Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lifestyles of the Rich and Thomas

We interrupt our normally-scheduled programming (pun intended) to bring you yet another exhibit from the Christianity Hall of Shame.

From the days of the Apostle Paul until now, there has never been a paucity of preachers adept at utilizing their talents as "a means to financial gain". Joining that distinguished league (actually he has been a member for nearly two decades, but is apparently just now coming out of the closet) is Thomas Wayne ("Kip") McKean..........leader, along with his wife Elena, of the Los Angeles, CA-based City of Angels International Christian Church - and of the entire Sold-Out Discipling Movement, a Bible-based evangelical movement of which the City of Angels Church is a member.

To see the details of Kip's latest real-estate transaction, go here. Church members, don't fret; the $650,000 you have contributed over the years has been put to good use. While you have been living on Ramen Noodles and holding back on taking your children to the dentist in order to make your "Special Missions Contribution".......your "pastor" has just purchased a 2/3-million-dollar "mansion in the sky". Not in Heaven, mind you - but in one of the most upscale predominately-white condominium buildings located in one of the most upscale predominately-white neighborhoods of the metropolitan Los Angeles area (After all, someone needs to minister to all the celebrities who live in that building).

Here is the main website of the condominium building, Azzurra, in which Kip and Elena live.

Here are photos and descriptions of some of the amenities offered to residents of this building.

And here is the floorplan of the McKean's specific 12th-floor condo unit - the so-called Peter Alexander floorplan. (Peter Alexander, in case you're wondering, is one of many renowned artists whose original works decorate the lobbies and halls of the condo building).

If you're wondering what kind of view their condo affords - here you go:

Awww, what a shame! Their view of Marina del Rey's world-renowned boating harbor is partially blocked by another building! Oh, the sacrifices these Men of God endure!

I estimate that the combination of maintenance fees and property taxes alone would be close to $3000 a month.........even if there is no mortgage and property was purchased entirely with cash. That is more than most Southern California homeowners pay for the total mortgage and fees of their residences! And it is certainly incomparably higher than what the overwhelming majority of McKean's parishioners are spending on housing.

Now, I am no longer a religious believer, as I was years ago. I like to think that there is a God of some sort, and that the man Jesus was indeed a unique and enlightened soul.........but at the end of the day, I have no way of proving either of those propositional claims. So I have to settle with simply doing my best to make the world a better place and to love my fellow man. (Even if it's true that, as the fundamentalists like to parrot, a good moral life won't get you into Heaven - I think that I would rather live a "good moral life" and endure the otherworldly consequences than inhabit a Heaven that is populated by the likes of today's evangelical nut-cases).

At the same doesn't take a Jesus (or a Gandhi or a Mother Theresa) to sense that something doesn't quite add up right about a Christian minister (i.e., Thomas, aka Kip) living in luxury amidst LA's Beautiful People(tm) a neighborhood that is the polar opposite of his congregation's lower-to-middle income and predominately Hispanic and black demographic......on the tithes of these very same sacrificial congregants................and all the while claiming to be a sold-out totally-committed disciple of a first-century homeless Palestinian carpenter/prophet who reportedly had "no place to lay his head" at night.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My First Seminar Paper

I have finally completed my paper for my graduate-level "Computer Science and Software Engineering Seminar" course (COT5930) at the University of West Florida, as a part of my Master's program. I received an A for the paper (and the course as a whole), as well as positive peer-reviews from other graduate students.

My paper can be viewed here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The iPhone will see you now

The smartphone/PDA revolution is not just about texting, social networking, and managing your work calendar. Nascent advances with regards to processor power, speed, and compactness - the fruit of research and experimentation in the fields of nanotechnology and quantum computing - will in the coming years transform the humble PDA phone into a computational powerhouse whose capabilities rival those of today's most sophisticated desktop workstations. And one of the sub-fields that will be impacted the most will be medical imaging.

Picture yourself visiting your family doctor. You've been vexed by sharp pains in your upper abdomen and back, and are very concerned. Up until now, diagnosing such a dilemma would involve your doc scheduling an appointment for you at an imaging center for an MRI or ultrasound - an appointment which not only is expensive, but also often involves waiting several days (or even weeks) for typically-overbooked imaging facilities to fit you into their schedule. Today, however, your friendly physician's assistant pulls out a credit-card-sized device - which looks suspiciously like an iPhone - and waves it over your chest and stomach. Within second, she presents to you on the device's screen a crystalline image of your innards...........complete with the source of your agony - a pellet-sized gall stone - standing out as a dot of dazzling white against a flesh-colored background.

If this sounds a little too Star-Trekkish to be real - be assured that within a few years (or even sooner) such a scenario will be increasingly common in examination rooms across the world. That is, if the folks at the IEEE and private entrepreneurs such as this company have their way. And the FDA is all for it!

The once-boring field of medical informatics will present new challenges and opportunities of the software engineer of tomorrow. The ubiquity of computing via handheld devices, along with exponential improvements in both computing capability and affordability, will all but guarantee that every doctor's or veterinarian's office in the city will get in on the act. Software engineers who know something about biology, who possess expertise in image processing and computer vision, and who can code applications to take advantage of the PDA-of-the-future's vast computational power will hardly find themselves begging for a job. One can imagine an explosion of upstarts, founded by computer scientists in partnership with MDs, medical researchers, and biologists.

Of course, this explosion will not come without its concerns. Most notably, security will be a huge issue with it comes to the democratization of medical computational devices - particularly in a heavily-regulated field such as medical informatics (can you say HIPAA?). With all this digitized data of people's inmost parts floating around..........literally floating around, since our society is becoming more and more can imagine the ultimate hacking nightmare just waiting to happen. But even this could be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. Software professionals who can develop stronger and stronger encryption algorithms to thwart the bad guys will, as a result of the portable bioinformatics boom - find their services very much in demand.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why does most "educational" software...umm...suck?

As a supplement to my pursuit of graduate and post-graduate degrees, I recently purchased some educational software. While I do indeed have respect for Dr. Wayne and Company, I have to admit that the material left a lot to be desired.

It's not as if they are alone in their failure to meet my expectations. It seems to be axiomatic that much of what passes for e-learning technology is of a substandard quality when it comes to imparting the desired knowledge to the student. This is a nice way of saying that it sucks.

What's sad is that the shortcomings of the material aren't so much related to their content (in fact, in most cases, the content is indeed accurate and comprehensive) as they are to theirpresentation. The fact is that humans are not machines; we do not learn things by having information fed to us the way you might, say, "feed" information to your PC by inserting a USB stick into the front panel. No - it's way more complicated.

A cursory familiarity with cognitive science will inform the reader that the process of learning involves (on the abstract level) forming and refining associations between concepts, and (on the physical level) forming and reinforcing connections - literal, physical, electrical-chemical connections - between neurons and synapses. Most educational software applications, however, consist of large blobs of informational content, followed by a quiz at the end of each large blob (section/lesson) which tests one's memorization of the contents previously presented.

The problem with this methodology is......we retain only about 10 percent of what we read and/or view. However, when the content (that which is read or viewed) is accompanied by, say, an interactive exercise, voluntary repetition, or an illustration which forges an analogy between what is being learned and what is already understood - then this 10 percent figure increases dramatically.

So what do I plan to do differently when I develop my own suite of educational software applications?

  1. The flow of the learning will be punctuated - at frequent but unpredictable intervals - by "pop quizzes".
  2. The software will take note of the learner's accuracy in answering questions, and will dynamically alter the learning content accordingly.
  3. Many quizzes will feature questions that are partially answered. As the learner develops proficiency, the degree to which questions which follow will be answered will decrease - leaving more for the learner to fill in.
  4. Some exercises will be presented in the form of games.
  5. Illustrations, which form analogies between the lesson being taught and concepts the learner is already familiar with, will be a predominating feature.

This, of course, is a complex topic. There is more to come after I do some more research.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Commoditization of Business Intelligence? Part 1

A co-worker recently explained a previous consulting gig to me, an assignment with a well-known Asian restaurant chain. In an age of increasingly commoditized I.T. (real or perceived) , this prominent eatery's "decision support solution" consisted of storing rolled-up register tapes in a cardboard box in the stock room. These boxes were regularly shipped to corporate headquarters, where analysts would dutifully eyeball the tapes and manually crunch the numbers in a handheld calculator. Sound like a recipe (pun intended) for success to you? Me neither.

On the assignment, my friend developed software which tracked every item sold in the restaurant, saving the data to a centralized OLAP (online analytical processing) database. This afforded corporate analysts a real-time view of revenue and of diners' purchasing patterns. Sitting down with the company executives, my co-worker showed them how to run queries and reports against this ocean of data. A database query which took mere seconds to run revealed that - by a long shot - the most freqently ordered item at each franchise (aggregated across all locations) was........Volcano Sushi? Pad Thai? Mongolian Beef? No, not even close. The top seller by far was an obscure Japanese bottled beer. My friend immediately advised the execs to increase the brew's price 25 cents. They did, and the restaurant chain experienced record profit growth over the following 2 years.

Had they not implemented this technology, this sales detail would have remained lost amidst a bale of register tape, and the company's financial portrait over those subsequent two years likely would not have beeen as favorable.
Business Intelligence (BI), Data Wareousing, Data Marts, OLAP, Data Mining, Decision Support Services.........whatever you want to call it, it's the wave of the future for business informatics. The technology has been around for years, and (if one believes the advertisements and the pronouncements made at vendor-sponsored conferences), everyone who's anyone in corporate America is jumping on the bandwagon. One might even imagine that BI has become a commmodity, in the same way that the the Internet and database technology in general have become.

But the real-life experiences of those of us who work in database/software development reveal a different story. While many high-profile companies do indeed employ BI tools and methodologies to their full potential, countless more - including the majority of the companies that I and my colleagues have worked for - are mired in the dark ages of spreadsheets and ad-hoc queries against production databases.