Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Goshen College - University of Hawaii connection

The chancellor of the Manoa UH campus got her undergrad degree at Goshen College. She was in a one-hour live chat today hosted by the Honolulu Advertiser, and I was able to get in a question about how attending a Mennonite liberal arts college influences her approach to UH. Her answer is toward the end. Most people were asking about boring things like parking and dorm space :)

Here's more Goshen College trivia. Henry D. Weaver, professor emeritus of Chemistry, former provost, and former interim president, was hired by the University of California system to direct the study abroad programs for the system. He was able to do this from an office at UC Santa Barbara, which is where I met him.

What does this have to do with today's chat? The connection is in her answer to my question.

Bonus points: As you might suspect, Henry is an amateur radio operator (W9BHX). The radio world was recently rocked by what FCC action? Hint: /-. ---/-- --- .-. ./-.-. --- -.. . / You can figure that out by looking here (left is . and right is -), and you might want to ponder why the letters ETIAN are near the root (top) of the tree.

Further hint: It's the same reason that simple substitution ciphers are so easy to crack.

Here is the answer.

Monday, December 25, 2006

One less thing to worry about: getting squished in a library

From today's LA Times article about libraries:

But not everyone likes such automation. Michael Gorman, the soon-to-retire dean of library services at Cal State Fresno, said his campus steered away from it in a library expansion under construction.

Fresno's project instead will include more compact shelving, the kind that usually lacks aisles until someone pushes a button to open up one. Such movable shelves may seem odd at first to some, but "it's really very easy once you get used to it. It doesn't kill people," said Gorman, past president of the American Library Assn.

Here's a link to a news release about a recent gift for the new library.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Copyright? Copyright? What's that?

You can watch 101 "classic" holiday videos -- Rudolf, Charlie Brown, The Office season two Christmas episode -- here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Trader Joe's, a hookah bar, a PF Chang's, Dave & Busters

Yeah, that's what Merced needs to keep those students happy. Sheesh :)

Who needs those diversions when you can watch a debate about "Creativity: The Mind, Machines, and Mathematics" between David Gelernter and Ray Kurzweil, courtesy of MIT.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A aircraft-like black box for your car?

I am really tempted to get a CarChip and log the data about use of my car. I'm surprised that the system is under $200 and plugs in to the standard diagnostic port on post-1996 cars.

Another one of Simson's Technology Review columns got me thinking about it. He installed a CarChip on his wife's car, and also points out that a lot of cars already record data, but drivers are not aware of it:

For example, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 64 percent of the model 2005 cars sold in the United States were equipped with event data recorders (EDRs). Similar to the so-called black boxes in airplanes, these systems continuously monitor a variety of statistics and preserve their most recent readings if the vehicle crashes. According to the NHTSA, EDRs typically record "pre-crash vehicle dynamics and system status" (such as the car's speed), "driver inputs" (the position of the steering wheel and throttle and whether the brake is engaged), the "vehicle crash signature" (the car's change in velocity during a crash), and "restraint usage/deployment status" (how quickly the air bags were released). Consumers typically don't get access to this information. Its purpose, instead, is to help industry and the government make cars and roads safer. Increasingly, it is being used in the courtroom as well.

Finally, I am too lazy to make this a separate blog post: More UC Merced news -- trouble filling the dorms.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

From a strange comic blog

The word "pwned" is showing up everywhere, even in geeky comics.

The same artist does an amusing comic about a famous mathematician/computer scientist.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cable cars

Speaking of traffic, the local news had a story about cable cars being the most dangerous public transportation in SF:

High Accident Rate On S.F. Cable Cars
The I-Team has uncovered some surprising data on the safety of public transportation that might make you think twice before getting on a cable car.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mental gridlock

Steve's recent post about no-rules traffic reminded me of interesting, and sometimes surprising, ideas about traffic.

For example, near Steve's house is a wide two lane street that is a dangerous for pedestrians to cross because traffic is moving fast (for a residential area) and the road is so wide that pedestrians spend a long time crossing. It is a road in need of traffic calming. One technique is to reduce the radius of sidewalk curves at intersections (reducing road width -> pedestrians are in the roadway less time).

It is a little counter intuitive, but congested narrow residential streets might be safer for pedestrians. I seem to remember a few years ago a consultant recommended to the City of Reedley not to indulge the instinct to install stop signs willy-nilly, and making wide residential road. Unfortunately, Reedley is now The Land of Many Stop Signs.

Another interesting thing is that the modern traffic roundabouts are more efficient and safer than intersections controlled by stop signs or signals.

There's also provocative data about urban vs. rural traffic fatalities. Somewhere (Tufte?) I saw a map of the US showing by county the traffic fatality rate. That map is essentially the mirror image of a map showing population density by county. I can't find the map on the Web, but the "Partners for Rural Traffic Safety" say

More than half of fatal crashes occur in rural areas: 59 percent of total traffic fatalities for all vehicles and 64 percent for passenger vehicles.

The fatality rate in rural areas is TWICE that of urban areas: 2.6 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled versus 1.1 in urban areas.

Restraint use in rural fatal crashes is LOWER than in urban crashes: 36 percent versus 48 percent.

Finally, the "safer to drive or fly?" question pops up in the Risk Digest:
As for the cliche that the drive to the airport is riskier than
the flight, the researchers concluded that average drivers with
the age distribution of airline passengers are less likely to be
killed on a 50-mile, one-way trip to the airport than on the flight.

Speaking of flying, a new record was set today for amount of time before I get panhandled in San Francisco. This record is likely not to be broken since as I was getting out of the airport-hotel van, I was asked for money immediately.

One more thing, according to the June 2005 Harper's Index:

Portion of the world's motor vehicles that are in China: 1/17

Portion of the world's annual traffic fatalities that are: 1/5

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Here's a few updates on previous postings:

  • Back in February 2006 I mentioned the probability of dying in various ways. There is a really interesting graphic that's a lot easier to understand.
  • In September 2005 I noted that I wasn't much of a Prairie Home Companion fan, but you can listen on the Web. KFSR, the Fresno State radio station, will begin broadcasting the show in December. Some people are still upset that KVPR dumped Prairie Home Companion years ago.
  • Over a year ago I posted a message about free viewers for Microsoft Office documents. I think that is a better way to view MS Office docs without buying office, and it works on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. And it's free! You can download viewer widgets/gadgets/plugins or use their free online suite.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Nickel and diming it

During a boring summer job between high school and college I imagined my meager hourly wage as nickels dropping onto a pile.

The December 2006 SmartMoney magazine has four paragraphs on the "fastest way to earn 33 percent in 2006." I can't find a legitimate copy of the column on the web, but I found a blog entry where someone had typed it. Hint: it is about nickels. Disclaimer: I have no idea who the blogger is that posted the column -- it's the only copy that Google could find :)

The funny thing was that my nickel-visualizing job took place in a big vault. No, I was never locked in.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The beyond

No matter what your take on it, atheism is a hot topic right now. Besides the recent Wired article, Time also covered it, Julia Sweeney was interviewed in October on NPR's Fresh Air, and Penn Jillette did a "This I Believe" segment on NPR.

And, another plug for the Mennonite astronomer Owen Gingerich, his essay "Is the Cosmos all there is?" and his book that came out in September.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I am getting too many books that I don't have time to read, so here is a reminder to myself, in no particular order:

  • The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, by H.W. Brands.
  • Thirteen Moons: A Year in the Wilderness, by Robert P. Johnson (UCSB alumnus whoo hoo).
  • The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, by Owen Gingerich, the most famous Mennonite astronomer :) I've read some of this one, pretty interesting. Trivia: his son Jon and I were at UCSB getting MS degrees in Computer Science at the same time, and I stayed in Owen's house while my advisor swapped houses with him for sabbatical. A few doors away lived Bill Walton when he played for the Celtics.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann. You can read an excerpt or the article from The Atlantic.
  • Small is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas, by Seth Godin.
  • The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman. I'm not a big fan of Arax, but should read the book since it is about farming the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. If you are looking for something more inspiring, go for Epitaph for a Peach by Masumoto, or if you are from around here it will amuse you to recognize the thinly disquised characters in Fields Without Dreams, by Hanson.
  • Garden of the Sun (second edition) about the early history of the San Joaquin Valley (and you might want to see A Land Between Rivers).
  • First Man, biography of Neil Armstrong. I've read most of it and learned a few things, but for the big picture of the Apollo program I like Andrew Chaikin's book Man on the Moon (I got to meet him, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Robert Jastrow on the same day in Pasadena a few years ago), or you can read transcripts of all the radio transmissions at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is that for here or to go?

A recent "Hey Mr. Green" column got me thinking again about whether it is better to use disposable or reusable cups. See the second question and answer in this column: "For occasional use, like a large church functions, disposables are not so bad, since it takes more energy to make a ceramic mug and wash it several times than to use several Styrofoam cups."

I've heard several times that you'd have to use a ceramic mug "a thousand times" before breaking even from an energy point of view, but I've never been able to document that.

But I did find this interesting document: "Report of the Starbucks Coffee Company/Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force." What I really liked about the report is that they looked at lifecycle costs. Here is a quote from page 10:

The Alliance conducted an environmental analysis of the full life cycle of ceramic, paper,glass,and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic cups,from the extraction of raw materials to their manufacture, use, and disposal.The Alliance found that the breakeven point beyond which environmental benefits began to accrue was approximately 70 uses for ceramics and 36 uses for glass. Given that a reusable cup may be used, on average, 1,000 times or more (and is generally designed for 3,000 uses), the environmental benefits of using reusable cups in terms of reduced energy use,air and water pollution,and solid waste can be tremendous.

Also take a look at the Reusables Analysis on page 12 where the authors look at costs for a typical coffee shop, including annual water savings, greenhouse gas reduction, and solid waste reduction.

Now instead of cups, the conversation has shifted to the break-even point for hybrid cards and photovoltaic cells.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The New Yorker festival videos

The New Yorker magazine posted several videos from their festival earlier this month. You can see a talk by Malc about neural nets and how you know when a movie or song or whatever ... will be a "hit".

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Those pesky IEEE Fellows predicting the future again

Previous I posted about the IEEE Fellows predicting future advances in technology. I think I called some of their observations "mundane" :)

You can listen to a podcast about the article (or subscribe to the IEEE Spectrum podcasts).

Speaking of listening to things, Richard A. Clarke gave the keynote address at the 15th USENIX Security Symposium. If you follow that link you'll be able to listen to Clarke's talk and the Q&A (as well as other talks from the conference).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

AI and HCI

In the most recent interactions Jonathan Grudin discusses the ups and downs of AI and HCI. He has an interesting perspective since he's been an interface person in several AI teams.

Here's a quote to get you interested:"McCarthy and other mathematicians defined artificial intelligence. When you ask mathematicians to define intelligence, what do you get? Before the answer, some history..."

The article is "Turing maturing: the separation of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction". If you have a subscription to the ACM Digital Library, or on a campus that has a subsciption you'll be able to figure out how read it.

On the other hand, I've just googled "Turing maturing:" several times and always got a link that worked, like this one (YMMV).

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Launch and re-entry

I didn't pay much attention to the most recent space tourist to the international space station, Anousheh Ansari (yes, of X PRIZE fame).

But I liked her frank descriptions of "The Trip Up" and "The Ride Down". Usually you don't read stuff like this from astronauts. The closest are descriptions of Jerry Linenger's experiences on MIR. Some of the experiences were scary (click and then scroll down to the paragraph starting "While living aboard the space station, Linenger and his two Russian crewmembers faced numerous difficulties...").

  • Ansari talks quite a bit about her first experience on-orbit, and how "uncomfortable" it was.
  • Starting about in the middle of this blog entry she desribes the experience of re-entry in a Soyuz spacecraft (landing on ground, not water!)

If that sounds boring, you can not only be a space tourist, you can take a walk outside ... for $35 million.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Quixotic Bubble Busting

The frequently-insightful Simson Garfinkel discusses design flaws of the Motorola Q phone, both software:

In other words, the Q succeeds in bringing the experience of Windows to the mobile phone. This is its failing.

and hardware. He includes what should have been a scenario for usability testing: moving an mp3 from your desktop to play on the Q. He points out one of my peeves, the developer's implementation model showing through to the interface:

Despite all the jazzy hardware, it's frustrating, not fun, to use the Q. This is a phone that should fit into the life of the user and the context of use, rather than forcing the user to understand its internal organization. ... Geeks might gravitate to the Q for the challenge of figuring out how it works, but most average users will be exasperated.

Is there anything more difficult than designing user interfaces? Maybe predicting the future (sorry about the lack of segue). The September 2006 IEEE Spectrum has the results of a survey of IEEE Fellows about "technology that is - and isn't - on the horizon". The results seem really ... mundane? Apparently not too many participate in SETI, 72.5% said it was unlikely that humans will "understand signals from extraterrestrial civilizations", although only 39.5% think it is unlikely that "humanoid robots" will "care for the elderly in their homes". What?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tufte and Friedman

Two unrelated things I've blogged about before:
  • A column about Tom Friedman's (I call him "T-Freed" :) presentation at the conference I attended this summer.
  • A recent NPR story about Tufte. He talks about NASA's problems with PowerPoint slides.
  • OK one other thing, an NPR story about why us oldsters get stuck in our ways.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The party of the first part vs. the part of the second part is well-known for its extensive collection of performers' contracts. The Los Angeles Times recently printed details of not only some of the Orange County Fair's performers' backstage requests, but also their performance fees.

For example, Paul Simon is getting $325k plus 85% of gross box office revenue. Michael Bolton: $85k plus a $10k bonus for a sold out show.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Brats, bibliographies, peer review

Two things that caught my eye this week:

Lamentations on user interfaces. In the July+August issue of interactions the editor has a rant about "woe-besieged" users. He says

Office productivity tools make you do somersaults to undo their automatic formatting. .. When you try to do something that a product's designers didn't anticipate, some products exact their revenge. They do the digital equivalent of throwing everything into a heap, leaving it up to you to clean up the mess all by yourself. This is marginally acceptable behavior from a two-year-old child...

Also this week I read an insightful rant by a writer for MIT Technology Review talking about Web 2.0. The part that I thought was interesting was when he says that most users need very little of the functionality provided by software manufacturers. This might remind you of the 90-10 (or 80-20, or ...) heuristic.

Here's the relevant quote:

For years, software makers, notably Microsoft, have struggled with the bloatware dilemma. A small fraction of their users want specialized, elaborate new functions; moreover, the software makers themselves need to keep adding features to justify upgrades. But the more niche features they add, the more complex, buggy, and expensive their programs become, and the more off-putting they can seem to most users. The likes of Voo2do, iOutliner, Google Calendar, and the new Google Spreadsheets have solved this problem by ignoring it. They do most things that most users of their desktop counterparts want -- but almost nothing that the specialized user might. Writely lets me make bullet-point lists and choose from several fonts -- but I can't add footnotes or easily change the column layout. Google Spreadsheets lets me enter formulas and values as easily as Excel does, but it cannot produce graphs or charts. And the online to-do list systems lack some of the more sophisticated features I like in BrainStorm and Zoot. The result of this short-tailism might be a curious new "long-tail" division between online and desktop applications: the free online apps will be for ordinary users under routine circumstances, while for-pay desktop apps may become even more bloated and specialized for high-end users.

Publication and knowledge. Also in the July+August interactions Aaron Marcus asks "Where do we turn for advice?" and goes on to talk about the user interface tomes. He begins by talking about the third edition of The Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics and says

There are two other competing handbooks with almost identical titles: The Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction,by Helander, Landauer and Prabhu, whose second edition published with Elsevier, with 1,582 pages, appeared in 1997, and the equally monolithic The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook by Jacko and Sears, whose first edition of 1,277 pages appeared in 2003... The second of these three handbooks features an editorial board of 14 and 104 contibutors to 62 chapters. The third compendium features 23 advisory board members and 121 contributers to 64 chapters... Other than giving a large number of people opportunities to expound on topics of their expertise, experience, and interest, are these documents worth their weight, to say nothing of their cost?

He goes on to talk about online resources, speculating that "the younger generations may grow increasingly fond of Internet-based resources and eschew the classic paper-oriented resources".

Finally, in the same issue of interactions, Jonathan Grudin has an article you'd never read based on the title: "Death of a Sugar Daddy: The Mystery of the AFIPS Orphans". It's actually a story of looking for the owner of the copyright of classic computer science works. But for me, the most interesting part was his characterization of the state of computer science publishing:

In many fields, journals rely on peer review and conferences use more inclusive approaches as a way to build community. But much of US computer science has shifted its quality showcase from journals to highly selective peer-reviewed conferences. Journal peer review is an awesome resource-free consulting by experts - and journal acceptance rates are higher than those of our conferences, because journals make heavy use of "revise and resubmit" decisions. Last week I spoke to a researcher who said "when I was coming up for tenure I stopped submitting to conferences and just submitted to journals. I've never had a journal submission rejected, but about half of my conference papers are rejected."

OK, I said two things but there is one more. In the July issue of CACM Michael Cusumano writes "What road ahead for Microsoft and Windows?" It's a perfect story for a software engineering class: 50 million LOC and "gridlock".

Making even small changes in one part of the product led to unpredictable and destabilizing consequences in other parts since most of the components were tied together in complex and unpredictable ways. Even 4,000 or so software developers and an equivalent number of software testers was not enough to get Longhorn working.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Less carbon, fewer reporters, great books

Three unrelated things:
  • My previous post was about carbon dispensations. The conference I am attending is cooperating with and for only $25 I can assuage my guilt, and get a button to wear at the conference.
  • Back in my UCSB days I was an apologist of the local newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press. The paper is in the news with seven editors and reporters resigning in the last two days. A quote from the LA Times article about the News-Press' local zillionaire owner Wendy McCaw:

    McCaw, 55, bought the paper in 2000 for an estimated $100 million or more, using a fortune she built from a divorce settlement she won from cellphone magnate Craig McCaw.

    She immediately gained a reputation as an iconoclastic newspaperwoman, favoring strong environmental protections in many instances but also demonstrating a libertarian's distrust of government. An early editorial during her tenure called for an end to the Thanksgiving tradition of eating turkey because of the suffering of the "unwilling participant."

  • The British Library digitized 15 amazing old books, from da Vinci, to Mozart, to Blackwell's botanical illustrations. There default interface is really annoying (Shockwave) but you can click on "alternative versions" for a more normal web interface.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Carbon dispensations

Have a desire to be "carbon neutral"? Several sites calculate your share of a flight's CO2 emissions and allow you to purchase a dispensation :)

For example, says my part of a LAX-HNL roundtrip's CO2 emissions can be offset for $39.60 (Canadian dollars), which is about ... $33.34 USD.
is a more complicated site (Conde Nast Traveler says "It offers a complete exegesis of its emissions calculator's figures and methods, which have been vetted by Germany's Federal Environment Agency") and even allows you to select the type of aircraft.

I'm not sure what those companies do with the conscience-clearing money you send in. So, since I've been supporting Trees for the Future for decades, so I think I'll just continue that :)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rules for Developing Safety Critical Code

Since I've spent quite a bit of time at JPL, some of it doing formal specification and verification, this article in the latest IEEE Computer caught my eye.

It's a short essay giving ten "rules" for safety critical software development. Some of it reminds me of cleanroom software engineering (with the exception of Rule 10 :)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

UC bad news, whale good news

Two unrelated things:

The chancellor (many universities would call it "president") of the University of California, Santa Cruz jumped to her death. What do you think of the excerpt below from the local newspaper article?

But many have said Denton was unhappy at UCSC, reported John Wilkes, recently retired director of the Science Communication Program.

"No one could say quite why — it was just a bad fit," he said. "She might have been unused to dealing with people outside of science and engineering, because she never had to deal with them before."

How does a UC campus choose a chancellor? UC Merced is losing both their founding chancellor and provost. Here is a brief description of the chancellor-selection process. Also, UC Merced is losing their provost (to become president of UNLV!) 1 July.

I previously posted about UC woes.

Changing subjects completely, adding to my previous postings about whales, here is a video of a whale examining some underwater equipment. But where was the underwater equipment? That video says Perth, while a rival YouTube site says Galveston, Texas :)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Big Island coastline

I previously posted a link to images of the entire California coastline. Now someone has done the same thing for the Big Island of Hawaii. You can read an article from the Star Bulletin, or go directly to the photographer's page.

It's a little annoying since you need to click on either "Aerial Photographs" or "every square inch of coastline". But after you pick a spot to start, you can go forward and back just like the California coastline website.

I like this quote from the article:

Powers flew his single-engine Piper Cherokee 160 at 500 feet, holding his Nikon D100 camera out the window and firing off pictures of the nearly 300 miles of coastline.

"It took some practice. You have to do two things really well: You have to be able to take good photos and be a good pilot," Powers said. "You can't focus too much on either one."

If you are, say, going to attend a fascinating workshop on IT planning at HICSS in January, you might want to stay at the conference hotel. You can see it by clicking on "Waikoloa Resort" on the Big Island map.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The one-page FastCompany article about picturephones that I mentioned earlier is now available.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A soccer ball with curves

Baseball isn't the only game with curve balls (see my previous posts here and there). The new soccer ball is driving World Cup goalkeepers crazy.

Speaking of science, why does your favorite football (not soccer) coach make decisions unsupported by the data? Have the coach read this :) Speaking of stats, Malc recently blogged about NBA statistics and the "worth" of players.

Monday, June 05, 2006

My three-time alma mater, the University of California

The University of California is getting some unflattering press lately, first about compensation for executives, then the ethnicity of UCLA's entering class, and now disappointing news of UC Merced's enrollment. I've maintained that the regents made the wrong choice for the UCM site. This quote from the completelrdp.pdf document on is interesting:

The selection of the Lake Yosemite site came after a review of more than 85 sites in the San Joaquin Valley. Finalist sites were in Merced, Madera and Fresno Counties. Among the criteria leading to the final selection were available housing, commercial services and cultural amenities, as well as access to metropolitan areas, community support, availability of water, and an estimation of environmental effects associated with the site. The site proposed in Merced County also had the significant advantage of being owned by the Virginia Smith Trust, which funds higher education scholarships for local high school graduates.

Never underestimate free land!

In any case, an editorial in today's Fresno Bee about UC Merced's enrollment problems talks about how UCM needs to be more fun :)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Telecommuting cutback

Is HP swimming upstream by cutting back on telecommuting? An interesting quote from a San Jose Mercury News article:

But one of HP's former IT managers, who left the company in October, said a few employees abused the flexible work arrangements and could be heard washing dishes or admitted to driving a tractor during conference calls about project updates.

So far, Fresno State's almost 10 year old telecommuting policy continues.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ambient interfaces

This article in today's Fresno Bee describes how PG&E is giving "energy orbs" to major users. The orbs change color color based on energy demand (i.e., shortages).

I talk about ambient interfaces like the energy orb when I teach HCI (CSci 291T at Fresno State and ICS 664 at the University of Hawaii). My favorite is the ambient pinwheel: the more unread email messages, the fast the pinwheel spins. If you are running OS X you can get a similar dashboard widget that represents your unread emails by the number of flowers in your virtual vase.

The first commercial ambient interfaces I remember seeing were from Ambient Devices. You can see a fuzzy picture and read a paragraph about the ambient pinwheel at this archived web page.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Telephone usability

I think an easy-to-use cellphone with big buttons would be a great. Check out this short article from about cellphone usability and how Sprint Nextel does usabiltiy testing.

If you have hardcopy of the June 2006 FastCompany magazine, page 42 is about how picturephones introduced in 1964 never made it big (although iChat might change that :) Here's a quote from the director of customer research at AT&T Labs:

Around 1971, I surveyed 173 executives in the Chicago area ... The bottom line was, there were virtually no business situations for which the picturephone was best.

To read the article online, you can enter the access code found on page 10 of the June hardcopy issue, or wait until next month and read it in the free archives.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Malc watch update

Malcolm Gladwell was on CSPAN's Q&A show last weekend. You can watch it or eventually read the transcript. In the beginning of the interview he talks about his mixed-race family growing up in the Mennonite hotbed of Elmira, Ontario Canada.

Also, the New Yorker posted audio of a February 2007 talk Malc gave about "prodigies and late bloomers".

IT, stress, and training

A survey of IT professionals sponsored by Skillsoft is getting some press. Although most people are pointing out that IT support is the "most stressful occupation" (you can check out the top ten list), I noticed the following about training:

Kevin Young, managing director of SkillSoft says: “Our research was sparked by a recent Gartner report which claims that the untrained or under-trained desktop user will cost an organisation five times more to support than a well-trained worker. This led us to thinking about how much pressure this must also put on the IT professionals who have to provide such support.

Other things in the study remind me of what McConnell says in Rapid Development about what makes software developers nuts (see the middle of one of my previous posts): number one on the SlillSoft "Top Ten Colleague Irritations" at the end ot the article is "seeing others not pulling their weight" :)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

videoconferencing & desktop sharing

We've been looking at systems for real-time videoconferencing, and even cross-platform desktop and app sharing. Here are some links:

  • Marratech (commercial system).
  • Elluminate (commercial system, cross-platform app sharing!)
  • iVocalize (commercial, but inexpensive). It looks like a work-in-progress, but the TLT Group likes it and uses it.
  • ePresence (open source, but I'm not sure if it works on Macs)
  • and if you only have a few Mac people to talk with, iChat AV is amazing. Using Trillian I think you can even iChat with your PC colleagues.

In November, InternetWeek had a review of five web conferncing systems, and last month Network Computing had a good article "TechU: The World is Our Campus" where they graded nine web conferncing systems.

Friday, May 12, 2006


The web page for the basketball video isn't very well organized, so here is the direct link to the video to watch:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I accept the challenge!

At a faculty end-of-semester reception today, a colleague from the philosophy department challened me to find a video he saw in a cognitive science talk.

Most people remember seeing the video featured on Dateline NBC.

Here's the easiest way to experience it:

  • Go to
  • Scroll down to "view the basketball video" and do what it says.
  • after watching the video and counting the number of times the team dressed in white passes the basketball, go back to the first page and click on "learn more about inattention blindness" :)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Does computer science need a Feynman or Sagan?

A few postings ago I gave links to data about CSci enrollments.

It's a hot topic: a recent article in Business Week, an interview of six CSci profs in Computer World, and Grady Booch's response on his blog.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

It's deja vu all over again

The physics of baseball must be a hot topic right now -- it's not just me blogging about it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

So you still don't believe the whole airfoil thing

Here's a collection of interesting information -- including a reference to the Raskin article -- about how wings work or don't work. I never bought the whole "air flowing over the top has to go faster to meet up at the back of the wing" explanation, so it's nice to see alternative explanations.

For extra credit, find a little league baseball player, and without using math, describe why curve balls drop and fast balls rise.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Flying is probably stranger than you think

Everyone's heard about why airplane wings are flat-on-the-bottom-and-curved-on-top, but actually things are much weirder when it comes to generating lift.

Check out these ground effect airplanes that don't fly very high but can lift tons (literally).

And besides, the reason that you were probably told about why airfoils work was probably wrong. At least according to Jef Raskin.

In his article, Raskin mentions a famous book called The Physics of Baseball. You can see more information here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A whale story where no one blows up or sprains an ankle

I am revisting one of my frequent topics: whales and more whales and, yes, more whales.

This time, an urban legend that is apparently true! And everyone survived!

The May/June 2006 issue of Sierra has an "interview with a whale" conducted in the channel between Lanai and Maui, but the online version doesn't have the pictures included in the hardcopy version.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Last day of CSEE&T

The last day of CSEE&T started with a keynote by Lynda Northrop from the SEI. One of her points was that we aren't educated and trained in software architecture as we should be. Too much code, too little architecture. Also, that maybe functionality shouldn't be the driving force when it comes to devising a software architecture (at least that is my interpretation of what she said). She noted that every system has an architecture, intentionally or not, and that in general you can't just refactor code (i.e. XP-style) into an architecture. Here's the SEI software architecture group.

I'm also in a workshop on "Intellectual property law for software engineers". The workshop leader recommnded some basic documents on software intellectual property that look pretty good. Also, here is a short article about the state of software patents at the USPO.

One more thing I learned from CSEE&T: a couple of people said that they are seeing companies move away from agile methods and back to traditional waterfall models of development (and associated documentation) because of the Sarbanes-Oxley act I wrote about in the last paragraph of this blog entry.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NASA JPL vs. Microsoft

I'm currently at the 2006 Conference on Software Engineering Education & Training (CSEE&T), spending all of today in the Barry Boehm track. It must be strange to be sitting in the back of the room and listening to people talk about stuff you thought up, like COCOMO, the sprial model, risk management, wideband delphi, and Win-Win software engineering.

Anyway, as long as we're talking about software engineering, here's an interesting web page comparing the NASA JPL culture with Microsoft's culture.

And, I'm not much interested in family trees, but I'm in this one about software engineers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Money magazine's 50 best jobs

First on the list is software engineer, second is college professor, whoo hoo!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Unsafe at any airspeed?

That's the title of an article in the March 2006 IEEE Spectrum. I'm pretty sure you can read the article without logging in.

The article is about whether cell phones and electronic devices are a threat to avionics. It describes a study where an antenna and spectrum analyzer was flown as overhead baggage on 37 domestic flights. Here's a brief summary from a Honolulu Advertiser article:

The researchers concluded something else surprising by extrapolating data from tests they conducted in late 2003 on 37 flights in the eastern United States: One to four cell-phone calls are typically being made aboard every airline flight in the country, despite the fact that the calls are illegal and that flight crews tell passengers not to do it.

I also found it particularly interesting that NASA issued a technical memorandum about how a certain model of Samsung phones "caused their GPS receivers to lose satellite lock" when used by general aviation pilots. The actual technical memorandum is very readable.

Monday, April 10, 2006

John Lions and his UNIX commentary

Many computer science graduates students had Nth-generation photocopies of an underground UNIX classic: John Lions' commentary on the UNIX source code. At UCSB we used the photocopies as the text for our graduate operating systems class.

The Usenix association is matching donations to fund the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems. Read more about it.

While you're thinking about it, you can replace your tattered, almost-unreadible photocopy with a reprint of the Lions' commentary -- and it's legal!

Or, just download a copy that originally appeared in the alt.folklore.computers discussion group.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Gladwell versus Bonds

Gladwell's been writing about major league baseball for quite a while -- here's a quote from before the latest steroids scandal:

... my guess is that most players aren't using steroids at all. Like most world-class athletes, they've probably graduated to human growth hormone or straight testosterone, both of which are much harder to detect. (Ever wonder why a certain aging but remarkably successful power hitter can say with such conviction that he's not using steroids? He's not using steroids. He's using something better.)

You can read the rest here.

Malcolm (we're on a first name basis now) argues that we should use statistics to show that something was funny with Barry Bonds' (and other athelete's) performances.

His first blog post created generated a lot of comments, so he posted a second.

It turns out that Malc is quite the sports fan.

Friday, March 24, 2006


This morning I was listening to the latest Malcolm Gladwell talk in my collection, a November 2005 address to the Hamline University law school. About ten minutes into the presentation he talks about the student evaluation example out of the Blink book. The idea is that students make quick decisions about their professors at the first class meeting, and those impressions don't change much as the semester progresses.

I listened to it on my way to the annual Central California Regional Conference on Excellence in Teaching and Learning. The plenary talk was "Creating desirable difficulties for the learner" by Robert Bjork. Both Gladwell and Bjork talk about how our "common sense" is flawed about student evaluations of instruction. From Gladwell we have to question our assumption that more data is better (administering course evals later in the course don't change the outcome much), and from Bjork we saw if you use effective teaching techniques there's a good chance that students will give you lower evaluations than if you'd use less effective techniques.

Both are problems with introspection, and remind me of the infamous "unskilled and unaware" of social pyschology.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We needed this at JPL

Too bad blogs and flickr weren't around when I was at JPL. We needed someone to obsessively blog about employee parking habits, like this collection of images from the Yahoo! lot.

One day I circled the JPL parking lot many times and finally found a spot that I could get the car into, but then I couldn't open the door :) It reminds me of this situation :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Three questions

An MIT professor came up with three questions that, according to SmartMoney magazine, "seems to predict whether you will be good at things like managing money".

You can find the three questions all over the web, but here they are directly from professor Shane Frederick -- give yourself 90 seconds:

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____ cents
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____ days

The explanation of the questions, and interpretation of the answers, are on page 27 (the third page of the pdf file) of "Cognitive reflection and decision making", Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2005. While you are looking at the pdf file, check out Table 1 on page 29 (fifth page of the pdf file). It shows the results of administering the test to students at nine universities. Yikes :)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Rilly vs Reely

How you pronounce "really", or whether you say "pop" or "soda", says a lot about you, or at least about where you learned english.

The NY Times had yet another article about dialect. That reminded me of the really-reely-rilly and pop-soda questions, and the various dialect maps on the web.

Here's a collection of maps about pronunciations, and although they are pretty I don't find them credible since everyone knows that "the City" refers to San Francisco and not those other places (I cite this Wikipepdia section as proof :)

As entertaining as maps are, audio is better yet. You can listen to dialect samples by state, here's California. The first sample is from a "self-confessed 'Valley Girl' does indeed have the glottalization, the 'questioning' intonation, and the creaky voice associated with that dialect."

Extra credit if you find a sample from the upper midwest that sounds like the characters from the movie Fargo.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Brain interfaces

A long time ago (2001), Jessica Bayliss and I wrote a paper about brain-computer interfaces.

I hadn't thought about it recently until I saw these videos showing two people using non-invasive brain interfaces to play pong and to type messages by just thinking.

2001 was a good year for me and brain interfaces. I presented a poster at the Perceptive User Interface (PUI) conference summarizing a paper co-authored with Martha, Christoph, and Curtis about using physiological feedback. That paper was about the emotion mouse (see a picture of it here), not brain interfaces, but the keynote by Melody Moore was about invasive (implanted) brain interfaces.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Goal accomplished

Back in December I talked about goals for 2006. One was accomplished this week by hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak at BbWorld 2006. He did 45 minutes without notes or glaring mistakes. If I could do that maybe I could charge a similar speaking fee (see the third paragraph of this interesting article from FastCompany), but I doubt that Universal and Warner Brothers would bid on movie rights to my story, or that Leo D would star :)

It looks like I will have to wait for either EDUCAUSE or the Campus of the Future conference to complete my goal of hearing Thomas Friedman. Or, if I had more money than time, I could've skipped BbWorld, EDUCAUSE, and Campus of the Future to see them simultaneously in Connecticut next month :)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Computer science and computer engineering

In the previous post I mentioned the low hit rate for NSF funding. University enrollment in Computer Science and Computer Engineering is also on the way down. The CRA has a nice graph showing student interest in Computer Science and Engineering from 1971-2005.

The number of high school students taking the Computer Science AP test is also dropping.

In January, The Chronicle of Higher Education had a colloquy about female enrollment in computer science. The moderators ask:

Only 17 percent of undergraduate computer-science degrees were awarded to women in 2004, according to the Computing Research Association, down from 19 percent in 2000. Why is the number so low, and dwindling?

Here is a nice graph of the percentage of baccalaureate degrees awarded to women, by field, from 1973-2003.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'll take potpourri for $200, Alex

Money magazine interviews Fred Brooks, thirty years after he wrote the Mythical Man-Month. He's a Mac user :)

IEEE Spectrum has an article about the reduction in federal funding for computer science research. In 2005, the hit rate for NSF proposals was only about one in five:

... the National Science Foundation... While in years past, the directorate supported 30 to 35 percent of the proposals it received, by 2004 the funding rate had been halved, to 16 percent, while in 2005 it was 21 percent.

I continue to be interested in open standards (primarily RFC 2445) for calendaring. You can listen to a fairly technical talk (one of the topics is CalDAV) or check out the page.

It shouldn't be surprising that folks like Chertoff and Rumsfield don't do email: there's less to be subpoenaed. It reminded me of Tiffany Shlain's coffee klatch at Fresno State yesterday where she talked about DWID (Don't Write It Down). That is, assume everything you send in email will be public. In the corporate world, some of the "concern" about email is because of the Sarbanes-Oxley act.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Videoconferencing and making movies

If you are interested in movies or videoconferencing, the January 2006 Baseline magazine's "All-seeing eye" article is about videoconferencing saving millions of dollars for the makers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I recommend clicking on "Printer-friendly version" right away so you don't have to pick your way around ads.

The article descibes how the production crew pushed the envelope of video-over-IP and worked with Polycom to debug their IP-based system. There are also anecdotes of the director using the videoconferecing system to check actors' costumes and "make changes in lighting and camera angles in real time, which not only saved us time and money, it allowed us to make an overall better film trilogy".

Unfortunately, the best graphic from the hardcopy magazine isn't on the web site. The graphic shows how the first three Harry Potter movies cost $450 million. The LOTR trilogy cost $270 million. Here is the caption:

Time Warner and its movie studio subdidary, New Line Cinema, undertook a huge risk in 1999 when it decided to film all three installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at once. Using technology such as internet-based videoconferencing, director Peter Jackson was able to manage the monumental task at an estimated cost of $270 million. If filmed separately, the studio figures it would have cost $400 million, of 48% more.

Speaking of videoconferencing, if you are an iChat AV fan you can download a gizmo to make iChat icons streaming (or looping) video.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

It's a risky world out there

I am giving guest lectures in an upper-division software engineering course this semester. My last lecture was about risk management, so of course we talked about probabilities.

You wonder what is the probability that you will die in a streetcar accident? Nothing to worry about: your lifetime odds are only 1 in 931,000. Encounter more snakes than streetcars? Your lifetime odds of a poisonous snake causing your death are 1 in 1,214,000. "Hornets, wasps, bees" are what you watch out for (1 in 68,981).

Not to worry, you are more likely to drown in a bathtub (1 in 10,582) or be the victim of "Complications of medical and surgical care and sequelae" (1 in 1,310).

The National Safey Council provides all this and more. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I can't get enough PowerPoint!

Former Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki has an amusing blog post about PowerPoint (or Keynote, or whatever) slides. He recommends the 10-20-30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, nothing smaller than 30 point font.

He gets in a jab about windows:

You should give your ten slides in twenty minutes. Sure, you have an hour time slot, but you’re using a Windows laptop, so it will take forty minutes to make it work with the projector.

In the interest of full disclosure, Guy Kawasaki (OK, his VC company turned us down for angel funding back when we were starting Oak Grove Systems (now owned by Seagull).

But I've gotten over the rejection, and recommend watching Kawasaki's talk he gave to the University of Hawaii College of Business Administration.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Software and the Regional Jobs Initiative

Back in December I gave a link to an article about the fledgling "software cluster" of the regional jobs initiative.

There was a nice article with many more details in today's Fresno Bee: "Fresno tech firms team up". According to a table in the article of data from the State Employment Development Department, there are six times more "information industry " employees in Los Angeles county than in San Benito/Santa Clara counties (i.e., Silicon Valley).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Yet more whale stuff

By popular demand, here is high quality Quicktime video of the Oregon Whale Explosion.

About two years ago there was also a whale explosion, in Taiwan, but this time from natural causes. The photo is fairly disgusting.

You can also watch the KEYT news video about the Santa Barbara whale-boat encounter, which happened off Leadbetter Beach.

Back in October I noted that the California Coastal Records Project lets you look at just about any place on the California coast.

You can see pictures of Leadbetter Beach, and of Morro Bay (scene of the other whale-boat breaching) and the infamous rock.

Some Computer Science and Software Engineering things

I don't Su Doku, and I find Stan Kelly-Bootle's columns irritating, but in
this column from ACM Queue he talks about the death of Jef Raskin, and also about some interesting thoughts about what makes any particular Su Doku puzzle easy or difficult.

Also in ACM Queue is a nice interview with Alan Kay where he talks quite a bit about programming languages. In the interview, Kay mentions Niklaus Wirth,
which reminded me that in the January 2006 IEEE Computer magazine, Wirth writes an article "Good Ideas, through the Looking Glass" where he talks about ideas that seemed good at the time, but in retrospect maybe weren't so great.

Examples from hardware to software include: "magnetic bubble memory", "virtual
addressing", "complex instruction sets", "Algol's complicated for
statement", "functional programming", "logic programming", and
"object-oriented programming"!

Fresno State student can access the article electronically by clicking this link, then connecting to IEEE Xplore.

UH Manoa students can access the article electronically by clicking this link and click on Computer.

While you are there looking at the electronic IEEE Computer you can also read "NASA's Exploration Agenda and Capability Engineering" :)

Friday, February 03, 2006

More whales

There was a boat-whale incident near Santa Barbara yesterday that sent a human to the hospital and left whale pieces on the boat.

Small boats hit by breaching whales is not as uncommon as you might think. Using's Wayback Machine, you can read a CNN/Reuters story from 2002 about a fisherman being killed by a breaching whale north of Santa Barbara near Morro Bay.

Speaking of whales, you can also watch some 35 year old video of geniuses in Oregon trying to get rid of a dead whale by blowing it up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Of whales, user interfaces, and ankle sprains

Tog has a great post about Scott Adams (Dilbert's creator) blog meltdown. In his discussion, Tog talks about piloting airplanes, mental models, usability testing, and magic. Almost an entire Human-Computer Interaction class in one post.

What does this have to do with whales? Not much, except that Scott Adams was whale watching in Maui, and mistook a rock for a whale.

Speaking of whales, a retired Florida Atlantic University (FAU) university professor jumped on a whale and got his foot stuck in a blowhole.

As if that wasn't embarassing enough, there was insurance paperwork to fill out:

After the adrenaline wore off, McAllister realized his left ankle was badly sprained and asked someone to take him to a nearby Air Force hospital. But before he could go, he had to fill out a workman's compensation form.

"Where it asked how the accident happened, I wrote 'I jumped on the back of a humpback whale and got my foot caught in her blowhole,'" McAllister recalled. "Where it asked what steps were being taken to prevent a recurrence of the accident, I wrote, 'I won't jump on any more whales!'"

Saturday, January 28, 2006

PowePoint-like presentations

I've thought about PowerPoint-like (Keynote-like) presentations for years. Probably because I've been around congitive psychologists quite a bit, I decided that the slide and corresponding speech should present the material -- maybe as cues -- in a decidedly different way, that way the audience could choose whatever works for them: aural or visual, text or graphics. This might be a totally wrong way of approaching talks, but it's worked for me.

I'm not sure why, but I've had three PowerPoint-related epiphanies at HICSS conferences: one was during lunch talking to a guy who was adament that slides should be essentially a transcript of what is spoken. He was a cognitive psychologist, and I was really disappointed :)

The second time was at the HICSS dinner/luau someone the same day I'd given a presentation in the Digital Documents track. A fairly well known guy, although I can't remember his name, said that I had the best slides of the track. This was after he'd had a few mai tais, but I still take it as a complement :)

The third time was at a HICSS plenary presentation by Elizabeth Monk Daley called "Expanded Concepts of Literacy". She was the dean of USC School of Cinema-Television. What I remember about her slides are there were almost no words. I remember stick figures, and slides that reminded me of storyboards.

Besides the Tufte stuff that I've blogged previously, you might want to look at the following:

  • A short interview from 2004 with Don Norman about PowerPoint usability. He says "Tufte misses the point completely."
  • Dick Hardt's talk about identity on the net. If you click on one link from this posting, make it that one.
  • A talk by Larry Lessig that illustrates the "Lessig Method" of PowerPoint presentation.

Workplace issues and opportunities

How do you design office spaces for knowledge workers? The big idea seems to be balancing quiet-and-privacy with collaboration-and-availability.

Work environments for software engineers have been studied more than you'd think. contained a "Death to the cubicle!" rant this past summer.

The most famous study I know of is "IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory - Architectural Design for Program Development". Scroll down the document to see illustrations of floorplans and even furniture layouts. A "Joel on Software" forum about office space contains more links.

Steve McConnell's 30th chapter of Rapid Development (the CSci 152 textbook) is a really nice summary. McConnell also has insights about "people-related classic mistakes" in chapter 3.3 and 12.4 "problem personnel"). He summarized his ideas in his "Dealing with problem programmers" column -- here's an excerpt and a link.
  • It’s rare to see a major problem caused by lack of skill. It’s nearly always attitude, and attitudes are hard to change. If the problem is caused by lack of ability, that is even harder to change.
  • The longer you keep a disruptive person around, the more legitimacy that person will gain in the eyes of other groups and managers, the more other people’s work will be affected, the more code that person will be responsible for—overall, the harder it will be to remove him from the team.
  • Some managers say that they have never regretted firing anyone. They’ve only regretted not doing it sooner.

Besides working in our offices/cubes, what else do we do? Schedule, agendize, and attend meetings! STSC CrossTalk has a very interesting article from 2004. Here is the abstract and link:

Every one of us has spent many hours, days, maybe even years in meetings. We all have experienced good meetings and bad meetings. Do software engineers spend large portions of their time in meetings? What factors make such meetings successful? This article presents the results of an industrial measurement study conducted to determine why some meetings are successful while other are not.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Science and engineering with MS Office's Excel

I'm not a big Excel user, and haven't used numerical methods to find roots of an equation in about 20 years, but I do like it when people use software or hardware in ways they weren't necessarily intended. For example,

Saturday, January 21, 2006

GPS games

You probably know about geocaching, but you might not know about location-based games: "GPS games get players off their couches and into the real world". I think (but not sure) that it is implemented using J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jim Tomayko

Jim Tomayko was my boss/mentor/sponsor during my sabbatical at the Software Engineering Institute at CMU. He was a NASA historian and seemed to know just about everything about NASA computers and fly-by-wire aircraft. He was a leader in software engineering education, particularly at the masters degree level.

Jim died this month: obituary and a tribute from CMU.

Since he was a private pilot he probably would have liked this video taken from the cockpit of a jet landing at San Diego. You can hear the ground proximity warning whistle, and the automatic altitude call outs.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The federal reserve and higher education

An economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve has some things to say about productivity in higher education. I don't think he's a fan of student evaluations:

... the use of student evaluations to judge the quality of faculty may lead some faculty to abandon good teaching practices and augment their evaluations through alternative means, such as leniency on grading, on assignment deadlines and on student absenteeism.

or tenure:

Tenure prevents significant staffing changes in response to changes in student demands; tenure also prevents lower quality faculty from being replaced by higher quality faculty.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Memory leak?

It looks like my new phone, a Sony Ericsson Z520a, might have a software problem: a memory leak. Cingular has quit selling it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Classic computer science books, again

Way back in September I posted about the ACM bringing back classic out of print books.

Now that the nominations are in, you can campaign for your favorite books. Voting starts next week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Some potentially interesting talks

The Lyles Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship has three speakers coming in for the spring New Valley InForum series: Rebecca Ryan, Tiffany Shlain, and Lynne Twist.

Also don't forget about the second half of the Valley Town Hall series: David Spiegel, Jan Crawford Greenburg, Mark Arax, and Jon Meacham.

Know someone on vacation in Waikiki?

Have them stand in front of the webcam at the statue of Duke and wave to you.

You can do the same thing with the Cayucos web cam, but it's not real-time like the Waikiki one. The Cayucos webcam is a geocache site.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Joel on Java

One of Joel Spolsky's recent rants is about university computer science departments teaching Java, and why they shouldn't. Here's a provocative statement to ponder:

I've seen all kinds of figures for drop-out rates in CS and they're usually between 40% and 70%. The universities tend to see this as a waste; I think it's just a necessary culling of the people who aren't going to be happy or successful in programming careers.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

In Google we trust

The almost-always interesting Simson Garfinkel isn't keen on trusting gmail.

More cowbell

That's what we need, more cowbell. Wikipedia has the details.

Jake Shimabukuro, someone with talent, might disagree :)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Airplanes and Byzantine faults

If you've taken a software engineering from me you might remember that I talk about safety critical systems (such as avionics), super low failure rates of less than 10^-9 per operational hour, formal methods, and maybe even Byzantine fault tolerance.

In early August 2005 a B777 flying from Perth to Kuala Lumpur had software problems. The FAA issued an emergency AD (airworthiness directive) later that month.

This incident was noted and explained in at least two posting on the Risks Forum:
in volume 24 issue 03, and in volume 24 issue 05.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Swimming with the sharks

Here's a way to end the year: Swim with a 17+ foot long great white shark off the north shore of Oahu. This story from the Honolulu Advertiser includes a link to video. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has a story, but no video.