now defunct company Biotransplant, as seen in this PBS video Organ Farm. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of organs or tissues between species. One use of xenotransplantation is the collection of brain tissue from fetal pigs where the area of the brain that is destined to become the basal ganglia in the pig is implanted into the same part of the brain of Parkinson's patients that has deteriorated. Research focuses on how to prevent rejection of the tissue, which is particularly acute in when tissue is transplanted between species, and how to avoid PERVs, pig endogenous retroviruses. When those factors are minimized, the transplanted tissues from fetal pigs do quite well in human where they develop into precisely the type of neuron that should be in that area and go on to start producing the right neurotransmitter dopamine which helps ameliorate Parkinson's symptoms to at least partially restore motor control. This area of research continues and I'd like to post future blogs regarding the current state of this possible cure.

Overlapping with those laboratory experiences, I worked for many years on nights and weekends at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine as emergency room veterinary technician with horses and large animals. This deserves many blog entries of its own, but you may already be familiar with the place since this PBS Nova episode Animal Hospital was filmed while I worked at the hospital, and I worked side by side with those in the video including Rosa, Noelle, Marvilyn, Marty, Dr. Enda Currid, and Dr. Rose Paradis.

You may be wondering by now how it is that I work for Macromedia after this very unrelated history. Like many of my contemporaries in web technology, I started in the mid 90's by viewing source in my browser while curious about how this web page thingy worked. I remember how thrilled I was with my first HTML page in 1994 when I got the blink tag working; thankfully, the blink tag has effectively become a part of history like a fossil in the Burgess shale. I found myself obsessed with the new technology and by the end of the 90's I found myself anxious to get home so I could start building web pages until midnight and tinkering with Linux until even later. One of my roommates at that time had been hired by Allaire to work in technical support for a funky product I'd never heard of called Cold Fusion. He started showing my how the dynamic web worked and I was hooked. I immediately picked up and devoured ColdFusion 4 for Dummies, OReilly's Java 1.1, and Teach Yourself SQL in 10 minutes. A few months later I made the jump to join Allaire in Technical Support, and that's where I've been for 5 years this April, although Allaire Cold Fusion has since morphed into Macromedia ColdFusion MX.

As a member of technical support, or our preferred name product support, I spend my days following developments in the ColdFusion community, keeping pace with the new releases and new features, and mostly helping Macromedia customers learn how to administer ColdFusion servers, how to debug code related problems, how to troubleshoot problematic configurations, and how to better use the wide array of features in the ColdFusion server.

Integrated with supporting ColdFusion, I've become trained on related Macromedia products including Flash MX, Dreamweaver MX, Flex, and of course JRun. Working with ColdFusion also demands an understanding of internet protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, FTP, and even TCP, an administrative understanding of Operating Systems including my favorite Red Hat Linux, and a fair comprehension of database usage and SQL if not JDBC.

For someone trained in Biology not Computer Science, learning all this can be challenging, but I find it exciting and frankly I love coming to work because I continue to learn every single day.

My objective here on the GalaxyGoo blog is to bridge my experience in both areas, to bring you some helpful information, or at least some fodder to get both of us thinking about science in general and applying the scientific method to software testing and troubleshooting in particular.

During future blog posts, I also hope to be able to read about current events in science or even primary research articles and provide an easy to read summary of "what do I need to know?" about the topic. I'm typically very disappointed with how science is reported in the popular media such as my local six o'clock news because they often simplify things to such an abstraction that there is virtually no value or take home lesson in the report.

Further, I've noticed quite an emphasis on the use of Macromedia Flash on GalaxyGoo, and I especially love the animation of the effect of neurotoxins on the neuromuscular junction. As my experience and training with Flash progresses, I'd like to contribute similar animations of biological events, perhaps starting with basic G-Protein Coupled Receptor Signal Transduction as a good jumping off point.

Well, I'm very pleased to join the ranks of GalaxyGoo! I look forward to blogging with you soon.

February 23, 2005

New Blogger on GalaxyGoo

Steven Erat is joining the GalaxyGoo blog team! You may know him from his own blog, talking tree. He has a science background, and now works in the software industry.

He's got a lot to offer the GalaxyGoo community and I'm really looking forward to his posts.

February 22, 2005

world Views of Science

Last Friday, I posted about the NPR Talk of the Nation radio show. The archive page for the show is up on the Science Friday site now: February 18, 2005, Hour One: World Views of Science

February 21, 2005

Mars May Have Frozen Sea Near Equator

Well, I thought this was embargoed until mid-March, but a google search shows that it's already online.

Apparently, there is a frozen sea on Mars(pdf).

February 18, 2005

Talk of The Nation at AAAS

NPR : Science Friday
is broadcasting from the AAAS meetings live, right now. Very interesting discussions on science and society. How much science literacy does the average person need? How do we prepare future scientists? Interdisciplinary approaches?

Parents are the first influence, and so is society. Where are the glamorous scientists on TV? CSI?

Star Trek doesn't teach science, but it does indeed have an effect on future science and it does glamorize science and exploration.

I've got to head off for a meeting, so tune in and listen to the show...NPR talk of the nation.

February 16, 2005

Having it All isn't so easy? No kidding!

This article in Newsweek struck very close to home for me. While my life isn't completely hectic, and I'm not parenting alone, there are those moments now and then.

MSNBC - Mommy Madness

February 14, 2005

Off Topic: Noe Valley Hosts Benefit For Tsunami Victims

A number of organizations in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco are hosting a benefit for the Tsunami Victims. All proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.

San Francsico Supervisor Bevan Dufty will serve as celebrity auctioneer.

When: Feb 15, 2005--6pm-8pm

Where: Bliss Bar 4026 24th Street (between Castro & Noe)

Sponsored by: Freinds of Noe Valley, Noe Valley Farmers Market, & Noe Valley Merchants & Professionals Association

If you're in the area, let me know if you plan to attend.

update: I'll be there tonight! Be sure to say hi, if you make it there too.

Advice for new bloggers

Back in September, I posted that my intern (Frances) would be posting about her experiences while learning Flash. Well, that turned out to be more overwhelming than we expected and it never did take off. It was a bit intimidating to jump into an established blog, finding her blog voice was also a challenge, and we never developed a schedule for her posts.

All you bloggers out there, if you'd like to offer some advice, we'd love to read it.

February 10, 2005

A lesson from Bioinformatics: limiting your program's memory space

This article's been in my primary bookmarks for a long time, and I figured it was about time I shared it--also created a new category for it: coding (ideas for any language).

perl.com: A Chromosome at a Time with Perl, Part 2 Basically, the idea is when "searching for a pattern in a very large file by keeping only a small "window" of the file in memory at any one time, in a buffer." This could apply to any large data set. One could think of it as internal data packets.

Nature and Computational Art

I found it! An online source for the cover of Science that reminded me of one of Jared Tarbell's works.

February 09, 2005

Visualization in Science and Education Conference

Wow! this looks like an amazing conference: GRC 2005: Visualization in Science and Education

Looks like you have to submit an application, for consideration by the conference chair, before you're allowed to register, and you can submit a poster abstract at the same time. Interesting.

Feedback Requested: All About Ratios Project

The "all about ratios" project is ready to move into the next phase of development: user interface. Before we continue, we'd like some help looking for bugs and feedback on the basic interface it already has.

Currently, the learning tool generates a new exercise at the user's request. It also indicates "try again" or "that's right" when the user clicks to select their answer.

Update: Thanks to Phyllis, we've spotted a potential confusion for the user. There are three types of exercises generated by this learning tool: 1) find the unique ratio, 2) find a specific ratio, and 3) find the two ratios that are the same. The confusion could happen when the third type is generated, and the user expects to click once. To help avoid this, we've added one little word to the displayed instruction for the third type of exercise. Instead of "find the rows with the same ratio", it now reads "find the two rows..."

February 05, 2005

Evolutionary Art and Computers

Clearing out some paperwork, I came accross a printout I'd stuffed in the wrong folder...on a book by William Latham. I figured that some of the folks who read this blog would be interested.

Evolutionary Art and Computers is out of print, but if you look, you might be able to find it in a good used bookstore.

Here's a link to the page. Amazingly, it's still online, but now on a different site than the one I printed out from back in 1998.

February 01, 2005

What's "real development"?

Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know how different folks define "real development" and "hardcore coder".

What's your primary dev language? Secondary? And how long have you been using it?

If you're feeling a little shy, go ahead and send me a message off the blog.