Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting to "yes"

I've talked about Getting to Yes before, and use parts of it in second semester software engineering as pointers for negotiations between software developers and clients.

One of the author's Ted talk is now online. Some of the comments are brutal (they obviously haven't read the book :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

But what if the TSA scanning machines were *in* Denver?

A few more things today. A comment to a blog entry about the TSA scanner talks about exposure:
Just for fun, I'm expressing the Reported Dose from a typical body scan in an adult (2.6 microRem) in terms of Time Spent in Denver. The answer? Atmospheric annual exposure in Denver (Not including Radon!) = 1.8 mRem or about 1,800 microRem per year. Calculate: (1800 microRem/ year) x (1 year/365 days) x (1 day/24 hrs) = 0.2 microRem per Hour for just standing around in Denver. So the scanner gives you about half of a day in Denver- now you've got something to think about during your layover. ;)
The Frontal Cortex post "The cognitive cost of expertise" reminded me of expert-novice differences when it comes to working with images such as schematics and visual programming languages. The author says "Now for the bad news: Expertise might also come with a dark side, as all those learned patterns make it harder for us to integrate wholly new knowledge." Novices experience the opposite of this -- they can't see the patterns and are lost in details, or misidentify patterns. A great summary is Marian Petre's "Why looking isn't always seeing: readership skills and graphical programming" from the June 1995 issue of Communications of the ACM or the always popular "Visual Depiction of Decision Statements: What is Best for Programmers and Non-Programmers?" by Kiper, Auernheimer, and Ames published in Empirical Software Engineering.

Just two more things: Did you know that the unnecessary "camera sound" made when you take a picture is called a skeuomorph? The author of "Is realistic UI design realistic" says
There’s no complex mechanical mirror assembly swinging upward when the shutter opens. No matter, though. The cigarette box sized camera burps out a faux ka-click anyway. The mechanism producing this noise was quite necessary for its predecessor, the SLR/DSLR camera, but now functionally irrelevant in the newer point-and-shoots. This design cue (audible in this case) inherited from an ancestor is referred to as a skeuomorph, and they can be found everywhere in our daily lives — air intakes on the electric Chevy Volt, window shutters that don’t shut, copper cladding on zinc pennies, nonwinding watch winders. Even the brown cork-pattern on cigarette tips is a holdover from the days when cork was used as a filter.
I thought the camera-sound was part of the "Cell phone predator alert act" (see Wired's take). Did it become law?

And finaly, Danny Hillis, the Long Now Foundation clock guy, works at a great place, see this article - scroll down to see the illustrated "Nerdvana". Pretty cool.

Levers shifting by themselves, buttons being pushed, instrument readings changing.

Even stranger than relativy (see previous post) is ESP or psi or ... whatever you want to call it. I can't figure out if this article is serious or not, but it is being published in an APA journal, and the authors have something interesting to say about random numbers (more on that later).

"Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect", Daryl J. Bern, Cornell. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/a0021524. You can read a preview here and a critique. From the abstract of Bern's paper:
Precognition and premonition are themselves special cases of a more general phenomenon: the anomalous retroactive influence of some future event on an individual’s current responses, whether those responses are conscious or nonconscious, cognitive or affective. This article reports 9 experiments, involving more than 1,000 participants, that test for retroactive influence by “time- reversing” well-established psychological effects so that the individual’s responses are obtained before the putatively causal stimulus events occur.
This reminds me of the second pilot episode of the original Star Trek series, Where No Man Has Gone Before, where two crew with highest "ESPer ratings" get shiny eyes and havoc ensues. Classic dialog :)
KIRK: Extrasensory perception. Doctor Dehner, how are you on ESP?
DEHNER: In tests I've taken, my ESP rated rather high.
KIRK: I'm asking what you know about ESP.
DEHNER: It is a fact that some people can sense future happenings, read the backs of playing cards and so on, but the esper capacity is always quite limited.
You might as well watch it now, you know you want to.

Back to the Bern paper. The way I understand it, and there is a good chance that I am wrong, is that subjects were told something like "you'll be shown two blank boxes on the screen labeled 1 and 2. One of them hides and image and the other nothing. For each trial, tell us behind which number is the image." Simple enough. But the interesting part is that the number of the box hiding the image was not determined until after the subjet made their choice. And, the number was not always generated by a typical pseudo random number generator, they used a hardware device to generate random numbers:
... if a true hardware-based RNG is used to determine the left/right positions, the next number in the sequence is indeterminate until it is actually generated by the quantum physical process embedded in the RNG, thereby ruling out the clairvoyance alternative. This argues for using a true RNG to demonstrate precognition or retroactive influence.
But alas, the use of a true RNG opens the door to the psychokinesis interpretation: The participant might be influencing the placement of the upcoming target rather than perceiving it, a possibility supported by a body of empirical evidence testing psychokinesis with true RNGs [reference to D.I. Radin, Entangled minds: Extrasensory experiences in a quantum reality, 2006].
But, like I said, I don't really understand the paper. Back to watching Sally Kellerman and Gary Lockwood and their shiny eyes.

Do NBA players experience time differently than shorter people?

Sometimes things are true but just don't make sense. Physics for example: if you have two clocks and hold one slightly higher than the other -- about a third of a meter in the following experiment -- the clocks will run at different speeds. Strange but true. In "Channeling Einstein and Bending Time", scientists do just that. I think a corollary is that taking lots of trips zipping around in airplanes makes you younger (although you might feel older) -- I'll have to think about that more. What is an everyday example of this spacetime stuff? GPS. From the article:
Previously, this could only be seen on much larger scales, like clocks on GPS satellites running faster than clocks on earth. The NIST aluminum ion clock shows that time is moving measurably faster or slower based on even the slightest changes in gravity or velocity. ...
Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, says that this finding drives home that the laws of physics can apply at any size.
"To me, it means a lot that we can measure the fact that spacetime is curved here in my house," he says. "This abstract idea from Einstein ... it really happens. It's measureable. It's always a good thing to get data that tests these ideas."
The strange thing about GPS is that both general and special relativity apply, one making it appear that the GPS satellites' clocks run slower than ours on earth, and the other making the orbiting clocks run faster. RC Davison summarizes:
The changes in time due to these properties of relativity total to an increase of about 38,700 ns/day and will conspire to make your GPS receiver build up errors in location that could cause it to be off on the order of kilometers after several hours—up to 10 km (6 miles) per day! The system is designed to correct for these errors by setting the atomic clocks on board the satellites to run slower than their corresponding reference on Earth before launch, so that once in orbit, and the effects of relativity take hold, the satellite’s clocks speed up and very closely match the reference on Earth.