Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pad Reviews

If you're even a little interested in a computing pad, here are two excellent reviews by one of media's best writers, Andy Ihnatko, both from the Chicago Sun-Times.

(Note, Andy's writing is a joy to read even if you aren't interested in pad computing).

Are the Blackberry Playbook and LG G-Slate ready to take on iPad?

Hands-on review: How does Motorola Xoom compare to iPad?

More about Andy Ihnatko

Can Your Programming Language Do This?

An excellent argument for functional programming from Joel Spolsky.

I take exception in a couple of ways.  One is that, for some of the example code, it might actually become harder to read/understand as you go further into the article.  I don't think anyone would have trouble understanding the earlier versions.

Second, it's true that having map-reduce be natural to the language and, more importantly, the programming style may lend to thinking in those terms.   However, I don't think that's necessary to think of using map reduce as a solution for large scale computing.  It's possible to understand the concept without it being natural in the language.  (I explain it regularly in non-FP terms).

Happy Easter from Simon's Cat


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Solar System Telescope is very neat.  At first I was bothered by the schematic representation of planet's orbit sizes.  However, in fact, there's a control that lets you slide between the schematic and true display of relative distances and sizes.  It's a nice tool for visualization.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

ISS Flyover

I just happened to be outside with the dog and looked up to see the International Space Station flying over.  I was quite sure that's what it was.  It was extremely bright, like Venus, up around mag -3 or so I'd guess.  It was in the SSE and gliding across the sky at the speed a plane would fly over but with no blinking lights at all.

It was quite beautiful since, at the same time, a high-altitude jet was passing in the other direction with a faint con trail illuminated by the already-set sun.

Data at NASA confirms the sighting for tonight at 20:49 EDT and predicts a similar flyover tomorrow evening at Mon 2011-04-18 21:14:00 -0400.  (21:14 EDT).  It will pass from WSE to NNE and achieve a maximum altitude (above the horizon in degrees) of 43 deg, quite high.

For more information:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Friday, April 08, 2011

Own Your Profile and Web Identity

Good advice that some web pundits hand out is that you should own your own profile, your own web identity.

That means you shouldn't depend on, e.g., Google, Facebook, or Twitter as your only presence and identity on-line.  It's a good idea to register yourself with all of them, and *carefully* control what information is there, but it's also a good idea to have your own site which you own and fully control and which is always the main place people can go to find out what you want them to know.

To do this is cheap.  The main requirement is a domain name, or whatever you want to call it.  Of course you'll be limited by what's available.  You can get these from, e.g.,, for about $15 a year.  Once you register a domain name, you legally own it and can always control what information it points to.

From there you can build a home page, even a minimal one, with Google Sites,, or even Facebook or Twitter.  You can also buy a site web hosting service like

Then you just forward your domain there.  If something happens to the site you're pointing to, then you just forward your domain name to another site.

The main idea is that this gives you a somewhat “permanent” address on the web.  Your “permanent” address used to be your email address, but that turned out to be a bad idea as spam and other email abuses blossomed.

From this main identity page, you can point to any and all of any other sites you'd like to point people to such as a blog or even your Facebook page if you must.

Video Games vs. Books

I thought I'd comment on Christopher's very thoughtful and well-written post on Video Games vs. Books here.

I agree that games can have educational value, especially when they act as some sort of real-world simulator.  I learned a little bit about Indy racing some years ago from a racing game.  I never realized racing involved things like wheel diameter (different on the inside from outside for the Indy oval), gear ratios, type of rubber, etc.  Even simple things like weight of fuel in the tank.  I don't know if  I would ever have read a book on racing in the Indianapolis 500, but I learned a lot from fooling with this game.

Similarly, I've learned more than a little about flying from flight simulators and even a some basics of city planning from Sim City.

In the past, and still going, has been the same argument about TV:  Can it really be educational?  What about the fact that kids don't read as much, etc.?  At least games require engagement and some problem solving, and sometimes even reading!

As for games causing violence, I firmly believe that, generally, all technology is amoral, neither good nor bad.  Any technology can be used for either.

As a kid, we played army (always WW II), cowboys and Indians, police and bad guys, nearly 100% of the time.  Incidentally, all of my favorite TV shows were about the same things.  Oh yeah, I forgot humans vs. aliens.

Many of the video games out there are great at teaching strategy, planning and related problem solving.  I always enjoyed Starcraft for that reason.

I guess I find the first person shooter games a little disturbing because they train one to move quickly through an enclosed space and shoot as many targets  as possible.  Those targets are living and moving, and usually shooting back.  The nature of games themselves can cause a boy to spend hours and hours on this and, as a result, become quite well trained in that scenario.  The games may not cause a person to turn to violence but if a person does, the result may be a more effective killer, perhaps with a higher sense of confidence.

Here's a wonderful thing about books.  They aren't just pure action, or even strategy and tactics.  They involve thoughtful introspection by the narrator.  You get to see into the mind or minds of characters, how they think and feel, and even how they deal with morality of the issues at hand, at least in the better writing.  Maybe some of the better games have this same property, I'm not sure.

There's something about reading a book that encourages one to pause and think, particularly when the reader is challenged by something there.  Or at least you may have to stop reading and go do something else, and then your mind can continue on reflecting on what you've read.

As amazing as movies and video games are, and there's no slowing down, they still haven't caught up with the experience of a good book.

Use the Wall Phone. The Wall What?

[VIDEO] My kids showed me this.  Life in the 21st century.  (If the link doesn't take you there automatically, start watching at 2m37s).

Powerful Space Explosion May Herald Star's Death By Black Hole

From   A large and unusually long-lasting outpouring of x-radiation brought attention to GRB 110328A.

The explosion looks like a gamma-ray burst — the most powerful type of explosion in the universe, which usually mark the destruction of a massive star — but the flaring emissions from these dramatic events never last more than a few hours, researchers said.

“We know of objects in our own galaxy that can produce repeated bursts, but they are thousands to millions of times less powerful than the bursts we are seeing now,” said Andrew Fruchter, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, in a statement today (April 7). “This is truly extraordinary.”

The space explosion was detected on March 28 when an instrument on NASA's Swift satellite detected an X-ray eruption

“The fact that the explosion occurred in the center of a galaxy tells us it is most likely associated with a massive black hole,” said Neil Gehrels, the lead scientist for Swift at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Image credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler

Monday, April 04, 2011

Astronomers Calculate Comet's Orbit

using amateur images from the web.

Happy 38th Birthday Cell Phones

“Martin Cooper was walking the streets of New York, talking on the phone…it was April 3rd, 1973 and this was the first time that anyone had made a mobile phone call in public,” by Brad McCarty from TNW.

My faorite part is where the picture description says Cooper is the one on the right.

Image at