David Pratten is passionate about leading IT-related change projects for social good.
2754 stories
·
0 followers

SQLime: SQLite Playground

4 Shares

SQLime: SQLite Playground

Anton Zhiyanov built this useful mobile-friendly online playground for trying things out it SQLite. It uses the sql.js library which compiles SQLite to WebAssembly, so it runs everything in the browser - but it also supports saving your work to Gists via the GitHub API. The JavaScript source code is fun to read: the site doesn't use npm or Webpack or similar, opting instead to implement everything library-free using modern JavaScript modules and Web Components.

Via Anton Zhiyanov

Read the whole story
drpratten
1 day ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Abusing AWS Lambda to make an Aussie Search Engine

1 Share

Abusing AWS Lambda to make an Aussie Search Engine

Ben Boyter built a search engine that only indexes .au Australian websites, with the novel approach of directly compiling the search index into 250 different ~40MB large lambda functions written in Go, then running searches across 12 million pages by farming them out to all of the lambdas and combining the results. His write-up includes all sorts of details about how he built this, including how he ran the indexer and how he solved the surprisingly hard problem of returning good-enough text snippets for the results.

Via David Humphrey

Read the whole story
drpratten
2 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

E-ink Desk Display #piday #raspberrypi @Raspberry_Pi

1 Share

rcbdc posted about their raspberry pi desk display project on imgur:

E-ink display for my desk that’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero W. The display shows the weather (from Open Weather Map), Pi-Hole status, next arriving SEPTA buses, wifi name, current date, news (from newsapi.org), and a word of the day (from Wordnik).

Read more


3055 06Each Friday is PiDay here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts, tutorials and new Raspberry Pi related products. Adafruit has the largest and best selection of Raspberry Pi accessories and all the code & tutorials to get you up and running in no time!

Read the whole story
drpratten
11 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

6 Ways I'm Improving Mental Health in 2022

1 Share

I sincerely hope you'll find some inspiration here.  I'm temporarily veering away from my traditional topics of .NET, OSS, and Maker content.  I share a personal story related to mental health.  I want to thank Jeremy Sinclair for breaking the ice on this topic for me.



I'm ready for a better 2022.

It wouldn't take much.  2021 pretty much sucked, right?  Even for introverts like me who were gifted the best excuse ever to just stay home and code.

I mean, it's possible 2021 rocked for one or two people (per billion).  Like remember that time your tech startup went public, you effectively won the lottery, and you bought a Maserati?  You then quit your job only to find that true happiness was inside you all along and so you went back to work part time for the pure pleasure of it?  Doesn't ring a bell?  Oh yea, that was actually my roommate from college I recently met up with.  I appreciate and am genuinely happy for him, but I suspect even he's had a tough year.

The point is 2022 is ripe for improvement.  And tops on my areas for improvement: health.  Here are some areas in which I hope to improve.

1. Be More Compassionate

When Jeremy Sinclair spent a sizable segment of his Keynote at NoVA Code Camp last year on mental health, I was amazed at his bravery.  I've been struggling with why that is.  I suppose as an industry, and maybe as a culture generally, we tuck this topic away and don't discuss it because it's hard and it's personal.  But when we remain silent, we lose the opportunity to learn from each other.

Following Jeremy's lead, I'm going to try to be brave too.  Hopefully you can find something useful here.  Please stop skimming and either compassionately read or skip this paragraph.  You see this has been the hardest year I've had in a long time.  My younger brother died this year.  Please know that I share this out of love for his memory and my sincere hope that my honesty will help others.  Sharing will at least help me.  See, my brother struggled with Schizophrenia.  He was the kindest, sweetest, quirkiest, most honest, trusting, most genuine, most loving person.  But he struggled with these inner demons that no one should ever have to face.  Once he discovered the right medication, and the right professional help, and after a lot of hard work, he was virtually indistinguishable from any other quirky person you've ever known.  With the help of family and friends he lifted himself out of a mental health facility.  By 2021 he had accomplished his three main life goals: he had a driver's license and a car, a condo where he lived on his own, and a job delivering food.  I was so proud of him.  Long story short COVID disrupted the medication he needed, and things went south.

My brother's situation may seem foreign, but I bet you know folks that are a little different like he was.  There were many people that picked on or took advantage of my brother, especially in the work world because he didn't fit the mold.  That sucks.  I can't change others but going into 2022 I'm going to try harder to be compassionate to those around me.

Schizophrenia is one thing, but mental health challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and many aren't so visible.  Jeremy described his challenges with ADHD.  I know several folks that struggle with depression, some with addiction, and others that struggle with Asperger's.

Personally, I struggle with anxiety.  I've had two anxiety attacks in my life.  I'm also currently struggling with mourning.  I haven't blogged or done a video in 6 months.  I'll get back to blogging regularly when I'm ready.  But I'm striving to be more compassionate to myself too in the coming year.

2. Improve Physical Health

I firmly believe that there is a strong correlation between physical and mental health.  For me there is anyway.

For instance, today crowds don't bother me at all, but when I was younger, I couldn't stand them.  Large groups of people caused such anxiety that I routinely had to literally run away.  When someone asked recently, I estimated it improved about 10 years ago.

I don't believe it's a coincidence that almost exactly 10 years ago in August of 2012 I got a Garmin Watch, and it changed my life.  I started running daily in order to get 10,000 steps.  My physical health improved, and my mental health along with it.  My doctor confirmed that running helps with anxiety and indeed my overall anxiety decreased.  I feel that this one daily habit has additionally improved my mental acuity, reduced stress, improved my sleep, and allowed me to manage my mental health challenges without medication.

So, in 2022 I will continue to prioritize physical health because it improves my mental health.  If that sounds good to you, I highly recommend a step counter.  I particularly love my Apple Watch because it tracks calories not steps, and thus accounts for swimming and biking activities, and the achievements make it fun.

3. Track Mental Health

Ask any software developer and the first step of improving performance is collecting data.  There are many folks I work with and respect that might collect mental health data with pen and paper.  However, for the last month I've been using the daylio app.  It's produced a number of personalized insights for both preventative and reactive triggers for anxiety and mental wellbeing generally.  For instance, I've started my day with meditation (with the Insight Timer app) for the last two weeks and I've discovered it improves my mood and reduces anxiety.  Also music, comedy, hobbies, me time, cleaning (seriously), and getting to sleep early seem make a big difference.  I will continue tracking my moods in 2022 to gain additional insights to improve my mental health.

4. Manage Psychic Weight

I receive an enormous amount of anxiety from unfinished, and especially unenumerated tasks.  I believe Scott Hanselman refers to this as psychic weight.

I was really stressed out ten years ago. I felt that familiar pressure between my eyes and felt like all the things that remained undone were pressing on me. I called it "psychic weight." I have since then collected my Productivity Tips and written extensively on the topic of productivity and getting things done. I'm going to continue to remind YOU that Self-Care Matters in between my technical and coding topics.

I'll never be as productive as Scott, but I recently discovered Microsoft ToDo.  I feel like I've tried just about all the other task management systems but solving daily task enumeration has helped me reduce stress immensely.  The one feature I love most about it is the "My Day" list.  This feature is a list that clears out every single day to help force you to reconstruct what's important to you on any given day.  It forces good daily habits and doesn't hit you over the head with uncompleted tasks.  Using this software I start each day with a fresh perspective and less psychic weight.  I will keep this up daily in 2022, and that will make it a much better year for me.

5. Consume Carefully

Thanks to daylio I've discovered that the content I consume affects my mental health: comedy makes me happier, music inspires me, news results in fear and sadness, and politics make me angry.  I don't want to be angry.  So for 2022 I've removed political podcasts from my feed and reduced news consumption.

I'm also trying to alternate reading inspiring non-fiction books that can improve my mental health with pleasurable fiction just for fun.  If this sounds like something that might appeal to you, I would like to suggest some of the following books in which I have found inspiration:

1. Celestine Prophecy
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People
3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
4. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
5. Altered Traits Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body
6. The Power of Positive Thinking
7. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
8. The Road Less Traveled
9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
11. The Paradox of Choice
12. The 4 Hour Workweek

Please post additional inspirational reading suggestions for me and readers in the comments or message me on twitter with them and I'll RT.

6. Value Creativity

Consuming (e.g. books, video games, podcasts, movies) can be helpful or a nice distraction, but for me they rarely bring joy the way creating does.  I find my life is happier when I spend time creating things or solving problems.  For me that includes coding, natural language writing (e.g. this post), woodworking, 3D Printing, electronics, cooking, playing guitar, and smoking meats.  I don't know if it's technically creativity but also on that list is spending time in nature and quality time with family and close friends.  These are the types of creative, non-consumption activities that produce joy for me that I will do more of in the coming year.

Summary


2021 was hard, but 2022 will be better.  What activities will you do more of to improve mental health?  Is compassion a part of your New Year's resolutions?  What will you do more of in 2022 to reduce stress and feel more balanced?  Please share.

If this post was helpful in any way, please say so on Twitter or in the comments.  I've branched out by doing a personal, non-tech post and would be happy to do more if it struck a chord.


Read the whole story
drpratten
11 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Book Review: “Viral” by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley

2 Shares

Happy New Year, everyone!

It was exactly two years ago that it first became publicly knowable—though most of us wouldn’t know for at least two more months—just how freakishly horrible is the branch of the wavefunction we’re on. I.e., that our branch wouldn’t just include Donald Trump as the US president, but simultaneously a global pandemic far worse than any in living memory, and a world-historically bungled response to that pandemic.

So it’s appropriate that I just finished reading Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, by Broad Institute genetics postdoc Alina Chan and science writer Matt Ridley. Briefly, I think that this is one of the most important books so far of the twenty-first century.

Of course, speculation and argument about the origin of COVID goes back all the way to that fateful January of 2020, and most of this book’s information was already available in fragmentary form elsewhere. And by their own judgment, Chan and Ridley don’t end their search with a smoking-gun: no Patient Zero, no Bat Zero, no security-cam footage of the beaker dropped on the Wuhan Institute of Virology floor. Nevertheless, as far as I’ve seen, this is the first analysis of COVID’s origin to treat the question with the full depth, gravity, and perspective that it deserves.

Viral is essentially a 300-page plea to follow every lead as if we actually wanted to get to the bottom of things, and in particular, yes, to take the possibility of a lab leak a hell of a lot more seriously than was publicly permitted in 2020. (Fortuitously, much of this shift already happened as the authors were writing the book, but in June 2021 I was still sneered at for discussing the lab leak hypothesis on this blog.) Viral is simultaneously a model of lucid, non-dumbed-down popular science writing and of cogent argumentation. The authors never once come across like tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, railing against the sheeple with their conventional wisdom: they’re simply investigators carefully laying out what they’re confident should become conventional wisdom, with the many uncertainties and error bars explicitly noted. If you read the book and your mind works anything like mine, be forewarned that you might come out agreeing with a lot of it.

I would say that Viral proves the following propositions beyond reasonable doubt:

  • Virologists, including at Shi Zhengli’s group at WIV and at Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance, were engaged in unbelievably risky work, including collecting virus-laden fecal samples from thousands of bats in remote caves, transporting them to the dense population center of Wuhan, and modifying them to be more dangerous, e.g., through serial passage through human cells and the insertion of furin cleavage sites. Years before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were experts remarking on how risky this research was and trying to stop it. Had they known just how lax the biosecurity was in Wuhan—dangerous pathogens experimented on in BSL-2 labs, etc. etc.—they would have been louder.
  • Even if it didn’t cause the pandemic, the massive effort to collect and enhance bat coronaviruses now appears to have been of dubious value. It did not lead to an actionable early warning about how bad COVID-19 was going to be, nor did it lead to useful treatments, vaccines, or mitigation measures, all of which came from other sources.
  • There are multiple routes by which SARS-CoV2, or its progenitor, could’ve made its way, otherwise undetected, from the remote bat caves of Yunnan province or some other southern location to the city of Wuhan a thousand miles away, as it has to do in any plausible origin theory. Having said that, the regular Yunnan→Wuhan traffic in scientific samples of precisely these kinds of viruses, sustained over a decade, does stand out a bit! On the infamous coincidence of the pandemic starting practically next door to the world’s center for studying SARS-like coronaviruses, rather than near where the horseshoe bats live in the wild, Chan and Ridley memorably quote Humphrey Bogart’s line from Casablanca: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
  • The seafood market was probably “just” an early superspreader site, rather than the site of the original spillover event. No bats or pangolins at all, and relatively few mammals of any kind, appear to have been sold at that market, and no sign of SARS-CoV2 was ever found in any of the animals despite searching.
  • Most remarkably, Shi and Daszak have increasingly stonewalled, refusing to answer 100% reasonable questions from fellow virologists. They’ve acted more and more like defendants exercising their right to remain silent than like participants in a joint search for the truth. That might be understandable if they’d already answered ad nauseam and wearied of repeating themselves, but with many crucial questions, they haven’t answered even once. They’ve refused to make available a key database of all the viruses WIV had collected, which WIV inexplicably took offline in September 2019. When, in January 2020, Shi disclosed to the world that WIV had collected a virus called RaTG13, which was 96% identical to SARS-CoV2, she didn’t mention that it was collected from a mine in Mojiang, which the WIV had sampled from over and over because six workers had gotten a SARS-like pneumonia there in 2012 and three had died from it. She didn’t let on that her group had been studying RaTG13 for years—giving, instead, the false impression that they’d just noticed it recently, when searching WIV’s records for cousins of SARS-CoV2. And she didn’t see fit to mention that WIV had collected eight other coronaviruses resembling SARS-CoV2 from the same mine (!). Shi’s original papers on SARS-CoV2 also passed in silence over the virus’s furin cleavage site—even though SARS-CoV2 was the first sarbecoronavirus with that feature, and Shi herself had recently demonstrated adding furin cleavage sites to other viruses to make them more transmissible, and the cleavage site would’ve leapt out immediately to any coronavirus researcher as the most interesting feature of SARS-CoV2 and as key to its transmissibility. Some of these points had to be uncovered by Internet sleuths, poring over doctoral theses and the like, after which Shi would glancingly acknowledge the points in talks without ever explaining her earlier silences. Shi and Daszak refused to cooperate with Chan and Ridley’s book, and have stopped answering questions more generally. When people politely ask Daszak about these matters on Twitter, he blocks them.
  • The Chinese regime has been every bit as obstructionist as you might expect: destroying samples, blocking credible investigations, censoring researchers, and preventing journalists from accessing the Mojiang mine. So Shi at least has the excuse that, even if she’d wanted to come clean with everything relevant she knows about WIV’s bat coronavirus work, she might not be able to do so without endangering herself or loved ones. Daszak has no such excuse.

It’s important to understand that, even in the worst case—that (1) there was a lab leak, and (2) Shi and Daszak are knowingly withholding information relevant to it—they’re far from monsters. Even in Viral‘s relentlessly unsparing account, they come across as genuine believers in their mission to protect the world from the next pandemic.

And it’s like: imagine devoting your life to that mission, having most of the world refuse to take you seriously, and then the calamity happens exactly like you said … except that, not only did your efforts fail to prevent it, but there’s a live possibility that they caused it. It’s conceivable that your life’s work managed to save minus 15 million lives and create minus $50 trillion in economic value.

Very few scientists in history have faced that sort of psychic burden, perhaps not even the ones who built the atomic bomb. I hope I’d maintain my scientific integrity under such an astronomical weight, but I’m doubtful that I would. Would you?

Viral very wisely never tries to psychoanalyze Shi and Daszak. I fear that one might need a lot of conceptual space between “knowing” and “not knowing,” “suspecting” and “not suspecting,” to do justice to the planet-sized enormity of what’s at stake here. Suppose, for example, that an initial investigation in January 2020 reassured you that SARS-CoV2 probably hadn’t come from your lab: would you continue trying to get to the bottom of things, or would you thereafter decide the matter was closed?

For all that, I agree with Chan and Ridley that COVID-19 might well have had a zoonotic origin after all. And one point Viral makes abundantly clear is that, if our goal is to prevent the next pandemic, then resolving the mystery of COVID-19 actually matters less than one might think. This is because, whichever possibility—zoonotic spillover or lab leak—turns out to be the truth of this case, the other possibility would remain absolutely terrifying and would demand urgent action as well. Read the book and see for yourself.

Searching my inbox, I found an email from April 16, 2020 where I told someone who’d asked me that the lab-leak hypothesis seemed perfectly plausible to me (albeit no more than plausible), that I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being investigated more, but that I was hesitant to blog about these matters. As I wrote seven months ago, I now see my lack of courage on this as having been a personal failing. Obviously, I’m just a quantum computing theorist, not a biologist, so I don’t have to have any thoughts whatsoever about the origin of COVID-19 … but I did have some, and I didn’t share them here only because of the likelihood that I’d be called an idiot on social media. Having now read Chan and Ridley, though, I think I’d take being called an idiot for this book review more as a positive signal about my courage than as a negative signal about my reasoning skills!

At one level, Viral stands alongside, I dunno, Eichmann in Jerusalem among the saddest books I’ve ever read. It’s 300 pages of one of the great human tragedies of our lifetime balancing on a hinge between happening and not happening, and we all know how it turns out. On another level, though, Viral is optimistic. Like with Richard Feynman’s famous “personal appendix” about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the very act of writing such a book reflects a view that you’re still allowed to ask questions; that one or two people armed with nothing but arguments can run rings around governments, newspapers, and international organizations; that we don’t yet live in a post-truth world.

Read the whole story
drpratten
16 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Witten Goes Anthropic

1 Share

Multiverse mania started seriously among string theorists around 2003, with a defining event Susskind’s February 2003 The Anthropic Landscape of String Theory. At the time I was finishing up writing what became the book “Not Even Wrong”, and my reaction to Susskind’s paper was pretty much “This is great! Susskind’s argument implies that string theory can’t ever be used to predict anything. If people accept that, they’ll have to give up on string theory since it has come to the end of the line.” Over the next year or two it became clear that devotion to multiverse mania wasn’t just localized at Stanford (where Andrei Linde had always been pushing this, even before the string theorists climbed aboard). Other proponents of the string theory landscape were up and down the California coast, including Raphael Bousso at Berkeley and Joe Polchinski at UCSB. One West Coast holdout was David Gross, who that summer at Strings 2003 quoted Churchill’s words to his country during the Nazi bombardment of London: “Never, never, never, never, never give up”. On the East Coast, the center of the resistance was at the IAS in Princeton, where several people told me that Witten was privately strongly making the case that this was not physics.

I ended up adding an additional chapter to the book about this, and covering developments closely here on the blog. For many years I found it impossible to believe that this pseudo-scientific point of view would get any traction among most leaders of the particle theory community. How could some of the smartest scientists in the world decide that this was anything other than an obviously empty idea? After a while though, it became clear that this was getting traction and that there was a very real danger that particle theory would come to an end as a science, with most influential theorists giving up, justifying doing so by claiming they now had a solid argument for why there was no point in trying to go further. String theory is the answer, but the answer is inherently unpredictive and untestable.

It has become clear recently that we’ve now reached that end-point. From the new video of his discussion with Rovelli, it’s clear that David Gross has given up. No more complaints about the multiverse from him, and his vision of the future has string theory solving QCD 80 years from now, nothing about it ever telling us anything about where the Standard Model comes from. Today brought an extremely depressing piece of news in the form of a CERN Courier interview with Witten. Witten has also given up, dropping his complaints about the string theory landscape:

Reluctantly, I think we have to take seriously the anthropic alternative, according to which we live in a universe that has a “landscape”of possibilities, which are realised in different regions of space or maybe in different portions of the quantum mechanical wavefunction, and we inevitably live where we can. I have no idea if this interpretation is correct, but it provides a yardstick against which to measure other proposals. Twenty years ago, I used to find the anthropic interpretation of the universe upsetting, in part because of the difficulty it might present in understanding physics. Over the years I have mellowed. I suppose I reluctantly came to accept that the universe was not created for our convenience in understanding it.

I’ve never really understood the kind of argument he is making here, that the problem with the string theory multiverse is that it’s upsetting, but we just have to get control of our feelings. Feelings have nothing to do with it: the problem is not that the idea is upsetting, but that it’s vacuous.

The rest of the interview is also pretty depressing. At the high energy physics experimental frontier, Witten promotes “split supersymmetry”, something which does little more than try to keep on life support failed ideas about supersymmetry and “naturalness”:

There is also an intermediate possibility that I find fascinating. This is that the electroweak scale is not natural in the customary sense, but additional particles and forces that would help us understand what is going on exist at an energy not too much above LHC energies. A fascinating theory of this type is the “split supersymmetry” that has been proposed by Nima Arkani-Hamed and others.

On string theory, he follows Gross in referring to not “string theory” but “the string theory framework” and describes the situation as

We do not understand today in detail how to unify the forces and obtain the particles and interactions that we see in the real world. But we certainly do have a general idea of how it can work, and this is quite a change from where we were in 1973.

The situation with string theory unification is that it’s a failed idea, not that it’s a successful general idea just missing some details.

Finally, Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year. Fundamental physical theory may now be over, replaced with a pseudo-science, but at least that means that things in this subject can’t get any worse.

Read the whole story
drpratten
26 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories