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How Bitcoins are related to AIDS Research

27 Sep
This is yet another reason why geeks will rule the world.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, gamers have solved the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like retrovirus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.   With this solution, researchers can develop drugs that target areas of these enzymes (i.e. ‘finding a cure’ for AIDS).   Said scientists’ computers were unable to determine the structures of the amino acids that made up this disease’s enzymes, as computers’ spatial reasoning skills are not yet as advanced as humans’.    (via the Daily What)
 
In this case, people were asked to help solve the retrovirus enzyme’s structure through playing a  game called Foldit, where gamers competed to determine the amino acid structures in a puzzle-like approach. “To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks,” SMH reported.  The gamers won this game so quickly that they were given actual scientific citation credit in the research paper.   This may have been ‘the first time’ that gamers have solved a ‘long-standing scientific problem’. It makes me proud to be a geek, and I’m sure we’ll see more research like this in the future.
 
Harnessing the power of geeks reminds me of the old screen-saver program, SETI@Home.  Have any of you used it?  The goal was to find alien life by using distributed computing to analyze of packages of radio noise collected from space.  This program was an early attempt by the University of California at Berkley, and was renowned for being able to utilize downtime on computers.  I don’t think it ever worked, and it sounds like the program might be shut down this year.  However, I do remember that I got a digital certificate for my work, and I was able to ‘donate’ my computer’s computation hours toward my High School’s total.  I don’t know if it got my school any prizes or recognition for the effort, but it was worth a try.
District Geek

But I got a shiny certificate!

I believe there are screen-savers that still work on solving problems like finding a cure for cancer and calculating prime numbers to the bazillionth digit.  I’m not sure how much effort is going toward such work nowadays, as it seems computation power can yield profit, as shown through Bitcoin mining.  Called the future ‘digital currency’ by some, Bitcoins are a new form of digital cash that can be used to purchase goods or services.  They can also exchanged with other real and virtual currencies, such as the US dollar and the Linden Dollar.  Bitcoins can -only- be generated through winning a race to process blocks of ‘Bitcoin transaction logs’ which verify Bitcoin purchase, ultimately rewarding the processor with 50 of their own Bitcoins for the effort.  Unlike Seti@Home, these packages are so complex that it would take years for a home PC to solve one block.  Instead, massive computer farms are dedicated to ‘mining’ Bitcoins.
Ok, it’s an 8-bit coin

I italicized -only- above because this process for ‘minting’ Bitcoins is under scrutiny; there is no centralized authority for this currency.  Instead, Bitcoin is underwritten by a peer-to-peer network akin to file-sharing services like BitTorrent, with certificates and public-key encryptions that are signed during transactions ‘to prevent duplication’.  Those blocks of transaction logs that are used to generate more Bitcoins are the only way to verify if the Bitcoins themselves are forged. (Thanks to the Economist.) However, Bitcoin currency exchange systems can be hacked, and many are unsure whether it is worth investing in.  Do any of you mine or trade Bitcoins?  If so, how has the experience been?

UPDATE 9/29: Thank you to all those that commented on this post.  My research on Bitcoins security had holes, and I hope that the edits to the above section correctly address these issues.  Also, now you can buy ‘real Bitcoins‘!

 Tangential economic musing aside, the progress made by gamers and tech geeks alike is impressive.   We’re kicking ass and solving the world’s problems, one win at a time.  Game on.

 

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District [Sushi] Geek – Episode 2

25 Aug

Located on the Inner Harbor, Edo Sushi has a second-floor, panoramic full-window view of Baltimore’s central iconic landmark.  The Harbour itself is home to warships, water taxis, street performers, and the Baltimore Aquarium.  In the ring of land that forms the harbor, there are shops as well as many restaurants.  Most are chains, and some are better than others.  Edo Sushi is one such chain (though I believe it is limited to Maryland), and that is where I had dinner on Otakon Friday*.
The first impression always lasts, and I witnessed a few slip-ups.  First, I tried to enter the restaurant via the stairs facing the harbor. Apparently all the doors on that side of Edo are locked, and I had to cut through another restaurant to get into the walkway that led to Edo.  When I stepped inside and told the hostess about my booking, she flatly stated that they took no reservations on Otakon weekend.  Although I understand why they should and did do that, I called one month prior to Otakon to ask about reservations, and I was told that it was fine and was booked.  I called the week before Otakon and was reassured that my dinner time was set.  Despite this failure in communication, they had open tables and my friend and I were seated promptly.  Service continued to be shabby, with two separate waitresses asking us for drinks orders.  Said drinks took their sweet time in arriving.
There was no real décor, per se.  I vaguely remember some Japanese art, but the most Japanese thing about the restaurant were the sushi chef coats that the male wait staff wore (or it may have been the chefs, pulling double duty?).  The chopsticks were run of the mill, and the soy sauce was straight from the Kikoman bottle.  The menu was quite large, offering many surf and turf options, in additional to traditional sushi shop fare.  As my friend could only stay a short while, I passed on starters and ordered three sushi rolls.   As I enjoy trying the ‘locale specials’, I ordered the Chesapeake Roll (Lump crabmeat, fried oyster & cucumber with special sauce), as well as an Eel roll and a Yellowtail roll.  And of course I got a couple of fish egg nigiri with quail egg on top.  They’re so squishy and tasty!
 
The rolls came in two separate orders, and the most obvious issue with them was the size.  They were massive!  Each roll had to be two inches in diameter.  When I tried to pick up a section, I saw that the probable cause for its ginormity was because the roll was not packed at all.  Nearly every other roll fell apart, no matter how gently I tried to lift it.  They literally barely fit in my mouth, so most had to be eaten in parts.  For the Chesapeake, this was fine, as the fried oyster nested inside was the best part.  I would recommend that anyone going to Edo just get an order or two of them and forgo the sushi.  The crabmeat/rice mush left from the roll was then my second bite.  The rice itself had little flavor, and the wasabi was not very spicy.  The eel and yellowtail rolls tasted fine, but they, too were just very difficult to eat.
 edo sushi
I found no fault with my nigiri. It looks like the simple rolls may be fine to order as well.
 
In summary, I would not return to this chain.   Although the fried oysters were great, and I bet they do a mean crab cake, there are other seafood establishments in the Harbor that I’d rather try.
If you had a different impression of Edo Sushi, or know of a better place in Baltimore let me know!
 
I’ll be posting more reviews in the coming weeks, as Groupon has been quite kind to me.  Half price sushi is extra tasty!
*To be honest, I mistook Edo to be KonaGrill, a wonderful restaurant with good noodles and a dark, classy ambiance.  (It, too, is a chain and national to boot.)
 

DistrictGeek’s post-Otakon Report 2011, Part II!

16 Aug

And now, part two of my Otakon 2011 venture! (Otakon 2011 Part I is here)

EAR! OMNOMNOM!

Saturday

Brookshire suites has a Shark Mascot and a free buffet breakfast which drew me in.  After our impromptu photo shoot, I wolfed down some grease and spent the day in my Gatomon (Digimon) costume.  Predictably, the first thing I did back at the con was to queue once more.  This time it was for a Baby, The Stars Shine Bright (BTSSB) and Alice and the Pirates fashion show, which featured Japanese Lolita fashion.  I met more local Lolis there, and they convinced me that Lolita is a branch of costuming that I would like to venture down.

I then made time in my schedule to visit the dealers hall by skipping the showing of Trigun: Badlands Rumble.  Afterwards, I joined in a fur-meet (to show off my catgirl outfit) and visited a Lolita clothing swap.  It was at that point that I realized I hadn’t eaten in eight hours.  I dashed off to my hotel for a bite and then it was back to queue for the US Premiere of Fullmetal Alchemist: the Sacred Star of Milos.  In contrast to Shamballa, this movie was exciting, fit well with FMA: Brotherhood, and cued a lot of insane cheering when certain well-loved characters appeared.  The action, though repetitive (and becoming a lot like Harry Potter) was exciting and gory.  I would highly recommend seeing it when Funimation releases it to US theatres.

(For those interested, a good SPOILER-full review of Otakon FMA Milos is here.)

The Masquerade literally fills the lower level of Baltimore’s sports arena as costumed otaku hold their talent show.  This event can be awesome, but also sometimes awful.  Hence, I allowed it to pass without me.  Instead I decided to hit the rave again.
At 10pm I queued for a Midnight Burlesque show.  It was a packed house; the combination of anime cosplay and a peep show was distinctive and worth the wait.
Sunday
The final morning of Otakon always has a bit of a slower pace, and the halls are lined with people wanting hugs.  There are still panels and a replay of the Anime Music Video contest, but I managed to miss everything either because the venue was full (damn thinking I didn’t need to queue Sunday!) and picking up my art from the show.  I sold 6 of 9 pieces, at a net loss of $10, but I found it an educational experience for my first entry.  I then got sucked into the art auction, where the most successful pieces in the art show were sold.  To the chagrin of many competing otaku, I kept my hand up for one piece.  Now, I have a Catbus Sleeping on telephone wires above my bed.

Mineeee<3333333

I made my way out at 1pm, with the auction still in full swing.  It’s always a bit of a downer to go, but as I looked back at all that I saw and did, all who I met and how much money I spent, and I was content.  I did all I wanted to and started some great friendships which I hope will continue.  One unique thing about conventions is that even if you only ever see your con buddies the following year, you still know that you’ll have some great people to hang out with next time.  In the meantime, the interwebz is always here.

DistrictGeek’s post-Otakon Report 2011

11 Aug
Otakon 2011

Time to Tofu Race!

Otakon’s attendance this year was 31,348. Though not as big as ComicCon, this event is pretty intense, if not overwhelming for the uninitiated. Otakon is an anime convention named after Otaku, the geeks that love anime. And there are tens of thousands that show up to this con every year, taking over the Baltimore Convention Center, the 1stMariner Arena, the Inner Harbour, and all hotels within at least fifteen minutes’ travel. Most attendees dress up, either in costumes of their favourite characters or memes. It’s Halloween with a Japanese flair. There are always a sea of coloured wigs and men(*1) and women dressed in skimpy schoolgirl skirts. Though some buy their outfits, I am one of the many at con that enjoys both making and wearing costumes:

Ahhah, it's me, DistrictGeek!

The con is so huge that you can’t nearly begin to do everything you want. Instead, it is quite typical to queue for an hour before any major event that you wish to see. Compounding this issue is the fact that the schedule only comes out a week or two before the convention (owing to the epic scheduling done to fit hundreds of events into only three days). It goes viral as soon as it’s released: a massive offering of anime, fashion shows, panels, workshops, autograph sessions and concerts. But that’s not all! The Dealers Hall and Artist Alley are both the size of aircraft hangars, and they take hours to peruse. Add in photo shoots for all the epic group pictures of themed costumes, and your schedule is so full that eating and sleeping can be easily forgotten(*2).

I left for Otakon with a handwritten, double-sided schedule in hand. There were room for edits and additions. I knew what I wanted to do, but had no idea if I could get it all in. Here is how I fared:

(this isn't mine, dur)

Thursday

Though commonly only used for those coming early to pre-register the night before the con, this year Otakon hosted a Matsuri street festival. I wanted to go but I worked Thursday, which made it nigh impossible to fight through rush hour and get there in time. From all accounts it had cosplay and food and awesome, and I plan to check it out next year.

Photo Shoot!

Friday

Registration began at 8am. I got up early, planning to arrive around 9, even though my first Group photo shoot (Katekyo Hitman Reborn) was at 10. This was cutting it extremely tight, as depending on your luck the registration line could take hours, not to mention that the path was wide open to the sweltering summer sun. I was insanely lucky and was able to walk right up to the reg, get my badge, and catch the tail end of the photo shoot. Then I ran over to the Brony (MLP: FIM) meetup and hung out with a bunch dudes (and a few chicks) who love My Little Pony.

Dash's whup-ass!

Costumes, stickers and songs abounded. However, I knew my schedule was packed and darted down to submit some pieces I painted to the Art show, where Otaku bid on pieces by artists who may not necessarily have had an actual table in the Artist Alley. I quickly perused one lane of the Alley, and by then my hotel room was ready. I got a Brookshire Suite, which, though a few blocks from the Convention Center, was across the street from the outdoor fountains, a hub for photo shoots in the evening when it was cooler out.

I had a quick bite and returned to queue an hour for the Sixh fashion show.Sixh is an H.Naoto clothing line, focusing on Japanese punk and Gothic Lolita style. I happened to sit next to Youko Sunshine, an amazing model who has been to so many con fashion shows that she’s been barred from participating in any more in the US. Though unfortunate for her, she was willing to throw my name into the hat, as I had applied to be a model but did not succeed this year. The show itself was fun and enlightening; it was a great way to see how Gothic fashion is evolving in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Goths clap?!

By this time I had missed a travel-to-Japan panel and the Reddit meetup, but I didn’t feel that they were top priority. I did a more thorough run-through of Artist Alley, and then met an old high school friend for sushi (Edo Sushi meal review here) before going back to the queue – this time for the Ultimate Lolita fashion show. It may not be the Ultimate, but this show is always great, as it displays many local and self-starting Lolita designers, not to mention that and the amount of clothing is much higher than that of the professional shows at Otakon. It inspired me to try and make a Victorian Pirate outfit for this year’s Renaissance Festival, so we shall see if I can get it done in time!

So ... frilly ...

While in queue and at the second fashion show, I missed a screening of member-created Anime Music Videos, the Thundercats Premiere on the Hub, the Chemistry concert and a Digimon photo shoot. But there was still one thing that I wanted to do: the Otaku Rave. Yes. Otaku. Rave. Because many of the anime fans fit in to the jailbait category, there were masses of teens clad in neon, rainbows, fur boot covers and glowsticks. The music was great to begin, but at midnight a girl in a long teal wig came in and tried to play anime songs. No one was amused, and there was no beat. It was a mass exodus.

Mrow!

… To be continued Tuesday!

*1 – Picture by Bluebell-Ren at Deviant Art

*2 – Food is easy to come by, but time is not.  After a few years, I found that having sandwich fixins at the hotel, and carrying fruit, a power bar and 5 hour energy drink is the way to go.  Every time I went to my hotel room, I made sure to eat.  Still, it wasn’t often.

District [Sushi] Geek – Episode 1

31 May

I am a massive sushi lover.  As such, it’s my goal to go forth into the District in search of the tastiest sushi!  Today’s Episode is: Sushi Inside the Pentagon!

Disclaimer: Although I’m a food dork and love sushi, I grew up in a land where sushi was never fresh, and only in the past ten years have I begun to develop a palate. So please take my reviews with a few grains of salt!

I had the honour of dining at the Pentagon today, at what may be one of the hardest-to-access sushi stands in all of DC.  It was inside a simple buffet and market, and within the market two sushi chef stood at their meter-long counter, tirelessly making sushi.  Their menu contained many classics rolls such as the California and Vegetable, as well as typical Nigiri such as tuna, crab, and eel.  They also make party platters (for $60-100)!

I chose the seaweed salad, a staple on par with miso that I use to determine the baseline quality of their food.  I also decided on a “Five on Five Salmon” ($5.99) which was a roll with spicy salmon and cucumber with salmon on top.   A rather bland chili sauce topped the roll.  Then, of course I ordered the “Pentagon Roll” ($5.39).  It was a roll with Avocado, Cucumber, Shrimp and Crab.  Not even tempura anything… this roll just had those simple ingredients, sprinkled with sesame on top.  I thought to myself, maybe it’s a spy roll, hiding a secret taste (much like the building holds so many of the US’ secrets), though I recognized than the ingredients are very unoriginal for a signature roll (see: Shrimp Special, Deluxe California, Jordan’8, & Cal-Vada Maki for starters).

The seaweed salad was very typical, though perhaps with a bit less umami than I like.  Unfortunately, the salad was a vivid green, and one look at the sesame seeds confirmed that green dye was added to the salad to make it look so vibrant.  (Negative points for that.)  But the seaweed was crisp and refreshing, and other than the dye I had no complaint.  And at $2.99 for a serving, the price was completely worth it.

The sushi was presented pleasantly.  The ginger was a bit wilted and weak, and the wasabi was typical, with a nice, rough texture and medium heat (I could have some by itself and it was not hot, just spicy).  The rice was a bit rubbery, though not uncomfortably so, and it lacked a bit of the vinegar flavour that is typical of good sushi rice.  However, the rice was quite sticky and all of my rolls had their integrity intact throughout the entire meal.

The salmon 5 on 5 roll was very bland.  The fish itself had chewy bits and did not taste like the typical high-grade sushi fish that melts on one’s tongue (I had a second thought about maybe getting the tuna 5 on 5 instead!).  The spicy tuna inside was not hot at all, though there was a bit of flavour in the sauce.  And unfortunately the orange sauce on top was nothing but a decorative accent, with no definitive flavours that I could find.

Then came the Pentagon roll.  Avocado dominated.  With a bit of wasabi, I could imagine it being something better, but the shrimp was so thinly sliced I could not even taste it and the cucumber was very thinly sliced and not crispy (perhaps remnants, but not cucumber sticks!).   This unsuspecting roll did not live up to the grandeur of the building it was named after.  Yes, it was disappointing.  But somehow it was better than the 5 on 5.

All in all, I would give this un-named Pentagon Market Sushi Stand a 2 out of 5 stars.  It’s good for supermarket food, but even Whole Foods sushi is better than this was (review on Whole Foods sushi will be forthcoming! 🙂.

There were also no sales of alcoholic beverages in the Pentagon, so I have no review of Japanese beer or sake for this episode 😦

What’s your favourite sushi place?  Mine is California Rollin’, a hole-in the wall hideaway in Rochester, NY.  The thing is, it was where I had my full-on sushi baptism, so I’m not sure that it’s as good as I remember, now that I’m getting around the sushi scene.  Someday I shall return, and then it will be put to the real test! ❤

Metro Opens…Shop?

23 May

...really? We'd wear this?

Oh, this has to be a joke.  The DC WMATA has renewed and re-opened their online gift shop which includes doozies such as this shirt boasting a laughable motto.
  • Safe? Not always.
  • Reliable?  Definitely not.
  • Effective?  When time to destination and cost aren’t an issue, sure they can have that one.
  • Mobile?  Really, WMATA?  You think that you need to state that a fleet of trains and busses are mobile?  They must be desperate.
I mean, I am a Metro commuter myself and I’m thankful I have rides to anywhere in the DC area.  I can’t handle the stress of driving the beltway, so the little stresses of the Metro system are quite acceptable to me.  But still.  That catchphrase is a pie- in-the-sky dream.  The gift shop really should have stuck to the basics, like travel coffee mugs (even though eating and drinking on WMATA is prohibited) or “writing instruments“, not putting a unfulfilled dream on a shirt or using the Metro logo to defile a Swiss watch.
Would you buy anything from here? Or is this just a good idea gone horribly wrong?

Review: That 80’s Prom 4 – Back to 1985

18 Apr

I did indeed attend That 80’s Prom Party (Warning: Sound) on Saturday night.  It was a great time and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the 8o’s.

The theme was Prom, and even before entering Blackfinn DC, I began to see girls in taffeta and neon walking the sidewalks.  And ‘lo and behold! Next to the entrance was a DeLorean! It turns out that a local named David brought his baby out for the party.  I was impressed.  They really did go all out.

This man has one sick ride.

This is serial number 2230, and it is in great condition.  She has 20k miles on her, and has only a few things that David wants to upgrade, such as LED’s on the door, adding a HAM radio to the back window grate, and putting in a brake light in the center rear.  I was surprised to learn that DeLoreans are automatic, and very low riding.  Also, the doors really are odd.  They had leather pull-down straps attached to the handles for people like me who don’t have a massive wingspan.  Also, when I got out of the vehicle, the corners of the door still nearly hit my head, and I’m 5’6″.  I can see why these doors didn’t catch on, even though they do look wicked impressive when deployed.

Whats hotter: me in 80s gear, or Davids ride? I vote the car.

As soon as I entered Blackfinn, I felt like they really did throw us back to the 80’s.  There were cardboard Pac-Men and Rubik’s Cubes hanging from the ceiling, along with the stereotypical balloon archway that proms always seem to have. (Was there a point to those things?  By the end, it was floating on the ceiling anyways…)  Almost everyone there was in costume, including the wait staff.  Neon hues and tight clothes dominated.  The Back to the Future series was playing on multiple screens.  On the other screens ran music videos from the 80’s.  I was hooked on those, and they provided the music when the Hair Band wasn’t playing.

...they werent that good, but looked pretty hot.

To be honest, I liked listening to and watching the music videos more.  They were all great, bringing back memories of Madonna, David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston… so many great artists with big hair.  People danced, sang, and imbibed.  And to top off the Prom theme, Blackfinn had its hosts act as chaperones: they served us drinks, asked how we were doing throughout the night, and even handed out towels to us in the bathroom!  It felt like we were in a VIP booth.  I loved it.  This is definitely worth checking out next year if you missed out, and I thank Lindy Promotions for planning it!