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Benjamin Oakes

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Hi, I'm Ben Oakes and this is my geek blog. Currently, I'm a Ruby/JavaScript Developer at Liaison. Previously, I was a Developer at Continuity and Hedgeye, a Research Assistant in the Early Social Cognition Lab at Yale University and a student at the University of Iowa. I also organize, ICRuby, OpenHack Iowa City, and previously organized NewHaven.rb. I have an amazing wife named Danielle Oakes.


Module: TSort (Ruby 2.3.3)

by Ben

TSort implements topological sorting using Tarjan’s algorithm for strongly connected components

Source: Module: TSort (Ruby 2.3.3)

Lua as a Python’s secret weapon

by Ben

As you can see, it was easy to embed Lua in Python and the results are outstanding! Thus, we can say that Lua is definitely of a great help when you need to speed up some critical parts of your Python code.

Source: Lua as a Python’s secret weapon.

Six maps that show the anatomy of America’s vast infrastructure

by Ben


A look at the United States’s bridges, electrical grid, pipelines, railroads, airports and waterways


Iowa has the highest number of structurally deficient bridges, with about 20 percent of its bridges — more than 5,000 — classified as such. According to the National Bridge Inventory database, this means that the bridge “has one or more structural defects that require attention.”

Source: Six maps that show the anatomy of America’s vast infrastructure

We can do better, Iowa.

Google mtail

by Ben

extract whitebox monitoring data from application logs for collection in a timeseries database

Source: google/mtail

City of Iowa City waste minimization proposals approved in November 2016

by Ben

The Iowa City City Council has approved several proposed changes that will expand the city’s current recycling program. This includes the addition of multifamily units, like apartments, and curbside food waste collection. The final reading of these changes to the City Code was unanimously approved by City Council at its meeting on November 1st, 2016.

Source: Waste minimization proposals | City of Iowa City

We’ve needed multifamily (apartment/condo) recycling and food waste composting for quite some time. Glad to see progress on this!

Petition to Audit the 2016 Presidential Election

by Ben

The FBI determined some months ago that hacking, originating from Russia, was having an influence on our electoral process. These hackers interfered with our presidential election through attempted and successful penetration of email and voter registration databases, among other systems. This created fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the safety of our electoral processes.

244,258 people have signed already. Please consider signing.

Styrofoam Alternative: Mushroom Packaging

by Ben

Americans may not think much about what goes into the plastic packaging material they take for granted in everyday products. Most modern packaging materials are made from polystyrene and other synthetics that are not only made from petroleum, but also take a lot of energy to make.

2017 Best Green Car To Buy nominee: Toyota Prius Prime

by Ben


The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a far, far better plug-in hybrid than its predecessor. It defaults to electric-only operation, it has 25 miles of EPA-rated electric range, and in electric operation, it is by far the most energy-efficient vehicle you can buy this year in the U.S. And when it reverts to running as a standard hybrid car, it’s rated at 54 mpg combined.

Source: Green Car Reports 2017 Best Car To Buy nominee: Toyota Prius Prime

While the Prius Prime still isn’t out yet (and might not arrive in Iowa for quite a while), it deserves serious consideration if you’re considering a Prius. The original plug-in Prius basically only got 6 electric miles, while this one gets 25 EV miles, costs less, and looks better. We’re still very happy with our 2nd generation Chevy Volt, don’t get me wrong: since purchasing, we have done a 71 mile trip only using electricity and are averaging about 65 mpg on longer highway trips, while not paying a ton more than the Prius Prime will eventually cost when it becomes available for purchase in the Midwest. Regardless of that, I would definitely encourage anyone considering a Prius to opt for the Prius Prime. If you do, you’ll be a part of helping drive demand for the public charging infrastructure, something that any EV driver will appreciate. Thank goodness that Toyota seems interested in selling a lot of these.

The poison arrow frog’s toxin has an anti-toxic evil twin

by Ben


A 24 step (!) synthesis yielded two milligrams of batrachotoxin, or two frogs’ worth. If it can be scaled up, then collection in the wild will become irrelevant. But the synthesis also revealed some interesting biology. That’s because, like many chemical syntheses, the protocol generated not only batrachotoxin, (-)-BTX, but also its evil twin, (+)-BTX.

Many carbon-based molecules—i.e. most biologically relevant molecules—have a handedness, determined by the way the various other atoms they contain are arranged around the carbon. Molecules can have the same constituent atoms but be mirror images of each other, just like your right and left hands. They are the same but are not superimposable one atop the other. This seemingly small difference matters. All life on Earth, for some as yet undiscovered evolutionary reason, uses exclusively left-handed amino acids to make proteins and right-handed nucleic acids for their genetic material.

Source: The poison arrow frog’s toxin has an anti-toxic evil twin | Ars Technica

I wouldn’t exactly call the result “anti toxic,” but I learned something about chemistry from this article… (I’m pretty sure I learned about the mechanics of the neurotoxin in a neuroscience class.)

Tom Brokaw on his 50 years at NBC, donating his papers to the University of Iowa

by Ben


As he celebrates a milestone 50 years at NBC, Tom Brokaw tells TODAY he’s planning to donate his papers and memorabilia to the library at the University of Iowa.

Source: Tom Brokaw on his 50 years at NBC, Donald Trump’s ‘unforeseen’ win –