BloggerCon Infrastructure update

The BloggerCon infrastructure session is starting to come together. Among the confirmed attendees are two high-profile infrastructure developers (tease, tease). I’m still waiting to hear from a couple more folks before announcing. Also, I’m still looking for someone who fits the “writer” profile. Need your help!

In the meantime I’ve put together an outline of potential discussion topics. What am I missing?

Very important The outline is an outline of the topics and not how we’re going to run the session. Ticking sequentially through the topics would put everyone to sleep and would impose too much structure.

Instead, I’m thinking to run the discussion the way we did in my high school Great Books class. The format was as follows: a discussion leader prepares a list of leading questions. The questions are carefully crafted to be engaging and have many possible answers. The leader asks the questions, members of the discussion group respond, provide alternative perspectives, debate each other, etc. Then we move on to the next question.

Here are a few example questions:

1. How many weblogs do you read?
2. Do you read weblogs at home? At work? The same ones?
3. Do you write a weblog at home? At work? The same one?
3. How do you find new weblogs to read?
4. What do you weblog?
5. Can you turn a Geocities home page into a weblog?
6. Can you turn a desktop computer into a weblog host?
7. Can you write a weblog without writing?
8. Do you have to write a weblog to really understand weblogs?
9. How can I make some money? What should I charge for and when?
10. Who is reading your weblog? How do you know? How did they find it?
11. Has you weblog ever gone offline? If yes, what did you do when that happened? If no, what would you do?

These are just a few random ideas. Add more in the comments section and we’ll consider them.

One difference from my Great Books class is that we’ll have an Internet- and projector-connected computer for short demonstrations, many discussion leaders instead of just one, and some open Q&A. Let’s learn some great things together.

My graduate research area is the subject of an article in this week’s New Yorker by Jerome Groopman. The article’s title sums it up nicely: “The Bionic Eye: Can an electronic device help the blind see?” The story itself doesn’t appear to be on line, or I’d link to it. But these Google searches yield related material: retinal implant, retinal prosthesis. If you’re a real masochist you might take a look at my Ph.D. thesis.

I haven’t thought about bionic eyes in several years, so it’s a little surreal to read about the research and the people, especially in my cherished New Yorker. I spent seven years on this problem, nearly a quarter of my life. So many memories. A little disturbing how quietly they slipped from consciousness.

The research itself is progressing. Groopman interviews a couple of patients who have received permanent implants and report sporadic ability to distiguish brightness and rough shapes. Not exactly the six-million dollar man, but a tremendous leap from seeing nothing at all.

There remain a lot of basic engineering challenges around building an electronic device that can survive in the salty, wobbling environment of the eye and how to deposit the device without harming the eye itself. But the really fascinating part, which Groopman picked up on, is the challenge of interfacing directly with the brain. That’s what we’re talking about here. On the retina’s exposed surface are millions of sensors that can be activated with localized bursts of electricty, much like the shock you get when you put your tongue across the terminals of a 9-volt battery (how we tested their charge in my day). How will the brain interpret this artificial signal burst? What about a brain that hasn’t processed visual information in 10 years? 50 years?

These questions are also relevant for cochlear implant research, whose goal is to restore hearing by exciting neurons in the inner ear.

Happy New Year, and would you like to buy a ring?

I got an email today that started off like this: “I would like to wish all my friends around the world Shana Tova, K’tivah V’chatimah Tova, A happy New Year, health, happiness and peace for all of us.” Featured prominently below, a link to a website offering “art and treasures from the holy land”. Jewish spam. I think this is a first.

The Kendall Flower Shop (242 Main St – Cambridge, MA) has fresh fruit out in front of their door among the flowers on display. I often stop by and pick up an apple or banana on the way to Sloan. Every time, the fruit is fresh and delicious. The regulars drop off their cash, 50 cents per piece, on the right end of the front counter. Sometimes wordlessly, with just a “hello” nod to the shopkeeper. Little things like this make me happy.