Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pop versus soda, again? Meh.

Way back in 2006 I wrote about the geography (complete with maps) of pop-versus-soda and rilly-versus-reely. Lately I've been thinking about "meh". It's not in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but maybe someday:
No one is quite sure where it comes from. Graeme Diamond, principal editor of the new word group at the Oxford English Dictionary, says it's not yet suitable for the OED, but he does have a "meh" file, and the first recorded print usage occurred in the Edmonton Sun newspaper in Canada in 2003: "Ryan Opray got voted off Survivor. Meh."
There's more than just meh though: Slate.com's Ben Yagoda writes about (complete with audio and video examples) "The Internet and the rise of awwa, meh, feh, and heh." Fascinating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Not what Tom Petty had in mind about free fallin'

Slashdot had an interesting pointer to a study at Baylor about perception of time during a crisis:
In The Matrix, hero Neo wins his battles when time slows in the simulated world. In the real world, accident victims often report a similar slowing as they slide unavoidably into disaster. But can humans really experience events in slow motion?
You can watch a video.

Speaking of scary things, I was reading an entry in Risks to the Public again, and didn't quite understand it, but it had an interesting link to Boeing slides called "Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents: Worldwide Operations 1959-2006". Page 22 shows interesting data. For example, 57% of a typical 1.5 hour flight is at "cruise", yet only 10% of the fatal accidents are at cruise. On the other hand, 32% of fatal accidents are in the 20% of the flight phases of final approach and landing. Anyway, I haven't finished thinking about this, but it does remind me of the non-linear relationship between software faults and failures observed by Adams, oft cited by proponents of statistical "usage based" software testing. In undergrad software engineering I've been known to say:
One of the classic papers in the field is by E.N. Adams from IBM. He analyzed volumes of failure data for IBM products. The only thing you need to look at is Table 2 on page 8 of Adam's paper. Adam's data showed that there are a few high-frequency faults and many low-frequency faults. If you want to find the high-frequency faults -- with the intent to fix them and thereby dramatically increasing MTTF -- test the way the software will be used. That is, generate random test cases that are typical of the way the software will actually be used. Because those random test cases are modeled after actual users' inputs, the test cases should expose the failures that your actual users would experience. The rarely-experienced failure will probably not be exposed by usage-based random test. On the other hand, your actual users probably won't experience those rare failures either.

Speaking of IBM, an article by Michael Swaine in the January 2008 issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal reminded me of work done by IBM on physical environments for software developers (Steve McConnell -- you should be reading his blog -- talks about the IBM research in Rapid Development): "IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory - Architectural design for program development" way back in 1978 (flip through the paper to see floorplans and pictures). Swaine includes examples of how software developers use ambient interfaces to communicate project/process status.

If you're interested in this kind of stuff, take a look at McConnell's "Quantifying Soft Factors", the "Retrospectives on Peopleware" from ICSE 29, "Programmer performance and the effects of the workplace" by DeMarco and Lister, and "How Office Space Affects Programming Productivity" by Capers Jones.

Need something to listen to? mp3's and some mp4 video files are posted from the USENIX Security '07 conference. Two that caught my eye were probably the most non-techie:"How the iPod Shuffled the World as We Know It" by Newsweek editor Steven Levy who introduced Bill Gates to the iPod, and "Covering Computer Security in The New York Times" by John Schwartz. Speaking of security, Usenix is sponsoring a one-day workshop on Usability, Psychology, and Security.

Finally, here's a completely unrelated bonus link: What good is a state beach if you can't get to it?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Holiday parades as predictors of rocket launches

Tonight after watching the Reedley High School marching band at the Orange Cove electric parade we turned around and saw a Delta II launch of Italian COSMO SkyMed-2 satellites. You can see more than you ever wanted to know, down to the second, about the launch by downloading the mission booklet but I really like the real-time blogs from Spaceflight Now (which also includes the previous failed two launches). From the real-time blogs you get a feel for what is really going on and the decisions that are made. The blog for this launch even mentions the famous "BBQ roll", and that the strap-on solid boosters are left in place for a few seconds after burn-out so they won't fall on oil rigs :)

Polar launches from Vandenberg sometimes do a "dog leg" turn to avoid overflying land. In general, launches from Florida are not polar, in fact even "high inclination" orbits can be a problem. You can read about this super-secret-payload Space Shuttle launch that was given a waiver for overflying parts of the eastern US, here's a good quote:
So what are the records for inclination limits for the shuttle?

(i'm glad you asked).

The highest inclination mission was 62 degrees on the STS-36 classified DoD mission. According to industry reports Atlantis had to be stripped to the bare bones for this mission - even the EVA handrails were removed. Sources afterwards have verified that the mission was deemed to be of 'national importance' so a waiver was granted to permit the very low launch azimuth needed to achieve that orbit.

The shuttle had to travel closer to land than on any other mission - and actually overflew Cape Hatteras North Carolina and Cape Cod Massachutsets. The range safety folks made the decision that if the instantaneous impact point was over land (e.g. the place the shuttle will hit if propulsion is stopped) then they would not send the destruct command, and the shuttle would choose where it would fall. Military officials in those areas were notified and on alert, but the civilian population was not notified because it was a secret mission. There were plenty of delays though, and many news stories about the unusual flight path.

Some of you old timers (i.e., back in the 1980s) remember that "slick six" at Vandenberg was being remodeled for polar launches of the Space Shuttle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More of a smorgasbord than a potpourri

A bunch of interesting stuff:

  • Terry sent me the link for Douglas Crockford's talk at Yahoo about software quality. Software engineering students of mine will recognize several of the topics including order-of-magnitude performance differences between developers, Knuth's "literate programming", and design- and code-reviews.

  • National Geographic's Traveler and Center for Sustainable Destinations published ratings of islands worldwide. It begins: "Tourism is a phenomenon that can cook your food or burn your house down. In other words, we all risk destroying the very places that we love the most." You can see a Hawaiian view of the study in a Honolulu Advertiser article. The software engineering connection is that they used a modified Delphi technique (made famous by Barry Boehm for software estimation): raters read each other's anonymous comments before submitting final ratings.

  • A depressing take on a popular tourist destination is "Baja tourists face uptick in assaults, robberies" in the LA Times. Unrelated, but also in the LA Times is an article about Whole Foods new megastore in Pasadena:
    For a chain predicated on the notion that healthy ingredients make for healthy meals, Whole Foods also seems determined to get people out of the kitchen and eating the company's costlier prepared foods.

    It's telling that more space is devoted to prepared foods and other goodies at the Pasadena store than to produce.

  • US News is rating high schools now. University High at Fresno State was 36th in the nation. Changing the subject slightly, all this talk of high school reminds me of Vans shoes, and how you can now have them custom made.

  • Finally, this is sort of amusing. Apparently astronauts taking pictures of places like Area 51 have caused heartburn for our three-letter agencies. Skylab folks did it, and there were also concerns about Apollo astronauts taking pictures of the wrong stuff :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Something from social psych and something from cog sci

I was reminded recently of two things, both with implications for human-computer interaction.

First, Bob Sutton (you'll remember my previous post about him) recently blogged about The Psychology of Waiting Lines. This reminded me of several connections to HCI:
  • "Occupied Time Seems Shorter Than Unoccupied Time". We used this principle (as described in Tog's classic Keyboard v. Mouse and his update from the point of view of an airline passenger) in a HICSS article.
  • After reading Sutton's message I vaguely remembered a study long ago that showed that telephone users take longer if they know someone else is waiting to use the phone. I found the article in Social Psychology Quarterly: "Waiting for a Phone: Intrusion on Callers Leads to Territorial Defense". Here's two sentences from the abstract: "Three correlational studies suggested that callers spent more time at the phone if they were intruded on. An experiment indicated that people stayed longer at the phone after an intrusion primarily because someone was waiting to use the phone rather than solely because of the presence of an intruder."

The other thing was seeing Stephen Pinker (a cognitive science person currently at Harvard) talk on BookTV about his latest book. You can see the same talk (with better audience questions) as given at Google, here. Caution! Pinker uses just about every swear word I've ever heard in his talk since he is discussing language and emotion. If you don't want to hear words like that, don't watch the video.

The part that reminded me of HCI is about 24:40 into the talk when Pinker discusses the Stroop effect. I have HCI students experience the Stroop effect themselves. It is a very robust effect, even if you try to avoid it. Try it yourself.

Anyway, Pinker discusses how swear words have a similar effect on performance. If you want to start with something lighter, Pinker was on the Colbert report, where he described in five words how brains work. Here he is, in two short videos: one, two.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lessig-style update

Last year I gave a link to a talk by Larry Lessig to illustrate his presentation style, the visuals in particular.

The link I gave in my previous message doesn't work anymore, but you can see Lessig's TED talk from March 2007 "How creativity is being strangled by the law"

Monday, November 05, 2007

Made the big time: Slashdot

Speaking of Slashdot (see the end of this post), the grade changing indictments in the recent news spawned a Slashdot thread: "Does Hacking Grades Warrant 20 Years in Jail?".

N-version programming, and recalled algorithms

Software engineering notes always has a Risks to the Public distillation of the Risks Digest email list. One of the threads caught my eye (bad pun, you'll see). Since you need access to the ACM digital library to read SEN I've looked up the links to the Risks archives for the thread and put them below, in roughly the same order as they appeared in the September issue. Each post is a few paragraphs long, so if you are interested in software that might injury or kill someone, these are worth reading.

First, the FDA "recalled" two algorithms for two algorithms used by a LASIK eye surgery system.

This prompted a discussion of safety-critical software, and N-version programming. Some of the information presented about the space shuttle was wrong, but follow-up postings corrected the misinformation.

The LASIK issue prompted a suggestion about using more than one software"development team: "Improving reliability of health critical software, and some misinformation about the space shuttle software ("Improving reliability of critical software").

A wikipedia article is argued over, and then the shuttle software process discussed in two posts: "Space Shuttle uses 2-version programming" with further clarification "Re: Space Shuttle uses 2-version programming".

And finally, a some thought-provoking posts about events that almost never occur: "N-version programming & low-probability events" and "N-version programming -- the errors are in ourselves".

If you are interested in such things, don't forget a recent posting of mine.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tarantulas, and brain implaints

Tarantulas make the front page of the winter 2007 edition of the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA) newsletter Seedlings. November is getting late to see them, but October is prime time for male tarantulas out of their burrows:
So, as the males make their journey to find a mate, we are able to enjoy this once a year visit outside their burrows. Unfortunately, the male spiders will only live a few months after mating while the females can live 25 to 30 years... but, there is comfort in knowing that their brief relationship will produce 50 to 2000 new offspring, some ready to visit us again in years to come."

A fun fact: tarantula hairs were the original itching powder. More creepily, tarantulas don't have red blood, instead they have blue haemolymph.

Changing subjects, deep brain implants are sometimes used to treat Parkinson's disease tremors. Spectrum has an article about an unintended side effect: patients acting more impulsively. If you're a computer person, you might also want to read the article about Slashdot.

And finally, something to ask Santa for: a personal submarine.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Warning: Major Geek Alert

Fathom is delivering mostly-live (the opposite of "mostly dead" -- see if you get that reference) events into movie theaters. A bit of the technology is explained here.

The majorly geeky part is for two November nights they will show The Menagerie from the original Star Trek series. Not my favorite episode, but I would like to see how the streaming high def video and audio work. Bonus geek points attending the 10:30pm Thursday evening showing.

Can The Princess Bride be far behind?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Extreme programming versus iterative development

This short report is a little dull, but the topic is important, and did I mention it was short?

Cusumano, M. A. 2007. Extreme programming compared with Microsoft-style iterative development. Commun. ACM 50, 10 (Oct. 2007), 15-18. DOI=http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1290958.1290979

If you are a Fresno State person you can go directly to the article here.

University of Hawaii people can go here to access CACM, authenticate, then go to the October 2007 issue.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Space is a cold place

You might remember a recent incident where the International Space Station's (ISS) computers went down. Much international finger-pointing resulted. Now it turns out that condensation was the cause of the failure: an interesting summary of the NASA investigation.

Speaking of flying, many people use web-based "flight trackers" to check commercial flights. You'd assume that the flight trackers share the same base requirement of estimating arrival time. So, as Scott McCartney asks in his Wall Street Journal column, since when is four hours late considered "early"?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Glass cockpits, social interfaces

The October 2007 issue of Computer has a good two page article about software and modern avionics. This is one of the few places where you will find definitions for such things as "full-authority" digital engine control. Here's a quote:
GE aircraft engines can downlink operational data during flight to GE's Remote Monitoring Center near Cincinnati, Ohio. The center can analyze the data in real time, thereby enabling the scheduling of essential maintenance if necessary while an aircraft is still in flight.
The article is available to everyone without subscription. Thank you John Knight.

If that interests you, I suggest looking at Lala and Harper's paper " Architectural principles for safety-critical real-time applications". Since that paper was written in the mid-1990s, the Boeing 777 avionics were being developed:
The Boeing 777 flight control computer ... takes design diversity well beyond what has ever been tried in pratice or even in a research laboratory. The initial concept rested on three quad redundant computers with each of the quads implemented in dissimilar hardware and programmed in dissimilar software ... The software design diversity has since been simplified to use only Ada, although three different compilers are still under consideration to generate code for the three types of microprocessors ... The hardware design has also been simplified to a 3 by 3 matrix of 9 processors.

Changing the subject, I like reading Joel on Software, but cringe when Joel goes too far. The almost-always-interesting Michael Feldstein takes Joel to task about social interfaces. It's from a couple of years ago, but still interesting.

Joel may be off about social interfaces, but he has an interesting recent post about a disturbing bug in Excel.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Harvard Business Review cartoons

Many of the cartoons from the Harvard Business Review are online free (most the articles are pay-to-read). The October issue has a cartoon that cubicle dwellers understand. I haven't figured out how to go directly to arbitrary HBR monthly comics, but here is the link to October's, and you can see more by using the Browse Issue function on the right, pick the month you want, and then click Cartoons.

Besides the cube cartoon, farther down the page is a good one for anyone going to too many meetings.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations

This is a good time in the semester to review students' options for common tasks like word processing, spreadsheeting, and presenting.

Microsoft is encouraging students to "steal" Office for $59.95. Frugal users of the free demo versions may be able to get through the semester before reaching the 25 use limit:
Eligible students may have free access to Microsoft® Office Ultimate 2007 Trial for a limited amount of time. Each trial provides (1) 25 application launches (each launch of an individual Office Ultimate application is counted as one launch) before the software goes into reduced functionality mode (at which time your software behaves similarly to a viewer, you cannot save modifications to documents or create any new documents, and additional functionality might be reduced)...

A free alternative is Google Docs, and with a recently added presentation tool, you have the triumvirate of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations anywhere you are online and have a web browser. If you aren't doing anything too fancy, you should be able to load your Microsoft Office files into Google Docs. It's also easy to share all of the above with other users. And, it's free.

Another free alternative (if you are comfortable with installing open source software) is OpenOffice. A plus for OpenOffice is it's multiplatform.

More open source software: for Macs, for Windows.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sakai usability, short low fidelity training videos

Michael Feldstein has hope that Sakai's user experience is getting the attention it needs so much of:
Sakai has had some fairly serious usability problems since its inception. The development community has been aware of these problems for some time; however, the efforts toward improving the situation have been sporadic and fragile to date. Today, I’m happy to point to some tangible signs that this is changing, and that we have a good chance of seeing some real improvement starting with the next release.
(For all you HCI students out there, they even do UX walkthroughs).

Speaking of users, the Common Craft Show is a nice example of short online training videos that remind me of the interface development technique of paper prototyping. You should watch this one about social networking and del.icio.us. Note that they provide captioned versions, and a transcript. (I show a bit of Jakob Nielsen's video about paper prototyping to my HCI class, it's amusing).

Two bonus things:
  1. The author of Debunking the myths of innovation is interviewed on the UIE site. Here's a couple of sentences:
    I think it's pretty rare that "the best" idea among experts in any field becomes the dominant, mass popular leader. HTML is not the "best" programming language. Certainly few computer scientists believe Microsoft Windows is the best operating system, and very few doctors believe Airborne is the best cold remedy.

  2. The New York Times has given up its online paid service Times Select. Now your T-Fried is free, but you will see ads :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Two things I learned today

Since you learn something new every day, and I learned two things today, I am going to take tomorrow off.

First, I learned about this interesting cross-platform, web-based drawing tool called gliffy (you can see a demo video).

The second thing I learned about are funkenrings. Penn Gillette suggested it to mythbuster Adam as an inexpensive way to add sparkle to the practical jokes on the electricians and sound people. Funkenrings are discussed about 34 minutes and 50 seconds into this interview of Adam on Penn's defunct radio show.

Tickets are on sale for the Mythbusters' Fresno State visit on 12 February 2008. If you are really into this, you can see Penn, Adam, Jamie, and Kari on YouTube.

I'm kidding about taking tomorrow off :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Classic books and new citations

Over a year ago I posted about the effort to put classic computer science books into the ACM Digital Library. Now you can peruse the ACM Classic book series, including the Macintosh human interface guidelines, Essays in computer science, The elements of programming style, Cryptography and data security (I knew it well in UCSB days), Papert's Mindstorms, The multics system, and others. If you are a Fresno State person you can access the classics here, and if you aren't, you can go here.

The ACM also semi-quietly announced that online publication is primary, with hardcopy "simply a secondary distribution mechanism unbundled from the official publication in the DL" [Digital Library]. You can read the short article here or if you are a Fresno State person, here. The new style bibliographic entry looks like

Demaine, E. D., Iacono, J., and Langerman, S. 2007. Retroactive data structures. ACM Trans. Algor. 3, 2, Article 13 (May 2007), 20 pages. DOI = 10.1145/1240233.1240236.

Note the DOI.

Avionics, datelines, and shopping carts

The Risks Digest (volume 24, issue 58) described the F-22 Raptor software glitching at the international date line when the planes were going from Hawaii to Okinawa. Pretty interesting (and there is a footnote about the apocryphal F-16 that flipped crossing the equator). Someone who worked on the F-22 system responded to the reports.

Another short, interesting article is in the September 2007 IEEE Computer. "Online experiments: Lessons learned" is about testing prototype interfaces and systems. Here's two paragraphs:
Experimenters often ignore secondary metrics that impact the user experience such as JavaScript errors, customer-service calls, and Web-page loading time. Experiments at Amazon.com showed that every 100-ms increase in the page load time decreased sales by 1 percent, while similar work at Google revealed that a 500-ms increase in the search-results display time reduced revenue by 20 percent.

You can read it here (or if you want to see the official citation, it's here).

Speaking of JavaScript, Jim Horning noticed his typing deteriorating, so went to a doctor for neurological testing. The diagnosis was IE 7. See his message and follow-up. All you really need is a mid-1980s Mac anyway.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Outposts, process, and brains

Microsoft is opening a software development outpost in Honolulu. I didn't know they had such things, but the article says there are also groups in Reno and Fargo.

Something else that caught my eye recently was a three paragraph column in the September Harvard Business Review about process improvement. The webpage might say something like "subscribe to read the rest of the article" but you've already read it on the preview page, it really is only three paragraphs long :)

And I'm not sure why, but I was reminded again of Oliver Sacks (you'll remember that I mentioned him back in April). His The man who mistook his wife for a hat is one of the influential books on my academic career (and in 2006 was named number 18 on Discover magazine's top 25 science books of all time). The book, and access to colleagues and interesting data at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program inspired a short presentation that we never got to follow-up. Anyway, Sacks was recently appointed an "artist" at Columbia University, so he can do what he wants :)

Sacks isn't a great speaker, but he seems a lot better than when I saw him at Caltech. He gave a interesting, about 25 minute long, keynote at an MIT conference about disabilities and technology. You can click on the button to go straight to the keynote (but why is MIT using Real video format?) -- and John Hockenberry is pretty good too (he talks about how typewriters were initially hyped as a way for the blind to write).

The New Yorker also has audio of an interview where Sacks talks about music and the mind -- it's amusing.

One other crazy thing: When in Tuscon as one of ACM's judges for the 1996 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) I drove out to Biosphere 2 to peek in the windows (and buy a refrigerator magnet memento). Biospshere 2 was sold this summer to housing developers, although the University of Arizona says they will continue research in the big greenhouse.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Chess, trailers, and grapes

The latest Technology Review has an column by cognitive scientist/philosopher Daniel Dennett about the tenth anniversary of Kasparov losing a match to Deep Blue (free registration is required). I happened to be at the ACM conference the year before where Kasparov lost a game to Deep Blue, but won the prize money. I remember his chess-equivalent-of-a-rock-star entrance (and entourage) at the awards banquet to receive his $400,000 winner's check :)

Also in Tech Review is a profile of a controversial researcher who believes resveratrol is a key to long life, so keep eating those grapes (or drinking red wine). Here's a quote from the article:

Sinclair's basic claim is simple, if seemingly improb­able: he has found an elixir of youth. In his Australian drawl, the 38-year-old Harvard University professor of pathology explains how he discovered that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, extends life span in mice by up to 24 percent and in other animals, including flies and worms, by as much as 59 percent. Sinclair hopes that resveratrol will bump up the life span of people, too. "The system at work in the mice and other organisms is evolutionarily very old, so I suspect that what works in mice will work in humans," he says.

Some NASA news: Dawn sent me this link about how the Apollo 12 quarantine trailer ended up on a fish farm in Alabama.

Finally, in local news: The first meeting of the Central Valley Cafe Scientifiqué is in October about sea otters. And, the securities and exchange commission (SEC) charged a local company with an illegal stock scheme involving about $1.5 million. If you lost money, you might remember some of the players from IQ Biometrix days.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Corn, spy planes, tunnels, and vanity

Some miscellaneous stuff: An article about "The Ethanol Scam" from Rolling Stone magazine.

An ABC News reporter gets a ride in U2 spy plane.

Shocking tales of the underground (tunnels on university campuses) and more about university tunnels and even more about Caltech's and Columbia's tunnels.

Finally, I was surprised to see how many times I came up in a search of NASA documents.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Back in April I wrote about ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAGS. Airport security is in the news again:
  • A new TSA directive as of yesterday about what kinds of electronics needs to be removed from your carry-on luggage for scanning (in addition to laptops computers).
  • A summary of a Q&A with security expert Bruce Schneier at DefCon. An excerpt:

    The first thing he talked about was the need for ID to fly on US airlines, or lack thereof... Bruce says you simply need to go to the airline and say that you don't have an ID. You will be issued a boarding pass with "No ID" on it... So, the whole no fly list thing just went out the door. If you are an evildoer, just buy a ticket under someone else's name, go up and say you lost your ID, and go on through. Security theater at it's finest. Luckily, this only inconveniences you if you are honest.

  • Schneier does his own Q&A with the head of the TSA.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Steve's gopher snake picture (click on "Mill Creek is completely dry") reminded me of these two rattlesnakes on the Sierra Foothill Conservancy property. It's a busy place: you can read about a three-way bobcat fight, or rowdy hummingbirds. Here's a quote:

As you may suspect by observing the behavior of males around a feeder, they are so busy threatening their rivals that they may lose as much as 20% of their body weight during the mating season.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Here's something that would start you thinking about how long you can tread water: losing an engine over two hours out from HNL on an ETOPS flight.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cell phones, free talks by McKusick

Since the topics aren't related, this should be two postings. First, cell phone spying and criming have been in the news lately:
  • From IEEE Spectrum, details of how "extremely smart hackers" tapped the Prime Minister of Greece's cell phone. Wired has an article about how CIA agents were tracked through Italian cell phone networks.
  • Second, two free talks by Marshall Kirk McKusick of UNIX fame, both sponsored by UC Berkeley extension, but actually located in San Francisco: "A narrative history of BSD" (the "Greatest Piece of Software Ever") on 26 September, and "Bulding an Running an Open Source Community" on 3 October, both from 5:30-7:30pm.

Bonus: Checkers has been solved computationally, but not in the way you might think by evaluating a game tree the way many of us were taught.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lives (First and Second) and interfaces

Here are some links to interesting stuff that's popped up recently:
Second Life
One favorable article and two that are more skeptical: Technology Review has a very interesting article about combing aspects of Second Life with Google Earth in the article "Second Earth" (you might need to register free). On the other hand, Time magazine lists Second Life on its Five Worst Websites list here. Finally, the Los Angeles Times discusses how retailers might be bailing out.

Interfaces and design
You really need to watch this five minute video of Jeff Han discussing multitouch interfaces and their implications for collaboration. Also Bruce Sterling discusses design in this video and talks about how a typical public telephone is designed "like a cactus" versus how Google would design a public telephone.

Finally, here is a bonus link from Technology Review. Is Artificial Intelligence dead or just misguided?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Over 20,000 computer terminals!

Deep in the Alcatel-Lucent website are some videos of famous Bell Labs employees. Here's a two minute video about the UNIX operating system -- see what fashonable geeks were wearing in 1969. Hear Ken Thomson talk about making computing simple, and Dennis Ritchie about fellowship and "communal computing". Far out.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Politically incorrect

I want to see the Egyptian pyramids and Luxor, so I recognized the name of Zahi Hawass (the guy you see on television talking about antiquities) as I flipped through the July Conde Nast Traveler. But I was surprised at some of the statements he made in this interview, such as

A group of tourists who can afford to pay only a thousand dollars apiece for a trip are useless. Let them stay in their own country!



Anyone who's taken a software engineering class from me, undergrad or grad, knows I like traceability:

Requirements traceability... provides critical support for software engineers as they develop and maintain software systems. Traceability helps determine that researchers have refined requirements into lower-level design components, built them into the executable system, and tested them effectively. It further helps analysts understand the implications of a proposed change and ensures that no extraneous code exists...

Furthermore, organizations building safety-critical systems are often legally required to demonstrate that all parts of the code trace back to valid requirements. Laws such as the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 require organizations to implement change-management processes with explicit traceability coverage for any parts of a software product that potentially impact the balance sheet.

The above is from a paper in the June 2007 IEEE Computer magazine, "Best practices for automated traceability" by authors from DePaul University, Siemens Corporate Research, and iRise. The paper gets heavily into probability after the first couple of pages, so I wouldn't make undergrads read it, but skimming the paper gives an idea of what folks are doing to find and maintain those threads of traceability I'm so fond of.

Here are the links:
  • directly to article in the IEEE online library (unless you have a subscription, you'll only get the abstract and reference information)
  • a direct link to the article for Fresno State students, staff, and faculty.
  • a direct link to the June 2007 issue for University of Hawaii students, staff, and faculty (you'll have to scroll down to the article).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Veggie oil tales

We've previously talked about cars powered by vegetable oil and how some states are going after tax revenue.

North Carolina is the most recent one I've heard about:

Teixeira's story began near Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 14. As recreational vehicles streamed in for race week, revenue investigators were checking fuel tanks of diesel RVs for illegal fuel.

The investigators spotted Teixeira's passing bumper sticker: "Powered by 100% vegetable oil."

"It was like some twist of fate that put me there," he said. "It was like I was asking for them to stop me."

And now for something completely different

Yesterday evening having pizza and fruit at the farm of some nearby friends we got to talking about organic, almost-organic, and traditional tree fruit farming.

I remembered that back in the day when we had an apple orchard I read something in California Farmer magazine about someone drinking a glass of malathion. This was during the medfly scare.

Well last night David knew the guy's name (B.T. Collins) but we thought it was during the Reagan governorship. Actually Collins (a republican Viet Nam double amputee) was appointed by Jerry Brown as his chief of staff. Sounds like a very interesting guy. Time magazine describes the malathion incident:

Brown's fears notwithstanding, state officials said it was safer to spray from the air than the ground. Reason: the Malathion is mixed with molasses, sugar and yeast and falls in coffee-graint-size droplets that cannot be easily inhaled. B.T. Collins, 40, director of the California Conservation Corps, gave the most dramatic demonstration of its safety: he drank a glassful of Malathion diluted with water to the concentration used in the spray.

On findagrave.com an entry quotes some of his personal "rules":

You stand up for your people. You dig your own foxhole. Don't tell your best friend who to marry. Never argue with a cop. Always send handwritten thank you notes.

Reminds me of David Hackworth, author of the very interesting About Face, not to be confused with Alan Cooper's user interface book of the same name :)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Stu Card and Don Norman

The Franklin Institute posted two brief, layman-level videos of recent HCI award winners.
Stuart Card
from Xerox PARC for human-computer interface achievements
Donald Norman for user-centered design.

both videos are easy to understand and interesting, and short. The Franklin Institute has been around for a while, and describes the awards as:

For 182 years, The Franklin Institute has honored the greatest men and women of science, engineering, and technology. The Franklin Institute Awards are among the oldest and most prestigious comprehensive science awards in the world.

You can also listen to an audio podcast about human-computer interaction, and about how the committee chose Stu Card for the award. They even talk about Fitts Law!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Computer people and their tiny airplanes

I've previously posted about Jef Raskin's take on why planes fly: here and here. Simson Garfinkel blogs about meeting Raskin and marveling at his radio controlled gliders. Raskin died in early 2005, but Garfinkel finally built and flew a glider: "After five years, I make good on my promise to Jef Raskin". You can see a video of Raskin's workshop with lots of airplanes, and two secret doors :)

The inspirational story of an 'overnight' success

The May-June 2007 issue of ACM's interactions has a two page article about how Harmonix's Guitar Hero took off after Best Buy put the game on kiosks. If you are a Fresno State person you can access the article here, and if you are a University of Hawaii person you can access interactions and then go to the issue.

But more interesting than the interactions piece is this take at GameSpot News: scroll down about one screen to "Alex Rigopulos: Whose dream is it, anyway?". There is also a link to really lousy audio. A slightly better article is here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My nemesis

A significant portion of my late spring is weed whacking star thistle, one of the nastiest weeds around. The Nature Conservancy does the same thing, but on a much larger scale, using a helicopter (no, not upside down as a weed whacker). There's a good article in the latest Nature Conservancy magazine (which lots of pictures) -- here's a quote:

Standing on the east rim of the canyon, the river thousands of feet below, you can see a lot of that ground, and it’s all at risk, particularly from a weed called yellow star thistle.

“It’s nasty stuff,” Talsma says. “It’s just a crying shame.”

... The plant first came to North America from Mediterranean countries in tainted loads of clover seed or alfalfa shipped to California in the Gold Rush days. From there, it has marched steadily east. It bears a pretty yellow flower, but that’s the only nice thing to say about it.

Here's even more pictures, courtesy of UCB.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Jumpseats, Cars, Beaches

I've been reading the blog of a NWA 757 pilot. Recently he was in the jumpset of a Hawaiian Airlines 717 from Honolulu to Hilo, and soared on the north shore. Interesting pictures in both, but it sounds like he prefers his 757:
After all, if I miscalculate a bit, I have those magnificent, high compression, high bypass, twin rotor, axial flow, turbofan, Pratt & Whitney R-2040's, producing more than 80,000 pounds of thrust to bail me out. In thrust we trust, let's fire this baby up!

Changing the subject, the annual report of water quality of California beaches is available. Because of low rainfall this year there wasn't as much contamination from run off, but I did find this paragraph:

In a recent study on enteric viruses at Imperial Beach and the Tijuana River mouth, researchers reported a number of hepatitis A virus strains. Because untreated human fecal waste from Tijuana sewage outfalls is a major pollution source to coastal waters near the US/Mexican border, human fecal bacterial densities (E. coli and
Enterocci) during wet weather exceeded state water quality standards in 86% (12 of 14) of the samples in the study. Exceptionally high concentrations of these human fecal indicator bacteria were significantly correlated with high concentrations of hepatitis A virus and enterovirus. Three strains of poliovirus were also detected

Polio? yuck.

Changing the subject again, an interesting paper in the Proceedings of the IEEE volume 95 issue 2 (2007) about the software running in modern cars. The article is fairly understandable and not too technical. Here's the citation:

Engineering Automotive Software. Manfred Broy; Ingolf H. Kruger; Alexander Pretschner; Christian Salzmann. Page(s): 356-373 vol 95 issue 2 (2007). Digital Object Identifier (DOI) 10.1109/JPROC.2006.888386

If you are a Fresno State person, you can click on http://dx.doi.org.hmlproxy.lib.csufresno.edu/ and paste in the article's DOI (10.1109/JPROC.2006.888386).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Enhanced color vision

Speaking of HCI, another topic in my class is enhanced color vision. I first read about this in Glenn Zorpette's article "Looking for madam tetrachromat" (you can read a plain text version or see the article in the Red Herring archives if you log in). The idea is that there are women with extra photo receptors.

This has also been a good Damn Interesting story (with some nice illustrations).

I was reminded of this again because the May/June 2007 Technology Review had a short review of a recently published Science article describing genetically engineered mice with an extra photoreceptor. Eventually you'll be able to see the blurb in the Tech Review "From the Labs" archive, but until then you can read the abstract of the Science article.

Actually, I fooled around with different URLs and I think you can see the May/June 2007 issue of Tech Review before it is officially released. You might want to check out the Objects of Desire photoessay, in addition to the enhanced mice.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Time: Subjective and Objective

One of my favorite things to have HCI students read is Tog's short description of an experiment showing the difference between objective and subjective time. (Tog also talks about the manipulation of time in the classic "Principles, Techniques, and Ethics of Stage Magic and Their Application to Human Interface Design" in which he talks about the mirrors-by-the-elevators anecdote (also repeated by Ackoff & Rovin in "The Ups and Downs of Elevators" section of Beating the system: Using creativity to outsmart bureaucracies and also appearing as a Joel on Software topic)).

Anyway, The whole point of this post is that Tog recently posted an update including a funny example of airlines that "get it" and "don't" when it comes to objective and subjective time. You can skip all that stuff above and read this :)

Santa Barbara whales

A gray whale was swimming around by the wharf in downtown Santa Barbara (still alive, but maybe suffering from the “Unusual Mortality Event" that's killing marine mammals.

A nutty student tried to steal teeth from a recently washed-up sperm whale and was arrested.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

P.S. about Einstein

I saw part of the X Files movie today but I'd forgotten that some was filmed at the Athenaeum also. But I can't remember which part. I also remembered that I saw some filming of a movie about Richard Feynman on the Caltech campus. Matthew Broderick played Feynman. Didn't see Matt on campus though. Or Feynman :) Although Jim Kiper and I attended a talk that Oliver Sacks gave in Cal Tech's crazy looking auditorium.

My Einstein inadequacy

On CSPAN's BookTV this weekend I saw a brief talk by the author of a new book on Einstein. This reminded me of back in my JPL days I got to stay in Einstein's apartment at the CalTech Athenaeum. There was a Joshua Reynolds painting over the fireplace, and the patio overlooking the campus was great (you can see pictures of both here). That night I felt pretty dumb and had trouble falling asleep.

But, it could be that was because it was also the night of the explosion and crash of TWA 800. I sat on Einstein's couch (OK, I think it wasn't the original :) and fiddled with the rabbit ears on the ancient TV (also non-Einstein) to watch news coverage of the accident.

I always thought it was funny that while I was semi-regularly staying at the Athenaeum there were only rabbit-ear TVs, and no air conditioning, which made some summer Pasadena nights pretty unbearable (one night at 2am it was 92 degrees F in the room). I think both of those have been remedied (and a guest elevator installed).

The Athenaeum is known for it's food (I mostly ate downstairs in the Ratheskeller pool hall), and there is even a reference to Einstein in this foodie review.

BTW, I also stayed in the Millikan Suite, but wasn't as intimidated since I don't think he actually lived there :)

One more bit of trivia: the dining room scene of Beverly Hills Cop was filmed at the Athenaeum:
"If you saw Beverly Hills Cop, you've seen the Athenaeum," says Arden Albee, a retired professor of geology and planetary science who is chairman of the club's house committee. The banquet room was used in a food-fight scene in the 1984 movie, which starred Eddie Murphy. The club's porch was used more recently in The Wedding Planner, starring Jennifer Lopez, and features real weddings as well.

The quote is from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education available only to subscribers, or to anyone who Googles athenaeum albee and clicks "cached" :)

One more bit of trivia: during one of my JPL summers I stayed in Dr. Albee's guest house in the backyard. I think they pretty much forgot that I was staying there since they seemed surprised when I would come up to the main house to pay the rent :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not exactly UFOs, but strange flying things

Sporty's Pilot Shop has the weirdest stuff sometimes. Like a cannula that you attach to your headphones with double-stick tape. I never thought of jamming tubes in my nostrils and then taping them to an ear.

Another thing is an ordinary looking ice chest, with a hole cut in the lid and a fan attached. The idea is you fill the chest with ice and water, and run the fan to cool your cockpit. Seems like something that I would have done in 1976 driving an un-airconditioned car to the midwest.

But, really, for weird, this is right up there. Could be useful in this summer though :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

disposable or reusable revisited

Back in October I posted something about how many times you'd need to reuse a ceramic (or glass) mug to use less energy per use than drinking from a disposable cup.

There was something today on digg about the topic. Since digg can be annoying, here is the link to the cited report. This is probably where the "you'd need to use a ceramic mug a thousand times to break even" comes from -- according to professor Martin Hocking's calculations, the ceramic-foam "break even" point is 1006. A quote:

The results are extremely sensitive to the amount of energy the dishwasher requires for cleaning each cup. Hocking's choice for the dishwasher, requiring 0.18 MJ/cup-wash, is barely less than the manufacturing energy of the foam cup, 0.19 MJ/cup. If Hocking had chosen even a slightly less energy-efficient dishwasher as his standard, then the reusable cups would never have broken even with the foam cup.

The lesson of this life-cycle energy analysis is that the choice between reusable and disposable cups doesn't matter much in its overall environmental impact. One should use one's best judgement.

Bonus tidbit: earlier in the week I was in a meeting where someone who knows a lot about local health statistics opined that contrary to popular local belief, the number of emergency room visits for "asthma" don't peak during "bad air" (high ozone) days. The visits peak during high allergy days :)


Here is a page of statistics that looks ... misleading. For example, the central valley has a higher percentage of kids with asthma. OK, how much higher. The rate for the valley is 11%, the bay area 10%, the state (9%), and LA (8%). Three percent difference? Is that statistically significant? Could there be something else going on here, like, oh, family income? Access to health care? Living where there is a ton of pollen in the air? :)

Also, when you look at "all ages" and see that Fresno County is 13%, yet Kern, Tulare, and San Joaquin counties (two out of three with at least as bad air quality :) are 9%, well that makes you wonder about the data :)

I've always thought it interesting that living around cockroaches is bad for asthma.

Back to ages 0-17. As above, the central valley rate is 11%. Assignment: What's the national average for ages 0-17?

How about this (emphasis added):

In 2003, most U.S. children under 18 years of age had excellent or very good health (83%). However, 10% of children had no health insurance coverage, and 5% of children had no usual place of health care. Thirteen percent of children had ever been diagnosed with asthma. An estimated 8% of children 3-17 years of age had a learning disability, and an estimated 6% of children had ADHD.

Isn't data interesting :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Malc

A few more Malcolm Gladwell videos:
  • Malcolm on spaghetti sauce (you'll have to scroll down to find him). Pretty amusing.
  • Malc's agent hosts two videos on their web site, one about Blink and the other a talk given at Lucent Technologies. This is very similar to the talk he gave at the BbWorld conference.

Bonus update: The New Yorker Festival video from last year was moved. This is the talk about using neural networks to predict hit movies. You can watch it

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Things higher-ed related

A few things related to universitying:
  • "Research points the finger at PowerPoint". Some of the research is summarized as:

    They [the researchers] have also challenged popular teaching methods, suggesting that teachers should focus more on giving students the answers, instead of asking them to solve problems on their own.

    Other parts of the research sounds a little like Tufte and other things I've previously mentioned about presentations. Professor Sweller is quoted:
    It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

    Bonus link: a comparison of Gates' and Jobs' presentation styles. You might also want to click here and scroll down to the video by Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

  • Two posts from the Tomorrow's Professor mailing list: "Teaching Naked: Why Removing Technology from Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning" and how not to be a bore.

  • The infamous U.S. News rankings got the top ten electrical engineering schools wrong. Whoops. "Another Rankings Fiasco at ‘U.S. News’".

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cleaning a whale from the inside

Revisiting my whale theme of a few months ago, this seems like a miserable job: vacuuming and dusting a 100 year old whale that is suspended from the ceiling :)

Here's a bonus link. The editors of the kooky/quirky muckraking website CounterPunch published their list of the top 100 non-fiction books originally written in English. I was reading another top 100 list and followed a link to that one. The thing that caught my eye was that Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire was the first one on the list (because it's alphabetical by author :) That reminded me that the first Edward Abbey story that I remember reading is "In defense of the redneck" in Abbey's Road. Anyway, I didn't think Edward Abbey would appear on a top 100 list. Other ones I noted were the Sunset Western Garden Book (it's been published since the mid-1950s?) and Norman Maclean's A river runs through it, both classics :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Quay Valley Ranch

Last week I was in a meeting that reminded me how good it is to throw ideas around on a college campus. The meeting was about Quay Hays' proposal for a new sustainable community west of here. Quay Hays says:

We are planning Quay Valley Ranch so that its residents will never have to pay a power bill

(the quote is from an article about the project from a business point of view).

I didn't realize until I saw him that I knew the main presenter for the meeting: the father of "systems thinking", Russ Ackoff. I think I might have read one of his books back when I was in junior high (I'm not kidding).

He had some great stories. You can get a flavor of the the meeting by looking at the Ackoff Center blog.

Also presenting at the meeting was Vince Barabba who has a real passion about this project.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Two recent newspaper articles

The Fresno Bee reprinted an AP story about one of my recent topics -- "jerks":
Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue

Yesterday the paper ran a story about geocaching. A "dutiful state employee" is quoted about his alter-ego:
I don't smoke and I don't drink, but they do call me The Obsessed One

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Beverage recommendations

Steve talks about getting (or not) coffee at Starbucks. Two things: first, the out-of-coffee Starbucks barista obviously hasn't read the story in Steve McGuire's Debugging the development process about coffee-making and software process (if you are an Amazon customer with enough standing you can do the "search inside" and read the two pages -- 25 and 26 -- about coffee and process). Second, I recommend going to the World Handcrafts (aka Ten Thousand Villages) store in Reedley for a package of "Reanimator" fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee (a related article is in the Pasadena Weekly :).

My other beverage recommendation is "pulque fino" (at the bottom of the "mead" page) from Full Circle Brewing on F street in Fresno.

That is all.

People still use film?

I try to treat my time with airport security as an opportunity for serendipitous amusement: sometimes lip balm is needs to go into your ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAG, and sometimes not. Sometimes a tube of antibiotic ointment need to go into the ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAG, sometimes not (one TSA agent loudly told me that Neosporin specifically did not have to be bagged, so she took it out of my ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAG and threw it in the gray plastic bin with my shoes, after everything had gone through X-ray, hmm). Sometimes the agent will say "hey you missed one" after spotting a small tube of something or other in my bag. Cowering like a bad puppy I await my humiliation. But they just wave me through. But then one time post-X-ray an agent, made an example of me, held up my clear zip top bag over her head and loudly says "THIS IS NOT A ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAG!", but it is clear, has a zip top, and was given to me by LAX so that I could "zip through security". "WELL I DON'T KNOW WHAT LAX IS DOING GIVING PEOPLE NONSTANDARD BAGS". Whatever :)

And then there is the shoe carnival.

All this doesn't bother me much, but then I haven't lost a bunch of money like the producers of Lost did when their film was X-rayed.

The state film office said it has worked with TSA and United Airlines to put a new process in place that will prevent future accidents.

"The issue has been addressed, and they have procedures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Dawson, the state film commissioner.

You can read more about it here.

And that Neosporin stuff? It is specifically mentioned on the TSA website, and has to go in the ONE QUART ZIP TOP BAG. Vindicated again!

P.S. The Jetsons-looking restaurant in the middle of LAX is closed since a panel fell off the building. The cool observation area just above the restaurant has been closed for years. That was a great place to watch planes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The revenuers are coming

This week I was talking about my next car being powered by vegetable-oil. Steve M blogged about our friend Steve F and Ken and driving cross country on fry oil. You can see their photo travelogue, and you can listen to a short mid-trip audio interview.

But in Illinois at least, the revenuers have gotten wind (whiff?) of fry oil. Hmm.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hey! Watch out for that fomite over there!

Many television news stories (particularly during rating sweeps time) take a UV light into hotel rooms to elicit the ewwwwww-yuck response.

But this article in the March 2007 Conde Nast Traveler is really disgusting. I've heard of people taking extra ziptop plastic bags in their luggage so they can bag the TV remote control, and after reading the article that sounds like a good idea :) There's already a commercial version available.

People mock me for using hand sanitizer! Not anymore! I am vindicated! (Just make sure your hand sanitizer has a high enough percentage of alcohol to be effective)


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Getting better and better at not caring

As a follow-up to my previous post, this almost-five-minute video of Bob Sutton is pretty interesting. To pique your interest, he talks about littering, both literally and within organizations, and about constructive uses of indifference.

Another update: this week's free Designing Interactions chapter (and videos) is about multisensory and multimedia human-computer interaction.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The ethical mind (and bonus link)

This conversation with Howard Gardner in the March 2007 Harvard Business Review is sort of the other side of the coin of my previous post. A quote:

... there is no substitute for detailed, textured, confidential oral recommendations from individuals who know the candidates well and will be honest. I don’t particularly trust written letters or the results of psychological tests. A single interview is not much help, either. A colleague of mine says “It takes ten lunches,” and I think there is truth in that.

I might also ask a young person about mentors. Our studies found that, across the board, many young professionals lack deep mentoring from individuals in authoritative positions. This was in contrast to veteran professionals, who spoke about important mentors and role models. So I might ask, “Who influenced you in cultivating a particular moral climate, and why?” The influence of antimentors—potential role models who had been unkind to their employees or who had shown behavior that others would not want to emulate—and a lack of mentors is something that we underestimated in our studies. Negative role models may be more powerful than is usually acknowledged.

You might remember Howard Gardner from the mid 1980's days of cognitive science.

Changing subjects, here is your bonus link of the day: Jakob Nielsen's list of the computer skills kids should be learning in school, and why. He says:

Understanding usability heuristics like "recognition vs. recall" or "consistency" will be as important to the educated person as having dissected a frog.

As someone who didn't want to dissect a frog in high school, I feel vindicated! :)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Giant Orb from Niihau

An article from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune was reprinted in today's Fresno Bee, and it reminded me of finding a fishing float (about a foot in diameter, plastic, not glass) on the beach on Niihau. Long story which I might post sometime so that I never feel the urge to tell it again, but the reason I call it an orb is that I checked it as baggage, and it was "sort of lost", and when it arrived at the Fresno airport the next morning I got a voicemail saying that my "orb was available to be picked up at the American Airlines counter."

Here's the article: "The sand, the sun, the sea, the squalor:
The Great Eastern Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas, spreads litter to far shores".

It definitely gets you thinking about trash in general, and besides, when was the last time you read an article that used the word "gyre"? And when was the last time you read a blog posting using both "gyre" and "orb"?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More trouble than they're worth

Judging from all the references I'm seeing to Bob Sutton's new book The no *ssh*le rule (I've edited some of the vowels), I'm late to this party. So far I've seen it mentioned in the March Fast Company, in CIO Insight (from back in 2004), and in Guy Kawasaki's blog.

I can't find a web copy of the original column in the February 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review (which I am embarrassed to say I thumb through occasionally).

Some of the comments to Guy's posting are funny, like this one, and this one.

I got Sutton's book yesterday -- it's short and easy to read.

Speaking of books, the new one by Bill Moggridge is Designing Interactions, and it is incredible -- almost a coffee table book. It's not very expensive, but if you don't want to spend the money you can download one chapter a week free from the website. It's really great that all the videos of interviews are on the website (although in smaller format than the book-accompanying DVD). I highly recommend that you watch the video of Bill Verplank.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Computer Science bachelor's and graduate degrees

The January 2007 Computing Research News has a lists of the most prolific producers of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Guess who is #1? Here's a hint.

See how many of the "top" colleges you recognize.

The article says you can go to the NSF site and create your own queries. I tried to replicate the author's table and got this. Sometimes it is sorted by decreasing value, sometimes alphabetically by name of college. I'm not sure why.

Anyway, the top California bachelor's producer is UC Irvine (#10) and the most prolific CSU is San Jose State (#27). Cal State Ebay (nee Hayward) is #19 for master's degrees, and UC Santa Barbara is #23 for CSci doctoral production, whoo hoo!

Don't care about CSci degrees? You can do whatever query you want at http://webcaspar.nsf.gov

Friday, February 02, 2007

Now that you are fascinated with landing an airplane

I liked this site, and its description of a Cat IIIC landing:

Pray that your electronics and autopilot are reliable.

You can go on the pilot's trip around Florida and his eight ILS approaches. Kissimmee to Melbourne: not to be missed! (I'm kidding)

I think you can fly his route if you have Microsoft Flight Simulator.

What are they thinking up front?

This is the best, most detailed, and easy to read description of commercial pilots being diverted from their original destination and doing a Cat III landing at BWI.

I think they were doing a Cat IIIB landing (50 foot decision height). A Cat IIIC landing can be done in zero visibility.

If you are planning on doing a Cat III landing at LAX you should probably look at this diagram, or practice first at FAT.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Spaf on security

Here's streaming audio and video of Spaf being interviewed about "US Computer Insecurity". This is a nice layman's level discussion.

I was going to try to joke about how the next interview in the series is about "Redefining Masculinity" and how much more interesting it would be if the producers had mixed up the guests for the two weeks, but I refrain.

In the spirit of my recent postings about HICSS, here's some trivia: I first met spaf at HICSS-22 in 1989. As I recall, someone in his posse was collecting our unused drink tickets. Allegedly.

Disclaimer: I wouldn't have written the two previous paragraphs if I didn't know about spaf's tolerance of bad attempts at humor. Judging from his recent post to Web-Heads about a man and a dead horse, I think he's still warped :)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HICSS slides

Hal Abelson's slides (promised in a previous post) from his distinguished lecture are posted, along with other HICSS-40 highlights.

Sittin' on a plane

I'm glad I wasn't on this plane from FAT-DFW, or the infamous SFO-DFW flight that was also diverted to Austin for hours and hours.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Using Information: New Technologies, Ways & Means: How to Have a Great HICSS Experience

A few more notes from HICSS:
  • I went to a session about development of secure software. There were statements about how it's not feasible to formally specify and verify something as complicated as an operating system. Hmm. Well, in before 1980 aspects of UCLA secure Unix was formally specified and verified. In fact, work on "multilevel secure operating systems" is one of the most developed example of formal V&V of real, complicated (and really complicated) systems. And, work on multilevel secure operating systems paid for a lot of my UCSB education :)

    In any case, this is all related to the infamous Orange Book.
  • Yesterday's plenary by Hal Abelson was good. It was essentially a pitch for Creative Commons, and how the knowledge-creation community should shun commercial publishers and some professional associations such as the American Chemical Society :) I will post a link to his slides when they are posted.
  • I'm currently in a session about automated testing. Also here is my former UCSB professor, and father of design-by-contract, and Eiffel, Bertrand Meyer. It was nice to say hello.

One thing I like about HICSS (my first one was 21 years ago!) is if you make good selections about what to attend you'll hear some great ideas. Looking through the program I see the following software engineering names in addition to Bertand: Shari Lawrence Pfleeger, Barry Boehm (HICSS distinguished lecturer two years ago), John Carroll, et al.

Jonathan Grudin has a blog about HICSS and Using Information: New Technologies, Ways & Means: How to Have a Great HICSS Experience

Friday, January 05, 2007

Do you aspire to be a Scrum Master?

Steve's post about stand-up meetings (see the three questions at the end of his post) reminded me about the HICSS session I am attending today on agile development techniques, Scrum and XP in particular.

Some very interesting comments made by the speakers such as
  • in one industrial case study presented about the use of pair programming, very few defects were found by the "navigator" of the pair.
  • you can use rock-paper-scissors at the beginning of each day to determine who starts driving and who starts navigating.
  • a Scrum case study (about 1000 KLOC) showed "linear or better" productivity increases by adding people. Note this is opposite to Brooks' "adding people to a later project makes it later". The general claim by the speaker was that by going to Scrum you can double productivity, in contrast to outsourcing which he claimed gives a 20 percent productivity increase.

Other impressions: There's actually been quite a bit of research done on pair programming, from a software development productivity point of view and from a cognitive approach. The industry people seem to be reinventing the wheel on some of these basic things. Not surprising since it feels good to reinvent a good idea like the wheel :)

Seriously though, I recommend that software engineers flip through Barry Boehm's slides from his ICSE 2006 keynote slides (ICSE is the big practitioner-academic yearly conference). He notes (on slide 7) that we are losing our history:

Median ICSE 2005 paper has no reference before 1984-85
77% have no references before 1980

In any case, everyone should look at his figure on slide 9.