Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beer: Stouts and Porters

I believe this may be the first in a series of posts on beer.  .  Beer is probably the oldest alcoholic beverage and dates to about 10,000 BC.  The first written records on beer are from China and Mesopotamia and date to about 4,000 BC .

A nice Imperial Stout in my favorite glass
This post is concerned with the style of beer known as "stout" or stout "porter".   Stouts are generally dark, warm-fermented, beers invented in London, England.  Their cousins, the ales are also generally fermented at warm room temperatures ranging from 15 C to ~29 C (60 F to 85 F).  In warm conditions the yeast rises to the top of the fermentation vessel and the beer is called "top-fermented" or warm-fermented.     

Other than being dark, stouts have a large range of tastes, textures and alcohol levels by volume (ABV).  Porters started out as rather strong beers with about 8% abv.  Over time, they became cheaper and weaker and evolved into the Gatorade of the day, sweetish, and refreshing.   Aging usually adds flavor but takes time and money.  Porter brewers discovered that a small amount of aged beer could be used to flavor new beer and make it good enough to sell.    Irish stout dispensed with even more ingredients (except the cheap black color of burned barley) and made a thin but refreshing drink of moderate abv.  Today, Guinness (~ 4% abv) is the modern version.  When fresh, it's quite a nice summer beer.  However, it sours very easily, and if not used quickly becomes quite unpalatable - if you have a palate...   Beware the "Irish" pub serving stale or insipid Guinness.  You are better off with the bottled version.

The acme of the porter/stout genre is the Russian Imperial Stout or Imperial Porter.   Originally, Imperial stout was brewed in London for the Empress Catherine the Great of RussiaIt was a strong and flavorful concoction (~10% abv).  When done right,  imperial stout is a sublime example of the brewer's art.   My thanks to big Jeff at Redbones for a really fine bottle.

In this context,  I'll paraphrase Benjamin Franklin,  "Imperial Stout is proof that the almighty wants us to be happy".
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more later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paul Leka: Songwriter, Pianist, Arranger

Paul Leka  (Photo by Joseph Bly)
Paul Leka, known for his songs Green Tambourine and Na Na Hey Hey, Goodbye,  died recently.   The song Na Na...,  was performed by the band,  Steam.    Here's a Youtube video of an early performance.








Green Tambourine was performed by the band,  The Lemon Pipers.  Here's a live video courtesy of  SixtiesPopGold1 on youtube .

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Jobs, Computing Entrepreneur and Media Maven

Apple I (Wikipedia), circa 1976.
Palo Alto, California (10/5/2011),   Steve Jobs had a deep understanding of the connections between computing technologies  and their social uses.    It started with his appreciation of the potential of the "graphical user interface".  As a kid,  he attended after-school lectures at Hewlett-Packard.   Later, as a summer employee,  he met Steve Wozniac (Woz).   After graduating from high school in 1972,  Steve spent only one semester in college.   He was interested in practical computing and was attracted  to Asian religions.  With Woz, he attended the Homebrew Computer Club and worked as a technician at Atari.   In 1975, Woz designed the Apple I.  The display was a standard TV set. And it booted from ROM!!  Apple Computer was established on April 1, 1976 in Cupertino, California, and incorporated January 3, 1977.   The Apple-1 was released  in  July of 1976.    No one does it alone in this world. Jobs and Woz  knew they needed help.  A key mentor and partner was Mike Markkula, Jr.  Mike had BS and MS degrees in EE from USC and was already a millionaire retiree at 32.  Yes,  we all need mentors of one kind or another. 

Apple II with floppy disks
In 1977,  a much improved Apple II was introduced.  The plastic case opened easily to reveal a motherboard and eight expansion slots.  The keyboard was built in to the case - a harbinger of laptop computers to come.

Apple II - case open
Xerox started their Palo Alto Reseach Center (PARC) in 1970. Xerox PARC still exists.   PARC researchers became famous  for developing key technologies in computing and communication -  bitmap computer graphics,  the graphical user interface (GUI),  the computer pointing device called the "mouse", object-oriented programming (OOP).   Contributions from PARC alumni, such as Alan Kay (not to be confused with Andrew Kay of Kaypro),  Butler Lampson, Charles Thacker and many others  were progenitors of the many of the components of modern computers.  At SRI, Douglas Englebart and Bill English's work led to the development of the computer mouse. 

Apple's Macintosh
 IBM introduced it's personal computer (PC) based on the Intel 8088 microprocessor in 1981. An obscure company called Microsoft provided the DOS 1.0 operating system.  Apple needed something better to survive.  On January 24, 1984,  Steve introduced the Macintosh at an emotional Apple shareholders' meeting.  the Macintosh was the first commercially successful PC with a mouse, a GUI and a 9-inch, 512x342 pixel monochrome display.  Users today would be immediately familiar with the windows and icons.   The marketing effort was very effective and many people became instant converts.  Detractors labeled it a mere toy - they were wrong.  Command line interfaces, although cool for those who had entered code with switches, were not the path to ubiquitous computing.  Bit-mapped graphics output was seductive no matter what, so some kind of input made sense.  The ability to create polished documents with integrated text and graphics made desktop publishing the killer app.   A year later, Apple introduced the LaserWriter, one of the first mass-market laser printers - only $6,995 (1985 dollars, wow).

Michael Dell founded Dell Computer in his dormroom at the U. of Texas, Austin (1984).  The era of extreme PC competition was here.   Apple struggled due to the relative dearth of software compared to IBM compatible PCs.  The network effect was in full force. With 90% market share, people wrote code for the dominant OS - Microsoft's. 

NeXT Cube circa 1990 (via wikipedia)
Jobs was pushed out of Apple in 1985 - probably the best thing that could have happened to him at that stage.  His creativity was unleashed.  Later on they would find they needed him more than ever.    He started NeXT, Inc.  It took until 1988 for something to be unveiled:  a computing powerhouse -  the NeXT cube. Despite it's limited commercial success, it was a huge influence on the industry.  The first web server ran on a NeXT in in 1990.   The cube was replaced by a "pizza box" in the NeXT station.   The workstation market (for technical and scientific computing) was no pushover either.  Competition was fierce and many companies did not survive - NeXT held on until 1996.   But these computers, and their software, allowed new computers to be designed - a bootstrapping process that continues today.  In 1986, Jobs bought George Lucas' "Graphics Group" and renamed it "Pixar".  Movies like Star Wars needed special effects and computer animation which required powerful graphics-oriented hardware and software to do anything in a reasonable time.   In 1996,  Apple bought Jobs' NeXT and Jobs' returned to Apple becoming CEO in 1997.  Desktop publishing was morphing into digital video production - the medium was the message.  More and better hardware and software was needed.

Sony Walkman, circa 1980
Akio Morita,  a founder of Sony with Masaru Ibuka, travelled a lot.  He wanted to be able to listen to opera while flying.  Nobutoshi Kihara, in Sony's audio division,  led the development of the Walkman compact audio music player.  It used  magnetic tape in a "compact" cassette as the music carrier (analog memory).  The Walkman went on sale in 1979 in Japan and became a world wide hit.   After the compact disc (CD) replaced analog tape as a consumer music medium, portable CD music players were sold.  They had many problems:  CDs needed to spin and the motor needed to be small.  This caused numerous skips in real world conditions.   Eventually,  digital memories were used to "buffer" up to a minute of audio while the disk stabilized after a jolt.
 
Could a digital semiconductor memory device be used instead of a moving disk in a portable music player?   As digital hardware  became cheaper, more powerful, and less power-hungry,  complex portable devices became feasible.  At the same time,  digital signal processing (DSP) and ideas from data compression and perceptual coding led to the development of "lossy" compression schemes such as jpeg,  and importantly for audio,  mp3 (MPEG audio layer 3).   Lossy compression allows for significant reduction in bit-rate and file sizes.  For mp3, compression by a factor of ten is quite common compared to CD audio rates.

iPod ca 2003
Apple announced it's portable digital media player, the iPod, in 2001.  The first iPod used a 5GB hard disk as a storage device.   Flash memory was still to come.   More important, Apple's iTunes software ran on Macs and later Windows deskop platforms to allow syncing and backup of music files. And most importantly,  Apple offered a place to buy songs though it's  iTunes service (2003-).  Apple was in the music distribution business.  As the internet expanded, Apple could offer it's web services worldwide.   In 2005, Apple introduced the iPod Nano, a digital media player which used non-volatile "flash" memory.  

In January of 2007, Apple unveiled it's first iPhone smartphone.  The phone was a leap forward in functionality compared to it's contemporaries.  A sensitive capacitive touchscreen, which used one or more real finger tips, replace the then common stylus-based version.   The phone was very similar to an earlier model by LG - they claimed that Apple had copied their device.  LG's phone was popular but it lacked the 3rd party software distribution channel  (App Store) and the scale of the Apple effort.  For text input the iPhone uses a virtual keboard on the screen saving weight and volume.   Current versions have two cameras,  front-facing for video telephony and rear for high-res still and video capture.  A native web-browser (Safari) is included.   A wide range of  free and paid apps for many needs and purposes has increased the iPhone's popularity.

Not surprisingly,  Google and Microsoft have challenged Apple in the smartphone arena.  Now Google's Android OS, and open hardware approach, is recapitulating the OS war between Microsoft's Windows and Apple's OS.   In terms of market share,  Google is gaining fast and will likely grab a large share of the market.  Microsoft's smartphone OS is good and getting better.

Steve Jobs with iPad - 2010
So what's the "cool factor" that Apple has in abundance?   It's more than skin-deep.  It all about esthetics, ergonomics and function combined into one package.   For users, living in the Apple universe is pretty nice.   Apple hardware plays nice with their brethren.  You did not need to know a nerd to do stuff.  

Tablet (aka slate) computers are thin, flat devices with a screen area about the size of letter paper (or A4 in ISO).   The don't have a physical keyboard and use touchscreen for input via a virtual keyboard and touch gestures for pointing, etc. via a fingertip or a stylus.   They have been around in some form since the invention of the writing slate made of actual slate (stone).  Touchscreen technology has improved a lot over the past ten years.  Capacitive touchscreens are sensitive to light touch of a finger tip.  Multi-touch allows two or more fingers to be tracked simultaneously.  This allows for two-finger gestures (for zooming, etc.)  and also better virtual keyboard function.  

Apple's tablet device is called the iPad.  More than 30 million iPads have been sold since it was released in April, 2010 -  !@@!! 

One important feature that's missing from Apple's touch input devices is called Swype (R).  It's a natural for virtual keyboards expecially on small screens.  You enter words by sliding your finger from letter to letter to spell out the word. The traced path is matched with likely words and you select the one you want.  It's pretty good.   A small keyboard is actually easier to use with Swype(R) since distance traced is smaller and thus faster. 

What can we expect from Apple now that Steve is not with us?  I'm sure more improvements in the current line of products.  The issue for the long term is new stuff.  To quote Alan Kay, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Nobel Prize in Medicine 2011

STOCKHOLM | Tue Oct 4, 2011 8:03am EDT (Reuters) - The Nobel Foundation said on Monday a decision to award the 2011 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology to Canadian scientist Ralph Steinman would remain unchanged despite his death.
By Patrick Lannin and Anna Ringstrom  STOCKHOLM | Mon Oct 3, 2011 11:52am EDT
Zanvil Cohn (left) and Ralph Steinman (right) examining d
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A scientist who won the Nobel prize for medicine on Monday for work on fighting cancer died of the disease himself just three days before he could be told of his award, and after using his own discoveries to extend his life.

Canadian-born Ralph Steinman,  68, had been treating himself with a groundbreaking therapy based on his own research into the body's immune system but died on Friday after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. His colleagues at Rockefeller University in New York called it a "bittersweet" honor.

The Nobel Committee at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which does not make posthumous awards, said it was aware of Steinman's death; but it appeared that it had not known before making its announcement. It is likely that Steinman died without being aware he had won science's ultimate accolade, along with American Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann of France.

Swedish officials on the Nobel Committee were rushing to try to clarify what secretary general Goran Hansson, called a "unique situation, because he died hours before the decision was made." Hansson told Swedish news agency TT the panel would review what to do with the prize money, due to rules against posthumous awards. But it would not name a substitute winner.

"The Nobel Foundation has recognized Ralph Steinman for his seminal discoveries concerning the body's immune responses," said Rockerfeller University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

"But the news is bittersweet, as we also learned this morning from Ralph's family that he passed a few days ago after a long battle with cancer," he added.

The institution said in a statement: "Steinman passed away on September 30. He was 68. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, and his life was extended using a dendritic-cell based immunotherapy of his own design."

Alexis Steinman, indicating that her father had not known on his deathbed of the impending decision in Stockholm, said: "We are all so touched that our father's many years of hard work are being recognized with a Nobel Prize. He devoted his life to his work and his family and he would be truly honored."

Beutler and Hoffmann, who studied the first stages of the body's immune responses to attack in the 1990s, shared the $1.5 million award with Steinman, originally from Montreal, whose discovery of dendritic cells in the 1970s is key to understanding the body's next line of defense against disease.

"This year's Nobel laureates have revolutionized our understanding of the immune system by discovering key principles for its activation," the award panel at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said in a statement in Stockholm.

Lars Klareskog, who chairs the prize-giving panel, told Reuters before the news of Steinman's death: "I am very excited about what these discoveries mean. I think that we will have new, better vaccines against microbes and that is very much needed now with the increased resistance against antibiotics."

Beutler, 53, is based at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Luxembourg-born Hoffmann, 70, conducted much of his work in Strasbourg. They were supposed to share half the 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.46 million) of prize-money. The rest should have gone to Steinman, though the unusual circumstances leave its fate now in some doubt.

Beutler told Reuters he had learned of his prize by e-mail and had to search online to make sure it was true: "I finally found it on Google News. My name was all over the place."

Of his work, he said, it "might lead to new treatments for inflammatory and auto-immune disease and possibly new treatments for other kinds of diseases as well."

The work of all three scientists has been pivotal to the development of improved types of vaccines against infectious diseases and novel approaches to fighting cancer. The research has helped lay the foundations for a new wave of "therapeutic vaccines" that stimulate the immune system to attack tumors.

Better understanding of the complexities of the immune system has also given clues for treating inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the components of the self-defense system end up attacking the body's own tissues.

Beutler and Hoffmann discovered in the 1990s that receptor proteins act as a first line of defense, innate immunity, by recognizing bacteria and other microorganisms. Steinman's work, explained how, if required, dendritic cells in the next phase, adaptive immunity, kill off infections that break through.

Understanding dendritic cells led to the launch of the first therapeutic cancer vaccine last year, Dendreon's Provenge, which treats men with advanced prostate cancer.

"We live in a dangerous world. Pathogenic microorganisms threaten us continuously," the Nobel panel said, describing the work over the decades in understanding our defenses.

"The first line of defense, innate immunity, can destroy invading microorganisms and trigger inflammation ... If microorganisms break through this defense line, adaptive immunity is called into action ... It produces antibodies and killer cells that destroy infected cells ... These two defense lines ... provide good protection against infections, but they also pose a risk ...: inflammatory disease may follow."

Medicine, or physiology, is usually the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

The award citation noted that the world's scientists had long been searching for the "gatekeepers" of immune response.

Hoffmann's pioneering research was conducted on fruit flies, highlighting how key elements of modern human biology have been conserved through evolution.

The immune system exists primarily to protect against infections but it can also protect against some cancers by targeting rogue cells before they proliferate.

Sometimes, however, the immune system goes into overdrive and attacks healthy tissue, leading to autoimmune inflammatory diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. The effect is often compared to "friendly fire," when troops hit their own comrades in combat.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London and Mia Shanley in Stockholm; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)


STOCKHOLM | Tue Oct 4, 2011 8:03am EDT
(Reuters) - The Nobel Foundation said on Monday a decision to award the 2011 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology to Canadian scientist Ralph Steinman would remain unchanged despite his death.
Steinman was awarded the prize together with Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann for increasing understanding of the immune system.
Rules set up in 1974 prevent the Nobel Committee from awarding the prizes posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize.
Steinman died on September 30 and the committee announced the prize without knowing of his death.
"The events that have occurred are unique and, to the best of our knowledge, are unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Prize," the foundation said in a statement.
"According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, work produced by a person since deceased shall not be given an award. However, the statutes specify that if a person has been awarded a prize and has died before receiving it, the prize may be presented."
(Reporting by Mia Shanley)

Utility Pole Replacement in Cambridge (Riverside)

Last night a wooden  utility pole  cracked at the base and fell toward the neighboring pole across the street. This caused the wires to d...