iPad – after the wow effect (part 1)

I have been using an ipad for several months now and I think I’m just starting to really take advantage of its fabulous potential.

I was primarily looking for an eBook reader. and a notetaker with some mindmapping capabilities.  The quantity and quality of applications quickly has gone beyond my expectations, even though iOS 4.2 is badly missed.

So, after having installed and tried all sorts of ipad software, some have revealed to be useful and will probably stay.

Here are some screenshots of my current setup.



Readers and references

These are probably the apps I use the most, as I was primarily interested in the eReader capabilities of the ipad.

The main apps here are GoodReader, Kindle and iBooks.  The Free Books app gives access to a large collection of freely available books, mainly from the Project Gutenberg library.  This is great to find some classical literature but has the inconvenience of often poor formatting and/or missing characters (single quotes, foreign language accents, etc).

The wikipanion is a tiny interface to wikipedia and txtr is a surprising reference search engine.  It is very basic but sometimes can be useful to find additional sources of information on a specific topic.

iScience and Math ref are small references to scientific background.  Perfect companions when you are trying to remember a given mathematical concept or a specific physical law, or even the properties of a natural element.

Finally, Read it later allows you to save web pages to browse them offline and ShinKanji lite is a nice reference to japanese Kanji characters (only a limited set of them in the lite version).  Let’s have a look at those:



In this example, I have some Oracle related documents that I organize into folders.  The first advantage I saw with GoodReader with respect to iBooks is that you can organize your library as you want, and are not forced to use iTunes each time you want to store a document.  iTunes may be great to manage musci and video, but I hate feeling trapped into a colsed application.

So here I open a factsheet pdf.


Nothing new.  What is interesting here is the ability to enter keyboard and freehand notes in the document, with the ability to draw directly in the document.  GoodReader will propose you to make a copy of your original document before modifying it.  That’s pretty handy as you can then search your own notes in the document.






A cool feature of GoodReader is that it allows you to browse the web and download documents.  For example, I have entered the url to a specific document in the Oracle documentation library and it’s downloaded and displayed in a couple seconds.



Finally, I appreciate very much the ability to transfer documents through several channels, including directly upload via http to the ipad, download with ftp/lDAV and other internet service providers such as dropbox or box.net.

Goodreader transfer

Did I mention that this app also reads Office documents (word, excel, powerpoint) ? In my case, the goal here is not to use the ipad to carry all sorts of documents.  It can be too risky to store confidential documents on an ipad (until a reliable cryptography mechanism is in place) but sometimes, for short times, it is very convenient for quick readings or discrete presentations on a table.

As another example, I’ll open the same book that I purchased on Apress, Expert Oracle Practices, in both GoodReader and iBooks, to spot   the main differences.


We see here the main controls: a vertical slider at the left to quickly go to a given page.

The horizontal menu bar on the bottom has several cool functionalities.  The ones I appreciate the most are the ability to exactly set the contrast, brightness, font size, background colour and so on.  The reading mode allows you to choose a reading speed and the text will scroll down automatically so that you don’t need to move a lot.  This is interesting if you are holding the ipad with one hand and your coffee with the other, for example, or are just too tired of turning pages.

The table of contents is correctly parsed and the sections are easily accessible, as shown below.


Nevertheless, the page numbers are never correct, so that what you see in the page footer does not correspond to what is displayed by the app! (this is also the case with iBooks).




The same book opened in iBooks, with limited functionality and the same issue with page numbers.  iBooks allows you to mark pages for later reference and search.  It is not possible to organize the documents in categories or folders though, and you need to synchronize your pdf’s using iTunes or through mail attachments.



Amazon Kindle

The only reason why I use Amazon Kindle on the iPad is the availability of some books on Kindle and not in an eBook (pdf or ePub) format.

This is the case with a book I purchased recently, namely Oracle SOA Suite 11g handbook, by Lucas Jellema. I will not enter into the description of this book as I haven’t finished reading it yet.  This is a monumental piece of work which is not only complete and detailed, it also has, along with its 800 pages printed size, an online wiki with additional extras!  phew! A real delight if you like to explore things and constantly learn something new.

Something I don’t like in Kindle ebooks is the fact that you completely lose the original format.  The printed look, the fonts, the overall rendering in a way that just delivers text and images.  Nevertheless, Amazon Kindle provides decent (albeit basic) reading customisation for the fonts, the colours and the notes/highlighting tools.

Something particular with Kindle books though is that they reside in the Amazon repository so that you can retrieve them from any Kindle client or capable device.  There is also a function to synchronize a device with the last read so that you find the location where you left the book lately.







This tiny app contains some maths, physics and chemistry information.  College level, nothing fancy here but nice to have sometimes if you have interest in these topics and need to recall some concepts.





Math Ref

This is another little reference app but is focused only on maths.  Pretty cool refresher.




ShinKanji lite

A small comment about this cute app displaying a beautiful sample of japanese kanjis.  Not only the app provides a description of the kanjis, their radicals and relationships with other kanjis, but gives small clips showing how to draw them stroke by stroke.



Metro suit

Aren’t you one of those individuals who have to often endure the unbearable experience of Brussels’ metro travels ?

Haven’t you ever dreamed of a solution to escape from sensorial agression or momentarily dissipate the discomfort of a promiscuous environment ?

Weren’t you often worried about these millions of staphylococci, salmonella choleraesuis, escherichia coli, streptococcus pyogenes, pseudomonas aeruginosa, enterobacter aerogenes, shigella dysenteriae and other nasty rhinovirus lurking around you ?

Aren’t you sometimes tempted to plug a pair of powerful earplugs to easen the thrills of listening to a whole crowd speaking 60 different languages ?

Wouldn’t you sometimes want to plug another pair of (less powerful) earplugs in your nose, or to carry a transportable oxygen tank ?

Then here is the perfect solution!

In the following document we can see two people wearing the suit in the London tube.

Quantum Oracles

I was recently doing a search on Oracle and came down to Quantum Oracles.

The subject of quantum computing intrigued me since my student days.  I still remember the Mathematica quantum machine simulation packages and the vector maths associated with the theory.  The thing is, the paradoxes of quantum mechanics were stimulating and – sometimes – funny, as Richard Feynman once pointed out to his students

What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school—and you think I’m going to explain it to you  so you can understand it? No, you’re not going to be able to understand it. Why, then, am I going to bother you with all this? Why are you going to sit here all this time, when you won’t be able to understand what I am going to say? It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don’t understand it. You see, my physics students don’t understand it either.

That is because I don’t understand it. Nobody does.

I couldn’t have imagined a better motivation to try to understand this theory.  It was not surprising then that Feymann also came up with the concept of quantum computers in 1982, but it took more than a decade to propose a practical implementation, in 1993.  I can still  recall Roger Penrose’s disappointment on his book “The emperor’s new mind” relative to the Deutsche discovery of an universal quantum computer

So far these results are a little disappointing for such a striking idea, but these are early days yet.

That was in 1990.  We are now in 2010.

20 years later, where are we ?

Quantum computers present a very powerful property:  the qubits can be in a coherent superposition state of the basic 1 and 0 values. This means that by performing a single operation on a qubit, we could simultaneously perform an operation on two distinct values.  You can see the inherent parallelism and the power when the number of qubits increases.

The problem is that when a qubit in a coherent state is observed, it decoheres and collapeses to a classical state.  This is why to get the solution to a problem from a quantum computer can be as hard as the problem itself.

But how are the quantum computers going to be used, if ever ?

In classical computational theory, all computers are universal Turing machines in essence.  The Church-Turing thesis states that

Everything computable can be computable by a Turing machine.

How does this links to quantum computing ?

After Feynman’s discovery that classical Turing machines would take exponential time to simulate quantum phenomena, advocating that his quantum computer would not,  David Deutsch published a revolutionary paper around 1985 where he states

A class of model computing machines that is the quantum generalization of the class of Turing machines is described, and it is shown that quantum theory and the ‘universal quantum computer’ are compatible with the principle. Computing machines resembling the universal quantum computer could, in principle, be built and would have many remarkable properties not reproducible by any Turing machine.

So, what’s an quantum Oracle, anyway  ?

That’s a quantum circuit able to recognize solutions to a given problem.  And practical implementations are slowly emerging, mainly based on optics and the so-called Josephson junctions.  Only small-scale experiments are possible so far due to the extreme fragile nature of such systems (high rate of failures, decoherence,…).

So how can these Oracles be useful ?  They could be really useful, provided that they use quantum algorithms.

And such algorighms, as Shor or Grover‘s, are extremely powerful. if they are implemented.

The practical applications of such implementations are astonishing:

  • Number factorisation (and hence, calculate private keys from public keys on all current classic cryptosystems) and cryptography in general.
  • Unsorted search
  • Quantum communication
  • Data storage

And the future ?  there are already people working hard to explore the limits of quantum computing, as for example Seth Lloyd, from the Extreme Quantum IT research center (XQIT).

Maybe we will see, in a not so far future, Oracle Corporation unveiling his new Quantum Oracle Machine at the Open World conference ? 🙂

Interesting links

History of the Church-Turing thesis

A brief history of quantum computing

Premature cochlear baldness

Some days ago, I was in one of these modern wagons of the new Brussels’ metro heading to the station, standing up near the door when a strange individual entered the place.
I have to say, these days the metro is not the happiest place in the world: think of a fastly moving, silent long and closed oven (30°C average), filled with exotic scents reminding us of the multi-cultural, cosmopolitan nature of Europe’s capital social tissue, for the pleasure of the senses and full of either highly communicative, red-faced, boozed people commenting the latest world cup goal in every possible language (reminding us again of the Brussels multiculturalism for the pleasure of our other senses) and second, half-closed-eyed, opium-dreaming folks in profound introspection.  I would think many of the second class specimens reached this state after being in the first one.

The fact is, I was myself in a vague zen self-contemplating state, waiting to reach my final destination to get out of this unhealthy sauna, when this chap entered and parked himself at my right.

I didn’t really notice him as I was in standby, energy-saving mode.

A station later, however, when my right foot reached an obstacle, I peeked down by reflex just to notice a small black wallet lying on the floor.  As it apparently had slipped out the newly arrived chap, I looked up just to face a strange hairy creature very close to Uncle Itt, a tad taller.

“Scuse me”, I said to him, friendly
(no answer)
“Hey”, I exclaimed, on a 20 db higher pitch
(still no answer)
I then moved my hand in front of his face, though it was difficult to locate the exact position of the eyes behind that solid curtain of hairs, to obtain a rather awkward 15° head twist to the left followed by the same movement the opposite sense.
At this point I was considering to just forget about it, give Itt a friendly kick in the ribs or pull off some of these abundant hair (very tempting) or even recollected some of my old sign-language communication skills when I noticed a rythmical, almost imperceptible shaking of the hairstack.

I glanced attentively at the subject, since it wasn’t quite clear if it was due to parkinson, some mild form of Tourette’s syndrome or just autism.

At this moment, Itt’s hand, just like Napoleon, slipped into his jacket and stayed there some seconds, apparently doing some sort of scratching.

To my surprise, the autist now entered a frantically faster rythmical movement, something like a jump from allegro to scherzo furioso.

And the light was.

So I heartly gave the music lover an elbow kick in the ribs, to which, to my satisfaction, I obtained a quick reaction this time, and saw Itt move apart the left side of the hairstack, freeing his furious left teen eye and
uncover a white cable which he plugged off his left ear.

My right cochlea was assaulted by what I immediately recognized as the latest riffs of Let There Be Rock.  The sound was so powerful, going out of this tiny plug that I just stood there in awe and was only able to point my finger to the black wallet in the floor, to which Itt quickly reached and headed off the wagon at the next stop.

I made a quick estimate.  The volume off this earplug inside the ear would almost certainly be delivering more than 90db.  At this rate, I thought, this guy will be deaf in 15 to 20 years, starting at a high-frequency loss to degenerate to a disabling mild-to-severe loss after 45 years age, with just some years of frequent exposure to
loud music over 80db.

I was furious and apalled at the same time.  As an ex-profoundly deaf person now using a cochlear implant, I know what deafness is about.
I am totally against the proliferation of these super-powerful headphones plugged into the ears used indiscriminately.  I see often people of all ages wearing headphones in public places, but you never know at which volume they’re playing music at.  That reminded me of a Wired article I read long ago.

It is widely known that long exposure to loud noise (over 85db) can cause first tinnitus and progressively, deafness.
The human cochlea contains, in the organ of Corti, a number of sensory cells called hair cells.  There are approximately 10000 “inner hair cells” and 30000 “outer hair cells”.  The hair cells are located in rows along the organ or Corti and are functionally different.  The vibrations transmitted from the stapes to the perilymph, then to the endolymph, will cause the vibration of the hair cells which, in the end, will cause electrical potentials which we perceive as “sounds”.

Long, strong vibrations of the endolymph cause hair cell damage and death.
Think about it. 

More information:

The Cochlea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochlea
Noise-induced hearing loss: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/noise.asp

Oracle scripts

I was looking for some information on Europalia, an annual cultural event having China on the spotlight this year. I found an interesting exhibition called the orchid pavillon, covering the origin and development of chinese writing, which I’ll try to attend this year.

How curious, however, is the fact that some of the oldest chinese writings are oracle scripts. eg divinatory scripts carved in animal bones, often turtle shields and other animal bones. I found lots of references to the so-called jiaguwen .

Funny enough, Oracle founders Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates didn’t think about divinatory rituals or ancient scriptum when baptising their flagship software, that complicated piece of software full of surprises and power, but rather an obscure CIA project code name they all worked on.
No doubt every Oracle dba or developer who’s been around for a while knows where the pythian group takes its name from (and I’m not mentioning all the ethymologies and the hypothetical presence of ethylene in Delphi’s temple)… That made me build a little list of possible similar group names.

– The shamans
– The sybilians
– The dogonian mazes
– The buzian sounds
– The baul mickeys
– The ayahuasca drinkers
– …

To be continued…

On correlation and causation

It just strikes my mind to see how some topics come back in cycles. I remember an interesting conversation
on correlation/causation and predictive models back in 2005. Yes, I’m an old man and quite silent, but I’m working on it.

Jonathan Lewis’ post on correlation puts me in a fuzzy state of over-stimulative reminiscences. This is why I often find Jonathan’s posts so stimulating: they are not only very informative but are food for thought and propose new exploratory possibilities.

Correlation implies cause

For a lot of people, this is intuitively right. For 2 measurements which are related with a third variable say time, having these measures changing over time in a very similar fashion looks like they share a common cause.
Constant change rates on both variables indicates linearity. Okay, let me be nit-picking and make some definitions:

The linear correlation coefficient r measures the strength and direction of a linear relationship (or association) between two variables (aka Pearson’s coefficient).

When r is close to 1, the relationship between both variables is strong. That means that when values for X go up, values for y also go up.
On the other hand, when r is close to -1, there is also a linear relationship, but now when x goes up, y goes down.
Finally when r is close to 0, there is no linear relationship, but random non-linear relationships can be found on these variables.

To tell how “strong” a correlation is depends on the kind of data. This is why scientific data generally need a higher correlation coefficient to call them “strong” (generally above 0.8) than medical/social/psychological data. It is well accepted today that the interpretation of a correlation coefficient depends on the context of data.

The determination coefficient R^2 gives the proportion of variance of one variable that is predictable from the other one. It will tell us how certain we can be of making a prediction from a certain model.

So, back to the original discussion, the sentence “correlation does not mean causation” doesn’t necessarily mean that correlation doesn’t indicate potential causal relations. It’s just saying that a strong correlation is not sufficient to establish a causal relationship. period.

Haven’t you seen Dr House ? The white board ? Yes, it’s fiction, but illustrative.

So far, I have found it useful to correlate some wait events from statspack measurements with other non-db measurements. In one particular case, many years ago, it helped me to find the root cause of a really odd performance issue. I found out the problem to be related to the NFS client configuration on a Solaris server while using NAS storage and Oracle 8.0.6.

Personally, I would be very careful on building predictive models for anything in Oracle. One thing I’ve learned over all these Oracle versions is that one size doesn’t fit all, and of course, the more I know, probably the more I miss. The only steady ground I have is the scientific method: hypothesis, test, prediction.
Working with test cases, with representative test data, with a well-known baseline state.

As Ian Anderson sings, “life is a song”…

On Giordano, the Nolan

A day like today, 409 years ago, died Giordano Bruno. Burnt alive by the italian Inquisition after 7 years of trial, in Campo de Fiori, Rome. The story of his capture in Venezia, extradition to Rome, and finally his sentence eloquently displays the Catholic Church’s fear upon the spread of Bruno’s ideas.

Yes, we have wikipedia and a plethora of qualified sources to know more about this astonishing man.

But still…

Bruno, who entered the Dominican order at age 14, had a prodigious memory (he was sent to show his gift to the pope at age 20 and was asked to teach mnemonics), obtained his PhD in Philosophy at age 25, traveled a great deal across Europe (a true Erasmian) and published his works mainly in Paris.

What I find remarkable in Bruno’s works and life, apart from his visionary theories on the universe and his unorthodox (for his time) religious views, is his constant quest for truth and wisdom, his explorations between science and occultism (some will say hermeticism), his uncomformism, his freedom.

I put here some links about Giordano Bruno that I particularly appreciate and that will serve me as a reminder of further readings.

Absolute astronomy:
Reviewing the reviews: Giordano Bruno and Marshall McLuhan
De immenso, de minimo and de infinito
On the infinite universe and Worlds

Frances Yates on Wikipedia

Twitter, Facebook, and the dangers of social networks

Everybody now seems to be either on Facebook or Twitter (or both). Oracle Corporation is
fully using web 2.0 technologies and social networks (they are on twitter and Faebook. This is not really surprising as this company has almost always been riding the waves of emerging technologies. See for example the usage of Social Networks and 2.0 technologies in Oracle’s CRM offering.

However, I wonder about the dangers of social networks when used (and abused) by poorly informed people.
Social engineering is also part of a hacker’s bag. Tools like Maltego allow you to search on multiple social networks and display this information in a graphical way.

Here’s a very good post on Twitter and information mining, by Lenny Zeltser.

The scientific method

I don’t know why, but Wittgenstein is on my mind these days.

On a recent exchenge between Don Burleson and Jonathan Lewis, I couldn’t help but add a comment.

Did you say pervasive ?

Long ago, I saw an article on Pervasive Business Intelligence, from DMReview.com.
At the time of this article, in 2005, pervasive computing was out there for more than a decade (see Real-Time Pervasive Systems.
Ralph Kimball mentioned in his – now a classic book – The datawarehouse toolkit book, the potential of clickstream analysis: analyze every user’s action in an online store. Similarly, you could
analyze many actions of a customer in a physical store by using RFID tags.
The fact is that BI technology is now able to collect and analyze huge volumes of data in near real-time.
With the emergence of Business Performance Management systems, a complete performance management
cycle is put in place to guide enterprise’s strategy through reporting and analysis based on BI.
As John Kopecko, Hyperion’s CTO (before it was acquired by Oracle) wrote in his paper Pervasive BI – the next step in the evolution of Business Intelligence.

BI must evolve beyond its current status as a tool experts use to report performance to managers and executives
and become an everyday business tool for everyone in the enterprise. In short, BI must
become pervasive.

That reminded me of an old story about a newly hired Toyota executive who was told to work with production workers right from the start to find new ways of improving production quality. He didn’t start his new job going to meetings, presentations and all the classic workday of a med/senior executive.
He was told to watch the production lines and discover why disruptions happened and how to fix them. From the ground.

He was put in a Japanese team where nobody spoke English.

He discovered that all the workers had integrated quality and performance management practices, applying them in real-time, from the production lines up to the Board.

Now pervasive BI makes me wonder, what if everyone in the enterprise could access relevant data and analyze it to better achieve his/her tasks ?

Did you mean Hyperion ? It’s amazing what this piece of code can do with Essbase, MDX and XML/A.

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