Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The prodigal professor

Several years ago, Robert Redford produced a movie about a television game show that was rigged -- and a university professor (Charles Van Doren) as part of the deception. The situation was exposed, congress was involved, and the professor went on to be an editor at Encyclopedia Britanica :)

Van Doren recently wrote his side of the story for The New Yorker magazine, about 50 years after the fact. I thought it was interesting to hear his moral struggles with the rigged game show then, and offers to participate in the movie 40 years later.

Cell phones

Three things from the LA Times:
  • First, IRS rules are causing havoc for universities.
    The law requires employees to keep detailed records of all calls made on their work-issue cellphones, indicating whether they were business or personal. If they don’t, the phone and wireless service are deemed a perk that must be listed as taxable income to the employee...

    UCLA, for example, was hit with a $239,196 bill this year after IRS auditors found that employees with cellphones were not keeping logs. UC San Diego had to shell out $186,471 for the same reason.
  • Second, do you really expect cell phone service everywhere in national parks?
    That cottage in the mountains is charming enough until Day 3 without cellphone reception.
  • Finally, what about coverage in Los Angeles iteself?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CNN air drops

Interesting article in the LA Times today about how fire-fighting air drops are commonly "for show" and the result of political pressure:
... aerial drops of water and retardant make good television. They're a highly visible way for political leaders to show they're doing everything possible to quell a wildfire, even if it entails overriding the judgment of incident commanders on the ground.

Firefighters have developed their own vernacular for such spectacles. They call them "CNN drops."
It's also really expensive:
It costs up to $14,000 a day to keep an air tanker on call and as much as $4,200 per hour to put it in the air. Heavy-duty helicopters, the workhorses of aerial firefighting, can cost $32,000 a day on standby, plus $6,300 per hour of flight time.
Speaking of the LA Times, a segment of yesterday's PBS News Hour was about the Times's dropping of its standalone book review section. The pro-web person is a Fresno State graduate (I think), and the newspaper guy I didn't find very credible. If you are interested in the affect of the web on traditional media, it is worth watching.

Changing subjects to software, the August issue of Crosstalk has an article by Alistair Cockburn, under his "Humans and Technology" rubric, about agile principles, past and present:
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the best-known writers in the software field have been advocating the same four recommendations written in the agile manifesto for decades (see The Agile Manifesto section).

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Probably the most interesting train trip I've taken was on a Grayline Tours railcar attached to the Alaska Railroad. After a conference I took the train from Anchorage to Denali, and then the next day from Denali to Fairbanks (see the stripmap here).

It was the weekend before Memorial Day, so Denali was sort of miserable, and we stood for hours outside after check-out time at the cabins before the train arrived, in a snowstorm. But the scenery was great. We were only allowed a small carry-on (no access to checked luggage) so we were freezing. Since it was early in the season, some things went wrong, so it wasn't for the inexperienced traveler.

In the last week or so I've seen this trip featured on travel shows and in newspapers, probably because this is prime time for the trip. Most of the shows and articles are real rah-rah, but the LA Times writer has an interesting take on Denali:
Every time I enter one of America's popular parks, I am reminded that we are primarily a nation of weenies, except for you and me, and I'm not so sure about you sometimes.
I agree with his recommendation ("End of the Line"): do the route in the opposite direction, starting at Fairbanks and going south to Anchorage.

You might see some celebs. Also you go near Clear, Alaska, famous in cold war novels for the huge radar installation, like the one at Beale AFB in California for early warning.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Design and Analysis in Software Engineering

This entry is mostly a sticky-note for me and grad students working with me. In general, computer science and software engineering folks don't know much about experimental design, surveys, or how to compare two things. Fortunately, way back in 1994, Sheri Pfleeger started a column, only a couple pages long, giving the essentials of what we need to do valid comparisons of tools, techniques, or processes. So if you are looking for help designing a study, scan the titles below for a column that could help.

Fresno State students: click on the link you are interested in. If you're on-campus, you'll be taken there immediately. If you are off campus, you'll be taken to a page showing the abstract and a DOI. You can still access the paper from off campus by going here, log in, then paste the numeric part of the DOI into the box.

For University of Hawaii students, go here, and click on Software Engineering Notes to log in and go to the archive.

Experimental design in Software Engineering

Pfleeger, S. (October 1994) Design and Analysis in Software Engineering, Part 1: The Language of Case Studies and Formal Experiments.

Pfleeger, S. (January 1995) Experimental Design and Analysis in Software Engineering, Part 2: How to Set Up an Experiment.

Pfleeger, S. (April 1995) Experimental Design and Analysis in Software Engineering, Part 3: Types of Experimental Design.

Pfleeger, S. (July 1995) Experimental Design and Analysis in Software Engineering, Part 4: Choosing an Experimental Design.

Pfleeger, S. (December 1995) Experimental Design and Analysis in Software Engineering, Part 5: Analyzing the Data.

Evaluating software engineering methods and tools

Kitchenham, B. (January 1996) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 1: The evaluation context and evaluation methods.

Kitchenham, B. (March 1996) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 2: selecting an appropriate evaluation method—technical criteria.

Kitchenham, B. (July 1996) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 3: selecting an appropriate evaluation method—practical issues.

Sadler, C. & Kitchenham, B. (September 1996) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools —part 4: the influence of human factors.

Jones, L. & Kitchenham, B. (January 1997) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 5: the influence of human factors.

Kitchenham, B. & Jones, L. (March 1997) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 6: identifying and scoring features.

Kitchenham, B. (July 1997) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools, part 7: planning feature analysis evaluation.

Kitchenham, B. & Jones, L. (September 1997) Evaluating SW Eng. methods and tools, part 8: analysing a feature analysis evaluation.

Kitchenham, B. & Pickard, L.M. (January 1998) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools: part 9: quantitative case study methodology.

Kitchenham, B. & Pickard, L.M. (May 1998) Evaluating software eng. methods and tools part 10: designing and running a quantitative case study.

Kitchenham, B. & Pickard, L.M. (July 1998) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools, part 11: analysing quantitative case studies.

Kitchenham, B. (September 1998) Evaluating software engineering methods and tools part 12: evaluating DESMET.

Principles of Survey Research

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (November 2001) Principles of survey research: part 1: turning lemons into lemonade.

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (January 2002) Principles of survey research part 2: designing a survey.

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (March 2002) Principles of survey research: part 3: constructing a survey instrument.

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (May 2002) Principles of survey research part 4: questionnaire evaluation.

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (September 2002) Principles of survey research: part 5: populations and samples.

Pfleeger, S. & Kitchenham, B. (March 2003) Principles of survey research part 6: data analysis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Boo the crew?

A recent Miami-New York flight was canceled when the late-arriving crew felt threatened by a booing crowd. This created a long discussion thread at Flyertalk, but the articles in New York Magazine are funnier. First, from 8 July:
To which we say: Screw that. Air travel in this country is an unmitigated nightmare. If you're a real New Yorker, you'll raise hell if you are unfairly or stupidly delayed. When we read the headline on this story in the morning, we immediately knew it must be a flight headed to New York — and we couldn't have been more proud.
and an amusing fish out of water story of a New Yorker waiting for a table in a restaurant in San Francisco:
California, it turns out, has no sense of urgency. Our sandaled friends whom we visited on the trip assured us that it was because people there have their priorities all figured out. They know what's important, and that does not include getting impatient and frustrated over a few minutes of waiting. When I pointed out that I like to choose how I use my own time, not have to waste it on other people's being slow, they just observed that I was choosing to use my time on anger.
But seriously, where this started out was I was looking at the new ETOPS rules (nice summary here), particularly thinking about how the FAA's rule against "dual maintenance" (i.e., the same mechanic can't work on both engines) could relate to software development (yes I know about N-version programming). ETOPS also has rules about parts inventories. The point is to avoid CMF (common mode failure).

A single mechanic working out of the same parts bin is not a good idea. The story of a plane losing all engine and gliding to Miami has been going around for years. As far as I can tell, here is the real story, and some of the permutations in the Risks Digest: here (the airline is now United, not Eastern) and here (the restart altitude is much lower) and here (the aircraft is now a 727).

Monday, July 14, 2008


Dr. Dobb's Journal interviews Christos Papadimitriou about applying research results to the real world. I'm familiar with Papadimitriou through his visits to UCSB, and I TA'ed the UCSB theory class using his book.

He's a great example of a theory guy with broad interest in applying what he comes up with:
I would say that, quite generally, computer scientists are going to find themselves interacting more with other fields. I encourage my students to go completely wild in their curriculum, to go out and learn not only that which they think they should learn in order to be good computer scientists—usually mathematics and programming and engineering and so on—but learn about everything else, about psychology, economics, about business, about biology, about the humanities.

I think the future belongs to programmers who are well-rounded people who have diverse interests, who are flexible, who understand deeply other fields and are ready to transform them. Biotech is definitely part of the picture, but it's not unique.
In the interview he mentions Nash (the Beautiful mind guy), Feynman, and asserts that backgammon is more interesting than chess.

Ten great tech books

The July 2008 IEEE Spectrum has Steven Levy's list of ten great tech books (you might remember I've previously pointed to Discover magazine's late 2006 list of the 25 greatest science books of all time).

One of Levy's favorites is Don Norman's The design of everyday things:
... one of his big themes - creators should understand that their users are not necessarily the same as themselves. Writing at a time when such concepts were barely known to the general public, Norman, a world-class crank, instructively eviserates the product design of doors, telephones, air-traffic systems, and computers ...
But do you think Levy's wife actually threw out his MacBook Air with a pile of papers, and that Steve Jobs yelled at his son? :)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brains and magnets

Seed magazine has a video (and text transcript) of a conversation between novelist Tom Wolff and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga (who is now at UCSB, go gauchos). They talk about free will, among other things.

But you probably remember Ganzaniga's research from freshman psych class, his work with split brain subjects in particular. Amazing stuff, "a window into the non-conscious", and evidence that we have a bunch of agents in our heads.

You don't have to actually slice brains to do some interesting experiments. One of the strangest examples I saw was using a powerful magnetic field to temporarily turn off a part of a healthy subjects brain, making them aphasic or messing up motor control. In college we used to volunteer for psych experiments to make extra money, but I don't think I'd volunteer for TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

Here's an article (complete with a reference to The man who mistook his wife for a hat) from the NY Times where TMS transforms the author into a cat-drawing savant. It's scarier when TMS is used to induce five-minute "strokes".

Changing subjects, this O'Reilly interview about the software on the Mars Phoenix Lander (all in C, no Java on board, and no more Ada on JPL spacecraft) reminded me about what I liked about JPL (cool projects) and didn't like (how many times this guys says "that's right" or some variation) instead of just yes or no :)

Monday, July 07, 2008

More old stuff about Huntington Lake

To go along with some of the other old stuff I posted yesterday, here's the June 1925 calendar from the Big Creek theater (Tom Mix on Saturday the 13th must have been big).

A couple other things from the hydroelectric project engineers. The initial report from 1 January 1913 has an embossed paper cover and is bound with string.
Much of the engineering publications are to showcase their big projects, such as this one from Thebo and Starr Engineers and Constructors.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Another old map

I also like this one: "Route sketch of the march made by Troop "I" and "M", 9th Cavalry" to Sequoia national park and Grant Grove in 1903. You can read about it here.

I also have two versions (dated 1896 abd 1907) of the map "Sequoia and General Grant National Parks and the Sierra Forest Reserve" that look like the came out of a report, and a "Map showing wagon roads and trails in Territory embraced by Sequoia and General Grant Parks, etc." that looks like it came out of a department of the interior publication 53 2, whatever that means :)

Road rage, maps, Huntington Lake

In case you're not keeping up with your Bob Sutton, a recent post is about an experiment to determine when drivers honk their horns. The variable being manipulated was whether the slow vehicle (a pickup truck) had a gun rack or not, and the kind of bumper sticker. Very interesting.

That reminded me that recently my sister and I have scanned some of my old maps. Previously I talked about strip maps, and I was reminded of some that I have, such as Fresno to Huntington Lake (note the road stops at the Huntington Lake Lodge), and Visalia to Huntington Lake.

Speaking of Huntington, we also scanned some photos of the Fresno State summer school being held at the site of the current Camp Keola (before summer school moved across the lake): a physical education class from 1924, a drawing class from 1922, an American Indian class from 1924, and faculty cottages, among others.

There's getting to be more and more old information posted on the web about the south side of Huntington Lake. For example, Google has digitized the 1916 book Winter sports at Huntington Lake Lodge for your perusal, a picture of the Lodge and train, an interesting story about hiking up and down the penstocks, and the Huntington Lake Big Creek Historical Conservancy.

While you are in the area, you should also check out Lakeview Cottages, adjacent to Camp Keola :)

I also have a bunch of strip maps showing routes to Sequoia National Park and Grant Grove, like this one.