Monthly Archives: January 2011

Announcing the winners of the Kinect contest

When the Kinect launched, Adafruit Industries ran a contest for the first person who released open-source code to extract video and depth from the Kinect. Adafruit also ended up donating to the EFF after the contest was over. When I was in grad school, I would have loved to have a device like the Kinect. So I decided to run my own contest : The first $1000 prize goes to the person or team that writes the coolest open-source app, demo, or program using the Kinect. The second prize goes to the person or team that does the most to make it easy to write programs that use the Kinect on Linux. It’s time to announce the prize winners. There’s been so many cool things going on with the Kinect that instead of two winners, I ended up declaring seven $1000 winners. Open-source Application or Demo I picked two winners in this category. Tomoto Washio for Kinect Ultra Seven . This program lets you transform into Ultra Seven with lots of different powers. It’s a really fun demo–check out the videos : Tiago Serra and the SenseBloom team for XBox Kinect OSCeleton . The application sends 3D tracked body skeletons through the OSC protocol. Essentially, it’s a do-it-yourself motion capture system: People that have made it easier to write programs for the Kinect A ton of people have made the Kinect more accessible on Linux or helped the Kinect community. I ended up picking five winners. Hector Martin Arne Bernin Kyle Machulis Brandyn White Joshua Blake All of these individuals pushed things forward so others can develop great programs on the Kinect more easily. Congratulations to all the winners, and to everyone doing neat things with their Kinect!

Algorithm change launched

I just wanted to give a quick update on one thing I mentioned in my search engine spam post. My post mentioned that “we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content.” That change was approved at our weekly quality launch meeting last Thursday and launched earlier this week. This was a pretty targeted launch: slightly over 2% of queries change in some way, but less than half a percent of search results change enough that someone might really notice. The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content. Thanks to Jeff Atwood and the team at Stack Overflow for providing feedback to Google about this issue. I mentioned the update over on Hacker News too, because folks on that site had been discussing specific queries too.

Are vaccines safe?

A lot of parents hear different things about the MMR vaccine (that’s measles, mumps, and rubella) or the flu or chicken pox or pertussis vaccine and wonder “How safe are vaccines?” It’s not a stupid question, given the conflicting information you might hear from different sources. I’ve been doing research about vaccines and vaccine safety because I recently caught a mild case of pertussis (whooping cough). I also researched vaccines last year as part of my preparation for a trip to Africa. The research that I’ve done leads me to believe that your child is much better off getting vaccinated than not getting a vaccine. Here’s some data points to help you make up your mind. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a good overview of relevant medical studies (PDF link), including studies of autism and vaccinations: The concerns regarding vaccine safety have received a great deal of attention by parents, doctors, vaccine manufacturers and the media. Dozens of studies have been performed in the United States and elsewhere. The purpose of this document is to list those studies and provide links to the publications to allow parents and all those who administer or recommend vaccines to read the evidence for themselves. The studies provided have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. These studies do not show any link between MMR vaccine, thimerosal and autism. A lot of people worry that children might get too many vaccinations. The AAP talks about that as well: One study published in 2010 was conducted in response to concerns about the total number of vaccines children receive. In this study (the last one listed in this document), researchers found infants who followed the recommended vaccine schedule performed better on 42 different neuropsychological outcomes years later than children who delayed or skipped vaccinations. This should reassure parents that vaccinating their children on schedule is safe and is the best way to protect them from disease. That’s what the current research says. A lot of people have read about Dr. Andrew Wakefield , who was an author of a controversial paper in 1998 about the MMR vaccine and autism. I suggest you read this story on CNN about recent news concerning Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The summary is that the Lancet, the original British journal that published the study, retracted the study’s claims in February 2010. Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May 2010. The recent news is that the British medical journal BMJ concluded that the now-retracted study was a fraud. The article about vaccination and autism continues: Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them. Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he [Wakefield] had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers — a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. …. According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee, the journal’s editor-in-chief, said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism. I understand that parents want to do the right thing for their child. My research on this issue leads me to believe that parents should make sure their children get vaccinations.

Start the year off right: empty your email and take some time off from Twitter/Facebook

Want to get a fresh start on the new year? Here’s a few quick tips: – Start the year off with an empty inbox in Gmail. It’s pretty simple to do: you assign a label for everything in your inbox right now, then archive everything so your inbox is empty. You can still dig into that label if you want to work down your email backlog, but it feels great to start the new year fresh. Follow the steps to declare a lightweight email bankruptcy , with the chance of still responding to those emails down the road. – Do a one week (or one month!) digital cleanse by staying off Twitter and Facebook . I think I’ve said before that if you want to fill five minutes, Twitter is a great way to fill 35 minutes. Sometimes I end up spending more time on Twitter than I mean to, so last year I took a week off from Twitter, which turned into a month off. It’s easier than you might think–why not try a digital cleanse yourself? I’m going to do this digital cleanse for at least a while. Also think about what you want from this year. Resolutions work for some people and not for others. But if you come up with even a single area you’d like to explore more, it helps you to recognize those opportunities throughout the year. In 2009 for example, I went on 10-11 trips. When I looked back, I realized that they’d all been inside the United States. So one of my goals for 2010 was to get out to other countries more. I ended up visiting Asia with my wife , taking a work-related trip to Europe, visiting Mexico with my wife, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with friends. I wouldn’t have done so many of those trips if I hadn’t set a goal in the back of my mind. So think about your goals for the new year. Lots of people want to get their finances in better shape or have goals about losing weight/getting fit. Speaking as someone who has lost 35-40 pounds in the last few years and kept it off for ~3 years, my main recommendation is to look for small changes that you think you can sustain for the rest of your life. But you could also ponder all sorts of directions you’d like to explore. Maybe you’d like to work on being happier this year. Maybe you’d like to improve your skills. If you’re a left-brained person, maybe you could get in touch with your creative side by learning to draw, sing, dance, play guitar, etc. Maybe you want to practice being thankful, or widen your circle of friends. Or spend more time with family. You could even break your goals down into 30 day challenges . But I think the main thing is to do some thinking about where you’d like to go this year. It can really pay off. What sorts of goals do you have for the new year?