April 2003 Archives
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senorjosh.comApril 2003
« December 2002   |   April 2003   |   May 2003 »
letter to bill gates
April 27, 2003
In a couple of weeks, my new life supposedly commences. I've spent some time thinking about what I want to do with it, but usually end up getting distracted by any one of the hundreds of related questions that arise. Recently, the distracting dillemma has been: if I want to do something useful (in the most austere sense of the word), how can I best position myself? My natural inclinations and talents are in particularly useless (except in the practical sense) disciplines - computer science and physics. One option is to try and make a lot of money and then do good things with it, but that path is extremely suspect. Last weekend, my friend alex and I got into a long 'meaning of life' discussion about this dilemma. So, when I got home, inspired and inebriated, I sent the following to the head of my favorite software monolith...

Dear Bill Gates,

Last summer I interned at Microsoft Research (BARC lab) under Jim Gray and Gordon Bell. That is my only qualification in writing you – I hope it is enough to warrant the 45 seconds it will take for you to read this email.
I was at the intern BBQ at your house in August, but as you were constantly swarmed by interns more eager than I, I never had the opportunity to ask a question of you. My question is: what keeps you going? Do you see a ‘higher cause’ in your work, or is the challenge enough? I don’t believe that you’re in it for the money or the power, though perhaps you are now so vested in Microsoft that its success is your own and my question sounds ridiculous. If you were motivated by a desire to do good for the world, you have more than enough money to change the world in magnificent ways… but perhaps you truly believe that better technology is an end in and of itself? Are these questions relevant anymore, or did you ask them 30 years ago and find answers that satisfied you?

I don’t honestly expect you to reply to this email, but please do! At least take me seriously, I’m asking only from personal interest. I won’t ask for a job and I won’t publicize the information – there’s no strategy or agenda – I'm just having trouble wholeheartedly following a road where you are the light at the end of the tunnel, the ultimate achievement towards which to strive. If you’ve answered this question publicly, send me a link; otherwise, I’d really like to know what you think.


Joshua Blumenstock

and this was the response I got...

Hi Joshua - I am sorry but Bill won't be able to respond to your email given his current schedule. Thanks for your understanding.

Christine Turner
Exec. Assistant to Bill Gates

and my editorial...
I can't say I'm either surprised or annoyed by the response. Their email is cute, but my questions were completely ridiculous. Mostly, I feel (1) a little stupid for sounding so naive (If I really wanted a thoughtful response, I probably could have hid it better), and (2) a bit compromised for forsaking my intention to not 'publicize the information'. As for the first feeling, I knew I would feel foolish even as I wrote the thing. I sent it immediately because I knew if I thought twice it would never survive my better judgement, namely the sober scrutiny of the next morning. Why I'm advertising my naivete on my website, I haven't quite figured out. Luckily this weblog will let me delete postings. Which brings me to for the second sentiment. Though I have a tinge of guilt in posting their response, I really don't feel too bad because, after all, I'm mainly publicizing my own confusion.

Posted by senorjosh at 11:45 PM | Comments (5)
flawed leaders
April 26, 2003
I like to think my dad is flawless. He's a doctor, but he's also a handyman and a mechanic, a ski patrolman and a sailor - a modern-day renaissance guy with more practical sense than anyone else I've met. He has more letters after his name than I can remember, and though I'm a physics major and he only took the required pre-med classes, he understands the principles much better than I do. But when it comes to computers, he's pretty hopeless. As a computer science student and general techno-geek, I like showing my friends how to do stuff on computers. But with my dad it's different. I get annoyed when he asks for help using spreadsheets, short-tempered when he wanted advice buying a laptop, and unnervingly frustrated when he had trouble with email attachments. I've spent weeks training my grandfather to use AOL, but can't spend more than five minutes tutoring my dad.

Continue reading "flawed leaders"

Posted by senorjosh at 03:37 PM | Comments (1)
watson proposals uploaded
April 25, 2003
I've added a little map of my (tentative) itinerary, as well as links to my proposal and personal statement. Thanks again to everyone who helped me put the project together.

Posted by senorjosh at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)
thesis uploaded
My senior thesis, Mining Clusters for Knowledge: Finding Algorithm-Independent Groups in Microarray Data, is now available. It was due earlier this month, but is embarrassingly full of typos. I doubt those will ever get fixed.
Posted by senorjosh at 03:32 PM | Comments (1)
what else is on this website?
Regarding the more practical reasons for this website, the career-oriented content will be contained in the projects section; this frontpage will remain career-unrelated. By career-oriented, I mean resume. If you have a job for me, tell me because I'm unemployed as of May 25. Some people have requested copies of my honors thesis and watson proposal; if this is you, download them here and avoid the wrath of ITS incurred when I email these large files. At some point, maybe I'll make the formatting of the other pages consistent, and even retroactively weblog some content into the archives (if such a thing is possible), but I'm not making any promises.
Posted by senorjosh at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)
leaving feedback
I'm pretty much operating under the assumption that fewer than 50 people will ever lay eyes on this webpage. The counter in the bottom-left corner keeps going up, but I think it's all due to me - you'd be amazed how many tries it takes to get the layout to look right. However, If you're reading this, and have something to say, I'd really like to hear it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to allow other people to easily leave feedback or comments. I've spent an unseemly number of hours trying to create a guestlog and/or enable a commenting tool like dotcomments, but the php isn't compatible with the server-side indexing I've been using, and I don't think I want to start over. So, until I figure it out, please email me and I'll post your unadulterated (promise) comments here.

Posted by senorjosh at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)
Why a website?
I've been meaning to make a website for a long time now, but it always seemed like there was no point. I wanted to post my resume and some other stuff online, but other than that, why would anyone (my parents don't count) want to visit my website? There were two things that broke my inertia. The first was my friend John Gordon's inspiring example, online as of March 28. I love reading John's site, so I figured there was a chance that, if I tried hard enough, someone else might enjoy reading this one. The second impetus came from my "Ethics of Leadership" class. If you're reading this right now, chances are you're in that class. For those of you not in the class (hi mom, hi dad), the point of the project is to explore the idea of leadership, in any imaginable sense of the word. Though a mediocre website is a far cry from leadership, I liked the idea of creating a space in which to share thoughts, ideas, etc. It's a hesitant step into the public realm.

So, this is a place where I'll post thoughts and ruminations. More formal than a journal, but not necessarily more conclusive. For now, I'll be writing about some of the more leadership-centric ideas that have been running through my head, but that's mainly for now. I imagine in the future I'll write about anything I think someone else might be interested in reading. I've been working on some creative stories, which I might post here if I end up liking them. And next year, I'll (hopefully) update this regularly with news of my travels, so I don't have to impose large mass emails on unwitting friends. Anything else you want to see or hear, let me know.
Posted by senorjosh at 02:12 PM | Comments (9)
Histogram Tool
April 24, 2003
This histogram tool (VBA) is an Excel macro that creates histograms of Affymetrix microarray data, and is useful in finding genome chips that had oversaturation problems. The methodology is described in our Biotechniques article, Correcting for signal errors in the analysis of microarray data [abstract] The code is available from Gullans' lab's website; follow this link.

Posted by senorjosh at 05:36 PM | Comments (1)
Clustering Algorithms
This clustering software (VC++) implement the clustering algorithms described in Tamayo et al's 1999 PNAS paper. The idea was to build a framework that would enable the user to specify all relevant clustering parameters at run-time. This is basically the shell for the program we used to cluster financial data in Fall '00, with the back-end algorithms removed. The real version was designed for imported datasets, but in this version you can just click around, placing nodes and points wherever you want.

Posted by senorjosh at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)
Heatmap Tool (VBA)
I developed this tool while working at Harvard Institutes of Medicine, in order to visualize the expression leves of genes on DNA microarrays. It is an MS Excel macro that takes a table of numbers and turns it into a colored heatmap, where the brightness/hue is proportional to the size of the number. For example:

The .bas file can be downloaded free of charge by clicking here.

Continue reading "Heatmap Tool (VBA)"

Posted by senorjosh at 01:57 AM | Comments (5)

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