Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

selling gene pools

A slightly unsettling (creepy even maybe?) Salon article:

The newest resources "discovered" in Estonia are the genes of its 1.4 million citizens. The country's government and a Silicon Valley start-up called EGeen International are treating the Estonian gene pool as a commodity to be exploited for medical research and profit.

EGeen owns the exclusive commercial rights to data from the Estonian Gene Bank Project. In March the bank will begin a full-scale effort to collect blood samples and medical histories that will help scientists understand Estonians from the inside out.

Selling exclusive access to their gene pool? That sounds quite ridiculous. Setting aside the ethical implications, we could just question the issue of "gene ownership". Aren't my genes my genes? The mix between biotech and "free markets" is certainly creating some strange creatures. And just wait for nanotechnology to be a real force...

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 8:08 PM

staroffice goes after the consumer market

[via Erik]: Sun aims StarOffice PC Bundlers at Joe user. Nice to see this is finally happening.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 6:04 PM

watch out for the chinese


This article from The Economist covers the rise of local Chinese handsets over the established international players:

ONLY last year, the bosses of global mobile-phone companies active in China were still laughing at the handsets offered by TCL, a Chinese manufacturer of television sets that started making mobile phones in 1999. To most foreigners, its faux-diamond ornamentation is egregiously kitschy. But the Chinese love it, and so TCL has passed Siemens and Samsung to become China's third-largest handset vendor after Motorola and Nokia, two firms that it now has in its sights.

Suddenly, nobody is laughing at local brands such as TCL and its two main rivals, Ningbo Bird and Amoisonic. In 1999, they had less than 3% of a fairly small market. Now the market is the world's largest—with about 200m subscribers and 60m handsets sold last year—and domestic brands have 26% of it, according to estimates by Adventis, a telecoms consultancy. Several foreign brands, including Sweden's Ericsson, have all but vanished; America's Motorola and Finland's Nokia still dominate, with half the market between them, but they are rapidly losing share. As if to sum it up, Motorola itself has started copying the diamond-studded decoration it used to deride.

Wow. Very impressive. The article also mentions that there are now thirty-six handset providers in China, and growing. Because they use mostly technology that they buy from European or US companies, their R&D outlay is quite low. Obviously this will have at some point impact on the international markets, increasing competition and lowering prices. Whether it will actually accelerate innovation is another matter, since that is usually bound to the telecoms actually deploying the services that make the handsets useful.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 5:55 PM

an update on spaces

So I missed my self-imposed end-of-february deadline for the release of the spaces beta. I'm not terribly happy about it, and I want to apologize to those users that have been waiting for it. But there wasn't much I could do. Let me explain.

On one hand, there have been several things going on besides spaces. For example, the term at Trinity (where I am a teaching assistant in the CS department) just ended (last friday, yay!), and it was slightly crazier than usual; because of the way the course is organized this term is the one where the students have to hand in most of their work, and that means a lot of bureaucratic crap to deal with, not to mention having to correct dozens of 20-page assignments (not fun).

On the other hand, my thesis work was on the forefront at the end of january (as I was releasing alpha 1.8) and at the beginning of february. Usually I manage my time reasonably well and balance between the different things I do, but this time the thesis got to the point where I needed one last big push to get the code running. And it did! The first complete version of the code ran for the first time in the second week of february.

Now, those weeks where the thesis took overriding priority over everything else (namely, sleep, eating, and so on, with many 16 or 18-hour days) are the main factor that accounts for the beta not being out by now. There's another however.

The other factor is that I've decided that the beta would have to include the memory/storage optimizations that have been waiting on the wings since the alpha release. The goal would be for spaces to run comfortably under the default settings of the JVM (usually 64 megs of maximum heap, although on I've seen some installations where it defaults to 128 megs). This applies to all operations, including import. Simply put, I wanted the "java.lang.OutOfMemoryError" messages to be a thing of the past. Also, reliability had to be rock solid. Many people are already using spaces for their everyday mail, and although they know it's alpha, that's no excuse. It should be fixed. And the time is now.

The original version of the storage system that underlies spaces alpha 1.x was optimized to minimize disk usage and maximize performance, at the expense of memory. To update it, I am rewriting several components that will change the equation to minimize memory usage and maximize performance. The new version will take up maybe 10-20% more on disk (with a higher peak usage as well), but will have upper bounds on the RAM used. The goal is, again, never to breach the default maximum JVM heap of 64 megabytes when the number of items stored (email, RSS, calendar entries, etc) is 100,000 (yes, one hundred thousand items). It should use less memory than 64 megs, probably in the neighborhood of 32, but 64 is the upper bound. This would mean that spaces will run in about the same memory other programs currently demand under similarly heavy use. In the process, I am adding more features for stability, reliability, and storage management, and preparing the core to support versioning of items, which will be necessary in the near future.

Now, the storage system change is well underway. I've already been running preliminary tests on it with 100,000 thousand items inserted into the database, and memory usage has decreased by a factor of ten in some cases. It's amazing how changing the focus on optimization can affect different measures of performance: the original design of the storage had in mind a few tens of thousands of items, rather than hundreds of thousands. And even though not that many people will deal with hundreds of thousands of items, RSS Feeds create large numbers of items, so tens of thousands of items for a user is not a ridiculous idea.

After the storage change is complete (probably in the next couple of days), I will finish work on the IMAP implementation and make the UI changes that were planned for beta 1, which include making a space more "malleable" by allowing various types of sorting and filtering to be used. I will post more information on these changes for comments as as soon as there is something that others can actually see, or try out.

So that's about it for the moment, more to come in the next few days!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 5:46 PM

the tyranny of email

[via Scripting News]: A post by Ole Eichorn on the dark side of email. Loosely related to this previous post of mine. A good read.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 1:03 PM

a short article on spaces

Spaces was reviewed in a short article on the online edition The Hindu. (Well, maybe it's also on the printed version, but I have no way to check :-)). Cool.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 10:06 AM

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