Moving to Wordpress
me
nikitab
OK, LJ, it's been real, but the time has come for me to move on.  So now I moved to http://nikitab.wordpress.com.  Why have I moved?  Fair question.  Here is a list:
  • Inability to search through contents on my own blog
  • Really poor placement of ads.
  • What's up with the comments page not taking on theme of the blog?
  • Data portability - how do i download easily all of my data?  Frustrating 
Overall, you guys did a really awesome job.  Back in the day, you were very progressive.  However, I feel like now the platform is stuck...  it is a bit stale and you are not providing the features or the style to keep up with the times.  I would have loved to stay with you.  Hell, I would have even paid (and I think I was a paid user at some point in time), but, given alternatives...

If you would like to get my attention, please do the following:
  • Review usability
  • Add basic, but necessary features
  • Enable customization
  • Give me access to my data
Best of luck and I'll be watching over what you are doing.  Perhaps I'll come back to you yet :)


Amazon Turk
me
nikitab

Went to a talk about the Amazon Turk.  Overall, the talk was ok, despite being a general introduction.

To start, some judgmental bitching on my part:

I am not sure I understood the purpose of this talk.  All points were touched upon briefly and, as far as introductions go, Aaron Shaw carried the point across keeping the attention of, what looked like a fairly bored, even if a very intelligent-looking crowd.  So the talk was ok - some humor, made his point, but what ensued then was just average mixed in with straightforward dull.  And the answers were much too long and the substance...  drove me up the freaking wall...

Here we have a technology that has been around for a while - on average, it allows people to generate a wage of somewhere between $3 and $4 an hour.  At the same time, we have Iraq with about 20% unemployment significantly contributing to destabilization and, according to a friend of mine who worked there, a need for jobs providing $4 to $5 an hour...  yet what was discussed?  Questions/discussion included stuff like: "Is it ethical to pay someone 1 cent per task? That's exploitation..." and "What about the ethical implications of using other people's work that you pay little for but give no recognition" to the hilarious "Shouldn't we discuss potential for racial discrimination?".  AT FUCKING HARVARD!  Where is the brilliant imagination and concern for humanity?!  Did I miss something?  Are these topics so jaded and did they cover, in the beginning of the talk, why the Turk model is not of significance for humanity?  Don't get me wrong: these may be all good subjects for discussion in a philosophy class, but how detached must you be to discuss ethics before socio-economic implications?  Ugh...

I mean, either these people live in some sort of a protective bubble, or I am really missing something.

Although, to be fair, as far as being a douche, I contributed my fair share of idiotic commentary after the meeting...  jumped to all sorts of conclusions about all sorts of people, but I am not a Harvard academic.

The atmosphere felt stale and rigid with people more concerned about their egos than about the actual issues.  I don't get it.  Apparently, judging by the commentary at the bottom of this page, I was not the only one frustrated.

Enough bitching - I am becoming as petty as the people I chastise.  Some constructive thoughts/questions that I think would be very interesting:

1. Why has this not been deployed internationally? (or has it?)  According to Aaron, Amazon's Turk is subject to the Patriot Act, and they dealt with it by requiring US-based accounts.  Interesting point.  I remember a good article about Ebay vs. Paypal (sorry, can't find the link - main idea was that, because Paypal had nothing to lose, they broke lots of rules and were able to consequently beat out Ebay despite having an inferior product)- could this mean an opportunity for an Amazon competitor in this space who doesn't have much to lose?

2. I still don't quite understand the problems that are being solved through this system.  I think it would be very productive to categorize and ascertain marketing strategy for how to drive project providers to use Turk models.  My brother gave the Turk a try, but ran into low quality of results, which should be easily addressed through building a self-referential system: pretty much same models as ones that must have been used to verify quality of human subjects back in the day.

3. What are deployment strategies?  I understand that there are mobile-phone-oriented strategies that may work?  Could this be used to provide jobs in areas with high levels of poverty both in the developing and the developed world?

4. Could this be coupled with education systems so that people who participate must solve problems and read material that relates to problems at hand?  So, for example, if you get people in Africa use this system, provide questions that would improve skill/knowledge levels in immediately applicable fields.  Ex: agriculture, math, marketing, etc.

Lots of other questions should come to mind, but don't as am tired and cranky and need sleep.

Nikita's LJ Tags: , , ,

Thoughts on relationships...
me
nikitab
Recently, since we ended up cooling off with an RI (Romantic Interest), I had a *gasp* new, even if unoriginal, thought.  This is from an email I wrote:

My affection for women in relationships breaks down into two components:

1. Romantic - "she so hot, I want to be close to her and look into her eyes like a dog seeking a bisquit".  Revelation is in the fact that, despite the fact that each time I feel this yearning to be unique, it is actually identical to every other time I feel it.  This realization makes me feel like a detached observer of my own biological response to context of mating.

2. Human/intellectual - the want of your company to laugh, to know your opinion, to communicate and enjoy the conversation.  This also feels unique (on the rare occasion when I meet someone with whom I feel this), but I think this one actually MIGHT be unique due to the fact that ideas, human experiences, and humor itself, while still not unlimited, are nevertheless far more diverse than pure emotions.

What is still unclear to me is what the relationship is between the second and the first component, where the line is drawn, and how to bridge the gap so that the emotional part is not detached from the intellectual one, but is an extension thereof.  Having said that, in most relationships it seems to me people never really end up developing the second component...  run out of things to talk about.  This seems especially true as you get older and more focused and entrenched in the ideas that usually relate to your career, everyday problems, the variety of which is identical from person to person.

Nataha's Wedding Poem - Вредные Советы.
me
nikitab
So, my college friend Nataha just had a wedding. Long story short, hooked up with her husband Misha's cousin and he, his girl, and I ended up driving up to Philly from Boston. A week prior, MIsha's mom called and said that they have a creative program that we should participate in - I kinda blew her off given all that's happening at JoVE. (politely... however politely it could have been given that she woke me up and I was in my "Who the f*ck sent you and why are you so blurry?" moods. Anyway, I sent her on her way, but then, while we were driving, felt like really we should have come up with something. After numerous attempts that yielded ok-but-not-enough-material, ended up there with... well... nothing presentable.

Then I decided, to try my hand at Gregorij Oster's Вредые Советы. And this was the product.
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Laura and Euna Continued
me
nikitab
I am feeling quite helpless.  The idiocy on the CNN site is rampant.  I posted the following comment here that is now awaiting moderation:

We live in a different world now that has no borders, one where compassion and concern for humanity crosses political and geographic borders. These two girls are what is best about our generation: an unbiased, genuine, and sincere concern for truth.

I think that these girls should be returned back to US at all cost. Allowing two journalists, let alone two civilians, to be detained for longer than is reasonable and then stripped of their lives should be completely unacceptable. I feel that this should be made clear to North Korea as well as politicians in the US and the rest of the developed “free” world. The girls should be extracted whatever it takes – a military extraction if that is what it takes.

Freedom is not free and, while initially we can hope that some reason may develop in North Korea, if the process takes too long, I think we, as free people, should stand for our own.

Perhaps another benefit from all this may be that this whole affair will be another push to make people aware of the terrible conditions that some civilians are left to endure. Although perhaps it is a moot point… when there is so much suffering in the world and it is so easy for us to stick our heads in the sand, we have become grotesquely desensitized to other people’s suffering. Perhaps these events may be a part of a changing tide.

What is most depressing is that I feel like these are huge, changing times and I can have an effect, but I feel like a blabbering idiot when I speak my mind.  I am not sure of anything I say as I am all to aware of my ignorance.

But there is one thing that I feel sure about.  In my teens I would have thought it sloganish and ridiculous, but, at this point I feel that freedom is not free and the free world should stand for its own.  If we don't protect each other, who will?  And who is we?  Is the person on the other side of a border really different?

The big question for me is how can we establish a rapport with people in charge of places that need to change.  Do we even need to?  Consider if we dropped cell phones into countries that were loaded with simple communication and self-organizing software along with basic banking providing an external banking infrastructure thereby making local economic instability irrelevant?  Does it matter then that the mayor may be corrupt?

This could be a great experiment for our times...  although my thoughts are too raw now, too naive.  I need to be more aware.  Anyway, that's for later.  For now, back to work.


Laura Ling, Euna Lee, Growing up
me
nikitab
At the risk of being egotistically reflective, I feel stupid.  For those who have been living under a rock, Laura Ling and Euna Lee have just been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea (link), which means they are now either political pawns or just victims.  Usually, in such cases, I feel a sort of detachment.  A quasi-intellectual this-is-a-black-and-white-documentary-movie-that-doesn't-apply-to-me sort of detachment.  You know the kind - the one where you see grotesque images from the developing world before dinner, sigh along with your friends about how terrible life is, skip over to some trivial discussion, and proceed to scarf down a nice serving of pizza completely guilt free.

Yet, I can't detach myself now.  I intuitively can't.  I've never met Laura or Euna.  I've seen a bit of Laura's and her sister's (Lisa Ling) work on Current.TV.  I was blown away by Lisa Lings home page and the issues she covers...  but what it comes down to is that Laura, Lisa, Euna and other journalists resonate with me almost like family - they are my generation, they live and do the way I feel.  They are real.  They are who I wish I could be.  I watch Bill O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper, a host of other commentators and none of them speak to me.  I do not feel a sense of kinship with them.  I do not feel like they are my eyes.  They are a different generation, they think in a different way, the way they report seems to be full of that detachment - perhaps because they have seen it all before and have come to accept it as the way things are.

Yet with Current.TV and reporters like Laura, Lisa, Christof, I feel that they have credibility with me beyond anything that I would see on any major network.  I intuitively know that these people are not politically driven, they don't take sides, their loyalty is not with a party, or even a country.  Their loyalty is with humanity.  And I mean this in the most unpretentious way possible.

My generation is different.  We have no rules.  No countries, no borders, no judgements.  It is all replaced by an initially curious, later turning into compassionate observation with a firm belief that we are doing good.  That we can do something about it.  Ideologues perhaps born initially out of luxury if the West - we did not fight for our survival.  Our parents did that.  We, on the other hand, are like Buddha - sheltered, protected by parents until we come out and look.  And then...

And then we are initially no different from other generations - we want to change things.  Yet, unlike previous generations, we can.  We live in an age when doctors Twitter from hospitals, when a two hundred dollar device can create a revolution, when the very natures of democracy and humanity is reevaluated, when Web startups go from zero to having multi-billion dollar evaluations, when people travel between continents with as much effort as previous generation would put into travel between cities.  We see the world differently.

For us borders now delineate only cultural heritage and who collects taxes to provide services.  The idea of legitimacy granted to a government simply because some group usurped power is preposterous.  Respect for fellow human being, no matter how different, trumps all.  It is a way of life.

And generally, the older generation, which has come to accept the status quo, and the newer generation live side by side.  Sets of mental blocks, iron curtains, blinders.  Screw North Korean civilians - just so long as North Korea doesn't get The Bomb, fact that hundreds of thousands may perish in gulags is "unfortunate", but that's about all.  And the younger generation, my generation, didn't know any better.  But now this is changing.  We grew up.  My generation does care and not only do we care, we get involved.  And when we get involved, that is when the difference between different worlds is made evident: the present picture with Laura and Euna feels ridiculous.  It is the the contrast between something that is out of a history book and a generation of people who are aware and who can do more than the previous generation  simply because of the tools available to us.

I am not saying we are better or worse than our parents.  Initially I am sure they were just like us and we like them.  What's different is the tools available to us and the environment in which we were brought up.

So what can we do?  Or, rather, what can we do that would be radically different from the past?

The way I see it is:
  • Refuse to accept that, which is unacceptable - the status quo is unacceptable
  • Acknowledge that everybody has incentives - nobody is pure evil.  Or at least few are.  In case of North Korea, I am pretty sure that this is a rational society.  A very oppressive, probably fear-driven, but rational society
So what is the problem?
  • The government in NK must remain repressive to sustain itself in the present environment
Which means that either the environment needs to be changed or the government needs to be given a different set of incentives.  Giving incentives is incredibly difficult - what do you give to someone who has little to profit from whatever you can offer?  This is a dangerous path to take as it likely requires resorting to animal dynamics and execution on military threats in an environment that would likely yield a heavy heavy civilian toll...  that is if a strategy was chosen for effectiveness rather than posturing.  Not a very good option.

An alternative would be to change the environment.  What is lacking at this point is communication, empowerment of civilian population.  Of course it is silly to talk of empowering civilian population when you have secret service watching your every move and, even if the dissident movement is strong, you are pushing for a revolution, a civil war.  So this alone would not work either.

Having said that, what a hybrid solution?  Would it be possible to persuade the North Korean government to conduct the following experiment: identify a region to be splintered off from the main body of North Korea.  The region then undergoes a rapid change as follows:
  • distribution of cell phones for
    • communication
    • mobile transaction system
    • Job creation
      • Introduction of Amazon Turk and similar platforms to generate revenue
  • Establishment of Western factories to produce goods
    • Exported into neighboring countries
  • North Korean government collects taxes from this region and thus profits
The main challenge, the way I see it, is to persuade the North Korean government that this sort of a transition is in their interest because both they and the country will be in a far better economic and social state.  Is this doable to any extent?  I don't know.  But there must be some way to set up communication and conveying this in a reasonable sane manner.  I acknowledge that I am being very naive, but, when you think about it, it would have been naive that any Web 2.0 site would ever get off the ground.  "Wikipedia?  You mean everybody edits and contributes?  Don't be so naive!"

I hope that Larua and Euna come home safely.  As bad as it may be on a philosophical level, I have no problem of dividing the world into "them" and "us".  I want to help "them", but I want "us" to be safe.  Having said that, I hope that this situation will create awareness in the developed world and create an opportunity to help a backwards regime evolve into what every country should be - a state with a government that represents and serves its people.

Evolution of Applications and Data
me
nikitab
This may be trivial to other, but for me it was a realization: before we had MS Money, Quicken, etc.  and now we have Wesabe, Mint, etc.  Why am I not happy with Wesabe?  Because it doesn't have all the functionality I want, which Quicken and MS Money have.  How is this going to get solved?  The same way data + presentation split up in the online development world (before you had HTML which contained both "what to show" and "how to show it", whereas now you have XML to say what to show and CSS, XSL for how to show it) - this same thing should happen going forward with iPhone, client, and online apps.  It's a bit like having multiple email clients all connecting to the same server to manage your email.  So you can switch between Thunderbird, Outlook, and Gmail without too much effort.  Except that you can't because things like "read message" flag is stored client-side.  And then IMAP came about, where the "read" flag now resides on the server.  So now, I can use my iPhone and my GMail to work with the same data.

My point - more and more data providers should open up their interfaces for tool producers.  What seems to be lacking is a platform for how to manage revenues.  Could this be an opportunity for someone to come up with such a platform?  Something that would provide standards for data security, interfaces, etc.  Then this player comes to JoVE and says "look, all you have to do is expose the following interfaces to your data.  We'll take care of exposing your data to iPhone and BlackBerry developers who will make use of it and we'll provide a way for you to share revenues from sales.  Then iPhone and BlackBerry developers implement apps for scientists to show JoVE videos and plug into other data repositories facilitating access for researchers where it is beneficial.

So then I could use Wesabe, own my data in the cloud, and require that Wesabe does not actually store any of my information at all - I own all of my data in the cloud and they just provide a tool to work with it.  Moreover, I would be happy to pay to store this data in the cloud and then I could give access to other financial tool providers if I want to use other tools...  the possibilities that arise from this however trivial evolution of online tools is thoroughly blowing my mind.

This is a bit of a ramble.  Why is my data on LiveJournal.  I want it to be in the cloud, reliably backed up.  My life is now online.  Whoa.

PHP - bite me
me
nikitab
OK, I just spent a day trying to set up PHP on Windows 2003 with IIS and SQL Server.  Ugh.  Not fun.  So that people who come across don't have to repeat, this is what I did...  I think:

php.iis.net - just straightforward install
In IIS - adjust web services extensions so that php-cgi is visible
In IIS - adjust mapping so that .php maps to php-cgi
install new SQL PHP driver from here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=61BF87E0-D031-466B-B09A-6597C21A2E2A&displaylang=en and follow directions to install

I also added some MS SQL-related stuff in the PHP installation features, but I don't think it made a difference.

So, as Danitza would say: PHP - suck it.
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Movie: Citizen Kane
me
nikitab
Having decided to start edumicating myself on them films 'n shit, I went to my NY ex-roommate Alexis, a French dude that half of Cynthia's London seems to swoon over (Cynthia included).  But this is not about Alexis.  This is about Citizen Kane.

Didn't like it at first.  But then, as I thought about it, it sank in.  I think I am not able to appreciate it fully though given my lack of cinematographic education.  A friend pointed me in the direction of this being a major step forward in cinematographic point of view, how the narrative is told, etc.  Referenced Pulp Fiction as another milestone...  (need to remember to check with Josh on how Pulp Fiction is perceived from "film progress" sort of vantage point.  To me it seems like Citizen Kane is part Murakami (in the floating narrative) and part Roshomon, although, in this case, despite my doubting every separate story, I am not sure if that was the directors intention: i.e. whether the narrative was supposed to be affected by the teller or if different people are simply beads on the same string and do not infuse their perception into their tale...

But, one thought that I can't get rid of is that the narrative, while it attempts to be complex, is very simple.  I am not sure whether I am just not appreciating the complexity (everything simple with 20/20 hindsight) or this is a side effect of being part of my generation, which is significantly more saturated with information than the previous...  the idea of an archetype of a hero, a sort of Ayne Rand's Wynand (from the Foundtainhead) seems...  inhuman.  That he would end his days alone, dry, lonely, with his soul defined through his childhood sled seems like a fable-type presentation.  Yet he is presented as painfully human - someone who changes his values as he grow within the society.  But how can a man, who clearly has an amazing sense of humor, an incurable curiosity and drive to salmon against the current - how can such a man end up in a posh palace, lonely, defeated with a woman who thinks that he only thinks about himself and is consumed by image of self?  It just doesn't sit right - feels...  cheap?

I've noticed I have this feeling of an author taking a shortcut relatively often in this sense.  Felt this way in the Watchmen (which was way overhyped - it was excellent, but I felt a letdown), felt the same way with Crime and Punishment (how does one do a 180 like that?  seems ridiculous)

Which is not to say I don't enjoy these thought experiments.  But Citizen Kane left a conceptual unfilled expectation...  an unsatisfied want for more intellectual brilliance...

But, having said all that, I do understand why it is a classic and am sure that it will come up in conversation as a tool to portray some specific ideas...

Totally wiped out.  Came back from NY today, had me some awesome dumplings, going to pass out.

Ta ta.
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Movie: Lust, Caution
me
nikitab
Just finished Lust, Caution.  Beautiful movie...  If you haven't seen it, don't keep reading - I will be talking about content.

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Anyway...  I liked the movie.  I liked that it doesn't judge, but only states.  That it uses cliches to tell a story yet without being a cliche itself.
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