Friday, May 23, 2008

A Titanic cover up

There is a good TED video of Robert Ballard, the guy who found the wreckage of the Titanic. Interesting guy and certainly has done great stuff, but it annoys me that he's a bit disingenuous since he knows that a lot of money has been spent by rival superpowers (the same ones that funded space programs) mapping, exploring, sampling and recording the oceans. In fact, he is most famous for directly benefiting from the national coffers -- "finding the Titanic" was actually the cover story for a secret military mission to find two famous submarine wrecks: the Thresher and the Scorpion. Speaking of submarines, I thought this was an interesting book.

But back to Titanic. Ballard's released the latitude and longitude of the wreck (details are here including the percentages of survivors by fare class). Ninety-four percent of the first class women and children survived, but only ten percent of the second class men. The website also says "Ironically, most of those who drowned were Americans."

At least Ballard isn't as annoying as James Cameron's obsession with robotic subs. But I have to admit, this is amusing :)

Another famous submarine cover-up, Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer, is left as an exercise for the reader. Here is a teaser:
... the wealthy eccentric Howard Hughes constructed the Glomar Explorer, an enormous barge built for the ostensible purpose of mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor. Although manganese nodules are real, the mining venture was actually an elaborate hoax.
You can even watch the declassified burial at sea of soviet submariners recovered by the Explorer.

A Malc and Russ update

Malcolm Gladwell talked about "How to hire the right person" at the 2008 New Yorker conference. He talks what the NBA and NFL scouting "combines" tell us about hiring good teachers and lawyers.

Here's interesting column on "Gladwell's Brain" from The Washingtonian. Included is the now infamous "perverse and often baffling" contest:
The mischief peaked with what Gladwell refers to as “the contest.” He and another young science reporter, William Booth, chose a phrase and competed to see who could insert it in the newspaper faster. The contest culminated with the phrase “perverse and often baffling.”

Booth wrote a story on mollusks. “The copy desk took out ‘often,’ ” he says in the recording, “arguing, I think correctly, that mollusks were either baffling or they weren’t.”

Finally, with the clock ticking, Gladwell struck gold. He discovered that Washington is home to both the country’s highest number of gastroenterologists per capita as well as the highest fees for gastroenterology, flying in the face of supply-and-demand rules.

Baffling indeed, and possibly perverse—at least by the standard of Post editors. Gladwell won the contest.
But is that story true? Maybe, maybe not :) The article includes links to Malc telling the very entertaining story.

Finally, I recently was in a meeting where I said something about "the tyranny of vision statements" (I'm not a big fan), which reminded me of this take by Russell Ackoff. You might remember his and Quay Hays' visit to Fresno State a year ago.

Over 8g's, but who's counting

The results of the study of the last ballistic Soyuz re-entry are in the news. Richard Garriott, video game guy and future space tourist, rationalizes that everything will be OK for his return in October, but I think he's a little optimistic. But in his shoes, I would be too since thinking about the alternative would be depressing at best :)

Jim Oberg is a space expert and written about Soviet and Russian space missions. He has an awful looking website but if you scroll down past the UFO stuff there are pictures about how the Soyuz is supposed to re-enter. It stays connected as three pieces just before hitting significant air, at least that's the way I understand it.

Oberg's IEEE Spectrum article "Internal NASA Documents Give Clues to Scary Soyuz Return Flight" has some "interesting" comments back and forth between Oberg and a reader accusing him of being overly dramatic.

One of the links from Oberg's comments takes you to this translation of a Russian news account of farmers coming to the aid of the Soyuz.
On the ground there was a black apparatus, which looked like a pot. A moment we approached there was a boom. We jumped back. Immediately, a cover, which looked like a fry pan flew off and an antenna jumped out. The apparatus was so hot that ground started burning. We were waiting what would happen next. Then a man fell out of the pot. He was in the cosmonaut outfit. As we approached we could read "Yuri Malenchenko." "We are cosmonauts," he told us, neither his hands or feet were moving. He was pale and sweaty. We put him on the ground, gave a pillow under his head, while he asked to get others out. There were two women. I carried in my hands Peggy (Whitson) and So-yeon Yi, who appeared from the capsule. The American removed her glove and shook my hand. I said that this is Kazakhstan, Aitekibisky Region, but she did not understand Russian. Neither did So-yeon Yi, so I mostly communicated with Malenchenko. He asked us to take some gadget out of the capsule. The capsule was very small, while all our guys were huge. We picked the skinniest in our brigade -- Kanat Kydyralin -- he pulled the radio and some other electronic device.

You can see how small the pot (to hold three adults!) is here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.

The Fresno Metropolitan Museum has a new director, Dana Thorpe:
The board of trustees' announcement this week follows an eight-month national search. Thorpe will succeed Kathleen Monaghan, who has been the top administrator since October 1999... Dana (pronounced Hannah) Thorpe said in a telephone interview Thursday that The Met presents an opportunity to build on the foundation set by Monaghan.

What? (pronounced "Whaaah?")

Reminds me of an old George Carlin album. I couldn't find it exactly on the Internets, but this is close:
You can call yourself whatever you want. You can spell your name S - M - I - T - H and pronounce it "Jabnowski" if you want to.
"Can you spell that?"
"S M I T H"
"They're all silent, never mind!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Software's classic mistakes

Steve McConnell released results of his 2007 survey about software development blunders and compares them to the "classic mistakes" described in his book Rapid Development.

"Noisy, crowded offices" was fourth, reminding me of our previous conversations (about 2/3 of the way down this posting, and this posting too).

Back to that paper I mentioned yesterday, "Building an Information System for Collaborative Researchers: A Case Study from the Brain-tumor Research Domain" by Mamrak, Boyd, and Ordonez (Fresno State people can click here for full text). The paper's been a great source of quotes for me to draw on to illustrate problems with requirements (I quoted from it in my response to Rita Vick's article). Here's an excerpt from Mamrak et al.:
A third clinician was genuinely interested in using our information system. However, every time we met with him to determine his data input and query requirements, his needs would shift from our last meeting. This process extended over several years: with every presentation of a fast prototype, and even when the first version of the system was implemented and installed, at every meeting with him we came away with several pages of notes indicating changes that he still required. When we expressed our concerns to him about our inability to converge on a common understanding of his needs, he constantly assured us that we were 'getting very close' and that the next time we would surely have it 'right.'

Saturday, May 10, 2008

End of semester stuff

More random things: I previous wrote about launches to "high inclination orbits. A recent Popular Mechanics has a nice diagram and talks about space shuttle aborts.

A Hodg-man posting reminded me of Match Game's Gene Rayburn, and ended up with videos of celebrities smoking on television.

Over seven million people watched a three year old describe Star Wars, but how many of you have seen it with Spanish subtitles?

Bob Sutton has a couple of interesting applications of his "no asshole rule": a theological approach, and a sad tale of bullies in the medical world. It seems like there's another wave of cross disciplinary work going on with the healthcare. This reminds me of the paper by Mamrak, Ordonez, and Boyd about working with medical folks on an information system for their brain tumor research. Great quotes. More on that later.

Dr. Dobb's has two things worth at least a skim: "Has agile peaked?" and "Requirements are required reading". Here's a quote:
Driving up the cost of the 2010 census is the Harris Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA)—essentially a mobile hand-held device on the front end... —which was supposed to save taxpayers $1 billion, but instead may end up costing $3 billion extra. Why? Because, according to people who participated in real-world trials, the mobile FDCA system (which will be used by 600,000 temporary census takers) is just too doggone hard to use.
Harris is standing behind its FDCA system, claiming that the computers actually are easy to use. "After you spend about 30 minutes to an hour familiarizing yourself with it, it's as easy to use as a modern cell phone," said a Harris spokesman. Well now, that's comforting. After 30 minutes of fiddling with a new cell phone, I'm lucky I haven't chucked it.

Finally, two short videos: a cockpit video of the downwind and final approach to HNL. This is the usual approach with Waikiki to the right, Pearl Harbor, and then a right turn to land. Second, there's been a clamor for years to get the 1986 CBS Fresno miniseries on DVD. You can torment yourself by watching the intro and a brief clip.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Videos that only a computer science person could love

My characterization of a good Alan Kay keynote is something to make everyone in the audience irritated :)

But in this short (2.5 minute) excerpt from an ACM conference talk, Kay really bashes Dijkstra.

Several years ago SD&M had a Software Pioneers conference. The speakers list was incredible, but I can't get the videos to work anymore. But you can watch Kay's talk, and Dijkstra's talk here and here.

Bonus video: Senator Obama fielding a question about sorting integers at Google.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mad Money, Yo-Yo, and Eudaemons

I'm not usually a big Charlie Rose fan, but I'm a fan of HBO's From the Earth to the Moon so I watched this episode. Strange combination of three segments: Jim Cramer (the Mad Money guy with the yelling and sound effects on CNBC), followed by (starting at 8:37) Andy Chaikin and Tom Hanks talking about From the Earth to the Moon, then (starting at 35:30) Yo-Yo Ma.

Speaking of moon stuff, an Apollo 11 fecal bag sold for over $200 recently. Unused, thank goodness.

In other news of the weird, the Biography Channel has been showing the "breaking vegas" episode about the UCSC folks who used computers controlled by toe switches to predict the results of sloppily installed roulette wheels. The remarkable thing was this was in the 1980s. When I used to teach the CSci 1 class the book (The Eudaemonic Pie) was on my list of books they might be interested in, along with other books like Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer. They roulette people went on to apply chaos theory to investment.

Instead of counting cards at the blackjack table, or looking for non-uniform routlette wheels, why not buy lotto tickets? If each one dollar ticket gets you a 1-in-X chance of winning, and the jackpot is over $X, isn't your expected return greater than $1? Kind of, but to get jackpots that high a lot of people buy tickets, which means you would probably have to share the winnings, reducing the expected return. But sometimes it works :) Scroll to the bottom to see an example of covering all the numbers in Jai Alai.