Category Archives: Personal

More bad news regarding blog hack

A few days ago I reported that my blog had been hacked, most likely due to a vulnerability in the previous version of WordPress I was using.

Well, at that time I thought I had cleaned out the infected files, but it turned out that a few files in the parent directory of my blog (http://locut.us/) were still infected. This wouldn’t have been a problem because nobody really visits those files, but unfortunately Google’s web crawler did, and as a result Google has decided that my blog contains malware. Now, if you try to visit my website in Firefox 3.0 – you get a big scary warning!

So I’ve had it running my own WordPress installation, unsure of when it will next be hacked, possibly with even worse consequences than this time. Frankly, it is absolutely ridiculous that such a mainstream application could be so insecure as to leave tens of thousands of websites vulnerable in this way.

Even though I’m a bit wary of rewarding WordPress for their insecure software, I’ve decided to migrate my blog to their hosted service, as you’ll be able to tell if you look at the URL right now.

I’ve requested that Google remove my former domain from their danger list, but they say that it could take several weeks – in the meantime its not exactly going to do wonders for my blog’s traffic :-(

Alan’s new project goes live: uCareer!

My good friend and occasional collaborator, Alan Ren has just launched his new project, uCareer, an innovative and novel take on the hard problem of matching employees with employers.

We’ve had career websites like Monster.com for almost a decade, and really they haven’t changed much in this time.  Meanwhile, the process of hiring is tedious, time consuming, and risky, both for employers and employees.  uCareer has the potential to change this.

Alan has already got some great publicity and I wish him the best of luck with his new project.

Jesca Hoop

South by South West, a large music festival in Austin, is this week (the locals sometimes refer to it as “the Suck” due to the influx of outsiders clogging up our bars and restaurants ;). It means there is lots to do, and lots of people I know from California and elsewhere are here.

The timing is a bit unfortunate as I’ve been trying to cut-down on my alcohol consumption of late, but its hard not to relapse when you have 10 invitations to hang out at parties with interesting people every single evening. Hopefully I’ll be back on the wagon next week.

Anyway, because of the festival I’m hearing some unusually good independent music on the radio – here is a particularly nice song I heard yesterday by Jesca Hoop, an LA-based singer-songwriter.

Surgery

Note (Mar 5th): This is an update of “Going under the knife tomorrow”

For the last 8 or 9 years I’ve been suffering from a rare condition called achalasia, which makes it difficult to swallow food and liquids because my lower esophageal sphincter, a trap door at the entrance to my stomach, fails to open to let stuff through when its supposed to.

The sensation feels like you have something trapped in your throat after swallowing anything substantial, which is pretty-much exactly what is happening. Its not pleasant, and means that I need to eat slowly, and drink a lot of liquids while I eat to “flush” it all down. Even worse, sometimes it just doesn’t go down at all, in which case… well, you can imagine.

They don’t know what causes achalasia, but they do know that its not something that goes away naturally. Eight years ago I had a simple procedure called a balloon dilation, where they deliberately stretch the misbehaving sphincter so that it doesn’t close properly, and lets food through. That provides a few months of relief, but its not a permanent solution. Of course, there is a reason that sphincter is there in the first place, and so if it doesn’t close properly it can cause heartburn because acid from your stomach gets up into your esophagus where it doesn’t belong. Anyway, since I had that procedure back in 2000 in London I’ve just learned to live with the problem.

But a few months ago I decided that I would go see a doctor about it again, and learned about a newish treatment called a Laproscopic Heller myotomy, which is performed through keyhole surgery, making it less of a big deal than it otherwise would be. It involves cutting the muscles that keep the problematic sphincter closed, thus addressing the problem of food not getting through for the long term, and often permanently.

Of course, like the balloon dilation, leaving the trap door open can allow stomach acid to get where it doesn’t belong, causing heartburn – therefore they do another procedure called a fundoplication, which involves wrapping the top part of your stomach around the esophagus, effectively creating a new artificial sphincter of sorts, which should help prevent heartburn.

So Thursday was the big day, my surgery was at 8am, by early that afternoon I was surfing the net on my iTouch with morphine pumping through my veins – feeling pretty good. Surgeon said that it went extremely well, and I was able to drink clear liquids by mid-afternoon, by which time my mother and girlfriend had arrived with my laptop.

ianathosp1
Here is Ian on drugs, around 10pm 28th Feb

I stayed in for observation that night, but even immediately after the op I wasn’t experiencing any discomfort, although I suspect I’ve got the morphine to thank for that. Still, even without the drugs, I don’t think I would have been in agony.

As I write this its been 4 days since the surgery, and while I’m still being cautious about what I eat and how quickly I eat it, the difference is obvious. [warning: TMI alert!] So far I haven’t thrown up once, whereas before the surgery I would have thrown-up many times a day.

That may seem awful, but after 8 years throwing-up was really no more unpleasant or unusual than sneezing. It was only inconvenient because you need to run to the nearest bathroom to do it, which can make people thing that either you have the world’s smallest bladder, or that you are bulimic (achalasia is a physical disorder, not a psychological one – it has nothing to do with bulimia).

I’m still walking around like an old man, and my chest is full of aches and pains when I’m not on the painkillers, but really its not so bad and its improving rapidly. I expect to be 100% within a week.

Oh, one last thing – the Seton hospital is absolutely wonderful. I felt like I’m was being pampered as if on an international first class flight. The staff were even very nice to my mother and girlfriend, who were also made to feel like they were an important part of the process. Truth be told, I almost feel nostalgic for my stay there.

Life after death for Atheists

I’ve been reading Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion and so this New York times article caught my attention.

The first interesting and surprising point in the article is that the Abrahamic Old Testament made almost no mention of an afterlife! Apparently until near-Christian times, only one Jewish sect, the Pharisees, took the afterlife seriously. This is really strange as I always thought one of the primary motivators behind religion was what happened to you after you died. I guess in simpler times the idea that God would punish you for your sins within your lifetime was more plausible (although there are some that still take the possibility seriously).

But it gets more interesting. Could there be an afterlife without God (or gods)? I have seen it said, in this New York Times article and elsewhere, that science has disproved the possibility that consciousness could be separate from our physical brains. I am skeptical of this, I studied artificial intelligence at university in the late 90s, and as I recall, nobody had a clue at that time how our minds really did any of the amazing things they do. I suspect that had this changed significantly in the last 8 years, I would have heard about it.

Some claim that various forms of brain damage, and the apparent gradual degradation in people’s ability to act like people that can result, suggests that “the mind is meat”, but I don’t think this follows. The NYT article points out a theory I’ve had since my teenage years, which is that the brain is simply like a radio receiver, relaying the instructions of our minds from somewhere outside the physical world we know. If you damage a radio receiver, the signal is degraded, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the source of the signal has been damaged.

There are those who claim experimental results where the mind could influence the outcome of random quantum events (see psychokinesis). I don’t know enough to endorse or refute these experimental results, but when I first heard about them it struck me as interesting, as the human brain would be an very effective amplifier of any kind of “signal” being transmitted at the quantum level. So if something or someone were able to manipulate quantum events, the brain would be a perfect way for them to amplify their influence.

Presumably Richard Dawkins would see the whole idea that the bodies we perceive are merely robots being controlled from elsewhere to be a big cop-out, regardless of its scientific plausibility. He would argue that it doesn’t solve the problem of how we were created, it just moves it elsewhere. Who is controlling our bodies, and how were they created? Whether we are simply the meat we see in our daily lives, or whether we are more than that, we still don’t have any better answer as to where we come from.

Sicko – and the US healthcare system

Here is an email I sent to Michael Moore, in response to his movie Sicko. I am not so naive to think that he would actually respond, but I thought you might find it interesting anyway:

Hi Michael,

I agree with you that the healthcare system in the US is a failure,
and having lived in the UK for several years relying on the NHS, I
also agree with you that the UK national healthcare system is
definitely preferable to the current private sector system in the
United States.

However, it does not follow that nationalized healthcare is the only
possible remedy. Is it not possible that with appropriate regulation,
market forces could provide an effective healthcare system?

I ask because while I’m not a native of the United States, I’ve
noticed that most people here have a serious distrust of their
government, and often regard the private sector as being the lesser of
two evils, the worse evil being the public sector.

Having personally dealt with government bureaucracies in both the UK
and the US, I can well understand this. For example, if you have
questions about how to file taxes in the UK, you can go to the Inland
Revenue (the UK’s IRS) and they will feed you tea and cookies while
they explain the system to you, often pointing out ways you can reduce
your tax burden. Can you imagine the IRS giving you tea and cookies
while they patiently explain how you can pay less tax?

Really I think this is a cultural difference, and given that changing
the culture of the US government may be an even more challenging task
than reforming the healthcare system, does it not make sense to
consider whether there is a system of regulation and/or incentives
that could promote a market-orientated system for the provision of
healthcare in the United States?

Kind regards,

Ian.

Pocket Fashionista

For the past few months my girlfriend Janie has been working on a new fashion-orientated website called Pocket Fashionista. The idea is that people can upload photos of themselves wearing an outfit and get honest feedback from other site users.

Janie built PF from the ground up using Ruby on Rails, she handled setting up the server having carefully researched the multitude of options for getting rails to operate efficiently. Right now it should be able to handle 10-30 impressions per second.

Anyway, she is looking for feedback so if fashion is something that interests you, check it out.