Monday, March 31, 2008

Ethan: From 1 month to 12

Each month on Ethan's birthday we took a photo with marshmallows and candles. Look at that boy grow!

Month 1

Month 2

Month 3

Month 4

Month 5

Month 6

Month 7

Month 8

Month 9

Month 10

Month 11

Month 12

If you think it's easy getting Ethan to pose for these pics... think again! Here's some "outtakes":

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Technically his birthday is not until tomorrow, but we had a big first birthday party for Ethan yesterday with the grandparents, and I wanted to post a few photos. It's amazing seeing how Ethan has changed over his first year. He started as a little guy who couldn't turn himself over, and now he's almost walking and talking!

Ethan has certainly changed our lives. It's been tough for Becky and me to give up some of the freedoms we used to enjoy, like being able to go out whenever we wanted or take weekend trips. Or just sleep in. But I can honestly say having a son has made me a better person. And I think I understand a little better how hard it must have been for God the Father to watch his son endure the cross.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cox in USA Today

My in-laws are in town, and my parents are going to be here in a few hours to celebrate Ethan's first birthday. Too much going on to write a Fav5, but I did think this was cool. From the Religion section of USA Today:
Monte Cox, director of the Center for World Missions at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., says his days spent hoeing and listening to workers in Kenyan cotton fields in the 1980s helped him be a more effective church planter there. He also acknowledges a need for today's short-term missionaries to establish better relationships by taking time to learn about their hosts.

But in his view, God calls Christians to do more than listen in the mission field. "These days, virtually everything qualifies as mission," Cox says. "Mission is more focused than simply breathing, or breathing while you live among another people. … It ceases to be mission if there is no intention to speak the truth that we go to tell."

- USA Today, Mar. 18, 2007

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

March Madness

I picked my brackets in about 60 seconds, and it's mostly paying off, at least when you compare my standings with my 26 friends who picked brackets on Facebook:

It's when you start comparing me to the entire Facebook population where things aren't so rosy wink:

Friday, March 21, 2008


It's Spring Sing weekend at Harding, and the sun is shining. Here's my pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Technology Review has just released its top 10 emerging technologies of 2008, those technologies that are most likely to make a huge impact on the way we live. I personally find offline Web applications to be most interesting. This is an area Adobe and Google are vigorously pursuing.

  2. Joan Smith (my former office-mate in graduate school) and Michael Nelson (my former Ph.D. adviser and pioneer of digital preservation wink) just published an article in D-Lib Magazine showing a year's worth of crawling activity on some specially designed websites. Make sure you check out the animated images in Tables 3 and 6- they show the crawling behavior of an aggressive Google and timid Yahoo and MSN.

  3. Ethics 101: You're a popular search engine that allows users to see emergent news from a number of sources. But you're housed in a country where the authorities often seek to squelch information that doesn't hold to the party line. If you show news stories that make the authorities look bad, your search engine will be shut down or blocked. What do you do?

  4. Joel Spolsky writes an excellent article about IE 8 and the many difficulties of creating software that supports "standards". This is required reading for all you software engineers and CS students. (The article is a little long, but it's worth it.)

  5. While we're on the topic of web browsers, almost a year ago Steve Jobs announced that the next version of Safari (Apple's web browser) would run on Windows. Now Apple is using iTunes to push it out to the Microsoft world. My guess is that many unsuspecting users are going to think they need Safari to run iTunes since it appears in the same dialog box they always see when needing to install an iTunes update. Many users are going to downloaded it and puzzle over the new icon on their desktop. This should be interesting...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Mark Elrod tagged me for this meme. I don't usually do this kind of stuff, but I thought this one had a useful point.

THE RULES: Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt.”

Link back to this blog entry.

Include links to 5 (or more) educators. (Sorry, but I respectfully decline.)

"Love thy user as thyself."

The title is based on Lev. 19:18 and Jesus' statement of the two most important commandments in the Law (Matt. 22:39). On a shallow level, if software developers would write programs that treat their users with dignity, kindness, and respect, I think we'd have far less frustrated users. On a deeper level, if we as Christians would treat our fellow employees, family, and even strangers as we would want to be treated, what a huge impact for Christ we would have in this world.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spy Hunter commercial

In a brilliant marketing move, Pontiac has made a commercial for their new Pontiac G8 based on the popular 1983 arcade game Spy Hunter. I'm not one to admit being motivated by commercials, but this one did have an effect on me... I have a nostalgic place in my heart for Spy Hunter. smile

P.S. If you liked this one, you'll probably get a kick out of Honda's Tron commercial.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Harding students serve homeless over Spring Break

This post is a little late. The week before last week was Harding's spring break. While many students view spring break as a time to party and self-indulge, several hundred Harding students take a different approach. They go out across the country and serve, painting homes, feeding the homeless, teaching the Gospel, playing with orphans, etc. I'm always amazed at how giving these students can be, taking Jesus' admonition to go into the world and be light seriously.

This year a group of students went to my hometown of Denver to work with the homeless. An article about the student's mission trip appeared in the Denver Post which you can read online. (Ah, the Denver Post... that brings back not-so-pleasant memories of delivering papers at 4am...)

I'm glad these students focused on Denver as there is a rather large homeless population there. As stated in the article, there are approximately 1,400 people between the ages of 13 and 25 living on the streets in Denver on any given day. As a teenager, I remember going downtown during the winter months and being shocked at how many people were spending the night on the street in subfreezing temperatures.

Jesus once said that the poor would always be among us, but that doesn't mean they have to go homeless. It's good to see young Christians tackling such a significant problem.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fav5 on Pi Day

It's 3.14 and time for my pick of the week's top 5 6 items of interest:
  1. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, gave the keynote address on Sunday at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi). The talk was led by interviewer Sarah Lacy, a columnist for BusinessWeek. Let's just say it did not go well. At all. You can see Sara's attempt to defend herself and the full keynote (it gets pretty bad around minute 55).

  2. Meredith Morris, a researcher at Microsoft, is working on helping groups collaboratively do Web search together with their tool SearchTogether.

  3. Google recently released a YouTube JavaScript Player API which allows you to place a player within your page and control it programmaticly. Here's a simple example.

  4. USENIX has gone OA - now you can access all their current and past papers freely online. Excellent.

  5. Thinking about using Facebook in leu of a face-to-face study group? If you're a student at Ryerson University, you better think again...

  6. (BONUS) Congratulations to the Harding Bison basketball team who will be playing in the NCAA Division II Basketball Tournament. This is only their second appearance in the tourney. The opening game is Sat at 2:30 against Tampa.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What does Questio Verum mean?

I recently stumbled across WikiAnswers where someone had posted the question:
What does questio verum mean?
This is of course the name of my blog, and I'm sure many have wondered what the title was supposed to mean.

Questio is Latin for seeking, and verum is Latin for truth, so questio verum is seeking truth. As a Christian, college professor, and researcher, my life is geared around seeking after the truth. I believe God has placed within all of us a desire to know the truth, and it's up to us to openly and honestly follow the truth, wherever it may lead. Yes, we can handle the truth.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Search engine text snippet

Recently my search engine class was discussing where search engines like Google get the text snippet they display on the search results pages (SERPs). For example, a search for frank mccown using shows the following SERP:

The text snippet circled in red might be from the full text of the web page, from a description from ODP (see this example), or, as in this case, it might come from the meta description tag like the one I have in my web page:
<meta name="description" content="Frank McCown, Assistant Professor of Computer Science">
Just for fun, I changed this tag a few weeks ago. Although Live has re-crawled my page since then, they have not re-indexed the meta tag. But Google (and Yahoo) have:

This of course is a very misleading description of my web page, but Google doesn't appear to care. A Google search for this description will not make my page appear in the SERP, so the misleading description is only hurting me (and those trying to find me).

I'm a little surprised Google doesn't at least search for the terms from the description in the accompanying web page just to make sure the description is not misleading. I suppose it's better to err on the side of giving your web page author the benefit of the doubt than to deal with all the complaints of those whose tags might be ignored.

Matt Cutts from Google discusses text snippets on YouTube.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Facebook: A comparison of two universities

As a recent graduate of a large public university in Virginia (Old Dominion University) and now a professor at a small private university in Arkansas (Harding University), I though it would be interesting to compare the demographics of these two institutions based on Facebook network membership. Facebook provides statistical data for various categories like favorite movies, interests, political views, etc. making such a comparison easy to do.

A few caveats: faculty, staff, students, and some alumni are all grouped together (the only criteria for joining the university's network is that you have a university address). Also, it's difficult to say how many members of each group make up the network population; my guess is students make up around 90% of the population since they are more likely than other demographics to be interested in Facebook.

On the left: ODU, a racially diverse state university of about 20,000 students located in the populous Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. The school has many graduate programs and non-traditional students. On the right: Harding, a private Christian university of approximately 6,000 students located in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas. A majority of students are enrolled straight out of high school, and there are only a handful of graduate programs.

I have bolded values that do not appear in the other school's list. Some commentary appears under each category.

Old Dominion University

Harding University

Total Members
Since ODU is almost four times as large as Harding, it appears that a higher percentage of Harding students (and faculty and staff) are Facebook members.

48% Female
38% Male
14% None Listed
47% Female
41% Male
12% None Listed
Not surprising, females outnumber males significantly on both campuses. However, gender confusion reigns on both campuses.

Relationship Status
34% Single
27% In a Relationship
26% None Listed
6% Married
4% Engaged
2% It's Complicated
1% In an Open Relationship
31% Single
25% None Listed
19% In a Relationship
18% Married
7% Engaged
1% It's Complicated
Although three times as many Harding students are married, ODU and Harding have almost the same percentage of singles. Open Relationship = She'll date me as long as I don't care that she's dating others

Political Views
54% None Listed
13% Moderate
11% Liberal
10% Conservative
6% Other
3% Very Liberal
1% Libertarian
1% Apathetic
1% Very Conservative
46% None Listed
28% Conservative
13% Moderate
5% Other
3% Liberal
2% Apathetic
2% Very Conservative
1% Libertarian
Liberals have a slight edge at ODU, but there are nine times as many conservative Harding students and less that 1% that considers themselves to be "very liberal."

Top Interests
1 Music
2 Sports
3 Shopping
4 Reading
5 Movies
6 Video Games
7 Dancing
8 Writing
9 Working Out
10 Girls
1 Music
2 Movies
3 Football
4 Sports
5 Hanging Out With Friends
6 God
7 Working Out
8 Reading
9 Family
10 My Friends
Music appears to be a favorite interest, no matter which school you attend. Video games is conspicuously missing from Harding's list... judging by the amount of time my students spend playing video games, I would say it easily ranks in the top 5. It's good to see God ranks up there for Harding students; He seems to be absent from ODU's list.

Top Music
1 R&b
2 Rap
3 Green Day
4 Journey
5 Jay-z
6 Hip Hop
7 Country
8 Tim Mcgraw
9 Jack Johnson
10 Incubus
1 Jack Johnson
2 Country
3 John Mayer
4 Brand New
5 Taking Back Sunday
6 Rock
7 Dashboard Confessional
8 Relient K
9 Rap
10 Damien Rice
Poor taste in music also seems to be universal. wink Country may rank higher at Harding because it attracts many rural students.

Top Books
1 Anything By Nicholas Sparks
2 Harry Potter
3 The Notebook
4 The Chronicles Of Narnia
5 Coldest Winter Ever
6 Bible
7 Da Vinci Code
8 Ayn Rand
9 Anything By Steven King
1 The Bible
2 Harry Potter
3 Blue Like Jazz
4 1984
5 The Chronicles Of Narnia
6 Pride And Prejudice
7 Lord Of The Rings
8 Holes
9 Magazines
Nick is one popular guy at ODU considering one of his books ranks #3 as well. Do Harding students understand the difference between books and magazines?

Top Movies
1 The Notebook
2 Wedding Crashers
3 Boondock Saints
4 Blow
5 Finding Nemo
6 Dirty Dancing
7 Crash
8 Requiem For A Dream
9 Remember The Titans
10 Hitch
1 The Notebook
2 Remember The Titans
3 Lord Of The Rings
4 Shrek
5 Anchorman
6 Braveheart
7 A Walk To Remember
8 Red Eye
9 Gladiator
10 Friday Night Lights
This list has the fewest shared members of all the top 10 lists; however, students at both schools agree that The Notebook is #1. (Well, it may not be everyone's favorite movie, but it appears on more top lists than any other movie, most likely because of the large female population.) How does Blow, a movie about selling cocaine, make it on the ODU list and not Braveheart?

Top TV
1 House
2 Family Guy
3 Grey's Anatomy
4 Scrubs
5 Friends
7 The Hills
8 Nip/Tuck
9 Heroes
10 Gilmore Girls
1 Grey's Anatomy
2 Family Guy
3 House
4 24
5 Friends
6 The Office
8 Lost
9 Gilmore Girls
10 American Idol
Students at both universities share remarkably similar interests in TV shows. Only a few differences: the ODU crowd likes to watch dysfunctional rich people (Hills, Nup/Tuck) whereas Harding students prefer more adventure (Lost) and pseudo-reality shows that should have been canceled seasons ago (Idol). wink

Although ODU and Harding are in many ways very different from each other (location, size, political and religious views), this simple comparison shows the two groups have a lot in common when comparing cultural likes. Nuff said.

Update on 1/7/2009

Apparently Facebook has disabled the Network summary pages that I used to do this comparison. The URLs I used to view the summary statistics for Harding and ODU now redirect to a search page for the networks.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My visit to the Internet Archive

After my visit to the Googleplex, I drove up to San Francisco to meet Kris Carpenter of the Internet Archive. My dissertation work had a lot to do with Google and Internet Archive, it was exciting to visit both places in the same day.

IA's main headquarters is located in the Presidio, an ex-Army base near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge (in an incredibly beautiful setting). As the photo shows, IA is housed in a few buildings that were originally built in the late 1800s. It's a very quaint setting and appropriate for an organization that is attempting to archive the Internet for future generations. The data center is housed in downtown San Francisco which I didn't see.

Before getting a tour of the facilities, Kris, Gordon, Brad, and I met and discussed some upcoming opportunities for undergraduate CS students to contribute to the Wayback Machine and other projects. I'm hoping some of my students will get involved this summer or next semester. We also talked about doing another URL overlap study like the one I did a year ago. I brought up the subject of archiving Facebook and other social networks, and apparently other researchers from places like Stanford have already approached them about the subject. This is something I'd like to get involved in.

I also met several staffers and ran into Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive's founder. It was really neat meeting the guy that was responsible for what I think is one of the most worthwhile organizations out there.

Pictured below: Machine from the data center (left), machine which can print out a paper copy of a book in several minutes (center), and guys scanning in a book (right). Other photos are available on Flickr.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ethan says something about Dada

Ethan is getting really active these days. I haven't seen him in a few days (I'm sitting in the Denver International Airport as I type), but I play this video to remind me of what a character he is. If you're an Ethan fan like me, I think you'll enjoy this video.

My visit to the Googleplex

After the PC meeting at Stanford, I stayed an extra day in Palo Alto so I could visit the Googleplex in Mountain View. A friend of a friend who works in marketing at Google (Mohsin Imam) met me Monday morning and graciously showed me around.

The complex is beautiful. As shown in the photo, it sits in a hilly and green location near the water, and the sun is almost always shining. The architecture is unconventional, with open areas in many unexpected locations.

As many have noted, the Googleplex is like a college campus. There's on-site laundry, cafeterias, health care, and recreational facilities. There's a sand volleyball court in the courtyard along with a dinosaur skeleton. There are community bikes and scooters in the building lobbies. Food and drinks are everywhere, making the Google 15's a real danger your first year. Speakers from industry and academia give talks on a variety of topics each week.

Something I found really cool was that there were experts in practically every programming language out there (Java, Perl, Python, etc.) who regularly held office hours. You could show them your code and get help with whatever problem you were having. With guys like Guido van Rossum roaming around campus (inventor of the Python programming language), you have easy access to a wealth of knowledge.

Larry and Sergey have done an excellent job at creating an atmosphere that inspires creativity and meets all the needs of their employees. Once you are on campus, there's very little reason to leave it, especially if you are young and don't have a family. Google goes above and beyond what most companies do to attract and keep their employees. In fact, any employee who decides to leave Google will be greatly disappointed to learn in the "real world" that gourmet food, health care, and massages are not free.

After the tour, Mohsin and I got lunch at Charlie's Cafe (one of the 25 things you need to do at the Googleplex before you die) and ate outside in the courtyard since it was sunny and warm. It was a very busy place as the Googlers filed out of their cubicles and into the cafe. I looked a little out of place since I wasn't wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and I was clearly 10 years older than most of the employees. Occasionally there were older-looking individuals in the crowd, and these were likely management according to Mohsin. It was almost like being back at the Harding cafeteria where the occasional older guy is faculty.

I didn't get to meet Larry, Sergey, or Matt Cutts, but it was a fantastic visit anyway. I'm very grateful to Mohsin who took time out of his busy day to give me the tour. Hopefully I'll be able to return someday... it will be interesting to see how things change as their workforce matures.

Some pics: A mock-up of the Google data center computers (left), me in a sleeping module (center), trains and blocks for the engineers to play with (right). Other photos available on Flickr.