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.)

2008 Segway Polo Woz Challenge Cup

One of my former students just interviewed Steve Wozniak while doing an internship at the Indiana State Museum. A video about the Polo tournament is available on YouTube (Rachel is doing the voice-over), and a brief portion of the interview is near the end.

Obviously the C++ Rachel learned from me really paid off. ;-)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More New Mexico photos

I just got back from taking Becky and Ethan to the airport. I'll be here in Los Alamos another week while they're soaking up the Arkansas humidy. Here's some photos from the past few weeks.

Celebrating our anniversary
in Chimayo

Enjoying the back porch

Cool kid

Outside our apartment

Exploring the globe with
buddy Cade

My neighbor's not an
avid biker

Hiking with the family

Looking manly (stupid?)
with buddy Kent

Friday, August 08, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. Microsoft is helping researchers by providing new plugins to Microsoft Office. If you've ever used Word to write a thesis or journal article, you know what a mess it is. I hope these tools will help a little.

  2. Three French journalists who work for Global Security Magazine were expelled from the Black Hat conference for allegedly sniffing the press room computer network. A little ironic that attendees can be kicked out for hacking at a conference that shares hacking info.

  3. This morning I was given the chance to view the new Facebook interface. I give it two thumbs up for simplicity. I wonder though how they picked my Broncos fan box to appear on the first page and relegated my Cowboys fan box to the 4th tab?

  4. Harding University is ranked number 1972 in the top 4000 universities in the world according to the latest Webometrics Ranking. The ranking is supposedly based on "electronic access to scientific publications" and "other academic materials".

  5. Check out this timeline of Internet memes. (Thanks, Jonathan.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

code_swarm: Software project visualization

You need to see this. Ph.D. student Michael Ogawa at UC Davis has created an "organic information visualization" called code_swarm which animates contributions to a software project through time. Documents and source code fly in, hover around the developer's name, and gradually fade to black as commits become more rare. The soundtrack adds to the effect. Examples include Eclipse, Python, PostgreSQL, and Apache. (Thanks, Stephan.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

ORE and preservation

Our network is down, so I thought this would be a good time to share what it is exactly I've been doing this summer at LANL. I'm working with the Digital Library Research and Prototyping team, led by Herbert Van de Sompel, which is located in the back of the Research Library. My work focuses on issues regarding the preservation of ORE Resource Maps. What are ORE Resource Maps? First, some background.

The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) has created the Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE) project which provides standards for defining and discovering aggregations of web resources. The ORE specs are currently in beta, and the 1.0 spec will be released at the end of Sept. You can read the Primer on-line, but I'll attempt to give the gist of it below.

An aggregation is a collection of web resources that make up a single, conceptual resource. For example, a scholarly publication may consist of several web resources: an HTML "splash page", a PDF version, a slideshow, and the raw data used to perform the research. An aggregation documenting a special event like 9-11 could be composed of images, video footage, news stories, and blog posts. Aggregated resources may reside on the same website, or they may be distributed across a number of websites.

While it's relatively easy for humans to determine the boundaries of an aggregation, it's extremely difficult for a computer. So the ORE Model introduces the concept of a Resource Map (ReM), a web resource that acts as an organizational unit, defining the boundaries of an aggregation and indicating the relationships between the aggregated resources. A computer can read a ReM and know for certain which resources belong together.

The figure below (taken from the Primer) shows a ReM which describes an aggregation (A-1) composed of three aggregated resources (AR-1, AR-2, AR-3). The relationships between the ReM, aggregation, and aggregated resources are indicated with RDF triples.

ReMs can be represented with RDF/XML, RDFa, and (most simply) with the Atom Syndication Format. An example ReM (borrowed from here using Atom) for a D-Lib magazine article is shown below. The ReM lists four aggregated resources shown in bold.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>

<atom:entry xmlns:atom="">
<atom:title>Observed Web Robot Behavior on Decaying Web Subsites</atom:title>
<atom:name>Michael Nelson</atom:name>
<atom:name>Joan Smith</atom:name>
<atom:name>Frank McCown</atom:name>

<atom:link rel="alternate" type="text/html"
href="" />
<atom:link rel="self"
href="" />

<atom:category scheme=""
label="Aggregation" />

<atom:link rel="" type="text/html"
href="" />
<atom:link rel="" type="text/html"
href="" />
<atom:link rel="" type="application/pdf"
href="" />
<atom:link rel="" type="image/png"
href="" />


So what does this have to do with preservation? You are probably well aware that web pages and entire websites disappear from Web on a regular basis. Because of this, search engines like Google make pages available from their cache, and web archives like the Internet Archive regularly take snapshots of the Web. I like to call these combined preservation efforts the Web Infrastructure (WI).

If you're familiar with my recent work, you know that I created a service called Warrick which uses the WI to reconstruct lost websites. Warrick is used to reconstruct over 100 websites a month.

So what happens if you were to create a ReM, and then the resources you pointed to disappeared or changed? How can we ensure the ReM is accurate at various points in time over its lifetime?

Michael Nelson, my former PhD adviser, suggested we leverage the intelligence of web users to preserve ReMs. If a large community of users put effort into creating and caring for Wikipedia articles, would a community of users also care for ReMs? And could we use the WI in conjunction with the small, distributed actions of this community to curate ReMs?

So this summer I've been building a prototype system called ReMember which demonstrates how we could get general web users to preserve ReMs in the WI. I've written a paper about it (still under review) which I'll make available soon. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make the prototype available to the public, but you can see a screenshot below which shows several aggregated resources from a ReM.

Users are requested to click on resources that are 404 or have undergone significant change. They can use a search engine like Google to find the new location of the missing resource, and they can push copies of resources into the WI. ReMember allows a user to view resources as they existed at various times throughout the lifetime of the ReM.

If you find any of this stuff interesting and want to know more, send me an email.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. In The 'Anti-Java' Professor and the Jobless Programmers, CS professor Robert Dewar complains of the Java-centric mentality that many American CS graduates have today. Here are two questions Dewar might ask a recent graduate in an interview in order to separate the wheat from the chaff:
    1) You begin to suspect that a problem you are having is due to the compiler generating incorrect code. How would you track this down? How would you prepare a bug report for the compiler vendor? How would you work around the problem?

    2) You begin to suspect that a problem you are having is due to a hardware problem, where the processor is not conforming to its specification. How would you track this down? How would you prepare a bug report for the chip manufacturer, and how would you work around the problem?

  2. In Google Still Not Indexing Hidden Web URLs, Kat Hagedorn and Joshua Santelli follow-up on a paper I published two years ago. Apparently Google is still not doing a good job indexing the OAI-PMH corpus; only 44% of the URLs tested were indexed by Google.

  3. Carnegie Mellon has just introduced a new masters degree: Master of
    Tangible Interaction Design
    . The one year degree combines computer science and architecture.

  4. The Google Blog has a series of posts discussing how Google ranks their results. The discussion is understandable for non-techies and delves into the psychology of web search.

  5. Just for fun: Super Mario Bros. in 20 lines of JavaScript.