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.