Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wrapping up 2009

I'm using the holiday to go through a bunch of clippings (physical and electronic) so here is what Alex Trebek would call a potpourri:
Student ratings
There's always angst when it comes to student ratings of faculty instruction ("student evaluations"). Research shows it doesn't take much time for students to form an opinion of the instruction (something Gladwell also mentioned in Blink):
So we do appear to be quite effective at making judgements about teaching ability even after viewing only a total of 6 seconds of actual teaching, and without even hearing the teacher's voice.
This is related to quick judgements of traits, see "How many slices does it take to accurately judge personality and intelligence?"
So using a bunch of judges to watch short clips of behavior can be a good way to judge personality and attention -- but only up to a point. Once you exceed six judges, there isn't much improvement. And watching these thin slices of behavior doesn't work as well for every personality trait: while it works pretty well for intelligence, it's not so useful for judging conscientiousness.
Programming languages
The September 2009 ACM Software Engineering Notes included links to programming language comparisons. The first of the two Programming Languages links has a nice matrix of PLs and properties. One property I point out to software engineering students is the last row "Capers Jones language level". Essentially this tells you how much bang you get for each LOC. You can see similar information on LOC per function point. Roughly speaking, it takes 200 lines of assembler but only about 50 lines of Java or 20 lines of Smalltalk.
Critical systems
Two interesting slide sets from two smart guys: Peter G. Neumann's "Hierarchies, Lowerarchies, Anarchies, and Plutarchies (Parallel Lives)", and John Rushby's "Composition of Critical Properties". The stuff we did in graduate school is back in style again, see "Using formal specifications to support testing" from the February 2009 Computing Surveys and "Correct OS kernel? Proof? Done!" in the December 2009 issue of usenix's ;login:
Wind chimes
Yesterday at Buttonwillow Nursery I looked at pricey wind chimes, If you are going to spend that much money, you might as well listen to them first (click on a tuning to get to the mp3s).
Last words
Speaking of critical systems, you can read transcripts of cockpit voice recordings for quite a few accidents. AA965 is a classic example of interface problems and the important of situation awareness. About a year ago (and a year before that), I also posted something about cockpit dynamics.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Root crops and moon rocks

Two unrelated things: First, I was surprised that people have suffered botulism posioning from fried onions and baked potatoes. The common cause is naturally occuring bacteria in the soil that then multiplies in an oxygen-poor environment: onions slathered in margarine and foil-wrapped potatoes. Amazing. And don't eat green parts of potatoes either :)

Second, I like moon rocks as much as the next guy, but some of this seems a little strange:
  • Countries keep losing their goodwill moonrocks (from 2004) or misidentifying petrified wood as their country's goodwill rock (isn't this obvious to anyone who's seen petrified wood?). Good to know they'll be sticking with the paintings
    The Rijksmuseum, which is perhaps better known for paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, says it will keep the piece as a curiosity.
  • sending a moon rock to the International Space Station? Does that make sense? The plastic holder/display thing looks good,
  • and I was going to buy this, it's only $35k, but they don't take paypal so forget it :) I might have to settle for Apollo 17 surface-flown film.


Another example of technology making something possible in a big way that's been going on for years: using twitter (tweckling) during conference presentations. Two recent examples are the disastrous SXSW "interview" and the HighEdWeb keynote.

It reminds me a bit of the more constructive real-time "fact checking" that students do now using google and email. When I started teaching online I quoted one of the patriarchs of the field. One of the students -- demonstrating the hierarchical flattening of the Internet -- emailed him and asked about the quote. Which he denied saying. Which was interesting since the quote came directly from an interview he'd given a couple years earlier in a reputable professional publication. Hmm.

Electronic veracity checking is interesting to think about. Over a decade ago a Major Company Whose Name You'd Recognize flew me to Newark as part of a day to talk to about software for safety critical systems. At lunch, one of the other presenters (I still think his undergrad software engineering books is one of the best) made a statement about formal methods and Dr. XYZ (who I would say is still top in the field). I said well I think XYZ's views are a little different, and actually closer to other presenter's position. He said, essentially, no no Dr. XYZ would never say that. But, I had XYZ on video saying exactly that during his guest lecture the month previous for my satellite-delivered class (this was before the days of LMSs :)

Back to tweckling, I first saw at that in the early 1990s at a HICSS conference. HICSS was big on the latest in DSS (decisions support systems) and GSS (groups support systems). Back then, conference rooms would be set up with computers at every seat with software that allowed you to chat, ask questions, and organize information in collaboration with other attendees. One of the presenters was not pleased with the background conversation going on about his talk :)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tonka nostalgia

Wow, this takes me back. I think this Green Giant truck was my first. I also had this cement mixer, and this camper, and the beach buggy, and the tiny Tonka pick-up, and a Ny-lint pickup and trailer, and a couple of hydraulic dump trucks, and a bright yellow road grader :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Enough already

Can we software folks take an oath that we're not going to build radiation treatment systems that fry patients?
The Gamma Knife
incidents at the National Cancer Institute in Panama
the infamous Therac-25.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kids nowadays, and data viz

There's much handwringing about the demise of reading and writing. Clive Thompson has a different take:
Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment... Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos -- assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
Changing subjects completely, here's some great data visualizations (I think you can see Tufte's influence):
Have you ever rushed to the airport only to find that your flight was delayed or canceled? In the most recent Data Expo at the annual Joint Statistical Meetings, data heads explored 120 million departures and arrivals in the United States, with the goal of finding "important features" such as:
  • When is the best time of day/day of week/time of year to fly to minimise delays?
  • Do older planes suffer more delays?
  • How does the number of people flying between different locations change over time?
  • How well does weather predict plane delays?
More data visualization: although this is over a month old, Umair Haque at the Harvard Business Review shows data about US healthcare.
There's a yawning gap between left and right in America today: the healthcare debate has grown so convoluted that both sides are talking past each other. Why? I think much has to do with the fact that one side is talking apples, and the other side is talking oranges. The right is focused on benefits foregone, while the left is focused on costs incurred.

A more productive debate must compare the two, to look at returns. So I thought I'd spend an hour or so trying to come up with a number that might help focus a more productive debate about authentic value: a measure of just how effective the American healthcare system is.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Vernier jets

Wow, something I actually know about the space shuttle. Discovery's vernier jets failed, so they have to use the primary reaction control system (RCS) jets to move around while on orbit. The bigger RCS jets are at 90 degrees to each other (i.e., directly in line with yaw, pitch, roll axes), and the vernier jets much less powerful, so aren't as jerky for maneuvering. From Spaceflight Now:
The shuttle's forward reaction control system, or RCS, includes 14 primary engines and two vernier jets. Two aft RCS pods feature 12 primary thrusters and two verniers each. The primary engines generate 870 pounds of thrust while the verniers produce just 24 pounds of push.
The software we were analyzing was the DAP jet-select and deadbanding (more than you ever wanted to know here). We spent a lot of time with this "Phase-plane" diagram.

Changing subjects, a Wyland painting was stolen from a Waikiki store on Lewers Street. Which is more surprising: that it was snatched from a gallery during business hours, or that there's a Wyland painting worth $700k? :) Anyway, support your local tiki.

Arnold say furlough

The Mount Wilson observatory that Hubble famously used survived the recent wildfire. Interesting pictures at Wired.

Lots of people on furlough. I was thinking it would be good to augment these days of the week shirts with an eighth saying FURLOUGH. You can support some local state employees by visiting their Cafepress store. I recommend the coffee mug.

If things get bad you, might want to read Getting Even, about workplace justice. Or take a trip to Reno. Or rent a timeshare week from me at Jensen Beach and snorkel during low tide at nearby Bathtub Reef.

In techie news, the author of Showstopper wrote a Technology review article about whether it's wise for Google to develop an operating system. The "Good enough" revolution (reminds me of James Bach's "satisficing" idea), and the "new literacy" are also discussed.

Both Spectrum and Wired have articles about the Beatles and RockBand, but I recommend the Spectrum article for getting into what was required to make it work, and for you old timers, a nice column by Bob Lucky, a profile of the Stanford prof who came up with the iPhone ocarina app, and bad news for you face-recognition folks..

Finally, tomorrow Wired is paying a guy to fly in Jetblue every day for a month, and write about it. Hmm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You mean the Sun doesn't go around the earth?

A Nature Conservancy blogger says that scientists are to blame for an anti-science country (the part about writing passively is amusing):
Between 2002 and 2007, nearly 32,000 Ph.D.s in science were awarded in the United States. These not so-young Ph.D.s (median age for receiving a Ph.D. is 33) are trained to become like their mentors — college professors, even though at best only one in 10 will actually land a tenure-track job. And that was before the recession. These scientists are deft at statistics and experimental design, and have been schooled in writing passively, without adjectives or storyline or anything that could capture the interest of anyone other than the 17 other specialists working on the same research topic.
He even talks about C.P. Snow at the end, who's famous lecture is 50 years old. Snow was the topic of one of my first posts.

Finally, during jury duty in April and May I spent a lot of time looking at the Security Bank building out the window. They look like great lofts, but pricey.

More UCM woes

An article from Inside Higher Ed is about the newest UC campus at Merced. Putting on my three-time UC alum hat, it should have been in or near Fresno. Clearly it's not a matter of being in the valley or close to a CSU (UCD and Sac State seem to be doing OK). I remember the UC president at the time being tired of hearing from Fresno-area alumns about picking the wrong site :)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Physician envy?

Steve's thoughts about software development as a stochastic art (you should read it) got me thinking again about how software developers look to the medical field for inspiration, or at least metaphor, or analogy?) But the question that has nagged me for a couple of decades is why we would want to model ourselves after an industry in which all the users die and is running us out of money :)

Some random thoughts about health care and software development:
  • Back in 1992, Tom McCabe and Charles Butler suggested that cyclomatic complexity and essential cyclomatic measures could be used like blood pressure measurements to determine the health of code. A high cyclomatic complexity can be treated by restructuring the code (abstraction, essentially), but a high essential complexity is more difficult to address since it means that the essence of the code's structure can't be reduced beyond this point. There's a scanned PDF version here, but you'll have to scroll about 60% down, and look for "A clinical approach to reverse and reengineering" (IEEE Software, January 1992).

  • Over thirty years ago chapter three of Fred Books' The Mythical Man-Month describes the surgical team (aka Chief Programmer Team) organization for software development. Amazingly, this is yet another idea that originally came from Harlan Mills, a great thinker who most developers never heard of (chief programmer teams, cleanroom software engineering, structured programming, ...)

    After reading Brooks back in the day, I first started thinking about the big "individual differences" in programing performance and how to leverage that (McConnell has a nice discussion).

  • Although I think he gets a little "out there" at times, in Jim McCarthy's Dynamics of Software Development is suggestion that we "Be more like the doctors". I can't find my copy right now, but a good quote is here:
    For now, we really need to learn to be like doctors. They are able to say, quite comfortably and confidently and with conviction, "These things are never certain." Doctors seldom if ever state with certainty what the outcome of any procedure might be. Yet software managers, operating in a far less disciplined and less data-driven environment... blithely promise features, dates, and outcomes not especially susceptible to prediction.
    Interestingly, the uncertainty that McCarthy cites is a motivation of the evidence based medicine (and evidence based software engineering) movements.

    You can watch a really old video of McCarthy giving his famous "23 Rules of Thumb" here. You can tell it's an old video since they talk about consultation fees being $100/hour:)

  • Anecdotally, when expert systems burst on the software stage, the software was better at diagnosing rare diseases than human physicians were. I'll have to try to find some citations. But is there something in that we can transfer to software development? As I remember, Feigenbaum's systems being pretty good, but Lenat's CYC not being so good at diagnosis (concluding that Lenat's rusted-pocked car had chicken pox :) Britannica has an intriguing summary of Feigenbaum's work:
    Experience with DENDRAL informed the creation of Feigenbaum’s next expert system, MYCIN, which assisted physicians in diagnosing blood infections. MYCIN’s great accomplishment lay in demonstrating that often the key is not reasoning but knowing. That is, knowing what symptoms correspond to each disease is generally more important than understanding disease etiology. At a basic level, MYCIN also demonstrated that the means of navigating the reasoning tree and the contents of the different branches can be treated separately.

  • Finally, one of my favorite examples of a disconnect between software developers and physicians is here: "Building an Information System for Collaborative Researchers: A Case Study from the Brain-tumor Research Domain". A lot of stuff to think about, unfortunately I can't find a free copy to link to. But if you have access to Science Direct or the ACM Digital Library you can read it.

Bottom line -- for anyone working in requirements, the paper above is probably the most important thing in this post. The other big ideas to think about are putting software development (and medicine) on a firm evidence-based foundation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mother knows best?

Mother Earth News is still published. Or should that be Mother Earth News is still published? Yes, and "fascinating" as ever, for example readers report their most amusing superglue accidents, and an interview with radical farmer Joel Salatin. Here's an excerpt from "Everything he wants to do is illegal" about vegetarians:
This philosophical and nutritional foray into a supposed brave new world is really a duplicitous experiment into the anti-indigenous. This is why we enjoy having our patrons come out and see the animals slaughtered. Actually, the 7- to 12-year old children have no problem slitting throats while their parents cower inside their Prius listening to “All Things Considered.” Who is really facing life here? The chickens don’t talk or sign petitions. We honor them in life, which is the only way we earn the right to ask them to feed us — like the mutual respect that occurs between the cape buffalo and the lion. To these people, I don’t argue. This is a religion and I pretty much leave it alone.
What?? Sounds like Ted Nugent with a dose of anthropomorphism :) Anyway, at least there doesn't seem to be as many weird personal ads in Mother Earth Newslike there were in the 1970s. Shudder.

More interesting, because of the state budget and work furloughs, I'm reading Getting even: The truth about workplace revenge and how to stop it. It's not about workplace violence and "going postal", but about little things that people do for the sake of "workplace justice". Here's a little bit from the introduction:
... managers already spend an inordinate amount of time trying to sort out conflict. One study showed that middle managers spend an average of 25 percent of their time on this effort, while the numbers were even higher for first-line supervisors. The same study found that CEOs spend 26 percent of their time dealing with conflict... we argue that the motivation for revenge is primarily rooted in the sense of injustice. Further, revenge should be seen as actions intended to restore a sense of justice.
Bob Sutton liked the book.

Friday, July 17, 2009

40 year anniversary

Since the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is coming up, here's a few things:
  • The Kennedy presidential library has a real-time replay of the mission. All the audio, plus things you can click on.
  • Walter Cronkite didn't quite make it to the 40th anniversary, but his reaction was pretty memorable at the time.
  • Three new books to check out: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Spacesuits by Amanda Young, a spacesuit curator. Lots of good pictures. Speaking of pictures, Apollo through the eyes of the astronauts combines images, text by the astronauts, and a forward by Lucy and Stephen Hawking. Andrew Chaikin (I previously talked about him) returns with Voices from the moon: Apollo astronauts describe their lunar experiences.
Finally, I finally finished Dragonfly: NASA and the crisis aboard Mir. It is a 500 page book that I read a few pages at a time, like I did with Digital Apollo. The book discusses scary events, like a fire onboard the Mir space station, a collision with a Progress cargo ship, a decompression, leaking cooling systems and an airlock door held in place with C-clamps. That was on the Russian Mir, and the NASA astronaut selection and training side of things was just about as scary. It's amazing no one died. ISS still uses Progress cargo ships - and sometimes amateur astronomers gets pictures of ISS and Progress from their home telescopes.

Bonus: an amusing Q&A with "the third one", a grumpy/lucky Michael Collins.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Underdog strategies

Malcolm Gladwell's been writing about underdog strategies, and one example is using the full court press in basketball. He writes about the success a novice coach and inexperienced young players have using the press (and relates it to other struggles in history). He's also going back and forth with ESPN's Bill Simmon's about not only the press, but the NBA draft. So I asked one of our local basketball gurus, Jack Fertig to comment (Jack was head of basketball operations for Tark when coached Fresno State). Jack's interesting response is here.

Gladwell's original New Yorker column is pretty good, here a sentence describing the approach of a coach with no previous basketball experience:
The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.

Update: I forgot another summer reality show I should have included in a previous post: Discovery Channel's Treasure Quest. Interesting show about looking for shipwrecks using high tech gizmos. The technology turns on them sometimes, for example they complain that the public database of ship locations tips off their competitors to their finds. Here's the map of real-time shipping (click to zoom). It reminds me of the flight map.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Maybe I'm just on parole

What's happened since I was locked up? Well, NPR interviewed the author of You are here:
Ellard also examined why men have a reputation for not asking for directions. He found that men may not ask because they have greater difficulty following turn-by-turn directions. Whereas women navigate using routes, men navigate using compass orientation.
Lehrer has a great review of Ellard's book here. Speaking of brains, Harvard Business discussed Robert Macnamara's brain:
... McNamara was a hedgehog rather than a fox, an engineer rather than an ecologist. The hedgehog knows one big thing, and for McNamara that was rational systems analysis. If he'd been a fox, he'd have brought additional perspectives to America's pressing problems. Like a dogged engineer, he believed that you could model and manipulate the inputs and outputs of any system. Unlike the ecologist, he didn't seem to appreciate the complexity of systems involving living things. If the variables explaining poverty or victory in guerilla warfare were unwieldy or unmeasurable, he simply ignored them.
National Geographic's Secret History of Gold makes a provocative statement about how all the gold ever mined would fit in the base of the Statue of LIberty, i.e. "All the gold in the world still isn't very much" (see video).

Since there's not enough gold to go around, IEEE Spectrum has ideas for getting and giving recognition at work which reminds me of UH's "making the elephant dance" award.

What else? The CMU prof who came up with the now ubiquitous captcha has an amusing blog, this post is about doing high production value videos of his lectures. Speaking of university professors, are there too many scientists?

Over the last few days there's been a couple of launches (a successful SpaceX satellite) and, finally, a space shuttle. One day the shuttle launch was scrubbed because of lightning. I like this explanation about why lightning is a concern:
"The concern really is mostly in those pyrotechnic systems," he said. "There are a lot of things that have to go right. You need the SRB igniters to fire, you need the separation bolts to fire to release the SRBs from the mobile launch platform, you need the separation motors to fire to separate you from the external tank. We don't like to talk about it, but you need the self-destruct system to work if you truly needed it to work.
Finally, more about feet and those funny looking shoes I mentioned before, and a possible relationship between the spacing of birds on a wire and parked cars.

Free at last

My blog was flagged as spam and locked for a week until a human could look at it and set me free. While I was locked out, I watched the finale of one of the more interesting reality shows, the History Channel's Expedition Africa. Great HDTV scenery. The NY Times had an amusing review, but I liked studio daily's article about how it was produced and filmed since it was all about the logistics and lugging the equipment around yet staying out of sight.

Yes, in addition to Expedition Africa, your summer could be filled with new episodes of Ice Road Truckers (why's that on the History Channel?), Deadliest Catch, Whale Wars, and starting this Sunday, Pawn Stars. And if you are going to watch Big Brother, at least don't admit it to anyone.

Monday, July 06, 2009


You might remember previous posts about sandwiches, grilled cheese in particular. Sunset magazine picked up the theme -- since I am overwhelmed with apricots this year, I need to try this.

Also, without mentioning his name, I've posted previously about guitarists like Trace Bundy. You should also consider James Blackshaw (profiled on NPR, and you can listen to a few songs, including Bled).

Finally, for basketball fans who remember the Tark the Shark era at Fresno State, an recent article about Chris Herren. And, Tark's former head of basketball operations, Jack Fertig, is an entertaining and prolific blogger particularly about sports and character.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's possible, but just barely

Hmm, what's an "unused" 150 foot dish antenna owned by the federal government, SRI Interntional, the moon, and a ham radio operator from Reedley have in common this weekend?
“It is the thrill of pulling a weak signal out from a long distance that excites the amateur radio folks,” said Jim Klassen, a ham in Reedley, Calif.
The dish has even bounced signals off of Mars.

But I wonder what they really used that dish for in the early 1960s -- scattering of radio waves by the ionosphere, riiiiiiight :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot, Flat, Crowded

Thomas Friedman gave a good talk yesterday at a great venue about his latest book. You can watch a video of an almost identical talk here. The advertisement on his first slide is provocative.

Mythbuster Adam Savage got an $11,000 bill from AT&T wireless for web surfing in Canada from his phone.

The recent election in Iran is suspicious since the least significant digits of the vote counts aren't uniformly distributed.

Alan Bean is the most famous moonwalker-turned-painter. Nice guy, and recently profiled in the NYT. Although not a moonwalker, Michael Collins from Apollo 11 paints also, usually nature scenes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lecture as performance

What do Malcolm Gladwell and TED have in common? The well-crafted show:
But this wasn’t a book reading or a Q&A session of the kind authors traditionally submit to. Neither was it a slide show, as you might expect to find at a lecture. Instead, the author recounted a single vignette from the book – the tale of why a plane ended up crashing, from the perspective of the pilots and those in the control tower – and burnished it into a narrative with all the chill and pace of a traditional ghost story. Even the lighting was kept deliberately low to create the right atmosphere. The performance lasted precisely an hour and five minutes, and no questions were invited after Gladwell had finished speaking. Rather than a talk about a book, it looked more like a carefully choreographed stage show.
and you've heard about the TED Commandments for presentations, worth reviewing occasionally.

I'm not a big Financial Times reader, but the article is something to think about for anyone who gives presentations.

Speaking of lecture as performance, Thomas Friedman coming up on Thursday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Baseball, and raising business morale

The economy is tough, so what can be done to reward employees that doesn't cost much money? Company picnics or other group activity? Nope. Flexible work times and leaving early on Fridays were the big winners.

We respond to different rewards. Office Team studied the "forms of recognition valued most by administrative professionals, as ranked by managers and support staff". There's a disconnect. It reminds me of Steve McConnell's section in Rapid Development about the disconnect in what software engineers find rewarding compared to what their managers find rewarding.

How about taking your officemates out to "the thinking man's game", baseball. Whoops, only 26 of major league players and managers have college degrees. Not 26 percent, 26 total. The brainiest team is the Oakland A's.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Being green, again

A couple years ago I was thinking about whether ceramic mugs or disposable cups make the most sense when you consider life-cycle costs (here and then here). In the most recent Mr Green, the Prius lifecycle costs are considered (the biggest issue is the battery).

Other good stuff in this issue of Sierra: "How not to die in the woods", a 100 mpg Prius mod, dumb questions asked by Yosemite tourists:
My favorite encounter came early one morning when I was working at the general store and three guys in my checkout line plopped three cases of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on the counter. They weren't among our alcoholic regulars, and I thought it was odd they were buying beer so early. I asked if they were stocking up for a party that night. No, they replied. "We're going to be the first people to get drunk on top of Half Dome!"

These guys intended to carry a case of beer each on the 8.2-mile trail that culminates in a precipitous 400-foot climb assisted by metal cables. ("Since 1919," the National Park Service's Web site helpfully notes, "only a few people have fallen and even fewer have died.") They probably didn't need a case each: Drinking at 8,842 feet lowers even the sturdiest tippler's tolerance.

One of the Fresno Bee's front page stories today was about the Kings River Conservancy (and the local El Rio Reyes Conservation Trust -- more river trails at Reedley College!).

If you're going to be hiking, better get some of those funny looking shoes I talked about earlier, because you walk wrong.

Bonus: Krakauer's book and Penn's movie were probably wrong about Chris McCandless dying in the Alaskan bus -- interesting graph showing his BMI and that essentially he starved to death, and that he had identification and money. I've ordered the DVD.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Be careful out there

Another person died at the Half Dome cables. That makes one serious injury and one death this year. One of the creepiest pictures is here -- he barely had enough friction to keep from slipping, for hours until a helicopter arrived.

I wonder if Vibram's "Five Fingers" shoes would be good on granite?
I haven’t climbed any mountains yet, but they sure did freak out the people at the convenience store.
If those look too strange for you, consider the VivoBarefoot line of shoes.

In other news, men in D.C., New Jersey, and Hawaii are least likely to have vasectomies.
"It's on a lot of guys' lists to do this," but it usually ranks low, he says. "If it gets near the top, they decide it's time to paint the house instead."

Finally, no matter what they guy on the radio says, paying off your mortgage early might not be a great thing to aspire to, although I like the interactive mortgage calculator to check for yourself.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Birds of two kinds

I have a nesting pair of Cooper's Hawks in my yard. Strange vocalizations (but much different than the Red Tailed Hawk sounds you hear on movie soundtracks a lot). Not surprisingly, I no longer have a pigeon problem.

A website about metallic birds is one of my new favorites. In the entry on the AF Airbus 332 crash there's an interesting timeline of the automatic messages sent from the avionics:

02:10Z: Autothrust off
Autopilot off
FBW alternate law
Rudder Travel Limiter Fault
TCAS fault due to antenna fault
Flight Envelope Computation warning
All pitot static ports lost
02:11Z: Failure of all three ADIRUs
Failure of gyros of ISIS (attitude information lost)
02:12Z: ADIRUs Air Data disagree
02:13Z: Flight Management, Guidance and Envelope Computer fault
PRIM 1 fault
SEC 1 fault
02:14Z: Cabin Pressure Controller fault (cabin vertical speed)

At 2:10Z time, "FBW alternative law" says that the fly by wire system switched algorithms from, essentially, one that prevents pilots from potentially hurting the plane to one that allows pilots to do drastic things that shouldn't happen during normal flight. TCAS is the Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System, a favorite among computer scientists interested in software safety and critical systems, like Nancy Leveson. The pitot tubes, along with static ports, are basically how the the instruments figure out how fast the plane is flying through the air.

PRIM 1 and SEC 1 are the primary and secondary flight control computers.

Airbus and Boeing take different approaches to FBW, you might want to read about it. There's more about the Airbus 330 system at Reply 12 (I couldn't figure out how to link directly to the post) in this thread.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Leaning towers

This optical illusion using identical pictures of Pisa's leaning tower is strong even when you know it is an illusion. How do children learn to judge the size of objects? Cognitive Daily explains.

  • Amusing spoof of the "reinventing GM" advertisements.
  • With the wild weather we are having today it is snowing in the Sierra again, for example at Sierra Summit, or check out the fire lookout cams (Mineral King was getting snow now).

    Here's a picture at Huntington Friday morning,

Thursday, June 04, 2009

First cats, now birds

Anyone with a resident backyard mocking bird knows these research results are true: " mockingbirds were able to spot their intruder out of the hundreds of people who passed within meters of their nest each day". They're also good at tormenting cats by dive bombing and pulling out fur.

There is also this Ted.com talk on the intelligence of crows and a vending machines for crows.

Not really related to birds, other than flight, tonight's National Geographic World's Toughest Fixes was about the preparation and launch of a communication satellite from French Guiana. Although it is sort of aimed at kids, they showed quite a bit of stuff, and at a level of detail, that you rarely see from NASA or the US commercial launch services.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What's with all the cats?

The NY Times' "Dot Earth" blog talks about "The truth about cats and birds", including a quote from Flyaway:
Precautionary measures simply do not work. During an 18-month period, a single cat roaming a wildlife experiment station killed over 1,600 birds and small mammals. A study in England showed that cats wearing bells killed more birds than cats without them; during a study in Kansas, a free-roaming declawed cat killed more birds than the cats with claws.
The Audubon Society recommends bibs. Apparently they are effective, maybe because the cat feels so embarrassed.

The June 2009 Scientific America includes "The evolution of house cats":
Recent genetic and archaeological discoveries indicate that cat domestication began in the Fertile Crescent, perhaps around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture was getting under way.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Get your mind out of the gutter

Spaceflightnow.com reports as of 16:00 PDT today:
Attachment of shuttle Atlantis atop the modified 747 carrier jet is underway at today at the gantry-like Mate-Demate Device structure. The orbiter has been hoisted up and the aircraft towed underneath Atlantis in preparation for the duo to be bolted together.
This is so Atlantis can be ferried back to KSC after landing at Edwards last week.

In the past there's been some giggling when I've regaled you with stories of the Mate-Demate Device. But it's all true, and here's pictures to prove it. Note that NASA people sometimes have a sense of humor -- see the instructions on this mount point on a 747.

Rarely, a shuttle has to land in New Mexico. Do they have a MDD also? As of the end of 2006, apparently not:
"The concern out at White Sands is not with the runway facility, but with the turnaround," Shannon said. "We don't have the large mate-demate device that we use to lift up the orbiter and put it on the back fo the shuttle carrier aircraft (for transport back to Florida). Also, we don't have as much equipment there to service the vehicle. Basically, you power it down and wait for the calvary to arrive."

Just in case, two C-17 cargo jets were called up to ferry backup equipment from Kennedy to White Sands, including a purge unit to pump nitrogen gas through the shuttle's plumbing and a power system to run various heaters and other systems to defend against expected freezing weather Saturday night. Rocket nozzle covers also are being sent to keep out gypsum dust, which caused major contamination problems after Columbia landed at White Sands in 1982.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Metacognition, Motorcycles, Marmots

Just got back from a quick trip to Huntington Lake, where the thunderstorms were building again by 11am. In addition to the usual deer, we saw a marmot. First one I've seen at Huntington in over 40 years. Not to be confused with the pika, or the water ouzel of Sierra lore.

Not exciting enough for you? Try this: A lot of people are finding truth in "The case for working with your hands", published in the NYT Magazine. It takes a while to get there, but the author compares and contrasts being an electrician, an over-educated abstract writer, and a motorcycle repairer. And even works in metacognition:
Cognitive psychologists speak of “metacognition,” which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate. The slap of worn-out pistons hitting their cylinders can sound a lot like loose valve tappets, so to be a good mechanic you have to be constantly open to the possibility that you may be mistaken. This is a virtue that is at once cognitive and moral. It seems to develop because the mechanic, if he is the sort who goes on to become good at it, internalizes the healthy functioning of the motorcycle as an object of passionate concern. How else can you explain the elation he gets when he identifies the root cause of some problem?
It reminds me of Dirty Jobs guy's talk.

  • Interesting, short interview with the Nature Conservancy's advisor on freshwater.
    Worldwide, about 70 percent of freshwater goes for agricultural use, 20 percent for industrial use and 10 percent for human use. Other beverages, including beer, require far more water to produce than you would think.
  • What do emoticons really do? A Cognitive Daily study.
    For the insulting statements, both the Smile and the Wink led to more complimentary ratings, while the Exclamation Mark's ratings weren't significantly different from statements with no punctuation. For complimentary statements, both the Smile and Exclamation Mark led to more complimentary ratings, while the Wink's ratings weren't significantly different from statements with no ratings.

    So adding a wink or a smile can enhance the positive perception of a negative statement, but a wink doesn't change the rating of a positive statement. Smiles and exclamation marks both improve positive statements.
  • White paint to fight global warming.
    The Lawrence research he refers to (which we wrote about last fall) says that white roofs and pavements could mean a one-time reduction of 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That, Art Rosenfeld said, translates to removing all the cars in the world for 18 years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maynard Dixon

The Fresno Art Museum kicks off a summer exhibition featuring one of Fresno's famous sons, Maynard Dixon, with a documentary and Q&A with the film director and Dixon's son this Saturday.

Besides having a cool sounding name, his paintings of the west are great. The look like Sunset magazine covers :)
Sunset Gold Mining Number. Digital ID: 1258909. New York Public Library I don't think I'll ever own an original :)

Bonus: About the same time, another Fresno son was immortalized in this baseball poem (and now a street near the fairgrounds :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Victual visuals

A couple of posts ago I linked to pictures of toasted cheese sandwiches.

I didn't realize this was so popular: there is a scanwich.com site and and a scanwiches.com site.

Now go make a sammich.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

T-Fried and recess

Tom Friedman is coming to town to talk about his latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded at 5:30pm on June 25 at the Warnors. It's a benefit for the Met. I think he's a better speaker than writer, so this is a good opportunity if you don't want to read his latest tome :)

Also, "Does recess really improve classroom behavior?". Pretty interesting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

College majors, interviews

Week 5 of jury duty started today, so this has to be quick.

This is the time of year for college graduates looking for jobs. Fast Company has two relevant items: a "Life Lesson for College: Your Major Doesn't Matter" and "Hold that Interview". The latter talks about how unreliable interviews are for hiring (it reminds me of Bob Sutton's insight about the harm of annual performance evaluations).

Finally, GQ has a slideshow of fashion regrets. I only made it through about half the slideshow :)
We’re not proud of the images you’re about to see. But we’re proud of you, the GQ reader, for taking one look at pictures like these and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding”—and for still looking to us for guidance, even after we told you it was cool to leave the house dressed like a sex-dungeon proprietor, or a Renaissance Faire pimp, or the distinguished ambassador from the Sovereign Nation of Polyestra.
Bonus: Woman's Day explores the ten greatest grilled cheese sandwiches. Great pictures :) You might enjoy Tom Colicchio's "Gruyère with Caramelized Onions", on rye.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Asparagus, and Hanford homeboy

Three unbelievable things:
  • Reclusive Hanford native Steve Perry of Journey fame will perform in Honolulu. I'm not sayin' that's good or bad, I'm just sayin'.
  • You can induce false memories to get kids to eat asparagus (or adults to do things they don't want to do :), and
  • Week Four of jury duty started today.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Traffic, Snow, air travel

Steve RT'ed me about differences in road signage between the UK and the US. That reminded me that I wanted to post more about my current jury duty book Traffic, but there are so many things to mention I think you just have to read it :) It's pretty safe to say that much of what you think you know about driving and traffic isn't true when you look at objective data :) You might also remember a previous rant.

NPR's Science Friday celebrated the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" lecture at Cambridge.

Wouldn't it be great if Southwest Airlines served Fresno? And better yet, if FAT was changed officially to FYI? Why are the answers "not necessarily" and "not going to happen", respectively? At least we were first on this list (click on "Best"); Wichita Kansas was the worst.

Anyway, GPS-based airport navigation could save a bunch of money and BIS time.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Txting and commuting

Why are text messages limited to 160 characters? This LA Times article has the answer, and other tidbits such as:
U.S. mobile users sent an average of 357 texts per month in the second quarter of 2008 versus an average of 204 calls, the report said.
It's illegal in California to text while driving, so what else do we do? According to Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us),
Anonymity in traffic acts as a powerful drug, with several curious effects. ... the inside of the car itself becomes a useful place for self-expression. This may explain why surveys have shown that most people, given the choice, desire a minimum commute of at least twenty minutes. Drivers desire this solitary "me time" - to sing, to feel like a teenager again, to be temporarily free from the constricted roles of work and home. One study found that the car was a favored place for people to cry about something ("grieving while driving").

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Goats and jury duty

Besides talking about the Sierra Remote Observatories, some of us were also talking about using goats to get the 100 foot fire clearance in the foothills. Hard to believe, but goats eat poison oak and star thistle, even at its nastiest.

Speaking of nasty, Eric Slye really didn't want to do jury duty and let the court know. Yikes. It's not that bad.

Finally, although it is a self-selected sample, the Wakoopa data on what apps people are using, and when, is pretty interesting. I particularly liked this Tufte-esque diagram showing usage through the day (both work days and weekends).

I'm also still pondering this nugget from the Covert Comic: "There are no passengers on spaceship earth – we’re all sky marshals."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Magic, storm tracking

The most recent Wired is really good, besides an article about the Georgia henge I talked about earlier is one about Penn & Teller. The latter is a coauthor of an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience "Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research". It reminds me a little of Tog's classic "Magic and software design" that I've talked about before (he's also recently posted part two of a discussion about inclusive design). Speaking of inclusiveness, we've been emphaizing captioning of videos. Here's a little spoof that was going around today for you Woodstock fans.

Some bonus things:
  • Mike Oz at the Fresno Bee continues his "Worst flyer of the week" selections.
  • A couple of people asked me recently about the Sierra Remote Observatories in the mountains east of here.
  • I was looking at a street-level weather map here.
  • and finally, a story via Steve about rebooting.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Face recognition, weed whacking, Sunday comics

Three things:
    Interesting demonstration of "face mining" from video. I watched a Star Trek episode ("Where no man has gone before") last night on television and today found that it is one used for the face mining demo. They get Scotty wrong, but pretty impressive anyway.
  • Also a Sunday cartoon caught my eye. The cartoonist must not like Charlie Sheen's sitcom much :)
  • Finally, is there actual evidence that increasing vegetation clearance around mountain structures from 30 to 100 feet is cost effective? This is a real pain (I was mowing today) since area goes up by the length of the side squared: from 900 ft^2 to 10000 ft^2, eleven times as much to clear! Grrr. Where is evidence-based fire fighting when you need it :) I guess we should be grateful, some insurance companies were requiring more than 100 feet. The law now addresses that in section 51182 item 3 :)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I dont' watch Jay Leno much, but occasionally I see the funny headlines that people send to him.

I was reminded of those this morning while I was Googling for something else. I saw this on page 5 of the August 2008 The Territorial Review Monthly (you can read the whole issue here). Anyway, I like this headline: "Healthy Communities Free Movies In the Park Proves Popular" -- from the looks of the picture there must be at least a half dozen people there. I guess it's all relative.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Civic duty

Today was Day Three of jury duty. Big excitement on Wednesday was the lunch cart outside the courthouse was robbed (but the perp was caught).

Note to self: Don't rob lunch carts with zillions of cops around.

While you're at the courthouse, you might as well walk half a block to the mall and find the Renoir. Or, buy the penthouse apartment at the old Security Bank building.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Making vacation plans for the summer?

Can't afford Europe? Take a trip to Georgia and see a henge, well, guidestones. While you're driving around the southeast, don't miss the giant peanut in Plains. That's only one of the many giant peanuts -- and pecans -- to see on your trip.

You could also go to the Coral Castle in Florida. You can prepare yourself by touring the local underground gardens.

Bonus: Lots of strange stuff to think about while you're road tripping: unsolved ciphers, and even some solved ones like the San Jose semaphores that were on top of the Adobe building.

Finally, a big vacation requires big things. This might be the place. They have the perfect hat in case you stop in Iowa on the way back.

Acronyms versus Initialisms

The 10 April Grammar Girl podcast is useful information for tech people since we live with many abbreviations. I am a GG fan from way back, but Strunk & White? Not so much.

Geoffrey Pullum "celebrates" S&W in "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice", published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I liked it -- good advice for tech writers about what is or isn't passive language. Pullum was also featured on today's Talk of the Nation.

Bonus: Bertrand Meyer (father of Eiffel, and one of my profs at UCSB) and his co-authors make a good case that computer science and software engineering research is not published in the same way that research in other fields are. In fact, some of the most prestigious and influential venues for CS results are conferences, not archival journals:
In the computer science publication culture, prestigious conferences are a favorite tool for presenting original research—unlike disciplines where the prestige goes to journals and conferences are for raw initial results. Acceptance rates at selective CS conferences hover between 10% and 20%; in 2007–2008:

* ICSE (software engineering): 13%
* OOPSLA (object technology): 19%
* POPL (programming languages): 18%

Journals have their role, often to publish deeper versions of papers already presented at conferences. While many researchers use this opportunity, others have a successful career based largely on conference papers. It is important not to use journals as the only yardsticks for computer scientists.
They also point out idiosyncracies of the academic world that ignore some of the most important venues in our field, and that authorship order in CS publication is generally not significant.

Anyway, I still think that Bertrand's "design by contract" emphasis is one of the best practical software development ideas ever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Men in (silver and) black

Raiders fans out there -- or folks from So Cal -- probably remember Todd Marinovich. His former NFL dad raised (engineered?) him to be the perfect athlete. He played briefly for the Raiders, but his tale is really one of drugs ruining his life. He might be the only pro quarterback who's thrown ten touchdown passes in a game while going through heroine withdrawal :) Since the article was published this month, he's been arrested yet again. It's a sad but surprisingly interesting story:
For the nine months prior to Todd's birth on July 4, 1969, Trudi used no salt, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco. As a baby, Todd was fed only fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw milk; when he was teething, he was given frozen kidneys to gnaw. As a child, he was allowed no junk food; Trudi sent Todd off to birthday parties with carrot sticks and carob muffins. By age three, Marv had the boy throwing with both hands, kicking with both feet, doing sit-ups and pull-ups, and lifting light hand weights. On his fourth birthday, Todd ran four miles along the ocean's edge in thirty-two minutes, an eight-minute-mile pace. Marv was with him every step of the way.
Well, from Silver & Black to black ops: I was googling for something else tonight and was reminded of a crash in the mountains east of Bakersfield about in 1986. Amazing that after a secret airforce clean-up (it was a F-117 stealth aircraft before they officially existed), adventurous hikers were still finding pieces (scroll down toward the bottom, and try not to let the red text on black background get to you).

There are people whose avocation is finding crash sites of experimental planes. It's amazing the X-15 debris they found years later -- (including a big piece of a horizontal stabilizer, and an information plate) -- after a crash where the X-15 was descending at 166,000 feet per minute!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A man does not wither at the thought of dancing. But it is generally to be avoided.

NPR interviewed a mariner about what it is like for the pirates and kidnapped captain in the lifeboat. It sounds grim. The guy being interviewed is from Morro Bay and has an interesting blog "that brings the tools of Web 2.0 to the Professional Mariner".

Another public radio thing to listen to is a UC Davis professor's proposal to create a cabinet-level agency to foster innovation. It is techier than I thought it would be, and mentions how critical DARPA funding was to establishing Computer Science departments, and Xerox PARC, among other things. Lessig was also a recent guest, talking about an "innovation commons".

From the urban legends department, is this true? This afternoon I was trying to find the differences between the CRJ (used by United Express) and the ERJ (used by American Eagle) and ran across this. A couple of years ago a baby was run through the x-ray machine at LAX, but I can't find anything more about the Vanuatu security screeners.

Speaking of airlines, last week I was on one of the last 767s American from the west coast to Hawaii, booooo. The flight attendants aren't happy either, and it makes American not competitive with United, who is still flying 767s and 777s from LAX to the islands.

The title of this post is from "What is a Man?" Bonus: "31 Things Every Man Should Own".

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Proof that airfares make no sense

What's wrong (or right :) with this airfare sale?

Fresno, CA to Kona, HI $191 4/17/09-05/22/09
Fresno, CA to Lihue/Kauai, HI $191 4/17/09-05/22/09
Fresno, CA to Maui Kahului, HI $185 4/17/09-05/22/09
Los Angeles, CA to Kona, HI $207 4/17/09-05/22/09
Los Angeles, CA to Lihue/Kauai, HI $207 4/17/09-05/22/09
Los Angeles, CA to Maui Kahului, HI $202 4/17/09-05/22/09
San Francisco, CA to Kona, HI $246 4/17/09-05/22/09
San Francisco, CA to Lihue/Kauai, HI $246 4/17/09-05/22/09
San Francisco, CA to Maui Kahului, HI $244 4/17/09-05/22/09

This happens occasionally, it is cheaper to go to Hawaii from Fresno than from LAX or SFO, even though you have to change planes in either of those two places.

Trivia: back in the day ... must have been before 1987-ish when Delta bought Western Airlines, there was briefly weekly nonstop service from Fresno to Honolulu, I think.

The magic of YouTube

Some creative stuff on YouTube from talented people with too much time on their hands:
  • The Star Wars opening in the style of the Dallas TV show.
  • The Star Trek opening as Love Boat and as Hawaii Five-O.
  • 100 names in 100 seconds
Shatner on Richardo Montalban here, and probably the best imitation of Kirk: Kevin Pollak, who played Joe Shay in From the Earth to the Moon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't fail to miss it

Spinal Tap is on tour again, this time Unwigged and Unplugged, NPR's Talk of the Nation interviewed the three surviving (i.e., not drummers) band members yesterday.

Talk of the Nation today had a more serious topic: whether the workplace should be colorblind. Interesting topic, but I couldn't get the link on the Exploring Race blog to the journal article to open. I think this is it: Is Multiculturalism or Color Blindness Better for Minorities? If you're a Fresno State person you should be able to get the PDF here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What if your genes don't fit anymore?

This column from the NY Times reminded me of a couple of things: studies of identical twins, and a recent author who spoke at Reedley College and the Reedley Peace Center. First a quote from the NY Times column:
In one study, women whose identical twin suffered from depression were significantly more likely to have been assaulted, lost a job, divorced, or had a serious illness or major financial problems than people whose fraternal twin was depressed. ... These bad events did not occur because the women were depressed, as the correlations persisted even when women who were currently depressed were excluded from the study. Thus, genes can act on the same disorder by making people more sensitive to stressful environmental events and by making these events more likely to occur.
And for those of you "getting older", read the penultimate paragraph of the column.

The author I heard talk was promoting her book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. She gave almost the exact talk as she did on BookTV (even where she made a slight mistake in delivery), but if you watch the BookTV talk skip the introductions since the audio is terrible. It cleans up when she starts talking.

One thing that was in her Reedley talk but not on BookTV was a bit of a slam of Zimbardo's prison "experiment". I think that was a little unfair and is probably the result of an engineering professor's (her) definition of "experiment" compared to a social psychologist's view. She did made a good point that Zimbardo's prison experiment suffered from selection bias:
Also, it has been argued that selection bias may have played a role in the results. Researchers from Western Kentucky University recruited students for a study using an advertisement similar to the one used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, with and without the words "prison life." It was found that students volunteering for a prison life study possessed dispositions toward abusive behavior.
Anyway, after she started talking I realized that years ago I'd read her book about being an observer/translator on Russian fishing boats, as part of a US-Russian joint fishing effort. Interesting book.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Amish furniture

Admit it, when you can't sleep you've been tempted to buy a genuine electric Amish heater. Of course, it's an "'Amish' Heater the Amish Couldn't Use".

This is not to be confused with the Electric Amish band and their hit songs.

What I learned from tonight's Thomas Jefferson Hour

He had a pet mockingbird named Dick (at the end of episode 760 "Felons and ipods") that used to fly around the White House.

From the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia:
The mockingbirds Jefferson purchased in the 1770s came with only a stock of songs from the woods and fields of Charles City County. He must have provided additional musical instruction himself. If he in fact carried a bird to France in 1784, it may have added to its repertoire some sounds common to mockingbirds imported from America. After their month-long transatlantic voyage they interspersed their first European performances with long imitations of the creaking of the ship's timbers.

At least two of the birds in the President's House, however, had already received singing lessons when Jefferson purchased them in 1803 - for ten and fifteen dollars, the usual price of a "singing" mockinbird. Jefferson's butler, Etienne Lemaire, was apparently proud of their serenades, which included popular American, Scottish, and french tunes, as well as imiations of all the birds of the woods.

Age, narcissism, and fish

MacArthur genius Robert Sapolsky is interviewed on NPR about "Does Age Quash our Spirit of Adventure" and how a 20-year-younger assistant's musical listening habits drive him crazy. That prompted him to figure out how radio stations target audiences: the heuristic is that what you listen to when you are about 14 determines what you listen to for the rest of your life, and that by age 35 most people don't care about new music "but you can sell Billy Joel to those people for the rest of their lives". Same kind of results for food and body piercing :)

Hmm, that upcoming Styx, REO Speedwagon, and 38 Special concert is lookin' real good to some of you right now, admit it.

Is this related? A Slashdot article about "Narcissistic College Graduates in the Workplace". Maybe it is all the fault of Mr. Rogers (who actually did live in my neighborhood when I was sabbaticalling at SEI).

What about fish? Yes, Sapolsky talks about Nebraskan sushi-eaters in the interview I mentioned above, but what I am thinking about is an article about the Nature Conservancy teaming up with Morro Bay fisherpeople to figure out how to bring back the fish. Pretty amazing quote:
Things didn’t work out for other Morro Bay fishermen, either. Once an active port with a thriving industry for groundfish — including rockfish and sablefish — by the 1990s the fishery was dying a very public death. Most of the fish processors blew town. The boatyard and boat mechanics left. Between 1990 and 2006, the amount of seafood that annually crossed the docks at Morro Bay and neighboring Port San Luis plummeted from 14 million pounds to 1.2 million.

Trivia: one of Sapolsky's MacArthur award colleagues that year was David Rumelhart, of PDP/neural network/connectionist fame.

Bonus: I still can't figure out if Juan Enriquez's TED talk makes sense. Even if it doesn't make sense it is amusing and some of his visual are funny, especially the one where the people in the swimming pool have a power strip floating in the middle of the water. Yikes.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Brain activity during television commercials

This takes a couple of clicks, but is worth watching. Go to http://www.sandsresearch.com/ and click on "Examples" and then "2009 Super Bowl Ads and Rankings", then click on one of the ads (the Potatoheads were the most popular). You'll see the ad play and six synchonized views of brain activity, as well as graph of overall interest? activity? I"m not quite sure what they are measuring, I think they are calling it "sustained power level"?

By popular demand

I've told a few people about this and it seemed popular, so here it is. IEEE Spectrum has an article about "The death of business-method patents", and the article's illustrations showed ridiculous patented ideas, so I googled, and they are real patents. One is about cats and the other is an astounding way of swinging.

And I found this patent application about jokes too, including self-referential ones :)

Bonus: The Yes We Scan movement is already bringing fascinating things to you, like this short video of the SR-71 :)

Metacognition: Buy the Two Buck Chuck Wine?

Jonah Lehrer talks at the Commonwealth Club about metacognition and neurophysiology. He talks quite a bit about brain functioning and decision making, and cites some of the same studies that Malc does in Blink, but in a more scientific way. Very interesting way to optimally make car-buying decisions about 51 minutes into Lehrer's talk :) He also talks about wine tasting studies (read about it here).

NPR's Radio Lab at the end of 2008 had a show on "Choice" featuring a discussion of "seven plus or minus 2", Jonah Lehrer, and Oliver Sacks (I've posted many times about him, this time he is talking about buying $1 worth of 72% chocolate daily). The "cake or fruit" experiment reminded me of Eddie Izzard's "cake or death?" sketch.

Lehrer also had a recent opinion piece in the LA Times about airline pilots' "deliberate calm" in emergencies.

Another Lehrer to enjoy is Tom (here signing a WW III song, more complete collection here). Good to see the new generation appreciating his songs (and others based on Gilbert and Sullivan, such as this one about Google :).