Archive for August, 2009

REFLECTIONS ON FLYING AND HONOLULU INTERNATIONAL

August 30th, 2009
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I’m flying. And whenever I fly, I think of the old days, and I can’t help but making comparisons.

I worked for American Airlines in the summer of 1963 between semesters. I was a “local control agent” handling, you guessed it, local control of reservations for flights emanating from New York. Our unit was based in the then-modern West Wide Airlines Terminal in Manhattan. I was on a team with 20 or so retired flight attendants then called stewardesses. They retired at 32 in those days, then joined local control.

We “shaped up” the flights, by manually sorting through “do not fold spindle or mutilate“ cards to make sure the reservation agents got it right and there were no duplicates, then-called dupes. This was important because overbooking was illegal then. How times have changed. The next year they replaced us with IBM’s automated SABRE reservations system.

The unit worked 24x7 and we had shifts. My teammates had the energy of an emerging industry and it was really exciting and fun, like flying itself in those days. The retired stewardesses showed me how to do a three martini lunch, which was popular in the 1960‘s. Just as well they weren’t flying.

Flying was charming then. The jets were brand new, and so were big city airports. You dressed up and it was a big deal, like going to a fancy restaurant. The food and service were great. The seats were wide, first class was quite luxurious, and some planes had lounges.

At the end of the summer they said I could fly anywhere I wanted as long as it was Detroit. Detroit? I wanted the flying experience so I went anyway.

I came to Hawaii two years later, and it was likewise completely charming. This was long before 9/11 and there was no security. There were no jetways and you walked down a stairway onto the tarmac. Honolulu International was very small, and you went directly from your plane to the taxis a few feet away. Along the way they gave you as much pineapple juice as you wanted. There was music, hula and ear-to-ear Aloha. It was place out of Michener, a foreign country

Today, Honolulu International is bigger but hardly looks international, nothing like the airports coming up all over Asia and so many other places in the world. It’s has a run-down quality calling for maintenance and cleanup. This shouldn’t be. And on most days it’s uncomfortably warm, calling for air conditioning. We‘re in a tropical climate, you know.

Whatever you want to say about our airport now, you can’t call it charming. It doesn’t have local style or sense of place and it’s blah and boring and old. I suppose the wiki wiki buses were cute long ago, but now they’re over the hill and of questionable convenience. Do we really think we can get away with this? How can we expect to contend as a tourist destination this way?

Yes, there are plans or contracts out there and one day some catch up work will get done on the airport. But, sorry, based on prior history I don’t think it’ll be nearly enough. Our airport needs more than cosmetic - it needs a complete rebuild or overhaul, and if we’re serious we’ll do exactly that. Over time, this’ll probably help the visitor count, if not to improve it then to slow its decline. One way or the other, there’s no choice.

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DNA EVIDENCE ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

August 25th, 2009
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DNA evidence has often been the unimpeachable evidence that led to conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s been a great technique that has greatly improved since the O.J. Simpson trial, and the courts have increasingly relied on it. But now it looks like it’s been the subject of too much idol worship.

In a word, Israeli scientists have found that it’s possible to fabricate DNA evidence. This is a shock to the forensic world, since both prosecutors and defense lawyers have come to rely on this evidence. The Israelis showed they could make fabricate DNA in blood and saliva samples, and in fact they could fabricate a DNA profile out of a database without real tissue from that person.

What’s worse is that it’s not hard. Dan Frumkin, one of the authors of the paper in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, said “any biology undergraduate could perform this.” The discovery is going to require judges to rewrite jury instructions about the infallibility of DNA evidence. CSI – your time may have come; you’d better find something else to catch or exonerate your man.

Well, the same Dan Frumkin is on it and hasn’t wasted any time. His Israeli company, Nucleix, has already developed a test to tell real DNA samples from fake ones. He wants to sell it to forensic laboratories, and given his paper it will probably sell very well. Unless they find the test can be faked too.

For the rest of us, it’s scary - the old frame-up that pervades our novels and TV whodunnit programs is now possible with modern molecular biology. The only thing that stands in the way of wholesale frame-ups is that most people who would like to do it with falsified DNA wouldn’t go to the trouble. Or would they? And would the forensics catch them? Things are not so sure anymore.

The Israelis had two techniques. With one, they could take a tiny sample of saliva or hair and make a lot more DNA with it using the process called “whole genome amplification.” With the other, they could clone tiny DNA snippets and mix and match them into a DNA sample that matches the ones described in the fields of the database. The mischief this could create is mind-boggling.

It shows that while we weren’t watching DNA research, it went to another level. Just when you thought we’ve got forensic science nailed down to the point where it could be rock solid for the criminal justice system, you get the rug pulled out from under you. And what about all those criminals languishing in jail on what might have been phony DNA evidence? Is there nothing sacred anymore?

This announcement upsets the apple cart and badly undermines the credibility of the prosecutor’s most powerful weapon. The ACLU is worried because DNA is easier to plant than fingerprints, and certainly more convincing. At the same time, until now there has been little a defense attorney could do to beat a case on DNA. Now there is. Some say this raises questions about privacy and jurisdictional exchange of evidence. Others say there all DNA convictions must be reviewed. But nobody is saying we should return to prosecution as usual.

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THINKTECH'S NEW VIDEO STUDIO NOW OPERATING

August 15th, 2009
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ThinkTech Hawaii, Inc., is proud to announce that it has built a video studio that can take and disseminate quality video of newsmaker interviews, commentaries and discussions about current news, events and issues concerning technology, science and globalism. Our supporters have helped make this possible. We’re having a blessing of the new studio this week, and we’re looking forward to improving and extending our video offerings with the new capability that it offers.

Our videos appear on ThinkTech TV hour on Olelo Channel 54 every Sunday night from 10:00-11:00 p.m. Our shorter news videos appear on the front page of the online version of the Honolulu Advertiser. And from time to time we post our videos on ThinkTechHawaii.com, HVCA.org and YBIAsia.com. If you’ve signed up to be on our mailing list, we’ll send you email when a notable video is posted, and if you click on the link in that email it’ll take you to the video. You can also email me at fidell@lava.net to sign up or make inquiry.

When we’re up to speed, we will be generating a fair number of videos every week, and you will see an increasing number of them posted. If you’d like to suggest a topic or newsmaker, or an event or issue you’d like us to cover, in the studio or in the field, feel free to email me at that also. Our mission is to cover as much as we can with the resources available to us, and to raise public awareness in doing so.

One picture is worth a thousand words, and one video is worth a thousand pictures. You can see so much and learn so much from the multimedia of video, and that makes it, for us, the preferred media. Given the delivery systems that are springing up all around us, including not only through our websites but also the public video websites like youtube.com and vimeo.com, we believe that video offerings in Hawaii and elsewhere will be reaching and influencing an increasing number of people going forward.

We believe that as tech expands citizen journalism, video production and distribution channels like this becomes will more and more mainstream. ThinkTech wants to be there and participate in the effort and the transformation. If you have something to report, or something to say, let us know. If you want to participate and volunteer to help and support us in these efforts, let us know. If you agree or disagree with what we’re doing and want to tell us about it, please let us know about that also.

ThinkTech is a Hawaii nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising public awareness about the importance of diversification and technology to our state’s future. We want to provide the kind of content that will improve public understanding of local and far away sea changes on the issues that will affect our lives and community. We believe the studio we’ve built will help us take these efforts to a new level. We’re delighted we’ve been able to come this far, but we recognize that at this point it’s only the beginning.

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IPHONE APPS ARE THE CAT’S MEOW

August 10th, 2009
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“If you don’t have an iPhone, get one.”

That’s what my client said to me. I told him that I had been using a Blackberry for years and that it was very efficient and reliable and I had come to the point where I could work it with one hand. I told him the Blackberry was made for business and that I had heard that the iPhone was not.

He differed. He said that with the “Apps” applications that are available on the iPhone, it was the most powerful phone, cellphone or otherwise, ever conceived and that that made it very useful for business. He said if I didn’t get one, he would have to go out there and get one for me. It was a threat.

I wasn’t going to wait on that, so a few days later I went to the Apple Store in Ala Moana and bought an iPhone. The transaction was steep (I got the 32GB model) but seamless. I was out of there inside of 10 minutes, ready to go with my new iPhone. There hasn't been a single moment of regret from then to now.

They said it was intuitive and easy, but I didn’t get comfortable with it until I had read all the materials, looked at the manual (online) and done research on tips and tricks. After the initial learning curve everyone has moving from Blackberry to iPhone, I found that yes it was intuitive and easy, and fun.

After a couple of days, I got comfortable making and receiving calls with it. I learned how to put my fingers on the touch keyboard. Then I got into the iTunes music on the iPod function and downloaded a bunch of music. I got familiar with the basic organizational programs, the email and calendar and notes.

If you sign up for the “MobileMe” service, you can automatically sync the calendar in your iPhone with your desktop. If you enter or change a calendar entry on your iPhone it will immediately conform that entry in Outlook on your desktop, and vice versa - you never have to wire up these two devices.

Although the camera has no flash, I found that not only did it take great pictures but you could email them with a minimum of effort. I learned about Instant Messaging, and checked out the standard YouTube, Stock Market, Maps, Weather, Voice Memos, Compass and Clock programs, all just great.

Although I wouldn’t recommend writing long emails on the iPhone screen editor, it’s easy to send short ones, and easier still to receive and review them, even on multiple accounts. With a flick of the finger you can race through your email, and identify, read and respond to it more quickly than on a desktop.

The Safari browser lets you get on the web effortlessly and you can browse with nearly the same ease and speed as you would have on a desktop. It’s amazing. Remember, the iPhone lets you change the font size by punching or unpinching and it lets you change to landscape by turning the device on its side.

Then I found the Apps button. It opened a new world. This takes you to a search page where you can download Apps of all kinds, lots of them for free, but most of them for cheap. They take only seconds to download, and the cost, minimal, is included on your phone bill, like the music. No fuss, no muss.

At first, I downloaded news programs, because I thought they, rather than all the games you can get, would be useful if I found myself with nothing to do. So I downloaded the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN. I found they had radio stations too, so I downloaded NPR Addict and Pandora.

This was only the beginning. I found the Apps almost endless, and delightfully creative. I downloaded Twitterific, some foreign language dictionaries, a great new Task List and an audio Notes2Self program. I also downloaded some utilities, like one to check your phone bill and another to check your battery.

These didn’t make a dent in my storage, so I went further by downloading Shakespeare, which has all the plays he ever wrote (talk about having nothing to do), Photoshare (you can sent your photos to the iPhone standing next to you), and ShootIt, which makes them into postcards and puts them in the mail.

Encouraged, I added ContactClone, which lets you send contacts to the iPhone next to you, YPMobile (a national yellow pages), Rocket Taxi (which calls a taxi from wherever you are), G-Park (which remembers where you parked your car) and Urbanspoon (shake it and it will suggest a nearby restaurant).

These are all fabulous, and well worth the pennies they cost. Beyond that, I downloaded metro maps from various travel cities, voice Google (which lets you search by voice), and Where (which lets you find all kinds of things that are nearby - GPS has become central in so many of these iPhone Apps).

By now, I must have about 50 of these Apps on my iPhone. And every time I add one, I feel I have materially enhanced the power of the device. What makes it still more powerful is that the Apps are automatically updated through the Cloud, so you don’t have to worry about having the latest version.

I could go on, but suffice it to say my client was right. This is not a toy. It’s a device that will let you do business anywhere. So I agree and join in his suggestion – “If you don’t have an iPhone, get one.”

If you have one already, you probably know all this and didn’t need to read this blog.

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Representative Choy not seeking reimbursement of trip to Philadelphia

August 6th, 2009
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Representative Isaac Choy has not sought and will not be seeking reimbursement out of taxpayer funds for his trip to Philadelphia and that means he will be paying for that trip with personal funds. My apologies for inaccurate information that was posted in an August 5 blog entry.

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