Friday, August 17, 2007

Programmer Archaeologists

In his book A Deepness in the Sky, sci-fi author Vernor Vinge describes the profession of Programmer Archaeologists. The basic idea was that in the far future, pretty much every piece of software you could imagine has already been created. So, rather than creating new software, the job of the Programmer Archaeologist would be to search for software close to what you wanted, and then adapt that software for your particular needs.

There is a forthcoming paper at UIST2007 (User Interface Software and Technology)that takes us a step closer to this world. Entitled Assieme: Finding and Leveraging Implicit References in a Web Search Interface for Programmers (PDF), it describes a search engine that provides not only documentation of APIs, but also finds snippets of examples. A nice idea, and well-executed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Google docs has an alpha feature?

This is new: companies used to release products and label them as alpha or beta. Then, web sites rolled out the perpetual beta. Now, Google Docs has a search and replace feature that is labeled alpha. I hope this is something that will not catch on, but as Software-as-a-Service becomes more pervasive, I'm afraid it will.

(FYI this screenshot also shows a working version of the syllabus for The Social Web course that I will be co-teaching this fall)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How much is a review on Slashdot worth?

Our book, The Design of Sites, was recently reviewed on Slashdot. I actually disagree with the reviewer on several points, in particular that patterns need to be "an elusive insight or 'trick of the trade'", but the main point I want to write about today is how much a review is worth.

About once a day, I check how our book is doing on Ever since our second edition came out in December 2006, it's been hovering around 2500-4000 in terms of overall sales rank. Checking this morning, our book is at #388. Assuming that Amazon's sales follow a Zipf curve (or is it power law or Pareto? I can never remember), this means a heavy increase in sales.

The problem, though, is that Amazon doesn't reveal what their rankings actually mean, and I only see how many books we sell in 6-month periods, so it's hard to say more with any precision.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

TRANSCOM, General Norty Schwartz, and the Future of Carbon

A few weeks ago, as part of the Computer Science Study Panel, I had the opportunity to meet General Norty Schwartz, a four-star general that is currently the head of TRANSCOM. TRANSCOM is a unified command charged with all of the transportation issues in the military. As you might imagine, it is a pivotal but underappreciated part of the military.

Talking with General Schwartz was a really fun and insightful experience. He struck me as someone who is slow and steady, rock-solid reliable, the kind of person you would want managing your transportation needs.

However, the thing that pleasantly surprised me was General Schwartz' interests in carbon. Right now, among all of the cabinet departments, the Dept of Defense is the largest consumer of carbon-based fuels, and within the DoD, TRANSCOM is the largest consumer. He mentioned how this wasn't sustainable, and that they were looking into long-term solutions to this problem.

While I realize that his statement wasn't for reasons of being green, it's good to know that this issue is on the radar screen. I also hope it will translate into a shift in how transportation is handled in the DoD for the better.