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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

When Blobjects Rule The Earth: Bruce Sterling on Manufacturing and Design

Bruce Sterling is a pretty good science fiction writer and a great spinner of speculative non-fiction, aka futurism. I've cited him before (can you tell I like his work?)

I work for Cyon Research, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in software for engineering, in all its various forms (mechanical, structural, architectural, civil, etc.) The Bruce Sterling article I'm linking to explains the future of engineering (creating "blobjects" and more) to an audience of computer graphics professionals and academics. The products and technologies he mentions in the quote below are things I have to keep up with every day. In "When Blobjects Rule the Earth," Sterling tells the SIGGRAPH audience why they need to take over the world:

Having conquered the world made of bits, you need to reform the world made of atoms. Not the simulated image on the screen, but corporeal, physical reality. Not meshes and splines, but big hefty skull-crackingly solid things that you can pick up and throw. That's the world that needs conquering. Because that world can't manage on its own. It is not sustainable, it has no future, and it needs one.

It is going to get one from you.

Now let me briefly tell you how I think this process will play out.

Listen to this: ProE, FormZ, Catia, Rhino, Solidworks. Wifi, bluetooth, WiMax. Radio frequency ID chips. Global and local positioning systems. Digital inventory systems. Cradle-to-cradle production methods. Design for disassembly. Social software, customer relations management. Open source manufacturing.

Be warned, this is (to borrow a Sterlingism) a skull-crackingly good read. I loved it.

Rennie Leaves Hospital

I just now called to get an update on Rennie's condition, and learned that he was discharged from the hospital this morning. Claude went to get him, while Janine went to work today. I'll post again later today, with more details.

Praise God!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Afghan Christian Fears For His Life If Deported From US

The newspapers of the Knight Ridder chain are reporting today on the case of Ahmad Ahmadshah, who has lived in the United States since 1996, and is fighting deportation by the US government based on visa irregularities. Ahmadshah is a Christian, and is seeking asylum because he believes he will be killed if he returns to Afghanistan. He became a beliver in 1988, after reading a Bible given to him in secret by friends from Pakistan.

The official policy of the new, American-backed Afghanistan government is one of religious tolerance, says a Afghan spokesman quoted in the article. But, the representative adds, "there might be [individual] instances of targeting people who do not believe in Islam."

Central Washington Hospital Contact Info

It looks like Rennie will be in the hospital a few more days. If you want to send a card, or call him, here is the contact information:

Central Washington Hospital
1201 S. Miller Street
PO Box 1887
Wenatchee, Washington 98807
Phone: (509) 662-1511

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rennie Pain Meds Increased

I talked to Janine briefly tonight when I took Christa home. Rennie is now being given a stronger pain medication through IV, and he is feeling much better. The second spinal tap showed that the infection is still pretty prevalent. Janine now expects that it will be several days before he can be released from the hospital.

Janine will teach tomorrow for sure (she teaches half-time at Omak High School). I'll talk to her again tomorrow night and see what's new.

Now that his pain is under control, Rennie would appreciate phone calls, at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

New Complications for Rennie

Janine called from Wenatchee Monday morning. Rennie’s headache pain is continuing at a high level. Let’s put this in some perspective. Last week Rennie described the headache pain from the meningitis as much worse than the surgery pain. Last month he told me the pain from his first neck surgery was the worst pain he could imagine. So, he's really hurting.

There seems to be a new reason for the pain besides the meningitis. From a close reading of the MRI results, the medical staff has discovered that a balloon of spinal fluid material is trying to emerge through a hole in the surgery incision that was not well closed. To treat this, they are going to do a spinal tap (also to take another sample of fluid for meningitis testing), and leave a tube in place, to relieve pressure in his neck. The goal is to have the balloon retract without having to open up his surgical wound (which would be another major operation).

This report was delayed due to my Internet service being down several hours on Monday. I get my Internet service via satellite, and there was severe weather at the satellite uplink station in Georgia, blocking the signal.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Seven Kids on One Hospital Bed

On Saturday I drove from Loomis to Wenatchee (135 miles) to visit Rennie and to take two of Rennie and Janine's kids, Christa (8) and Timna (15) down to see their Dad. Three of my kids, Brianna (16), Josh (14), and Meghan (12) also came along. When we got there, Rennie had just woke from a nap was was ready to go for a walk. So Christa and Timna escorted their Daddy and his IV down the hall. The third McCormick kid, Keegan (12) was already in Wenatchee, staying with school friend Coltion whose father lives in Wenatchee. The girls had not seen either of their parents since Wednesday, when Rennie was transported to Wenatchee via ambulance and Janine stayed home by herself with the stomach flu.

Keegan and Colton came in a couple of minutes after Rennie left, having failed in their attempt to find the maternity ward. But they did discover along the way that the back door of the elevator opens up into the espresso shop kitchen. Josh joining in, the three boys climbed up on Rennie's bed as if they owned it and started flipping TV channels. Janine had to tell them to move it on past the lingerie fashion show on Spike TV. About this time Rennie returned, and decided to sit in a chair instead of going back to bed. So Brianna vacated her chair and joined the boys on the bed, as did Meghan and Timna. Of course Christa was not to be denied, so at one point there were seven kids on the bed, while Rennie, Janine and sat in chairs and talked.

Rennie enjoyed the short walk, but he was tired. We stayed for about an hour, and during that time he needed a new pain pill. He is now taking Tylenol III. He wanted to talk, but his end of the converation was slow and soft. It is obvious that not only the surgery, but also the meningitis, had really knocked him low. But, praise God, he is getting stronger every day.

The culture to determine the best course of antibiotics is still not done. They may be giving him exactly what he needs, and they may not be -- and they won't know until the culture is complete. Janine is not confident that he will be going home, or transferring to a hospital closer to home, on Monday.

Janine went home Saturday night, and attended church on Sunday. Christa was one of about 20 children to be baptized this morning at Transformation Station, the non-denominational children's church outreach started by Tonasket Assembly of God. My Michaela, 10, also was baptized this morning. As I write, Janine and Timna are probably about to leave for Wenatchee. Teresa went to Tonasket to pick up Christa, who will probably stay through Tuesday. Keegan remained in Wenatchee with Colton.

Please continue to remember Rennie in prayer. He is improving, but still quite weak.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Rennie Responding Well to Treatment

I just got off the phone with Janine, who is in Wenatchee with Rennie. His fever has been down, close to normal, for almost 24 hours. He still has bad headaches if he doesn't stay on the pain medicine, but Janine said that is to be expected. They know now that he has bacterial meningitis, but it is a form that is not considered highly contagious, so many of the extreme cautions surrounding his treatment and visititation have been relaxed.

The hospital is still continuing the culture of the disease sample to determine the proper medication, which will take another 24 hours. When they know the right medication to give, the plan is to try to arrange for Rennie to either return home or be transferred to a hospital closer to home, since the medication must be given via IV.

I'll be leaving home in about an hour, to take the kids down to visit. There are wireless Internet hotspots in Wenatchee, so I might try to post again while there if there is more news.

Janine plans to return home tonight.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rennie Feeling "Much Better"

I talked to Rennie briefly this afternoon, and later got a message from Mike Forney, who is visiting Rennie in Wenatchee today. (Mike is pastor at Tonasket Assembly of God, where McCormicks and my family now worship.) Rennie has been awake and feeling much better today. He was able to joke and laugh a bit with me, but I did notice tiredness in his voice by the end of our call.

Before this incident, Rennie told me that the pain from the back surgery was the most "excruciating" pain he had ever felt. But today he said the back surgery pain was nothing compared to the headache he had the last couple of days.

The diagnosis of meningitis can't be conclusively confirmed for at least another day. It takes a while for the culture to grow. But they are treating him as if he does have it, and so far so good .

It is not a trival thing to visit Rennie. Meningitis is considered highly contagious. Anyone entering the room has to enter completely gowned for a sterile environment, and must go through decontamination procedures when leaving the room. Anything that enters the room (personal items, etc.) are forfeit. Mike Forney took Rennie his cell phone, for example, but couldn't give it to him.

Janine is feeling better today. When I talked to her on the phone at 4:20 p.m., I could tell from her voice that her strength is returning. She was just leaving Tonasket (having run some errands) on her way to Wenatchee. This morning she had enough energy to do lesson planning (she teaches half-time at Omak High School), and did sleep in.

Rennie is in Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee. The switchboard will patch calls through. The kids will stay with us through the weekend. Given how tough it is to be allowed into Rennie's room, we aren't sure yet if we will take them to Wenatchee on the weekend. Teresa and I will be glad to take them, but it is Rennie and Janine's call to make as to whether or not they should come.

If you take out the "h"s and translate it correctly, you can send questions or comments to newthon hatsign starbandh dot neth. (I figured out how to write that by reading my email address while holding my tongue.)

Rennie McCormick Medical Update

Starting today, for as long as is needed, I am going to use my personal blog to provide news about Rennie McCormick. Here's an edited version of the email I wrote today to several friends and family:

Dear friends and family,
Last week Rennie McCormick had upper back surgery to repair chronic injury (very similar to the operation he had in 1999). The early days of his recovery did not go well. He had the stomach flu, and needed to go to the clinic for IV fluids, due to dehydration caused by the flu.

Last night he was taken to Wenatchee via ambulance due to more extreme complications. He has been diagnosed with meningitis, and is on IV drug therapy as well as strong pain relief -- meningitis causes extremely painful headaches.
Please pray for Rennie, and for Janine and the kids. The kids will be staying with us, at least through the weekend or until things are closer to normal. Janine had the stomach flu yesterday, and hopes to be well enough today to go to Wenatchee to be with Rennie.
Here's something I got off the web about the illness; I'll try to find out whether Rennie's version of the disease is bacterial or viral.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person's spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. People sometimes refer to it as spinal meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability. For bacterial meningitis, it is also important to know which type of bacteria is causing the meningitis because antibiotics can prevent some types from spreading and infecting other people. Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, but new vaccines being given to all children as part of their routine immunizations have reduced the occurrence of invasive disease due to H. influenzae. Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis are the leading causes of bacterial meningitis.

Way To Go, Firefox!

I still have to use Microsoft Internet Explorer occasionally for certain work-related websites that are (frustratingly) tied to IE, but most of the time I use Firefox. It is definitely worth switching, if you haven't already.

Is There Anything More Cruel Than Being Labeled "Nerd Wannabe"?

One of those silly tests on the Web rates nerdiness. Many who know me outside of work assume I am a nerd. To set the record straight, I took the test.

I am nerdier than 28% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

"Nerd Wannabe" -- this could ruin my reputation. (Thanks to Darrin at Thin Spaces for the pointer.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sign Me Up for Scout World

One approach to preparing for the future is to create and analyze scenarios--competing plot outlines of what the future has in store. Science fiction writer and WIRED columnist Bruce Sterling puts forward a four-part scenario set in his blog, based on preparing for life in 2010. It is part of a series of blog items associated with his visit to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, well worth the read.

  • "Business As Usual" sees threats as low, business as good; don't rock the boat.
  • "Deer in the Headlights" has grave threats and a paralyzed, fearful populace. Terror runs amuck.
  • "Never Again" has high threat, high resolution of purpose (think of the post 9/11 years on steroids).
  • "Scout World" has high threat and "hysterically inventive" responses.
Sterling has the obligatory two-axis chart (response and threat), with a different kind of cutting implement representing each scenario. "Business As Usual" = Silver-plated dinner knife; "Deer in the Headlights" is a plastic picnic butter knife; "Never Again" is a saber; "Scout World" is a Swiss Army Knife with a USB memory stick on one hinge. (I would have preferred a Leatherman.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Research Conclusion: No Gay Gene

More than once, claims have been made that there is a genetic basis for homosexuality. A new study to be published in the March 2005 issue of Human Genetics, available online now, underminds this commonly held view, despite the author's best efforts to do otherwise.

In a press release from University of Illinois at Chicago, the study’s lead author Brian Mustanski said, "There is no one 'gay' gene. Sexual orientation is a complex trait, so it's not surprising that we found several DNA regions involved in its expression." However, a thorough examination of the actual report reveals no statistically significant findings for any of these DNA regions.

For a more balanced review of the study, read the comments from scientists at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Condoleeza Rice in 2008?

Political operative Dick Morris is saying out loud for benefit of the Beltway what is being talked about in the heartland and the blogosphere: Condoleeza Rice should run for president in 2008.

Americans for Rice is one of several web sites to spring up in support of a Rice candidacy; it has already set up shop as a "527" political organization, allowing it to spend money to promote Rice independently of any formal GOP efforts (which would be a LONG way off).

"A star is being born," Morris writes. As a former consultant to Bill Clinton who now works on foreign campaigns, along with regular appearances on Fox News Channel, Morris sees nothing but good for the GOP if Rice runs. " A Hillary Clinton vs. Condoleeza Rice matchup is the GOP's best hope, Morris writes:

The political fact is that a Rice candidacy would destroy the electoral chances of the Democratic Party by undermining its demographic base. John Kerry got 54 percent of his vote from three groups that, together, account for about a third of the American electorate: African-Americans, Hispanics and single white women. Rice would cut deeply into any Democrat’s margin among these three groups and would, most especially, deny [Hillary] Clinton the strong support she would otherwise receive from each of them.
Googling on "Rice 2008 president" nets 240,000 hits, although the relevancy drops off fast. In adidtion to the Americans for Rice cited above, there is also Rice2008.com,

Make Your Gmail Connection More Secure

Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger, posts a great tip on his blog on how to secure the connection when you check your Google Mail:

"Replace your bookmark with this:
By default, Gmail encrypts your login, but not your every page load. However, if you add the SSL-signifying s to the http, it'll keep it there."

By the way, I have 50 (yes, FIFTY) new invitations to Gmail to share. Write me at randall dot newton at gmail dot com if you want an invitation. I guess Google is ready for heavier load of users.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Rubbing It In On the Sunset Strip

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Professor Bainbridge of UCLA posts a photo of a "thank you" to Hollywood regarding the 2004 presidential election. We are amused, too, Prof. Bainbridge.

Podcasting Explained in Four Minutes

The next grass-roots revolution in Internet communications goes by the funky name "podcasting." People are creating audio content and sending them out into the world as RSS-based downloads. Anyone can upload the content and listen on their iPod or other MP3 player (or, of course, a PC).

Listen here for a four-minute explanation of podcasting -- done as a podcast, of course.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Google Answers My Query on Desktop Search

Wow, that was fast! Barely an hour ago I wrote (see previous entry) about Google Desktop Search, and said I was asking Google for advice. The answer is here already:

Thank you for your note. Once Google Desktop Search is installed, it updates your personal search index whenever you open, save, or view a file, email, or other searchable item. You'll be able to search for that new content within seconds.

For items you've moved or renamed, Desktop Search should pick up the changes the next time you open or save the item. However, when you delete an item or move it without opening it, Desktop Search may not detect the change. Items you've deleted or moved without opening will appear in your results at their old locations.

To remove these outdated items, click the 'Remove items' link near the top of the results page. Check the boxes next to the items you'd like to remove and click the 'Remove checked results' button. This will remove the items you checked and return you to your results page.

If you've made extensive changes to your hard drive setup or email folder structure, you may wish to start over with a new index. For more information about doing this, please visit

The Google Team

Good answer; I have no complaints. PS: I installed Microsoft's new desktop search tool today, the first day it was available.

Google Desktop Search is Just Too Efficient

I downloaded Google Desktop Search (GDS) the first day it was available, and I use it almost every day. But I find it is a bit too efficient. More than once my search results have included spam email messages that only spent a few minutes on my computer before being whisked into the ether. Having spam in my search results is only a mild annoyance, to be honest. But I see no need for the Google search database to have to store and process such bogus information.

Today I took a few minutes to read through the online help for GDS, and I didn't see anything related to how the database might update itself. So I wrote them, using the onscreen submission form, asking if there is anyway to have the GDS database update without uninstalling/reinstalling the software. I'll post the answer here (and also in my near-dormant blog A9watch, etc.)

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