Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Devolution of the Diary

The question "How many people keep a daily journal" on Askville by Amazon provoked responses that range between "more people" and "less than half". Whatever the real number, people have been keeping diaries for hundreds of years. Wikipedia says that a work called To Myself by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius could possibly be one of the first diaries ever written.

One might think that keeping a diary is a more feminine passtime. However, the appropriately named website,, provides a short list of famous men who kept a journal:
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Charles Darwin
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Captain Cook
  • Winston Churchill
  • Sir Edmund Hilary
  • Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton gives three main reasons to keep a journal:
  1. Your children and grandchildren will want to read it.
  2. It can bring you to your senses.
  3. Journaling grants you immortality (Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.")
  4. Journaling improves your health.
There may actually be something to points 2 and 4. According to a 2009 article in The Guardian writing about your feelings tend to make you a happier person:
Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions.
I googled for reasons why writing a diary could be bad for you, but all I found was this article that provides six reasons why you shouldn't eat dairy. The only down-side I can think of is that your little brother might get a hold of it and publish your inner-most thoughts all over the Internet for the world to see.

As a modern and connected society, where we feel the urge to share our deepest and darkest secrets, we no longer need to keep a physical diary hidden under the pillow. Blogs abound where anyone can say anything about anything [insert self-referential link here].

Ironically, a blog post published a graph depicting the increase in the number of blogs between October 2006 (36 million) and October 2011 (173 million).
It’s no surprise that the growing number of blogs mirrors a growth in bloggers. Overall, 6.7 million people publish blogs on blogging websites, and another 12 million write blogs using their social networks.
There is no longer any need for your little brother to expose you to the universe - free tools are available that allow you to do that very easily yourself.

Vlogs (video logs) are less prevalent, possibly due to the effort involved in recording and producing them. However, some vlogs are quite successful, such as YouTube millionaire sensation, Ray William Johnson's Equals Three or the soon-to-be-famous me, my brotherS & my dad (sic).

The problem with written blogs, like their physical counterparts, is that they are long-form. Some people don't have the patience (or, sadly, the skills) to write complete sentences. A Facebook status update or a 140-character tweet is a convenient way to get it all out there. Although putting your emotions into words might make you feel better, it's not all good. The Telegraph described a journalist's stream of tweets from the funeral of a 3-year-old boy as "truly uncomfortable reading":
There's a cold detachment to the messages, caused, no doubt, by the need to condense an emotionally charged event in to 140-character messages. But it demonstrated that even in today's permissive society, where make-ups, breaks-ups and the minutiae of daily life are shared through social-networking sites, some things should never, ever be "live blogged".
However, blogging, Facebooking or tweeting are merely selected outtakes of your day, so maybe it's not enough. Your readers want more detail. Much more detail. Welcome to lifelogging. defines lifelogging as the continuous capture of a large part of one's life. Thankfully, says that it isn't necessary to share your every moment with all of your friends:
Lifelogging in its purest form is done using a gadget to capture all moments throughout your day, and is normally a private practice that isn't shared with others.
In the Robin Williams film "The Final Cut" parents choose to implant a memory chip in their baby's brain. The chip records everything the child sees from that moment on. Williams plays a "Cutter" who's job it is to edit the video of the person's life into a film for screening at his funeral.

There's also a short film I once saw online, which I can't locate right now, in which it is popular to wear a miniscule device called a "grain", which records everything you see. The technology allows you to share your memories with others and display video recordings of your life on a big screen.

Joy to us all, that technology is almost here.

Memoto, a tiny, wearable camera automatically takes one photo every 30 seconds - that's 2880 photos a day. It timestamps and geotags the photo instantly, providing you with a visual, searchable record of almost everything you experienced. And the best bit - the photos are stored in the cloud.

This device is something only the CIA could love. I don't understand why anyone would want a permanent record of every aspect of their life entrusted to the flawed security of the cloud - I'd sooner trust my personal diary to my younger brother (oh, hi, R.)

Apparently, $50,000 worth of Kickstarter funding in five hours (a total of $157,095 as of writing this blog), and $651,000 of seed funding suggests that there are people out there who would actually use this technology. Would you?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[Private] Enterprise: Going Where No One Has Gone Before

In a conversation with the Mars Curiosity team at NASA, US President Barack Obama asked them to call him if they find aliens. Later on he said:
It’s really what makes us best as a species – the curiosity we have, yearning to discover, the pushing boundaries of knowledge.
But these sentiments don't jive with his proposed 2013 budget, which includes drastic cuts to NASA funding. In his opinion, government-funded space research and exploration (even with its valuable tie-ins with military advancement) should not be the government's concern. Despite the obvious advantages to the economy and defense, space is just not a priority.

But Obama has badly misread the landscape. The world is abuzz with space news:
Space is the next big thing and is well and truly in the mind of the public. We can't wait for our stereotypically wild-haired, eccentric scientists to invent some new way to push the boundaries of the possible. We want to see cities on the moon, colonies on Mars and populated space stations in the far reaches of the galaxy.

Our recent heightened fascination with the great, vast blackness might be because we are tired of the incessant flow of depressing news, like failing economies, wars and conflict. I think we want to see what people can achieve, what challenges we can conquer. We want to witness the victory of human intellect over nature. We want to bask in the success of brave pioneering heroes like Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and Felix Baumgartner. This is the "hope" that Obama promised in his 2008 election campaign, but something he intends to rip out of the hands of the American people with his proposed cuts to the NASA budget.

There's another reason not to cut the NASA budget. The Washington Post reported in July 2012:
Bill Nye [the Science Guy] has a really good reason for why President Obama should not cut funding for space exploration: Who will figure out how to deflect the asteroid that could wipe out civilization?
“If the Earth gets hit by an asteroid, it's game over. It's control-alt-delete for civilization.”
If the President has his way, NASA will no longer be at the forefront of this important field. It could be that Obama is betting that the Earth will be pulverized by a huge, falling rock, so why waste the money? It's more likely, though, that the President prefers that Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk's SpaceX or a highly populated Asian country will be the ones to dominate this technology.

One way or another, my grandchildren will likely take interplanetary travel for granted, even if the in-flight literature is in Chinese.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Hyundai i800 CRDi 2012 Review

For the past few weeks I've been zipping around town in my brand new Hyundai i800 CRDi 2012. The nine-seater car was converted from the commercial version to a passenger vehicle to accommodate a pneumatic wheelchair lift. The back panels were removed and tinted windows were installed. A proper floor and ceiling were put in the back, along with air conditioning and seats. For all intents and purposes, you can't tell that this was once a commercial vehicle.


Purrs Like a (Large, Overweight) Kitten

The i800's build quality seems very good. The internal fittings are simple, but the car seems to be constructed solidly. The only rattling sounds come from the wheelchair lift, which has so many moving parts, it can be forgiven for groaning a bit when I hit a bump in the road. Road noise is higher than I would have expected, and the diesel engine isn't very quiet, but it's by no means a loud car - at least from the inside.



The car is a beast to drive. A veritable tank. I've driven vans before, but nothing as wide or long as the i800. The Hyundai i800 is 5125 mm long. By comparison, a nine-seater Citroen Jumpy (AKA Dispatch Combi) is 4805 mm long. Just to give you an idea of how big this car is, it is almost too wide for, and always too long for, a standard parking space. Sitting up so high above the traffic, you feel as if you are driving a 4x4, but of course, you aren't. If it wasn't for the strategically placed grab-handles, one would have to be quite dexterous when entering the cab. The large mirrors on both sides of the van make up somewhat for the useless rear-view mirror. I haven't yet had the opportunity to try reverse parking, but it would be very difficult to manage without the reversing camera and proximity sensors, which were installed by the wheelchair lift company.


Handle With Care

The ride quality is decent, although sometimes it feels like you're driving a truck. That sounds incongruous, but I suppose it's a result of the size of the car. Handling is quite good. The car feels centered when cornering or taking a curve at higher speeds, and I am surprised at the small turning circle relative to the size of the vehicle.


Access All Areas

Conveniently, there are sliding doors on both sides of the i800. The rear hatch lifts up high enough, making access to the trunk area very easy. I once drove a friend's Hyundai H1 (the precursor to the i800) and I had to duck underneath the rear hatch to get to the back of the car. So this is a marked improvement.


Room Enough to Swing a Cat

If there is one advantage to having a large van, it's leg room, vast expanses of leg room. My eight-year-old son has no trouble standing up inside the car, so there's plenty of head room, too. The only seat where an adult passenger may feel uncomfortable is the front-center seat. The bulge in the center console of the dashboard means that the unfortunate passenger must sit slightly askew. Also, when the front-center seat is occupied, the cup holders recessed in the dashboard become inaccessible. Three front seats are only standard in the commercial models, but the dashboard is standard among all models. The dashboard designer obviously forgot that the front-center passenger needs somewhere to put their legs.

When there is no third front seat passenger, the center seat folds down and provides two extra cup holders and a storage tray. I'm not sure why so many cup holders are necessary, but perhaps they drink a lot of coffee on-the-go in South Korea.

Storage space includes two glove compartments, one smaller than the other, one or two little compartments in the center console and two levels of door pockets. I assume that the designer never had to leave the car because the lower level door pockets are positioned exactly the same height as the step, so when leaving the car, it is very easy to step on the door pocket by accident. Hopefully I'll remember to watch out for that before I get my foot stuck. That would be an interesting excuse for coming late to work.

The standard car tools (the jack, a fire extinguisher, reflective vest, etc.) are stored in a clever little compartment underneath the front passenger step.


Likes a Bit of a Drink

The Hyundai i800 can be compared to a high-end luxury sports car. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it - at least in terms of fuel consumption. According to, the 2.5 liter 5-speed auto diesel engine drinks one (imperial) gallon of gas in 32.1 miles (or 11.36 km/liter). Those numbers mean little when filling up - this beast has a tank that easily holds over 500 shekels of petrol. That's a big hit at every fill.


The Best Thing

The greatest thing about this car has nothing to do with the car. The dashboard center console houses a touch screen navigation and entertainment system. British male voice "James" guides me when I activate the iGo GPS. We chose this voice just so we can say "Home, James". A DVD system, hooked up to a screen that folds down from the ceiling for the rear-seat passengers is a handy way to keep the kids quiet on long trips. A USB port allows music and video to play from a Disk on Key. The radio is far too confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it isn't too bad. One of the more useful apps is the Bluetooth phone connection to my mobile. I can make and receive phone calls without taking the phone out of my pocket - the system even displays my phone history for easy re-dialing. 
Just a reminder: Talking on the phone when driving can be dangerous, even when using hands-free.

There are a couple of things I noticed about the navigation and entertainment systems - they are not meant for the driver to use. Many of the buttons and icons are too small to use quickly, without taking your eyes off the road for too long. For example, the radio interface has a volume slider. Attempting to use it while driving invariably ends in waking up the neighbors in the southern hemisphere. The hardware buttons are far more useful for controlling the volume.


The Other Best Thing

After nine years without a car, the Hyundai i800 is still a novelty among my kids, so I am taking full advantage of it, "When you have cleaned your room, done your homework and folded the laundry, and only if you're good, I'll let you wash the car".

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