Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!
From Frank, Ethan, Becky, and Braden (expected in May 2009)

Friday, December 19, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. What will the Internet look like in 2020? Pew experts think the mobile device will be the primary means of using the Internet, the Internet will not increase social "tolerance", interaction in virtual worlds will be more common, and people will be more open to sharing private information and opinions on the Internet. Any surprises here?

  2. Several new digital billboards in Japan will have cameras mounted to determine how many people are looking at the billboards. It uses software that matches faces to a average Japanese face to determine how large the audience is.

  3. Google Image Search now allows you to search by several types: Photographic, clip art, and line drawing.

  4. Google is now serving search results optimized for the iPhone and Android phones. The results load faster and don't require using the horizontal scrollbar.

  5. Congratulations to the 446 Harding students who will be graduating on Saturday morning - a record December graduation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We're having another boy!

Yesterday we had an ultrasound which revealed that we are having another boy! Our new guy is due at the end of May, so Ethan and our new little man will be about two years apart... hopefully they'll make good playmates.

When Becky and I first went through the baby-naming process a few years ago, we came up with two candidates:
  1. Ethan - meaning strong and firm.
  2. Braden - meaning broad and wide.
Yeah, these are a couple of guys you don't want to mess with. 

So we've got the name. The problem is, when I checked the Social Security website to check on popular spellings of Braden, I was surprised to see that Brayden was actually a much more popular spelling last year (Braden ranked 156, Brayden ranked 64). A number of other spellings were also quite popular.

So now I'm wondering, how should we spell our son's name?

Here's a few thoughts I've had on the matter:
  1. The name should obviously imply the child's gender. I get a little annoyed when I read a name and can't tell if it's referring to a male or female. (Apologies to Carey, Ashley, Jamie, and all others I've offended.) What if our son wins an award, and the presenter doesn't know who our son is? "I now present this award to Mr.... or Mrs.... ah... sorry I can't tell because this is a gender-neutral name." I've never heard of a female named Braden or any of its derivatives, so we're OK.

  2. The name should be obvious to spell. No child should have to explain how to spell their name every time someone else needs to write it. That rules out Braedon and Braeden. But is the spelling for Braden or Brayden more obvious?

  3. The name should sound phonetically different enough from their siblings' names that they cannot be easily confused. If I yell out, "Braden, come clean up this mess!" I don't want Braden thinking I am calling Ethan. In some ways these names are phonetically similar, but I think there's just enough difference, especially with the initial consonant, that we're OK.

Now we just need to settle on one of these spellings. I can't guarantee we'll go with the outcome of this survey, but I am very curious which spelling you all think is the best.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Finals week at Harding

Only one student this semester managed to ask this question in class.

Jesus' disciples asking, 'Is this going to be on the final?'

Friday, December 12, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Google has released its list of popular searches in their 2008 Google Zeitgeist. The most popular "what is..." query? What is love. Baby, don't hurt me.

  2. According to J.L. Needham, Google's manager of public-sector content partnerships, approximately 1,000 federal government websites are inaccessible to search engines -- that is, they lie in the Deep Web.

  3. How well are we preserving our video game heritage? The paper 'Grand Theft Archive': A quantitative Analysis of the State of Computer Game Preservation attempts to answer this question. Their findings aren't very positive.

  4. Although this is three years old, I just came across it this week. Charles Petzold asks, Does Visual Studio Rot the Mind? Petzold's Windows programming books have been a staple of my GUI class since 1997.

  5. Some Harding students have developed this very creative and entertaining Christmas card. Enjoy.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Natchitoches Christmas Festival

Once again, our family made the annual trek out to Natchitoches, Louisiana, to visit Becky's parents. This time we were there for the big parade and fireworks display on Saturday night. This was probably one of the best displays I've seen in years, and it was the first time Ethan has seen fireworks. As you can see from his expression below (with Nana), he seemed to really enjoy them.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Facebook visualization: Sharing around the World

Allan pointed out this beautiful visualization that from Facebook showing the interactions of users around the world. Watch comets orbit the Earth as friends post messages, write on walls, and comment on photos. Very nice.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Google for football scores

Very impressive... a Google search for denver broncos shows last weekend's score as the first result (which I've highlighted in red).

Pratt wedding

I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving. Ours was pretty eventful with Becky's brother Andy Pratt getting married to Jessica Davis in the Harding chapel on Saturday. Our families were all here for the event. Becky was a bridesmaid, and Ethan was the ring bearer.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Google unveils SearchWiki

On Thursday, Google unveiled their newest attempt to deliver the most relevant search results. SearchWiki allows a logged-in user to move results up and down, delete results they don't like, and even leave comments attached to results.

The screenshot below shows a search for "google searchwiki". I've highlighted the Promote, Remove, and Comment icons that appear next to each result. Note that the news result (ranked first) doesn't have any icons- Google always wants that result to be at the top.

I decided to leave a comment on the YouTube video, and as I entered the comment, Google warned me it would be visible to everyone. I also chose to promote the result. Now I can see my comment as well as 16 people who clicked to promote the result and 3 who wanted it removed:

This ability to give personal input to search results is only available to logged-in users. If you are not logged in (you don't see a "Sign out" link in the upper-right corner of the results page), you won't be able to vote.

It's not clear how Google will use personal votes to promote or degrade results, but you have to believe it will be a factor when ranking results in the future, a Human PageRank if you will. It's certainly something other search engines have been thinking about.

Friday, November 21, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Some researchers at the Univ of Washington have built an impressive web browser that allows you to see how a web page changes over time (make sure you watch the video). The Zoetrope paper was recently presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

  2. A new study reveals the economics of email spam. Researchers sent out 350 million e-mail messages (mostly selling fake pharmaceuticals) in one month which resulted in 28 sales. That's a response rate of less than 0.00001%, but it still generated over $100 a day in revenue.

  3. Turbo Pascal turned 25 this week! I still have fond memories of programming my first stack implementation using Turbo Pascal in my dorm room. Anders Hejlsberg, the original author of Turbo Pascal and author of the C# language, shares his memories of Turbo Pascal version 1.0.

  4. Who would have thought making cars less noisy would prove to be dangerous? I discovered this problem a few years ago when I was nearly ran over in our church parking lot by a silent Prius.

  5. Just for fun: Coloralo, a search engine that uses the Yahoo BOSS API to grab images and displays only those that appear to be coloring pages for kids. Superman is well represented.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Search Engine Development offered this spring

I'll be offering a special class entitled Search Engine Development (COMP 475) this spring semester. This is the second time I've taught this class, but it will likely not be offered again for another couple of years. The pre-requisites are COMP 245 (Data Structures) and 250 (Internet Development I).

We'll be using Java to build a web crawler, indexer, and rank results. At the end of the semester, we'll have a fully-functional web search engine.

Here are some of the topics we'll be covering:
  • Web characterization
  • History of web search
  • Information retrieval (IR)
  • Web crawling
  • Deep web
  • Content indexing
  • Query processing
  • Search results ranking (e.g., PageRank and HITS)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Adversarial IR
  • Personalization of search results

Below are some slides I shared last Fri morning in our Computing Seminar on adversarial information retrieval on the Web, one of the topics we'll cover in class.

Friday, November 14, 2008


My pick of the week's top five items of interest:
  1. Google Flu Trends is a new tool from Google that can predict flu outbreaks by examining flu-like search terms that people google when they become sick. The Google data can be days ahead of reports released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  2. Researchers at the Graphics Lab at the University of Southern California have developed a display box using spinning mirrors that creates a beautifully defined 3D image. Make sure you watch the video.

  3. Didn't I see this urine-drinking system thing in a Kevin Costner film?

  4. "When can I destroy humanity?" Another nightmarish robot, this one named Jules.

  5. RIP Elwin "Preacher" Roe, Harding alum (1935-38) and pitcher for the World Series Champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers (1951), who passed away last week at the age of 92.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We forgive you

Occasionally I get a little irritated by Harding students when they show signs of laziness or immaturity, like when they give me lame excuses for missing class or not turning in homework on time. But the other day I was walking through the Harding Student Center and saw this:

It reads "WE FORGIVE YOU," and it's addressed to the thiefs who stole thousands of dollars of electronic equipment from two different dorm rooms a few weeks ago.

Now I want you to compare this with a sign that I put up around campus years ago when I was an undergraduate student at Harding and had my backpack and belongings (worth about $150) stolen:
To the Cretan who stole my stuff: Keep the backpack and books, but give me back my notes. It's the least you could do.

And that's the toned-down version which didn't include some rather derogatory remarks I was itching to say. I must admit I'm embarrassed by the immaturity I showed, and I'm humbled by the words of these guys who know what Jesus meant when he said to forgive your enemies.

Friday, November 07, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. The Web 2.0 Summit 2008 concludes today. Winners: web apps that save the world. Losers: Yahoo's Jerry Wang.

  2. Firefox for your cell phone?

  3. Have you heard of the Year 2038 Problem?

  4. Flash or Java for game development?

  5. Whether you're happy about Obama being elected or not, we've just experienced something monumental in American history. And it is refreshing to know that race is significantly less of an issue today.

    Someone with a lot of time on his hands also compared the web presence of McCain and Obama in Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.; Obama won hands-down.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Taxing the poor

Congratulations, Arkansas, on becoming the 43rd state to adopt a tax on the poor, ignorant, and others who are looking to loose a few extra dollars when filling up at the pump. In the guise of funding scholarships and education, the Arkansas State Lottery Initiative has passed the vote, thanks in part to the efforts of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Although increasing the personal income tax a fraction of a percent would have funded scholarships and education by the same amount, I'm glad to see we are instead teaching our fellow Arkansans that wealth comes from luck, not hard work. And the ever important message: winning millions will make your life wonderful.

I can't wait to stand in line behind the mathematically impaired at the gas station or view the beautiful Lotto signs that will soon scatter across the landscape! Thanks, Bill!

(So when are we going to start funding the Lt. Gov.'s office with casino revenues?)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election 2008

In case you were wondering, a recent poll of 1,900 on-campus students at Harding found that 77% of them are going to vote for McCain and only 17% for Obama (6% were undecided). The students who most favored Obama tended to major in communications, Bible, or liberal arts. I don't have the numbers for faculty/staff, but my guess is 60/40 for McCain.

President Burks cancelled chapel today, the 3rd time during his 20+ year tenure, so students would have extra time to vote today.

Friday, October 31, 2008

McCown's to host HUG summer of 2011

I've just been informed that my wife and I will be the hosting faculty members for Harding University in Greece (HUG) in the summer of 2011. Becky and I are really excited about the opportunity. 

We'll be teaching and living with approximately 40 students in a hotel in Athens. HUGgers usually visit Corinth, Delphi, Sounion, Olympus, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt.

When the summer of 2011 rolls around, Ethan will be 4, and our Peanut (our unborn child) will be 2. Sounds like an adventure to me!


Happy Halloween! It's been a busy few weeks since my last Fav5. Here they are, my pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. I've heard a lot of people complaining that the Web is making people dumb, but some new research shows that surfing the Web may actually help stimulate your brain. Of course, any activity that challenges your mind will accomplish the same thing.  

  2. study by browser maker Opera (based on 3.5 million crawled web pages) shows that only 4.3% of the Web is using standards-compliant XHTML, and half of the sites that display a standards-compliant badge are actually not standards-compliant. Other findings:

    • Adobe Flash is used on roughly 35% of all websites

    • Flash is most popular in China (used on 67% of Chinese websites)

    • Ajax is used on 3.2% of websites

    • JavaScript is used on 75% of websites

    • CSS is used on 80% of websites

  3. Those of you interested in GUIs and HCI might want to read an interesting blog post on pie menus

  4. The Deep Web gets even smaller: Google is now indexing the text in scanned PDFs.

  5. Matt Cutts points out a scary change to Google's robots.txt file. smile

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Harding Homecoming and Knights Reunion

This weekend was Harding's Homecoming. My social club (Harding-speak for fraternity) had its 40th year reunion, so a number of old friends came to town. Several of us teamed up for the Bison Booster Golf Tournament on Fri morning, and today the Knights held its 40th year reunion and joust for alumni.

For those of you who thought jousting ended hundreds of years ago, it actually takes place on the Harding campus once a year. This year, twice.

Here's me getting ready for a run-through. Notice the huge amount of shaving cream on the end of my joust and all over my armor (I got hit pretty good right before the photo).

Here's me trying to peg a guy who painted himself red (don't ask). Suffice to say, I didn't make it out of round 1.

After everyone was sufficiently covered in shaving cream, we headed up to Harding park for a cookout. He's me with Ethan (he's got a custom Knights jersey on) along with three other guys from my '92 pledge class: Kent Wiley, Brian Harrington, and Tim Cox. A big thanks to Tim who put most of today's activities together.

Below is a photo with Scott Raby and Rob Perez. They guys were seniors when I first became a Knight, and I hadn't seem then 10+ years. Rob was my Lord Knight, and he brought along his seven kids. Wow.

Below are all the guys who pledged Knights in the 1990s. Good lookin' bunch.

It was great seeing all these guys again. I think we'll be doing this again in 5 years, so hope to see all you Knights who didn't make it next time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Harding's first fall break

Last spring Harding University decided to release classes for Martin Luther King's Day in future spring semesters. To keep the fall and spring semesters equal, we also decided to have a single day off in the fall. Today the students and faculty are off while most of the staff, unfortunately, are working. This is the first time Harding has taken such a break.

I polled my students yesterday to see what they were doing, and a surprising number of them were going to drive home, even if it meant driving 8 hours. A number of them are camping or just hanging around to catch up with school work. And a large number of students are doing disaster relief around the coast. I suspect many of them will return Sunday saying they need a break from their break.

Becky and I are taking Ethan up to St. Louis to visit my family, and my dad's taking me to the Cowboys vs. Rams game on Sunday (sure hope Romo is able to play). Can you believe the Cowboys just signed Roy Williams? TO says he's happy about it, but if he starts getting the ball less, prepare to see some serious pouting in the upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

True randomness

Yesterday I was teaching my Intro to Programming class about making the computer pick a random number. The interesting thing about this exercise is that the computer can't pick a truly random number. It can only pick pseudo-random numbers.

Here's why: Computers usually calculate random numbers based on mathematical formulas or pre-computed tables in memory. While this gives a good approximation to truly random numbers, they are bound to produce patterns and/or distributions which aren't truly random.

In other words, if the computer were to flip a coin 100 times, you would expect 50 heads and 50 tails. The computer would probably be close, but you may eventually see a pattern if you flipped the coins long enough. Check this out if you'd like to learn more about generating random numbers.

So, how do we choose truly random numbers? uses atmospheric noise. The figure below which I obtained from their website shows the difference between random numbers from atmospheric noise (left) and using the rand() function in PHP (right). Notice the repeating patterns in the right image.


A lack of understanding in how random numbers are generated by computers has had serious consequences for some. Several game shows have failed in the past to produce truly random numbers, leaving themselves susceptible to gaming.

By the way, people aren't very good at choosing random numbers either. Supposedly if you ask a large number of people to choose a number between 1 and 20 (inclusive), they are more likely to pick 17 than any other number.

Friday, October 10, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:

  1. Neil McAllister asks, Should computer programming be mandatory for U.S. students? A related article discusses how math skills are suffering in the US, mainly because US culture does not value mathematics and discourages females from pursuing it.

  2. Do you know what Web Science is? Read Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners-Lee's article Web Science: Studying the Internet to Protect Our Future.
    This new discipline will model the Web’s structure, articulate the architectural principles that have fueled its phenomenal growth, and discover how online human interactions are driven by and can change social conventions. It will elucidate the principles that can ensure that the network continues to grow productively and settle complex issues such as privacy protection and intellectual-property rights.

  3. New visualization techniques are being developed at the University of Utah to understand polling data. What struck me was the similarity between their donuts with the ones I developed to summarize reconstructed websites.

  4. Leave it to the Japanese to develop a robotic girl that looks like something straight out of a horror movie.

    Uncanny valley?

  5. This is hilarious. I've never seen more moronic comments than those on YouTube.

Friday, October 03, 2008


It's a slow week, so this week's Fav5 are going to hit a little closer to home:
  1. Becky is in Dallas for a MOPS convention, so Ethan and I are going to have a lot of bonding time this weekend.

  2. At Harding's Homecoming this year (Oct 25), all alumni from the CS Programming Teams are invited for a reunion and luncheon. Also the Knights social club (I was a member from 1992-96) will have a 40th anniversary celebration, including an alumni joust!

  3. We just had a new deck and fence installed this week (photos to appear soon).

  4. Football stat update: I'm 4-0 in one of my fantasy football leagues and 1-3 in the other. The faculty/staff flag football team is 3-1. Harding's football team is 1-4.

  5. If you are one of those people who wasn't going to vote until DiCaprio and friends guilted you into it, let me kindly ask, on behalf of your fellow countrymen, please... pleeeeeeeease do not vote. Seriously.

    And if you would ask your 5 friends who are also easily persuaded by Hollywood to not vote, and they would ask their 5 friends not to vote... there would be like... tens of faithful Enquirer readers not voting! 

Thursday, October 02, 2008

HCI for all CS students

I shared this quote with my GUI class today:
As for HCI, it is my hope that it stops being seen as a field "just for specialists," and becomes something like data structures, where every CS student should have at least one semester of HCI just to understand the basic concepts.
- Randy Pausch, discussing predictions for the future of human-computer interaction (HCI), in Communications of the ACM.

Friday, September 26, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Technorati has released their State of the Blogosphere 2008 report. Some interesting findings:

    • 1.5 million blog posts are created each week.

    • 57% of US bloggers are male, 58% are at least 35 years old, 26% are single, and 74% have a college degree.

    • The average US blogger has been blogging for 35 months (I've been blogging for 33 months).

    • The average blog has 18,000 unique visitors a month.

    • 83% of female and 76% of male bloggers (globally) have a personal blog.

  2. A recent study finds college students ignoring potential malware popup dialog boxes. Why am I not surprised.

  3. Dan Waters, a Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist, writes an informative article for getting a job in the game industry. It's a little like going pro after college... it's very difficult to do, and only a few make it.

  4. Google is sponsoring Project 10^100. If you have an idea that you think could help a large number of people, submit it before Oct. 20. Google will be giving $10 million to the projects they think are the most deserving.

  5. Amazon is now selling a book entitled Lazy Preservation: Reconstructing Websites from the Web Infrastructure. The book has an uncanny resemblance to my dissertation. wink

The Office - Season 5

How did you celebrate The Office season premier?

3-Holepunch JimDwight, Pam, and Jim

Also present at the party but not pictured... two Prison Mikes, Jan, and pregnant lady(?).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dinesh D'Souza at Harding

Last night Harding welcomed Dinesh D'Souza as the first speaker in its ASI series. His talk was entitled McCain, Obama and the War on Terror. D'Souza is a popular writer and speaker and was once a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

D'Souza presented a very articulate and well-thought response to arguments on both the Left and Right regarding the so-called War on Terror. His main point was that America will leave Iraq some day; the question is should it leave hastily and hand-over Iraq to extremist elements, or should it leave once it has maintained a stable Iraq. He also argued that a wedge must be made between the extremists in the Islamic world and mainstream Muslims. Only by separating these two populations can success really be achievable in the mid-East.

What really interested me was D'Souza's view that Muslim extremists are primarily upset by the threat posed to Islam by American popular culture. They believe the immorality espoused by our movies, television, and music are a danger to Muslim society. D'Souza believes that America could better position itself in the mid-East if we would do a better job promoting the positive parts of our culture (faith, family, freedom, etc.). The government ownes a number of radio and TV stations, but mostly we use them ineffectively, e.g., playing rap music.

During the Q&A period, I asked D'Souza if he thought sending such a message would be difficult for the government in today's age of the Internet where there is no central control over what types of messages and values appear to be espoused in America. He didn't address my question, unfortunately, primarily I suspect because there's no easy answer.

I've recently read a lot of positive and negative about D'Souza. He just started a fund to help George Obama, Barak's half-brother who lives in povery in Kenya. (To be fair to Barak, it doesn't appear George really wants his brother's financial assistance.) In his 2007 book Enemy at Home, D'Souza severely overstated his case against liberal American culture and got blasted for it. But his most recent book, What's So Great About Christianity, appears to be a well-thought response to recent attacks against belief in God.

Whether you agree with him or not, D'Souza is certainly a thinker with a unique vantage point who has put forth some ideas which merit listening to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Warning to parents of toddlers

If you have a toddler and haven't heard of nursemaid's elbow, read on... this may save you a lot of frustration and money some day.

Two Saturdays ago I was walking with Ethan, holding his hand when he tripped and fell.  I pulled on his right arm to help him up and suddenly felt something pop. His arm went limp and he started crying. 

Becky and I had no idea want went wrong; he was inconsolable for what seemed like a long time. So we decided we'd better take him to the ER. 

While at the ER, Ethan continued to cry, especially if we moved or touched his right arm. When the nurse took his temperature, he fought it like he usually does, but a few minutes later he was acting like nothing had happened!

When the doctor finally saw him an hour later, he explained that Ethan probably had nursemaid's elbow, an injury which affects many toddlers when their extended arms are pulled. When Ethan was fighting the nurse, he likely popped his dislocated elbow joint back into place, and now he was fine.

Becky and I were happy it was nothing worse and went on home.

Flash forward one week. We left Ethan with a friend of ours and neglected to tell her about our little ER visit the previous week.

After a nice date in Little Rock, we return to pick up Ethan, and the babysitter tells us how she was swinging him around by his arms when all of the sudden he started crying uncontrollably. This time his left arm is limp and hurting.


So here we go again to the ER. This time it's 4 hours before we see the doctor, and the nurse doesn't take his temperature, so the elbow doesn't get popped back in by itself.

After X-rays confirm nothing is broken, the doctor wiggles the joint back into place, and Ethan is fine once more. We again return home, thankful it wasn't worse but very frustrated that we have spent two Saturday nights in a row in the ER.  I dread seeing the bill.

Take-away point: Don't pull your toddler by the arm until he/she is at least 4. Sounds like common sense, but I can't be the only clueless parent out there.

Friday, September 19, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Google recently launched Google Audio Indexing (GAudi) which converts video to text and allows the videos to be searched. I wonder how long before Google begins to crawl mp3s and video on the Web and serve it up in their search result pages?

  2. A new study by Pew Research finds that, believe it or not, almost all teenagers play video games.
    Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games... Older girls are the least "enthusiastic" players of video games, though more than half of them play. Some 65% of daily gamers are male; 35% are female.
    The most popular game teens play is Guitar Hero followed by Halo 3.

  3. Ten top Google scientists weigh-in on what the next ten years will bring on the Internet. None of them predicted that Sergey would actually start a blog.

  4. Sara Palin's Yahoo email account was hacked this week. Was she using her pet's name as her password? There doesn't appear to be any serious damage done except to her pride.

  5. Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! Now you can even search Google using pirate language.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wordle word clouds

Very cool visualization called Wordle that I found via Allan White's blog. Here's a word cloud I created using text from my blog:

I guess you could argue I'm a little fixated on Google.  wink

Friday, September 12, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. A new version of iTunes is out, and it contains Genius, a feature which magically creates playlists for your songs. Apparently some people don't think the feature works that well. I've only had a few minutes to play with it and haven't formed an opinion yet. I do wonder why Apple would name such a feature "Genius", thus putting a clear target on its head when it doesn't perform perfectly.

  2. ComputerWorld has a nice article summarizing Google's current dabble with enabling the masses to influence search results.

  3. Google is expanding their digitization efforts to news archives.

  4. Some researchers have built a "Facebot" application, a Facebook app which appears to be harmless but secretly performs a denial-of-service attack on an unsuspecting web server.

  5. If you've never seen Pirates of Silicon Valley, you can view the entire made-for-TV movie on YouTube, at least for a little while. This entertaining movie from 1999 shows how a young Bill Gates and Steve Jobs transformed the computer world, mostly by stealing ideas. The acting may not always be stellar, but if you're interested in how Apple and Microsoft got their start, you'll love this movie.

    Jobs: "You're stealing from us!"
    Gates: "Steve, we're not stealing from you. So don't tell me that..."
    Jobs: "What are you doing then? What is this that I keep hearing about you developing this... what do you call it... Windows?... to compete with us?!"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Harding enrollment numbers for Fall 2008

President Burks sent out the official enrollment numbers for the fall 2008 semester. There are 6,510 students enrolled at one of our campuses, and 3,940 undergrad students are at the main campus in Searcy. Essentially we saw an increase in graduate and professional program enrollment, but undergrad enrollment remained flat (I've been told that 1% is our target goal for undergrad enrollment).

PopulationFall 2007  Fall 2008  Percent Increase
Grad & Professional   2,1782,3226.6%

The number of students enrolled in Computer Science classes this semester (174) is also flat when compared to last fall (176).

Amazon ghost reviews

So I did an Amazon search for an upcoming book I'm interested in called The Future of Reputation and I get this result:

I thought to myself, "wow, five people have already given this book 5 stars! This is must be a really good book." So I visit the book's page and order a copy of it for the Harding library. 

Then I decide to take a look at the reviews out of curiosity. I can't seem to find them on the book's main page, so I go back to the search result and click on the 5 star rating. Then I see this:

So, is this just a bug in Amazon's software, or do they routinely award yet-to-be-released books with five 5-star ratings from ghost reviewers?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Culturally Savvy Christianity

On Sunday I started teaching a class entitled Culturally Savvy Christianity at the Cloverdale Church of Christ. If you are in town, I invite you to join us at 10:30 am this Sunday.

What does it mean for Christians to be savvy in regards to their culture? How does a Christian live in the world and at the same time avoid being of the world? Does living in the world mean I should be entertained by the same TV, movies, and music that the world listens to? These are just a few of the questions we'll be trying to answer in the next few months.

I'm referencing several texts which I have found to be very thought provoking when examining how Christians should interact with American popular culture:

1. Too Christian, Too Pagan by Dick Staub. Staub argues that Christians that fail to interact with the culture around them are in danger of being "too Christian" and not affecting the world as Jesus calls us to. Christians that engage their culture may be labeled "too pagan" by fellow Christians, but this is precisely what Jesus has called us to do: work to positively influence the world for Jesus.
2. The Culturally Savvy Christian is Dick Staub's latest book which explores our rather shallow popular culture and argues that Christians must not disengage or attack it, but instead transform it. "We are called to be culturally savvy Christians who are serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled at fulfilling our calling to be a loving, transforming presence in the world."
3. Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner explores the positive effect Christians could and should have on popular culture if they would engage it fully and get off the sidelines. Christians can become "roaring lambs" within the workplace or culture when they excel at their work and earn the respect of their peers. Briner did just this working in the sports and television industries.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Friday, September 05, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Google Chrome. It's fast. It's (mostly) secure. It's open source. It's all people are talking about.

    Personally, I really like it. Especially the Internets easter egg.

    The only thing I'm not fond of is how the Omnibar is used for entering URLs and search terms. While this creates a spartan interface, it also erases my search term after I enter it. Sometimes it's helpful to have it remain visible so I can quickly perform the same search in another tab.

    Also it mixes my search terms with my URLs while I'm typing... that is going to take some getting used to.

  2. When you write a paper, you want others to cite it, especially if you trying to get tenured. And it turns out there are some not-so-obvious things you can do to increase your chances, at least in the field of astro-physics. My guess is this is true of other fields too. 1) If your paper appears in a mailing list, make sure it's near the top. 2) Write longer papers.

  3. Trivia: Which web browser was the first to display an image?

  4. Interesting article on cyber warfare.

  5. This week I updated my Introduction to PHP for C++ Programmers. It now includes regular expressions, exception handling, and OOP. Let me know if you see something I should change and/or add.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Google comic: Where are all the women?

Like every other techie out there, I was excited when I found out this week that Google was releasing their own browser, Google Chrome. And I was dazzled by the array of technical enhancements they outlined in their comic book, illustrated by Scott McCloud.

But as I thumbed through the comic, I couldn't help but notice the dearth of female characters. Almost every comic character resembled your typical twenty-something computer dude, like the Mac guy from those (in)famous commercials.

I only found three women in the entire 38 page comic, and only one of them was a main character, pictured below twice. (Racial diversity is also an issue, but I won't go there.)

Now I understand that the characters featured in the comic were members of the Google Chrome team, and so the comic just reflected the gender makeup of the team. Google wasn't trying to be sexist. However, it does underscore an important point:
Technical fields like computer science are badly hurting for women.
As I look at my roster of 60 CS students this semester, I count only three females. There's only 10 females out of 75 students currently enrolled in an our introduction to programming classes this fall (13%), so that certainly doesn't bode well for the future.

And if Google, the tech company everyone wants to work for, can't find more than one woman to put on their team, we're all in trouble.

Something else about the comic that got me wondering: How is a comic book of young guys talking tech going to convert Internet Explorer users to Chrome users? The comic will only be interesting to guys that like comics and/or tech, and those guys are all using Firefox.

Perhaps that wasn't the point of the comic, but you have to believe Google wants the IE crowd to trade-up. The only browser marketshare I see Google capturing is from the Firefox crowd which is at roughly 18%. IE users, people like my parents who don't even really know what a browser is, are going to remain with IE. (That is unless Google figures out a sneaky way to put Chrome on their desktop through a "software update".)

Monday, September 01, 2008

An assessment of Churches of Christ in 2008

Our resident church statistician Flavil Yeakley has recently compiled a report entitled Good News and Bad News: A Realistic Assessment of Churches of Christ in the United States 2008. Yeakley presented his findings a few months back to a group of church leaders, but I don't think many church members are aware of his report. Unfortunately, Yeakley has not put his report online, but you can purchase it from the Harding Bookstore. I did find some slides online that detail much of the report.

In the report, Yeakley attempts to correct some misinformation that is circulating about the church using statistics from other published sources and from several surveys he has recently conducted. The surveys were completed by students and alumni from Christian colleges and universities and by church leaders about members that have graduated from high school in the past 10 years.

Here are some of the more interesting points from the report (good and bad news), in no particular order:
  • In 2000, the Churches of Christ was the 12th largest religious body in the US (1.6 million adherents).

  • In 2000, only the three largest denominations (Catholic Church, Southern Baptist, United Methodist) had more congregations in the US.

  • 87.9% of congregations in the Churches of Christ have less than 200 in attendance, 5.5% have between 200 and 300 in attendance, and 6.7% have more than 300.

  • The 5 states with the most Church of Christ members and congregations: Texas (22.4%), Tennessee (13.2%), Alabama (7.2%), Arkansas (5.3%), and Oklahoma (4.9%).

  • The Churches of Christ are more evenly distributed throughout the nation than any other religious body.

  • From 1980-2000, the Churches of Christ have grown by 45,407 adherents (2.8%), ranking 6th in growth of all religious bodies.

  • From 2000-2006, the Churches of Christ have lost 0.3% of their adherents.


What makes young people continue to be active in the church once they leave college?
  • A young person who attends a secular university but is actively involved in a local congregation is more likely to remain a member of the Church of Christ after graduation than a young person who attends a Christian university but is not actively involved in a local church (i.e., sending your kid to a Christian college is not going to necessarily ensure they will be a part of the church when they leave; they must personally decide to be involved while they are a student).
  • 30% of Church of Christ high school graduates later attend a Christian college, and 50% attend a secular college.

  • Retention rates are highest for those Churches of Christ who see themselves as relatively similar doctrinally to other Churches of Christ (i.e., churches that see themselves as very liberal or very similar tend to lose more members).


Divorce is a serious problem affecting the church, but the numbers are quite as bad as some have assumed.
  • Among young people who graduated from high school within the past 10 years, 4.2% of those who are members of the Church of Christ have divorced. Compare this to 8.1% of the general US population who graduated high school within the past 10 years and divorced.

  • The divorce rate for current members of the Church of Christ who graduated from a Christian college is 5.4%; alumni who currently are not affiliated with any church have a divorce rate of 20.7%.

Friday, August 29, 2008


We just completed our first week of 16 for the fall semester. Only 15 more to go! ;-) And with that, my pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Microsoft has recently released Photosynth to the public. This technology was developed jointly by Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington a few years ago. It takes photos from various view points and synthesizes them into a 3D object when can be rotated. Warning: leaving your browser pointing to a Photosynth page will use up 50% of your processor (at least it did for me), slowing everything down.

  2. The Internet Archive, Library of Congress, and a few other partners are going to archive many of the government's websites at the end of the Bush administration. In the past this has been done by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but they decided it wasn't worth the effort this time around. I'm glad someone else thinks it is.

  3. After less than one year, Yahoo Mash is no more. Wonder how many people are losing a year's worth of social interaction? Someday the same thing is going to happen to MySpace or Facebook, and there are going to be revolts in the streets.

  4. Some interesting research done by facesaerch reveals that individuals usually google Windows and Linux on weekdays and Apple on weekends. Does this mean we "work and suffer with MS and Linux" during the week and "relax with Apple on the weekends"? Or are people just more interested in vegetation on weekends? ;-)

  5. Internet Explorer 8 Beta is available. Like many others, I've made the switch to Firefox, mainly because I liked the add-on features. Apple's sly Safari install didn't convince me to switch. But I'm very tempted to give IE 8 a try. Has anyone tried it out yet?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Break-in attempt was detected

You gotta love an error message like this.

Before lunch I was filling out a web form using SunGard's Pipeline software (probably the most popular web portal software in higher education). After lunch I returned to my computer and submit the form. Then I saw this. Note that the system is still welcoming me and thinks I'm logged in.

Not only is Pipeline accusing me of a crime, it's giving me technical details that give me no help in how to correct the problem. Why in the world are they telling me the contents of my CPSESSION cookie? All they need to do is tell me I need to log back in.

Take note, my GUI students, of what not to do...

Friday, August 22, 2008


My pick of the week's top five items of interest:
  1. If you are attending Freed-Hardeman University, Oklahoma Christian University, or Abilene Christian University this fall, you may be getting a "free" iPhone or iPod (of course the students are still paying for it in increased tuition or technology fees). Several of our sister institutions are handing them out to incoming students so students can listen or record lectures, so campus-wide communications can be easily sent, and so teachers can take in-class polls. I'm interested to see if making these devices ubiquitous improves learning or just encourages students to phase-out during class.

  2. GUI Blooper: Read about some usability issues in Windows Search.

  3. Some MIT students were recently ordered by a judge not to present their report on hacking Bonston's subway system at this year's Defcon conference. The gag order has been dropped, but the students missed their opportunity to speak at Defcon. Instead of first sharing the security holes with the transit system and giving them time to fix the holes, the students were going to share their hacks at the conference but hide some of the details required to actually get free rides. This legal mess illustrates the many problems of turning security holes into public research.

  4. Scour, a new meta-search engine with some social enhancements, is offering to pay users to use their search engine. You earn points for searching and getting others to search, and eventually you earn a Visa gift card.

  5. A new visualization tool that helps experts understand flooding has recently been developed at Monash University. With their interactive tool, you can raise and lower the flood marks and watch the city drown.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gearing up for the fall semester

I'm back in Searcy and re-adapting to the heat and humidity. I've got less than one week to prepare for classes which begin on Monday. I'm trying some new things which I think will enhance each of the classes I'm teaching:
  • Intro to Programming - Traditionally I introduce algorithm development with flow charts before we ever write any C++ code. This time I'm going to replace flow charting with MIT's Scratch. I'm hoping this might engage the students more by allowing them to create animated programs early on instead of writing flow charts that don't exactly capture the imagination (e.g., finding prime factors of a number).

  • GUI Programming - Usually I have students create three desktop applications using C#, VB.NET, and Java. This time last assignment will require developing a mobile application, possibly for the iPhone. This will allow students to respect the limitations of a small screen and take advantage of mobility that desktop applications lack.

    Update: After some digging around, it looks like developing iPhone apps on a Windows box is currently not possible. So we'll probably use either the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework or the Java Platform, Micro Edition.

  • Computing Seminar - I'm encouraging one of my students to do a presentation on which programming language should be taught in the Intro to Programming class. This will require the student to compare our curriculum with others and the pros and cons of teaching C++ first (Harding is one of the few universities which has not jumped on the Java train). If the presentation is done well, we just might change what we're doing.

I'm open to other ideas if anyone would like to leave a comment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tron 2 trailer

This is almost too good to be true... a Tron 2 (Tr2n) trailer featuring Jeff Bridges was shown a few weeks ago at Comic Con. Someone was able to film it, and although the bootleg has been hosted at a variety of sites, Disney has forced them all to remove it. Thankfully it is still available from RuTube (thanks, Russia) where I found it via the unofficial Tron 2 Trailer Blog.

Tron (1982) was the very first movie to use computer graphics, and it was one of the movies that turned me onto computers as a kid. It has a large cult following that has eagerly wanted to see a sequel for years. It looks like we are finally getting our wish.

Now, the quality of the trailer isn't great, but you can still see the dueling lightcycles and later on Jeff Bridges. Make sure you are sitting down for this. ;-)

Program 1: "It's just a game!"
Program 2: "Not anymore..."

End of line.

(Thanks, Will.)