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.