Friday, January 26, 2007

Pushing Expose

How far can you push Mac OS X's Expose?

I was inspired to find out after being pointed to this image of some hundreds of Apple Mail windows in Expose.

The image below was done on a PowerMac Quad G5 with 4 GB of RAM. There are about 1000 windows (600+ email messages, roughly 300 Finder windows, 4 iChat windows, 1 Safari and 1 iCal). I originally tried to open 1079 mail messages, but Mail crashed. Perhaps a 1024 limit in Mac Mail?

Expose took about five minutes to render, but the return to the Desktop was almost instantaneous. Expose is apparently not cached, because going back to it without touching windows caused another long redraw.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No Habeas Corpus? Really?

It is amazing to consider the lengths that people will go to justify unjustifiable positions.

On January 18, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales questioned the right of U.S. citizens to Habeus Corpus. In a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said, "There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution; there’s a prohibition against taking it away."

According to Robert Parry, writing in the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinal, "Gonzales’s remark left Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, stammering." I'll bet it did. Parry goes on to say that "Applying Gonzales’s reasoning, one could argue that the First Amendment doesn’t explicitly say Americans have the right to worship as they choose, speak as they wish or assemble peacefully. The amendment simply bars the government, i.e. Congress, from passing laws that would impinge on these rights."

When we sacrifice our principles for momentary gain, we lose more than the moral high ground. We lose the justification for our identity as a nation. Gonzales' approach is not just morally wrong, it is dangerous for our country. Perhaps not so oddly, that was my argument against the war in Iraq.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Post-Katrina Biloxi

The Gulf Coast is still a mess well after Katrina. My parents drive through the area last week on a trip to Biloxi, MS. Here is a report from my mom:

The weather was dreadful so we rented a car for one day and drove around and saw the damage from the hurricane. Those poor people, I have never seen so many Fema trailers in my life. Piles of old houses, trees, and everything you can think of. Motels still standing with the furniture that didn't blow away still there and you can see right through the buildings. 38 people died in one motel where they decided to ride it out. The whole inside is gone with the people. There is a road along the gulf that had beautiful old large homes there for a century or longer. All gone. A few have been rebuilt but most are just empty lots. Mile after mile of this.

Life as Haiku

The Washington Post has a section (rather strangely, I think) entitled Life as Haiku. The entry from Sunday, January 21, 2007 features my friend Ajay from Entreiva. Cool. I'll bet he doesn't plan to remember his friends when it comes time to spend the $100...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Teaching Philosophy

I was recently asked by the University of Mary Washington to write a statement of teaching philosophy. Here it is:

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”
-- Winston Churchill

We have the great fortune of living at a time when our field of Computer Science is influencing our society, and the world at large, in an unprecedented way. The Internet has drastically increased communication between disparate parts of the world and enabled new ways of doing business, conducting research and simply having fun. It has brought computers and computer-based communications into mainstream use. Our students have passed their adolescence with a presumption of “always on” services, from laptops to cell phones to iPods. These portable computers are remaking our civilization. Naturally, the Internet presents us with challenges, too, such as spam, pornography and identity theft. The amplification of human communication has amplified our human foibles as well.

I suggest that the Internet has also presented us with a particular didactic problem. Enrollment in Computer Science courses is down in all English-speaking countries at the same time Internet usage is skyrocketing. The way people learn, and their desire to learn subjects requiring dedicated concentration seems to be changing. Perhaps this is related to the trend of “multitasking” and the shortened attention spans due to it. Can one expect students to learn Computer Science in a series of short sittings?

We have new advantages, though. I recall as a child asking my father questions. He would answer if he knew and, if not, on Saturday we would go to our local library. That experience contrasts strongly with the experience of my children; if I do not know the answer to a question, my wife may since she has multiple degrees and a wealth of experience, unlike my mother. If neither of us know the answer we can turn to Google. We can immediately augment our answer with images, movies, graphs and charts. We can allow time for following questions. The process of learning does not have to stop when our personal limits are discovered.

How are we to effectively integrate the ever-changing Internet into our classrooms? How will it change our approaches to testing? How will our teaching styles evolve to reach students who simply think differently than we do? I don't have the answers, but I think the questions should be on our minds as we build the universities of the future.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
-- Albert Einstein

I was lucky to stumble into the United States Navy. Of all the things I learned in the service one stands out. The Navy has a culture, embedded in centuries of tradition, of continuous learning. The first thing I did in the Navy was go back to school for seven months. Upon reaching my first ship I was handed a large stack of books and training materials. As soon as I qualified, I was given a new goal then another, and another. The Navy broke my Midwestern, Rust Belt expectation of preparing for a job that one would do the remainder of one's life. The concept of continuous learning is a gift I try to pass onto every student.

Developing critical thinking in students is another important goal. Many students just want answers, and yet they as adults will be faced with a world full of questions. How do we address global warming? Overpopulation? War? Can we solve poverty in Africa by bringing the Green Revolution there? Is industrialized food production a good idea? Do we need biodiversity to survive? What will happen when the oil runs out? It is their generation, not just ours, who will have to answer those questions. They will not be able to do so without the ability to ask questions, probe for answers and come up with them on their own. The days of rote learning should be left behind us.

I enjoy my consulting role as a professional problem solver. There is a joy to fixing something broken. There is a joy in creating something new. I hope that my enthusiasm for my chosen profession comes across to my students and encourages them.

I like to teach by analogy. I like to walk around, to see what students are doing. I like to tell students what to do and like to observe how they do it. I like to keep my eyes open so that I can assist those who may need extra help so they don't lose interest. I think that tests should allow students who listen to pass, who read to do well and who think to get an “A”.

“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
-- Maria Montessori

Our species replaces each generation to establish our future. We have the obligation to teach our young to ensure their success. It is only a convenience that they sometimes appreciate it. I teach in order to contribute.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Post on Slashdot's Front Page

After many years, one of my posts finally made it to Slashdot's front page. The story is about the Navy's new 8-Megajoule Rail Gun, built by BEA Systems and recently tested at the Navy Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia.

The Slashdot comments were typical; lots of people commenting without having read the article. Still, a couple of insightful people had a thread on launch loops that is worth reading. I'm sure most people stop reading the paper when they see "Launch track, 2000 km long" :)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Kadomo Group

I am pleased to formally announce my participation in The Kadomo Group. I alluded to this move in a previous post, but should really say what that means.

I will be holding my consulting company, Software Memetics, in abeyance and working full time with Kadomo. My role there is Chief Technical Architect, a title I share with the talented Uche Ogbuji. Uche founded Fourthought and has been published widely on XML.

I am pleased to say that I know most the Kadomo team well, including the founder Dr. Eric Miller (formerly of the W3C), author/speaker/super coder Brian Sletten, Daniel Krech from UMD MIND Lab, Kathy MacDougall from Sun and Vicki Mueller from OCLC. I was more than happy to get to know the energetic entrepreneurial couple Karen and Frank Bresky through Eric's introduction. It is an honor to be asked to join such a good group.

Kadomo is a services company focusing on the application of Semantic Web technologies, with some skunk works in the making. I am already busy with a financial services company in New York and will also be helping with business development and extensions to Mulgara.

Keep an eye on this space. It took me two years to emotionally commit to a new company, but I'm back. Somebody toss me some water every quarter marathon, eh?

Yet Another Way to Win in Iraq

I have posted a number of times on the (bloody, senseless and ill considered) war in Iraq. In fact, I've suggested several concrete ideas, such as waging peace and choosing our time to leave.

Now I bring you another one: How to Win the War in Al Anbar (a PDF of a Powerpoint presentation) by Captain Travis Patriquin, US Army (deceased). It boils down to understanding and working with the people of Iraq. That includes growing moustaches (because Iraqis trust people with moustaches) and working with the local leaders. Everyone interested in this war should read and comprehend the simple truth of Capt. Trav's presentation.

The sad thing is, of course, that Capt. Trav didn't make it. He was killed by an IED, probably indirectly related to the fact that he didn't have the Army's ear. The ABC news story has more detail, but I found out about him from some military friends. It seems Capt. Trav's presentation has struck a nerve among tacticians. I emailed it to President Bush (yes, really) but didn't really expect an answer.

It always seems to be the way. In spite of all the bureaucratic obstacles thrown in their paths, some tactical field officers manage to break the code. It happens in every war, in every army. You don't believe me? Have a read of The Savage Wars of Peace or Queen Victoria's Little Wars.

The Washington Post has a page for Capt. Trav on their Faces of the Fallen.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Starting Work at the University of Mary Washington

I am excitedly preparing for my first course at the University of Mary Washington. I'll be teaching CPSC 104 - The Internet: Technology, Information and Issues this semester. I just completed the Web syllabus today for those interested. Brian has graciously agreed to give a guest lecture on the future of the Internet in April. Thanks, Brian!

UMW is a wonderful place to work and, I suspect, to study. The HR, departmental and library staffs have all been superbly efficient and knowledgeable. I have been very impressed with the ease of learning my way around. It is a nice change from the sheer size and complexity of the University of Maryland.

Also, I have a soft spot for teaching institutions. Although the faculty researches, the focus of UMW is clearly on teaching. That gives the students a chance to, umm, learn. Unlike the larger universities, which are fine for graduate or even good upper division students, but hell on the average undergrad trying to learn how to be away from home for the first time. I think I will like UMW very much, indeed.

I am only an adjunct instructor, and only very part time. The majority of my waking hours are still going toward our new venture over at The Kadomo Group. Still, striking a good balance between academia and actually doing is much more fun for me than either extreme could be.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Waging Peace (Really)

The American public has been told several things repeatedly since the 2004 presidential campaign season began more than two years ago. We have been told that (a) we must stay in Iraq, (b) there is no alternative plan for Iraq other than a military victory and (c) there is no acceptable alternative to winning the war. Unfortunately, all of these have been proven false.

Before the US invaded Iraq, a few US and UK senior officials suggested a non-military option to destroy Al Queda in Afghanistan. Their plans had one thing in common: They suggested waging peace. Build roads, these liberals said. Build schools. Give people jobs. Oh, wait. They weren't liberals. Chris Patten is an old school UK conservative. Michael Scheuer is a Republication career CIA officer. These people were ignored. Their ideas were too radical, and the potential results too far fetched. No more far fetched than forcibly imposing a Jeffersonian democracy, that's true, but never mind.

At a time when our policy in Iraq is eerily reminiscent of Richard Nixon's Vietnamization ("We'll stand down as they stand up"), and failing in exactly the same way, the time has come to trumpet the success of one man trying hard to do the right thing. Enter Colonel Jim Linder, US Army.

COL Linder is a career Special Forces officer and currently head of the US Army's task force fighting Al Queda-backed Abu Sayyaf on the Philippine island of Jolo. His strategy? To wage peace. No kidding. And it is working. COL Linder and his men partnered with NGOs, the Philippine government and US military assets to bring government services like roads, schools and medical care to the remote region. Linder's quote, hopefully to made famous soon, is "It's not about how many people we shoot in the face, it is about how many people we get off the battlefield."

This small corner of the US Army has successfully ended Abu Sayyaf dominance on the neighboring island of Basilan by the same methods. The techniques are now known as "the Philippines model" among military strategists. Why is the US military not emulating this model on a large scale? Because we are bogged down so badly in Iraq that the military can't implement that strategy anymore. Reliance on traditional strong-arm tactics while ignoring any strategic goals other than nebulous victory has cost us a real chance at success.

Once we lose the war in Iraq (and I am going publicly out on a limb here to say that we will), I hope that we learn the important lesson that COL Linder and his troops can teach us. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Or was that my mother? Either way, it works. It also has the nice side effects of completely failing to disrupt the fabric of society, failing to pollute the land and water and doesn't even kill people.