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 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.