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 :)