Friday, August 29, 2008

21st Century Moments

Most of my life, I dreamed of what it would be like living in the 21st century. Lots of things didn't happen. I don't live on the Moon, Mars or a space station. There's not a city-sized space station. Cities don't have lots of domes. There are no flying cars. You don't see robots everywhere, at least anthropomorphic robots.

Some things did come true in weird ways. Satellite dishes do dot the city-scape, though they are tiny. We all have communicators and computers are pretty smart. We do talk to computers and they talk back, but usually just on the phone.

Laser and other energy weapons supposedly exist, but only in the military and they haven't seen widespread use…yet.

The world is surprisingly normal in many ways. Still, I often wonder what I'd think if my self from 40 years ago could be transported here to the present.

The out-of-the-park, surprise twist in the development of human technology, during my life's span, is the information age and the Internet. In the science fiction stories of my youth, computers and communication were minor elements against the main motif of the space age. The reality, of course, is that it's the other way around! I didn't expect to be living in the information age and I'm sure that my 40-year-ago self wouldn't even understand the web or the Internet, at least initially.

Still, every now and then, I experience an unmistakeable “21st century moment.”
  • A campus police officer glides past me on a Segway.
  • Everytime I read something (which is nearly everything) on-line, including books, news articles (which would have been in papers or magazines).
  • When I use my Blackberry.
  • When I experience wall-sized video displays at work, which are usually created with projectors.
  • When I use my cell phone to call a family member in a different part of the house.
  • When I play chess against the Chessmaster program on my cell phone.
  • Driving past digital LED billboards.
  • Watching HD TV, including programs recorded on the DVR.
  • Every time I look at one of our laptops.
There are more of course. I'll post them from time to time.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Spanair Crash

As reported in The Australian, regarding the problem with the MD-82's aborting it's first takeoff attempt before they finally tried again and crashed.

One day after the crash, Spanair gave new information about the initial attempt to take off. Spokesman Javier Mendoza said an air-intake gauge under the cockpit had detected overheating while the jet was taxiing, causing the plane to turn back.

Technicians corrected the problem by essentially turning the gauge off.

Well, there you go. They solved that problem.

Friday, August 22, 2008

RIP Bell Labs?

A news article in Nature reports that “…after a string of staff departures, physicists claim that the once iconic Bell Laboratories has finally pulled out of basic science.”

This is sad.

In rebuttle, “…officials at Alcatel-Lucent, Bell's parent company, say that reports of the lab's death are greatly exaggerated. Fundamental science remains, but it has moved away from physics, says Gee Rittenhouse, vice-president of research at Bell Labs. ‘We've shifted the fundamental research over to include mathematics, computer science, networking and wireless,’ he says.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Smalltalk Notes

Okay, I learned how to keep notes. You open a Workspace (not a Morphic Workspace). You can then type right into it and it becomes part of the GUI environment. You can also execute code in it.

Quote of the Day

There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary numbers and those who don't!

—seen in a signature, unattributed

Two Robots and a Roach

Okay, WALL·E, was incredibly great! The movie industry has now caught up with and exceeded my imagination! The computer animation was exquisite. The story was wonderful. The references to space and particulary to 2001 were very entertaining. I'm sure it was filled with references that I didn't catch. It's a movie that I would expect to watch many times over.

An unexpected bonus is that our neighborhood has upgraded some (or all) cinemas to DLP so this was the first time I've seen a digital movie at the cinema. That made it even more amazing. If it's possible to see this movie in DLP, don't watch it any other way!

WALL·E himself reminded me a lot of the Mars rover in that excellent animation that was done a few years ago. There were some of the neat little focusing tricks that caught my eye in that film. I guess they will quickly become another cliche, if they haven't already. Now that I think of it, they used them all the time in Battlestar Galactica (the new TV series).

The endless technology motif was just fun. It was very well done and enjoyable to watch.

I loved the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My only minor disappointment was that I hoped they would tie into the memory bank scene in 2001, one of my favorites. Alas, it wasn't there unless it was so subtle I missed it.

One criticism and the only major astronomical error was that they included a spinning, spiral galaxy—seeing one spin of course would be an impossibility. If it takes light 100,000 years to cross the diameter of a typical grand spiral, they are guaranteed to always appear solidly frozen in human time frames. And remember, even clouds and minute hands appear stationary to us, and they actually move pretty fast! If we aren't going to see an hour hand move we certainly wouldn't see the motion of a 250-million-year hand (which is the galactic orbital period of the sun).

After the movie itself was over, I then experienced my jaw dropping (all the way down to the sticky floor) during the credits. Absolutely fantastic! And even the opening Magic Castle Disney logo is now exquisitely beautiful.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Using Restructured Text

Okay I mentioned restructured text earlier. Now I've actually used it, but initially it wasn't installed on my Ubuntu system.

This fixed that problem.

sudo apt-get install python-docutils

Then I was able to use rst2html to convert documents to HTML.

More Smalltalk

Is Smalltalk the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? It might be.

I learned how to write iterators that implement the do: method and unit testing with SUnit is going well. I can now do full TDD (test-driven development) in Smalltalk!

I do notice pauses sometimes and I wonder if that's Squeak's garbage collector kicking in.

Here are things I don't know how to do, or have a concern about:
  • Keep notes, like a notebook, in the workspace. Maybe Transcript will work like this, I thought I did that before, but that may not be the best way. I should go through a tutorial on Squeak.
  • The name space for classes isn't hierarchical (I think) like, say in Python (or Perl or Java). That's slightly annoying since you can't easily compartmentalize your class names but they are more “global.”
  • The workspace can become polluted with junk if you continually create objects (for testing and such) and don't delete them. Sort of like a Windows XP system. I think the solution is to (carefully) save all of your code into a library of some kind, make a new image and reload everything. (Again, sort of like Windows XP).
What's next:

  1. Learning Monticello! That's the package management system like Bazaar.
  2. Sharpen up on the syntax. I'm still confused about about when to use () vs. []. Well, maybe I'm not. I think the former is for grouping expressions and the latter is for statement blocks. However, if everything is an object and method (it is), then an expression sure seems like it's a statement block to me! Oh well, maybe I don't understand it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wall-E, Batman and Iron Man

Okay, two people who's opinions I follow have said Wall-E is one of the best movies (ever?) and the best Pixar/Disney movie yet, so I guess I'll go see it.

I went and saw (Batman) The Dark Knight last week. Though it was well done, on first viewing I found that I didn't enjoy it that much. It also seemed very long to me. When I thought the movie was at the end, it seemed to go on for another whole movie.

When I was a kid I was a huge Batman fan. He was my number one comic book hero for some time. Of course there was major bat-mania with the TV show coming out. The last time I read a Batman comic book was probably around 1970, so that's where my familiarity with the written mythology ends.

I wasn't crazy about the first movie in this new series when I saw it at the theater, too, but I came to like it more on subsequent viewing. Maybe I'll like this one more, too, after seeing it again.

I will say that the way they incorporated the characters I was familiar with was pretty clever. Also, the guy playing the Joker probably deserves the praise I've heard for his acting in that role. The underlying themes in the story were also admirable and somewhat clever, so I have to give them a bit of credit for that. I thought the cell-phone thing was way too hokey and pretty cheap for a plot element. I also found it unbelievable that the Joker was that hard for anyone to catch and that the underground criminals didn't simply get rid of him.

In contrast to all of that, I saw Iron Man earlier in the summer and found that to be a completely enjoyable movie. It was one of the best “comic book” movies I've ever seen, maybe the best. I could watch it over and over, I'm sure.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Squeak Again

Surprisingly, Perl-guy Randall Schwartz has become very excited about Smalltalk and is a Squeak user. I've been interested in Squeak from time to time. Now I'm all spun up over Squeak again!

Here's an interesting video of a talk (there's also audio here) by Schwartz.

I've been learning about SUnit, Squeak's unit testing framework.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Squeak Development Tutorial

This is a fantastic development tutorial, A Development Example for Squeak 3.9, by Stephan B. Wessels. It's highly illustrated (almost to a fault) and quite complete.

Early History of Smalltalk

This is an article that documents The Early History of Smalltalk by Alan C. Kay.