Blog Posts

Using Technology To Find Missing Persons

Missing Person SilhouetteA few hundred thousand people are reported missing each year in the U.S. alone. While majority of the cases are solved there remains a couple of thousand or so cases that remain open each year. As of January 2015, the number of total, open missing persons cases was about 85,000

It occurs to me in this era of vast computing resources, prolifiration of social media, public cameras and machine learning that there might be a technological solution that may aid in the recovery of missing persons, here in the U.S. and around the world.

Facebook already has algorithms that can identify people by their faces. Microsoft just released Face APIs that can tell a lot from just a picture of a person, e.g. how old they might be, their sex, identify the same person in multiple pictures, etc. Better yet, Microsoft is making these application programming interface (API) available to the public for free (at least while they are in beta), which means anyone can use it to write facial recognition programs. Mat Velloso (granted, a Microsoft employee) used it to a Twins Or Not? in about 4 hours!

Proposal

Consider a computer program that takes a picture of a missing person and compares it against the vast repository of publically available images and videos of people to find a match. This will likely be too large a task for an individual computer or even a large datacenter. So, employ something like BOINC, a grid computing system that parcels out a large task to several hundreds, if not millions of computers around the world, whose owners have volunteered their idle CPU cycles for this task.  

I am no computer scientist so I am probably over-simplifying the solution. But there is nothing here that doesn't already exist in one form or another and I am sure if people smarter than me put their minds to it, they could come up with an elegant solution that could help many people and families reunite.

Such a program could be used to find victims of human trafficking, natural disasters, brain injuries or other disorders that may cause them to get lost and not be able to find their way home. I think it would be worth doing.

Running Meteor App on a BudgetVM CentOS 7 VPS

Several months ago, I learned about this awesome javascript based ecosystem called Meteor. Seriously, if you don't know about it, and you develop websites, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Some people call it a framework, but it is oh so much more than that.

I am not sure if the idea for the app I developed using Meteor came before and I discovered it just in time to avoid going doing another, very likely, more complicated path, or, having discovered Meteor, I had to write an app just so I could learn to use it. Meteor is just that awesome!

Since it is relatively new, most web hosting companies don't have out of the box support for Meteor like they might for WordPress or Drupal. It is also based on Node.js, which is a different technology than what is used by most hosting companies. So, in order to run Meteor apps, you will need a virtual private server (VPS), which is basically your own Linux based operating system running on a server somewhere out there. (You can host your Meteor apps on meteor.com via the meteor deploy command but (as far as I know) you have very limited control over what things you can do, especially in regards to database management, once your app is deployed.

Anyway, I needed an inexpensive VPS solution where I could run my Meteor app with full control. I found that solution in BudgetVM, a no-frills, at least at the lowest tier, VPS provider for $25/year. At this price, their support is very limited so I had to learn several things on my own to get my Meteor app running on their servers and I will share that with you now. So far, I have been very happy what I have been able to do with the hardware/bandwidth resources BudgetVM provides at this price point.

Questions about afterlife.

I do not believe in an afterlife and for a long time that was that. It still is but for several months now I have been thinking about what if there was life after death. A lot of religions and belief systems teach us that it is so, mostly to ensure, I believe, to tie us to those religions and belief systems so that we can secure eternal happiness for our souls, consciousness or whatever entity our departed selves may adopt. Of course, to not believe would condemn that entity to eternal damnation and horrors beyond imagination. And that is where it ends.

Trickle-down economy could work... when the government holds the purse strings.

In a recent discussion with a friend, on the issue of the U.S. national debt, we talked about how to best solve the problem. Being of the liberal mindset, I, of course, talked about raising taxes, specifically, ending the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy (those households making over $250,000 per year), which would result in increased tax revenue for the government.

Would one choose life?

I wonder if one were given the option to be born, to live as a mortal, would one choose life? I think not. Of course, for it to be a valid choice, one would need to know what life is. To be born is to suffer. That is the default state of being. We suffer from hunger, the need for shelter and companionship. We, then, try to spend the rest of our lives to ease that suffering, knowing that life will end, and with it, all that suffering. At the same time we are mostly fearful of that end. Why one would deliberately want to go through this torment is beyond reason. 

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