Archive for November, 2008


Friday, November 28th, 2008

I’m not a big clothes sort of guy. I have one suit. One sport jacket. A hand full of pairs of pants that come in two types – jeans and khakis. I may have a nice pair of blue slacks as well. But shirts? Well shirts are a different story.

My closet was not empty but it was clear to me that I was getting to the dregs – the shirts I was least fond of. So I decided that it was time that I put away the dry cleaning. I’d dropped off and picked up several cycles of shirts but not put them away. So there they were in plastic and hard to look through. I unwrapped them, sorted them and put them away. Some 28 shirts in all. Now understand that this does not include polo shirts, long sleeve Ts and other pull overs or more then a couple of my short sleeved button downs. I’m sort of afraid to take a full count.

I guess I am just a sucker for a nice shirt. Oh well.

Cheating On Online Surveys

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

OK this really bothers me. Students at a number of top tech colleges worked very effectively at  ballot stuffing for a Victoria’s Secret contest. Oh I am sure that to most people it looks like a lot of harmless fun. To others it screams out that is was all Victoria’s Secret’s fault because they didn’t properly secure the site/process. I think that is called blaming the victim.

But to me it screams that we have too much acceptance of dishonestly. They shouldn’t have to lock down the site because people should not be trying to game the system in this fashion.

Time and again while I was teaching I heard from students that if I didn’t want people to vandalize the school computers that it was my job to make it harder for them to do so. Leaving any opening, no matter how small, was taken as permission by these individuals. “Does that extend to houses?” I once asked. “Yes” was the reply. Oh but not their house. If someone broke into their house there would  be serious consequences. But if they were found in someone else’s house there should not be a penalty because, after all, there wasn’t enough of a barrier  to keep them out so it would the home owner’s fault.

But coming back to the computer side of things. In the very early days of computers we didn’t have much in the way of security beyond physical security. If you were allowed in the room you could do what you wanted. But people could usually be trusted. We were all in it to help each other, to cooperate, and to stay out of other people’s business. That didn’t last long though.

So now we have online polls for all sorts of things and people are taking advantage of less than ideal security to cheat. Are laws broken/ Often, probably not. To many people if it isn’t illegal it is permissible and ethical. I would say that is not the case and gaming these systems is unethical.

“But no one is hurt.” Not true. People who honestly and ethically work hard within the spirit of the competition wind up having no chance. Their hard work goes in vain – often without them knowing they are doomed to be frustrated. The people who run the competition are hurt. In this case the servers actually crashed under the load. That cost time and money to correct. Plus the benefits the company hoped to get from the event are diminished. Even the publicity they are getting is not what they want.

I would argue that the perpetrators are ultimately hurt as well. They wind up being hailed as heroes and stars and “great hackers” while doing something of dubious ethics. Being rewarded for unethical behavior is not good for ones long term prospects of growing more ethical.

We really need ethical people in the software industry. Really. So when things like this happens I find it very depressing.

What are you?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Just for the fun of it I was taking a series of poll questions at Microsoft’s Microphone application on Facebook this afternoon and all of a sudden this question came up and I was stumped.

Do you consider yourself primarily a:

  • Gamer
  • Programmer
  • Computer Scientist
  • Artist
  • Technology Hobbyist
  • IT professional

And I didn’t know. Clearly not gamer or artist. IT professional? What does that even mean today? I work for a computer company but not really in an IT role. And while I have done that it never defined me. So that’s out.

These leaves technology hobbyist which feels ok but not quite. And then programmer and computer scientist. I want to say computer scientist. I really do. But do I reach that bar or am I “just” a well educated programmer? I think I would have to answer computer scientist but admit that this is as much aspirational as actual. And I have to think about how I define computer scientist.

So where do you see yourself?

Seven Deadly LINUX Commands

Friday, November 21st, 2008

This article reminds me of just one more reason I like command line instructions that say what they mean. And no, I’m not saying that Windows is much (if any) better. This is why I miss my DCL. 🙁

Of course that article is another reason not to run at elevated privileges on any operating system.

Solving the world’s problems

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Like many people I sometime lay awake at night trying to solve the major problems in the world. This is a frustrating experience for two reasons. One is that I don’t actually have the solution for the world’s problems and the second is that even when I do no one in a position of authority is likely to even care what I think. This does not stop me of course because I am an American and we never let things like that stop us.

So of course I think about solving the problems of the Middle East, energy needs for America, the  US educational system and that state of computer science education in the world in general and the US in particular.

I have figured out that if we solved the power/energy problem we could build a wall around the whole middle east and impose a blockade until they all worked out their problems or the end of the world – which ever comes first. No one is likely to take that seriously though so I will not suggest it seriously.

The state of education is a real mess of a scale only a little less complex and emotional than the Middle East. So while I think about it a lot I don’t see any chance for me to get involved. I’m way to Republican for the Obama team to ask for my opinion. No doubt they will ask people who have never taught, never been on a school board and who seldom talk to teachers without preaching.  Sigh.

But computer science is a little easier. Oh not easy but relatively easier. We need better teachers for one thing. That’s hard. Really hard. Even in this economy someone who really understands computer science well enough to teach it can make better money doing other things. Also we don’t really have good special training for computer science teachers. You can get a masters in teaching of math, English, world languages, science and a bunch of other things. But there is not much in the way of how to teach computer science out there. That needs to change.

Which brings up another problem. We don’t really have much good research on how to teach computer science well. A lot of the research we have seems to contradict each other as well. We have some good teachers but much of what they do is not easily reproducible. It depends of their personality or their particular experience. And sometimes on getting the right students. Yeah that is a problem.  And don’t get me started on the state of certification for pre-college computer science teachers. What a mess.

So we need more research, more teacher training, better support and motivation for CS teachers, some good curriculum and then we hit the road block that it doesn’t fit into the curriculum. That gets us to school boards and school administrators who don’t understand technology let alone computer science.

Maybe I need an easier problem – like what makes women tick? 🙂

What I want from science fiction

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Not the flying cars. Not the transporter rooms. No I want science fiction medical care. In science fiction they put people in a box where they stay is some sort of suspended animation until they are healed.

You could do some of that now. Keep people out and plug in an IV and stuff. But of course that would take too many people to keep things going and you wouldn’t be able to have the patient tell you “it hurts.” But still it would be nice.

Currently I am home recovering from surgery. It all went very well except I am not feeling up to enjoying life. I sleep most of the time. Eat from time to time and watch a very small amount of TV. I’d just as soon be out completely until it’s over. I hate not being up to snuff.

Oh well. I think I’ll go take a nap.


Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I self-identify as an engineer. That may not be how I earn my living but it is how I describe myself. What does that mean? I found this definition in Wikipedia.

An engineer is a person professionally engaged in a field of engineering. Engineers are concerned with developing economical and safe solutions to practical problems, by applying mathematics and scientific knowledge while considering technical constraints.[1][2] As such, the work of engineers is the link between perceived needs of society and commercial applications. Some consider this profession to be the link between art and science.

That sort of works but in some ways is too narrow. I do like the “link between art and science” though. But to me engineering means more. It means that  I like understanding how things work; how they are put together; and how people use them. I means I need to draw pictures to explain things. It means that I like to solve puzzles and make things work better. It means that I find wonder and a feeling of commonality in a diverse set of things – materials, architecture. cities, roads and the things that travel on them and machinery of all shapes and sizes.

One last thing, to me engineers are people who change the world – usually for the better. It’s the politicians and some in business who mess up what the engineers (and scientists) do. In my world view engineers are the good guys. 🙂

Obama in the News

Friday, November 7th, 2008

This is pretty cool. They have hundreds of newspapers from November 5th from around the world on one screen. Actually Obama didn’t make the front page of all of them. In some parts of the world local news seems to have been more important.

Zoom in and read any of them. Works best with a scroll wheel but you can get by with the navigation aides on the top left of the screen and clicking.

Dancing With The Stars

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Yes it’s true – I watch Dancing With the Stars. Let’s pretend that I do it just to watch what ever my wife is watching. One of the things I have noticed though is that the professional athletes on the show tend to do very well. One sort of expects the entertainers, especially the singers, to do well. They are after all professional entertainers. And actors are good at pretending to be someone/something else. But sports stars?

Last night I realized why. The athletes work very hard and they take instructions well. I’m sure it helps that they are in shape but I’m also sure that dancing uses a lot of different muscles. But these are people who are used to hard, physical work and do not back away from it. They are goal oriented and when they have a coach (or dance instructor) who clearly knows how to help them win they pull out all the stops to train.

This is something I sort of knew about for sports but didn’t really see the value in beyond sports. But I’m starting to see some real advantage to learning how to work hard and take coaching that sports provides. Something to think about.