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 :)