Friday, January 30, 2009

Fav5 - Jan 30, 2009

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

  1. Researchers at the University of Washington are developing a system for "digitally preserving and authenticating first-hand accounts of war crimes, atrocities and genocide." The system computes a hash of the video so that any changes to the video content will render it un-authentic.

  2. Is the GDrive (Google Web Drive) for real? Scott Gilbertson argues that problems with security and large media files will hinder the GDrive from becoming a killer-app. Not everyone agrees.

  3. April 23,2008: The highest volume of email spam caught by Google on a single day. Google blocked an average of 194 spam messages per user that day.

  4. I just made available a paper on arXiv that I co-authored with Michael Nelson and Herbert Van de Sompel entitled Everyone is a Curator: Human-Assisted Preservation for ORE Aggregations. I'll be presenting this paper at DigCCurr 2009 in April.

  5. This year's Super Bowl pits the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Although I really like Big Ben, I'll be cheering for Kurt Warner and the underdog Cardinals. I'll also be watching the commercials, hoping they're a lot better than last year's.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

View my blog in Facebook

A few weeks ago I added my blog's feed to my Facebook Notes so it would automatically import each posting into Facebook's Notes application. It's easy to do, and it makes it convenient for friends who never leave the confines of Facebook to see what I'm up to.

I've only noticed a fews problems. One is that comments made on my blog aren't imported into Facebook and vice versa. It would be nice if Facebook would merge the two. Also if I embed a video in my blog post, Facebook won't include it in my Note. The last problem is speed: it sometimes takes several hours for my post to show up in Facebook. This is probably because it takes Blogger a while to update my feed and Facebook a while for it to check for changes.

Overall though I think this feature is a great idea.

Now that we can import our data into Facebook, how do we export our data out? I've just written a paper about this topic that is under review. Contact me if you'd like to know more about it.

Friday, January 23, 2009


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

  1. Apple's "1984" commercial which introduced the Macintosh, the computer that would popularize graphical user interfaces, debuted yesterday, 25 years ago during Super Bowl XVIII.

  2. Three days ago, Senator Obama was inaugurated as President. According to a post on the Google Blog,
    "From President Bush's first inaugural address in 2001 to his second in 2005, the number of inauguration-related searches increased by more than a factor of ten. From 2005 to today's address, the number grew even more."
    Among the interesting search behavior from the day, the overall volume of search traffic from the US dropped significantly while Obama took his oath... we were all glued to our TV sets.

  3. Having trouble remembering to wash your hands? After you see this you won't.

  4. Even Google is not immune to the economy. This quarter they hired 99 new workers, the lowest number of new hires since going public in 2004. They even canceled their highly touted scientific data hosting service before it went live. Things aren't much better for Microsoft who plans to layoff 5000 workers. Despite the bad news, tech salaries actually increased 4.6% last year.

  5. If you received a message via Facebook from your boss saying you were fired, would you believe it? Also, Facebook is now apparently twice the size as MySpace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Goodbye, my "friend"

I've been doing some research on Facebook which has required me to spend a lot more time than usual looking at my Wall and news feed. One friend appears there almost every time I look, and usually it's because he's posted something contentious, designed to provoke his "friends" into an argument. I'm really getting tired of seeing his posts.

So today I've decided to de-friend my first friend. Actually, we're not even true friends... I don't think I've even met the guy. So why do I feel so guilty about removing him? As Facebook warns me, this action is serious... it "cannot be undone." wink

Remove friend
BTW: A colleague of mine told me how he once removed someone from his list of Facebook friends. The de-friended had hundreds of friends, so how would she know? Turns out she had memorized the number of friends she had, and noticing that the number went down by 1, she scanned through her list of friends until she somehow noticed the one name that was no longer there! My buddy was busted!

Friday, January 16, 2009


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

  1. A typical Google search generates 7g of CO2. Or maybe not. (Thanks, Dustin.)

  2. CWE/SANS just released a report of the Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors. This is going out to all my programming classes.

  3. The NY Times had this to say about the R programming language:
    "But R has also quickly found a following because statisticians, engineers and scientists without computer programming skills find it easy to use."
    Sorry, but I do have computer programming skills and still find it quite difficult to use, primarily because the documentation is lacking useful examples. That's why I created an R tutorial to help myself and others struggling with the language.

  4. Looks like Warrick, the service I developed a few years ago, is still getting some good press. (Thanks, Burt.)

  5. I found this on Matt Cutt's blog: Mac vs PC. What initially looks like a low-budget production suddenly transforms into footage that looks like it's from a multimillion dollar high-tech Hollywood production.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sometimes I hate Travelocity

Yesterday I was booking a flight from Little Rock to the Raleigh-Durham airport. I used as I frequently do, found a great rate for $174 on Continental, and proceeded to provide all my detailed travel information (address, phone number, frequent flier number, etc.) and my payment info (credit card number, expiration date, etc.). I then went through four screens, meticulously picking out an available seat on each flight near the emergency exit.

After entering all this information and agreeing to their draconian cancellation terms, Travelocity finally asked me to click one final button which would charge the ticket to my credit card. After clicking it and waiting a few seconds, I got this message:
Sorry, but that ticket is no longer available.

I tried to remain calm as I started my search over and selected different Continental flights listed at the same price. I again went through the multiple screens as before, re-entered all my personal information, re-selected the seats I wanted (there were a ton of open seats), and clicked on the final purchase button. Again:
Sorry, but that ticket is no longer available.

At this point I nearly punched my computer. I yelled out something I'm sure most of the faculty heard from their offices. I'm usually not an angry kind of guy, but I was hot.

When I started my search over again, the same flights that had been denied me were still listed as valid selections!

In my anger, I swore I would not give Travelocity my business. I headed over to Expedia where I found the same flights for about the same price. When I selected them for purchase, I again was given an error message that the flights were not available. At least this time I was told before having spent 15 minutes entering all my info and selecting my seats. However, re-doing my search still brought up the same flights.

Hey guys: If you are going to frustrate your users by giving them the option of selecting flights that may or may not actually be available, at least have the decency of removing the unavailable flights from the user's search results once you know they are definitely unavailable!

Secondly, don't ask the user to duplicate their work. There was no reason for Travelocity to make me re-enter all the same personal information a second time, especially when I clicked on the checkbox that told them I wanted them to remember my info!

I realize there was probably some software glitch with Continental's pricing info since it affected both sites, but you should account for these types of errors. Don't waste your users' time. Suggestion to Travelocity and Expedia programmers: read GUI Bloopers by Jeff Johnson and take some good notes.

Eventually I purchased a more expensive ticket on Southwest Airlines from the SWA website. I'm still angry.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Famous CS majors

This semester six of my sixteen students (38%) in intro to programming are female. That's probably the highest percentage of females I've ever had in 10+ years of teaching this class. Maybe we have bottomed-out. Unfortunately, several of these females are engineering majors (mechanical or electrical), so I'm doing my best to change their minds and get them to switch to computer science. wink

I've spent the last couple of days in class recounting the brief history of computing, and it occurred to me that CS is the major you really want to have these days if you are looking to make a big splash. Here are just a few examples of guys who at one time or another majored in computer science or something related:
  1. Founders of Yahoo - David Filo (CE, Tulane & Stanford) and Jerry Yang (EE, Stanford)

  2. Founders of Google - Larry Page and Sergey Brin (they dropped out of their CS Ph.D. work at Stanford before graduating)

  3. Founder of Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg (CS, Harvard University)

  4. Founder of Microsoft - Bill Gates (he dropped out of Harvard without declaring a major, but my guess is he would have been CS)

  5. Founder of Napster - Shawn Fanning (CS major before he dropped out of Northwestern University)

  6. Co-Founder of Apple - Steve Wozniak (EECS, UC Berkeley)

I'm sure I've missed a number of famous CS majors (and a number of females), but my point is that CS is the place to be. Or at least it's the major to have before you drop out of school and become disgustingly wealthy.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Classes start on Monday. Here's my pick of the week's top 5 items of interest before the storm begins:
  1. Delete 10 of your Facebook friends for a free Whopper. No kidding.

  2. There's an informative article in the NY Times about T.V. Raman and his work at Google to improve technology for the visually impaired. Raman is one of the architects behind AxsJAX, a Google technology to improve the accesibility of AJAX-based web applications. I met Raman a few years ago at the WWW conference in Banff, and I was impressed at how efficiently he seemed to use his computer with the aid of a screen reader.

  3. Here's a reminder of the horrible costs of war and how crazy our world has become: the DOD wants to build an application to allow children to have conversations with their simulated mom or dad who is off to war. Not their actual parent, a simulated version of their parent.

  4. Self-powering cyborg cockroaches. Nuff said.

  5. This week I got back last semester's student evaluations. In general they were pretty good, but it's always the negative comments you remember most, even if they are totally unwarranted. A fellow faculty member tried to cheer me up: teachers that get the best evaluations are either hot or easy. Hmmm... was he trying to tell me I'm not very good-looking? wink

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Harding University plates now available

If you live in Arkansas, you can now obtain Harding University license plates. They cost $35, but $25 goes to Harding for scholarships. I can't wait to get mine. wink

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Former Harding student dies after motorcycle accident

Nathan Potznick, a 1999 graduate from our CS dept, died a few weeks ago after a routine surgery following a motorcycle accident. Nathan was working for Yahoo at the time.

Nathan's girlfriend notified our dept chair of his death when she saw him listed as a friend in Nathan's Facebook account. I remember Nathan a little... I think he might have taken me for a class since I started teaching in the department in 1997. My prayers go out to Nathan's family.

I ran across this entry on about Nathan. There's something a little disturbing about this website, but I can't exactly place my finger on it. Maybe I'm just imagining random people speculating about my death on there... it's just a little morbid and weird.

On a side note, how long will it take for Facebook to determine Nathan's account is no longer active and shut it down?

Update on 1/9/2:

What happens to your web stuff when you die? states that Facebook accounts are never closed unless you explicitly ask Facebook to close them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bible visualizations

Check out the many Bible visualizations created by Chris Harrison. The one below shows 63,779 cross references from one verse to another, represented by colored arcs. The chapters from the Bible make up the horizontal axis, and the vertical bars off the axis are the number of verses in each chapter (that long one in the center is Psalms).

God's Word never looked so beautiful. smile

Thanks to Jeremy Bullock who pointed these out to me.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Wonderful wake-up surprise

We woke up this morning to find a huge mess in our yard:

The perpetrator probably ran the stop sign on the street facing our house and then plowed right into our yard. Our neighbor heard something around midnight, but we were sound asleep and didn't hear a thing.

I called the police who came out to make a report, and the officer guessed that someone must have towed the perp out which accounted for some of the large dug-out parts nearest our house. I called all the towing companies in town to no avail.

The perp left this behind:

If you know someone missing their trademark red Budweiser cap, please let me know.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Hope you had a great Christmas and a good start to 2009. I'm taking advantage of our three week break to spend time with my family, read, write a paper, and prepare for my search engine course.

My pick of the week's top 5 items of interest:
  1. The Z2K problem: Zunes freezing up at midnight on New Year's Eve apparently because 2008 is a leap year.

  2. Shocking new research has confirmed what XBox widows have known for years: men like to play video games because of our neurological desire to conquer.

  3. In this year of economic difficulty, is programming a thing of the past? Not according to Computerworld's annual Forecast survey which finds programming to be the "hottest" skill of 2009. So why would anyone who is already a programmer want to leave it?

  4. Always fun to read for its insight and contentious commentary: Gladney's DDQ.

  5. For a father and user interface aficionado, here's a fun article to read about a three year old son using his dad's iPhone.