Showing posts from July, 2005

[Cool] My Software Engineering Rant Seven Years Ago

Great Caesar's Ghost! Someone just sent me an email commenting on a usenet post I made seven years ago on software engineering! I actually like what I wrote too, it still seems highly relevant in this day and age. Well, except maybe the part about Enterprise Java Beans... :)

I've edited the line breaks slightly to make it more readable in a web browser.

From: jasonh@xxx.yyy.EDU (Jason Hong)
Subject: [NEWS] Re: Why is programming so hard?
Date: 11 Dec 1998 23:02:30 GMT

: I'd like to hear more. Perhaps it would bring theory,
: philosophy, and poetry to engineering.

Here's a few I'd also add:

o No natural visualizations
There's no simple way to "see" or "draw" software, often
making its abstract representation the only one we have.
I'm also unconvinced that all of the various object
modeling tools and techniques (UML, Fusion, etc) really
augment our abilities to think and do design.


Fortune: Can Americans Compete?

From Fortune Magazine, via the FoRK Mailing List

The No. 1 policy prescription, almost regardless of whom you ask, comes down to one word: education. In an economy where technology leadership determines the winners, education trumps everything. That's a problem for America. Our fourth-graders are among the world's best in math and science, but by ninth grade they've fallen way behind (see table). As Bill Gates says, "This isn't an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system."

The good news is that we've overhauled the system before. A century ago, as America changed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, something called the high school movement swept the country...

We responded to a changing world again in 1958, after the USSR orbited Sputnik while our rockets kept blowing up on the launch pad... We went to the moon, science and engineering became cool, even glamorous, and we gained a wide technology lead.


A prescription urged just as wide…

[Funny] Craigslist: How I got the best of this Nigerian scammer

One approach to fending off email scams is to flood the scammers with lots of bad data (an anti-spam amplifer, in the words of UWashington professor Oren Etzioni).

This person on craigslist has a rather humorous way of wasting the scammers' time...

Dear Sir,

I don’t know who this other person you were writing to is , but, my name is Bo Luke. I operate a moonshine business with my brother, Luke. You might say that we are in the “distribution” business. I am interested in your proposal. I know a little about steel – as I have that album “british steel” by Judas Priest. Please tell me more.


Bo Luke
Hazzard County, USA




[HCI] Lincoln Lab TX-2 Group

Bill Buxton has a page up on the CHI2005 panel about the early days at the MIT Lincoln Labs. Cool history about some of the early pioneers in interactive computing.

On Failing To Think Long-Term

At first it was going to be a book of 18 chapters chronicling 18 collapses of once-powerful societies--- the Mayans with the most advanced culture in the Americas, the Anasazi who built six-story skyscrapers at Chaco, the Norse who occupied Greenland for 500 years. But he wanted to contrast those with success stories like Tokugawa-era Japan, which wholly reversed its lethal deforestation, and Iceland, which learned to finesse a highly fragile and subtle environment.


Diamond reported that his students at UCLA tried to imagine how the guy who cut down the LAST tree [in Easter Island - JIH] in 1680 justified his actions. What did he say? Their candidate quotes: "Fear not. Our advancing technology will solve this problem." "This is MY tree, MY property! I can do what I want with it." "Your environmentalist concerns are exaggerated. We need more research." "Just have faith. God will provide.&…

[Tech] IBM's New Paradigms Using Computers

I think this is the first time in seven years I haven't gone to this conference. Fortunately, JD Lasica did...

Ian Smith, Intel researcher, argues for the future of mobile phones as a development platform:

Smith holds up his mobile phone: "Most people don't even think of this device as able to run new software. They don't think of that for mobile phones, and that's really really weird. … You can retire to Jamaica if you figure out (how to create a business model in that space)." Ringtones and screen backgrounds for your cellphone aren't really software applications. "I'd argue there's no piece of software that's driving this platform today."


An audience member asked about proprietary systems that allow only a limited amount of applications and experiments with content. Smith says he thinks we'll see a "hungry hippo in this space," perhaps the No. 2 or 3 vendor, which will make a business decision to open up the box and …

[Privacy] NYTimes: A Pass on Privacy?

Sort of meanders around, but the basic point is about privacy vs convenience.

The E-ZPass system, as it is called on the East Coast, seemed like idle gadgetry when it was introduced a decade ago. Drivers who acquired the passes had to nose their way across traffic to reach specially equipped tollbooths -- and slow to a crawl while the machinery worked its magic. But now the sensors are sophisticated enough for you to whiz past them. As more lanes are dedicated to E-ZPass, lines lengthen for the saps [JIH - ie, people like me] paying cash.

E-ZPass is one of many innovations that give you the option of trading a bit of privacy for a load of convenience. You can get deep discounts by ordering your books from or joining a supermarket ''club.'' In return, you surrender information about your purchasing habits. Some people see a bait-and-switch here. Over time, the data you are required to hand over become more a…

[HCI-Sec] SOUPS - Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security


SFGate has an article about how online resumes can be used by identity thieves and other kinds of criminals. It seems like we're getting to the point where "creative" criminals are leveraging any kind of personal information for gain.

"We're hearing from a couple of people each week who are having their resume accessed by criminals," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the nonprofit San Diego research organization World Privacy Forum.

Often, the offer is for a so-called remailing job. In one such case reported by the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, a woman found a job through the Web site

The woman, whose name was not disclosed, was to receive packages in the mail and resend them to an address in Belarus. She was promised a $2,000 monthly salary for the relatively cushy job. When she never got paid -- or even reimbursed for her shipping costs -- she started to investigate and found out that the company didn't exis…

[Cool] NYTimes: Creative thinking foils car thieves

The LoJack security system has hurt the business model of auto theft, forcing thieves to go into new lines of work -- and that should inspire us to think more creatively and systematically about how to reduce crime.

Sold for $695, the LoJack is a radio transmitter that is hidden on a vehicle and then activated if the car is stolen. The transmitter then silently summons the police -- and it is ruining the economics of auto theft.

Car theft, it turns out, is a volume business. And so if even a small percentage of vehicles have LoJack, the professional thief will eventually steal a car with one and get caught.

The thief's challenge is that it's impossible to determine which vehicle has a LoJack (there's no decal). So stealing any car becomes significantly more risky, and one academic study found that the introduction of LoJack in Boston reduced car theft there by 50 percent.

Two Yale professors, Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayr…

[Pittsburgh] NYTimes Op-Ed on Pittsburgh

Three posts in a row, with more to come. This is what happens when you're jet-lagged and have too much time at night.

Anyway, John Tierney has an op-ed in the New York Times about the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, using Pittsburgh as an example of eminent domain gown awry. I haven't lived long enough here in Pittsburgh to visit all the places he mentions, but I've been in downtown enough times to notice that no one really lives there, and while it's not unpleasant, it's not vibrant either.

Pittsburgh has been the great pioneer in eminent domain ever since its leaders razed 80 buildings in the 1950's near the riverfront park downtown. They replaced a bustling business district with Gateway Center, an array of bland corporate towers surrounded by the sort of empty plazas that are now considered hopelessly retrograde by urban planners trying to create street life.

At the time, though, the towers a…

[Cool] Science: 125 Questions on What Don't We Know?

A good overview of some frontiers of science.

[Research] IEEE Spectrum: The End of AT&T

At the time, Bell Labs managers generally regarded their company as a quasi-public institution contributing to the national welfare by enriching the country's science and technology. Seen in that light, AT&T's vigorous promotion of semiconductor technology made good sense—especially during a time the company was churning out profits and didn't feel any competition breathing down its neck.

But such generosity may have been one of the crucial forces behind its eventual downfall, as smaller, nimbler, and more legally unfettered firms seized the opportunity to develop and deploy innovations that would help undermine AT&T's dominance of U.S. telecommunications. "After its forced breakup in 1984," The Wall Street Journal's Rhoads wrote, "it was slowly crushed by technologies that drove down the price of a long-distance call, and more recently by wireless calling and Internet phoni…

[Cool] If Feynman interviewed at Microsoft

Funny, other people I'd like to see parodied:

Steve Jobs
Larry Ellison
Bill Gates

If Richard Feynman applied for a job at Microsoft

Interviewer: Now comes the part of the interview where we ask a question to test your creative thinking ability. Don't think too hard about it, just apply everyday common sense, and describe your reasoning process.

Here's the question: Why are manhole covers round?

Feynman: They're not. Some manhole covers are square. It's true that there are SOME round ones, but I've seen square ones, and rectangular ones.

Interviewer: But just considering the round ones, why are they round?

Feynman: If we are just considering the round ones, then they are round by definition. That statement is a tautology.

Interviewer: I mean, why are there round ones at all? Is there some particular value to having round ones?

Feynman: Yes. Round covers are used when the hole they are covering up is also round. It's simplest …