http://mitchfincher.blogspot.com/

23 July 04 - 14:12One step closer to quantum computing

UCLA is reporting an amazing new step into the world of quantum computing. Scientist have been able to change and dectect the spin of a single electron in ordinary silicon chips. Albeit at very low temperatures, but they are using common chips to do this.

Perhaps we are much closer to building a real quantum computer. With such a device we could actually calculate the most efficient routes for supply vehicles and calculate the folding of proteins to make better drugs. So many tasks that we approximate today could be calcualted directly. This will save a tremedous amount of energy in our transportation system, although that's a trival concern in light of what we could do in the biologic sciences.
SA has a good background article.

- Science - -

20 July 04 - 10:25Unerase digital pictures?

http://www.mediarecover.com claims to have a product to unerase files from camera memory cards. Its only $30.

- Software - -

19 July 04 - 14:10Whaling and Science

A study funded by Humane Society International of the USA concludes that increased whaling will not free up food stocks for humans because humans and cetaceans do not, for the most part, eat the same fish.

From rueters via yahoo

(more)

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28 July 04 - 13:48JavaOne thoughts

Our local Java User's Group met last night. The topic was the recent Sun-sponsored JavaOne conference.
The reports back were not very encouraging. The attendees said that Sun pushed an agenda that is out of touch with most developers.
Sun is spending lots of money trying to entrice VB programmers to switch to java. But, IMHO, they should be spending that money to make the J2EE environment better. Instead Sun is building IDE's for VB programmers who are unlikely to switch. .Net is ahead of java in many important ways. Some of these are addressed in the next release of java, but the upgrade is coming late. Sun has squadered time and money in building IDEs that are unlikely to be significantly better than what's already available and left many important items undone.

Another interesting tidbit was that the conference ignored many of the new and exciting java technologies like Spring and Hibernate. The backers of the conference seem more intent on pushing their frameworks than what developers really need.

AOP and persistance were topics at our meeting last night. Java can be adapted to those things, but its a little klungy. Maybe what we really need is a totally new framework not controlled by Sun or Microsoft. Maybe we just need a cleanly designed third alternative built on a different langauge to create an entirely new framework for the next generation of software.

- Software - -

17 July 04 - 00:48The End of the American Century

I see a day when the United States of America is no longer the preeminent military power on earth.
I see a day when our tanks are strewn across a foreign battlefield in disarray.
I see a day when our surviving military men retreat back across the ocean for safety, abandoning their equipment.
I see a day when we are no longer viewed as a force of salvation or of intimidation, but merely as one of many countries on earth. (more)

- History - -

12 July 04 - 22:40Swordfight

Sarah and I have taken up the ancient art of swordfighting.

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- Personal - -

09 July 04 - 19:34It nevers fails. When you throw something away...

I was cleaning my study two weeks ago and came across a bunch of old stereo connectors and 50 feet of speaker wire. 

I thought, "I have been carting this stuff around for the last 20 years and never once even came close to using them."

So I trashed them.

Not three days later I needed twelve feet of speaker wire.

- Personal - -

09 July 04 - 13:23US concrete 'would cover Ohio'

Alarmist cries of the paving of America are misguided.

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08 July 04 - 14:09Methane Hydrates

Methane Hydrates could power North America for the next thousand years

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07 July 04 - 23:33Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences in history.

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07 July 04 - 20:44American Revolution and the French

I've been interested in the American Revolution lately. One of the things that strikes me is the importance of France in our independence. (more)

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26 July 04 - 14:28Phi, the golden ratio, finds a new application

From Sctosman.com
"Black holes come in two types," said Livio, "those which rotate and those which don’t. Those which do can undergo a certain transition from one phase to another and that transition occurs precisely when the mass of the black hole squared is equal to the golden ratio times its spin rate squared."

- Science - -

26 July 04 - 14:20New Fuel Cell technology

University of Houston is reporting on a new thin fuel cell that could revolutionize the power grid. They report an efficiency rating of 65% with a home natural gas-to-electricity unit as compared to a 35% rating for commercial power plants.

- Science - -

13 August 04 - 11:48Inactive Elements have a tale to tell

I'm using AQTime's profiling software to look at some performance issues on our latest project.
This morning I was frustrated again by the lack of information on inactive widgets. I wanted to do an operation, but it was greyed-out.
Hmmm.... why is this operation inactive and what do I have to do to get it active again?
I've run into this in several programs. We need a sort of "inactive tooltip" to tell us why this option is inactive and how to get it active again.

In this case with AQTime I just stopped profiling, and the option was available. It makes sense now why it was greyed-out, but it would have been very pleasant to have a tooltip popup and say "You cannot add a dll to this area because you are currently running a profile. Stop profiling (click here) and then you can add a dll".

- Software - -

12 August 04 - 10:01Linux on the desktop

Technology Review has a short article on the increase in Linux desktops.
A microsoft rep recently said, "Why would anyone want Linux, when Microsoft software does everything that Linux does?".
Well, ... let me think. One reason is the license restrictions with Microsoft.
At work we would like to have more than two people terminal service into a server box to do work or do a poor man's webex, but we can't because of licensing restrictions. The servers are fast enough, its just the license.
We would also like to do testing of web apps on our local development boxes running XP, but we are restricted to just 10 connections. Our workstations are powerful enough, its just the license.
We would like to simulate a cluster of four boxes on a virtual server, but having to buy four copies of the OS and another copy of SQL server is way expensive. The virtual server hardware can handle the load, its just the license.

- Software - -

09 August 04 - 14:00PLANKTON POWER

Scientist at OU are turning organic matter into electricity. Although very early in the research stage, this could be a nifty source of energy in the future. Instead of landfills, we could have giant pools of plankton turning our trash into electricity.
planktonpower

- Energy - -

27 August 04 - 17:13Steve McConnell's Talk at Austin IEEE

Steve McConnell, author of Code Completebook, spoke in Austin last night on the 10 deadly sins of software estimating.
A few of his points struck a chord with me.

Deadly Sin of Estimating: Defining how long to complete 'it' will take, before knowing what 'it' is.

Schedule creation is a negotiation between young, introverted programmers, low in the organizational structure, and experianced marketing experts high in the organization who do negotiations for a living. Guess who's going to have the most say in the schedule?

A free software estimation tool is available at www.construx.com/estimate.

Steve also mentioned:
Risk Exposure is often not included in schedules. The probability of an event occurring multiplied by the extra time to rectify the issue should be included for all the known risks.

No project has been successfully compressed to less than 75% of the estimated time. None.

Use multiple estimation techniques and take an average and notice how close the results cluster.

- Software - -

06 August 04 - 09:37Aspect Oriented Programming Lunch

Yesterday, Ernest Hill gave an excellent overview of AOP at the Austin JUG's biweekly technical lunch. The slides are at austinjug.org.

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04 August 04 - 13:58Future of Software in the US

Computerworld quotes Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik as saying "U.S. may be left behind in open-source technology".

I am concerned about that too. Nationalistically speaking, Microsoft is a wonderful company. It brings in billions of dollars into our country and is rumored to allow us to spy on other countries (or does the CIA just use the run-of-the-mill spy-ware programs infecting all our machines?).

I am concerned that our government and others may try to prop up Microsoft in the short-term to continue this beneficial relationship between the US and Microsoft. Unfortunately in the long term the US will probably end up being a 'Microsoft Island'. The rest of the world will long since have gone to Linux. US companies will primary develop on Microsoft and be put at a competitive disadvantage world-wide.

Just my 2 cents worth.

- Software - -

24 August 04 - 13:33Cigarettes more polluting than diesel exhaust

Interesting article claims "Cigarettes more polluting than diesel exhaust". In the study>, pollutants from a small diesel car were compared to the pollution from smoking three cigarettes.
The cigarettes were more damaging to the environment.
My favortie line:
“Adolescents in Milan campaign against pollution and for a better environment – often with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. We can show them that smoking also harms the environment.”

- Science - -

24 August 04 - 13:28New energy source?

Under the unassuming title, "Vast new energy source almost here", Professor Janusz Nowotny and Professor Chris Sorrell announce a new material that converts water to Hydrogen and Oxygen in the presence of sunlight.

- Energy - -

27 September 04 - 12:48Downside of Refactoring

I've recently read Martin Fowler's excellent book, Refactoring.

We had an interesting situation occur at work this morning. We released a refactored version of our software to the customer for testing. All our NUnit tests passed and all our local testing went quite well. We were supremely confident of the new version.

But it did not do well at the customer site. The problem was that the customer was relying on side-effects of the old system that were not documented, but worked just fine. The new refactored version broke their test cases.

The real problem was that we were not doing our testing with the 'real' data our customer would be using in production. It was just too hard to get that data to our site and setup correctly. Of course in hindsight it is much harder to explain to the customer why the new version broke their data sets.

Moral: Always use real customer data on your tests even if its very difficult to setup - you will be glad you did.

- Software - -

23 September 04 - 20:51SD Best Practices - Bob Martin

Bob Martin, objectmentor.com, recommended Craig Larman's book, Agility and Iterative Development

.

He talked about the origins of the Waterfall model which is traced back to a paper by Winston Royce in 1970, "Managing the Development of Large Systems".
Royce put the classic waterfall diagram in the first few pages. He said it was a nice theory, but that it would not work well in practice. He recommended an iterative approach instead. But the DoD picked up the Waterfall idea and put it in 2167 and the rest is history.

In a study of 43,000 projects, Iterative projects were more more productive than waterfall. The more rigeourously the project practiced waterfall, the more likely to fail.

Sabre systems switched to agile processes and had a 40% increase in productivity and a 10 fold decrease in defects.

- Software - -

23 September 04 - 19:50SD Best Practice - Ivan Jacobson

Ivar Jacobson gave the keynote today on "Active Software", the the Megatrend. Active Software uses Aspect Orientation and Agents to create systems that are more intuitive. He thinks Aspects are a huge step forward.

- Software - -

30 September 04 - 13:46Jobs are back

At our local Java User's Group this past week something amazing happened. Three of my friends who had been looking for months for a job, said they found one! Very exciting.

Two companies in town are looking for 10 software developers or more.

Hopefully the corner has finally turned in the Austin market for software developers.

- Software - -

22 September 04 - 21:36SD Best Practices - Executable Requirements

Joshua Kerievsky talked about "Executable Requirements", a technique where QA gets involved early and writes the requirements as fodder for acceptance tests. fit.c2.com is a framework to do this.
QA describes successful behavior in a constrained series of HTML tables.
This was one of the big ideas in several sessions.

Bob Martin, one of the best speakers, made a compelling case for doing this. It gets QA involved early defining all the tests. It makes sure that the developers are really finished when they say they are.

- Software - -

22 September 04 - 21:23SD Best Practices - Kent Beck

I really liked Kent as a speaker, thinker, and a person.

He talked about two development teams at a company. Team A was agile in process. They developed code iteratively, worked 40 hours a week, and produced code on time with few defeats. One of the younger members of the team was sure Team B would see their success and change over to agile. Kent said, "They are so cute when they are young."

Team B was traditional waterfall process. They were always behind schedule and only produced buggy code by the deadline by heroically working overtime. Then they worked furiously for two months to fix all the bugs.

The company came upon hard times. One team had to go. Team A was layed off. They weren't as dedicated as Team B.

He said that relationships outside the team with management might prevent future layoffs of good teams.

- Software - -

22 September 04 - 21:18SD Best Practices - Scott Ambler's talk on Agile Databases

Scott Ambler gave a talk on Agile databases. He stressed that database people and object people come to development differently. Database people are more waterfall in their approach, and most object people today are more agile.
His web sites: http://agilemodeling.com/ http://agiledata.org/
His best quote: "Outsourcing allows us to fail cheaper."

Runner-up: "If you are writing SQL, something's wrong." Meaning that we should have tools to do the object-relational mapping.

- Software - -

22 September 04 - 19:50SD Best Practices Tuesday Keynote

Tom DeMarco gave the keynote address talking about "Risk Management - Project Management for Adults"
The baggage handling system of DIA was his example.
The airport opened a year late due solely to late software. The carrying cost of the capitol investment was 11 Billion dollars!
When the original software RFP was sent out, no companies bid on it. They all said it could be done, but not in the time frame needed.
The DIA management said, go ahead you can do it, we will help.
"It's unthinkable htat it would fail", but it did, 12 billion dollars fail.

His Five Core Risks
1. Size Inflation - more features are added
2. Original estimate flaw
3. Personnel turnover - biggest risk
4. Failure of stakeholders to concur
5. Productivity variation

Every time a system is installed, somebody wins and somebody loses.

Are you really doing risk management?
1. List with 10-20 risks
2. Each risk is quantified as to probability and impact
3. An early warning indicator is documented for each risk
4. Include historic risks of similiar projects
5. Risk diagrams are used widely
6. Scheduled delivery date is not significantly different than the target

- Software - -

21 September 04 - 08:49SD Best Practices - Designing for Mobile Computing

I'm in a session now on writing for handhelds taught by Hobart from classicsys.com
Random notes:
Big app now on heldhelds is gaming.

Most people don't know how to use most functions on their phone.

What will the world be like when everyone is connected all the time?
With a half a billion java enabled phones, it a huge market even for 99 cents a pop.

Nothing is important in design as knowing and spending time with your users.

Microsoft and Apple spent 3/4 of a billion dollars to try build a Palm pilot, but it took a single guy with a million dollars who found out what the users really want.

Common mistake is to interview users to see what they want and then build it. Users want lots of things, but what they actually will use and will help them may be something completely different. You need to hang out with the target users.

Anticipate what the user will do next and make it easy to do.
Humans can hear 20Hz to 20KHz.

Make sure buttons have space between them so they don't select the wrong button.
Use the devices before you write the software. VAlidate actual usage assuptions

Navigation - $5 for a GPS locator chip.

- Software - -

15 September 04 - 17:07XPath Query Tool

Visual XPath is a great tool for playing with xpath. It even generates the C# code to process a query. I love XPath's power and ability to simplify some problems, but getting the exact syntax is taxing at times. This tool really helps.

- Software - -

09 September 04 - 13:48Abstract User Interface Markup Language (AUIML)

IBM has an Abstract User Interface Markup Language (AUIML) toolkit to separate the User Interface from the underlying implementation. With the same description, a program could be run as a standalone java swing application or a web application. The is a cool idea.
I know Microsoft has been trying to make the deployment of an app independent of whether it is a winforms or web application.
Perhaps we will have a AUIML langauge that will work in .Net and java and the-next-big-app-server environment.

- Software - -

03 September 04 - 18:35Cold Fusion reheated

IEEE has a article on the return of ColdFusion (not the development platform, but the energy source).

- Energy - -

03 September 04 - 17:46Symantec Virus Scan Update

After being on hold for 15 minutes, I talked with a helpful representative from Symantec about why the emailed key did not work in my AntiVirus program.
She said they sent the wrong key for my version of VirusScan. Since I had the Internet Security Edition, I needed a different subscription key than the one I bought for the VirusProtection.

But at least that's over with for a year. It only took 90 minutes of my life to get the subscription updated.

Next time, I think I'll just buy the boxed software at Fry's.

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02 September 04 - 22:14Why is it so hard to update Norton AntiVirus?

ARRRGGGGHHHH.
I've been trying to pay Symantec (or is it Norton? - "Brand Confusion", but that's a different story) to renew my virus definitions for another year.
I navigated through the program to find the right web page and then paid my $24.95. They mailed me a shiny new key, but the key doesn't work.
The message, "Error: "The number you entered is not a valid subscription key. . ." or "Invalid subscription number" appears after I enter the key.
I look through all their documentation online and sure enough they have a page describing that exact error.
I follow all their instructions to remedy, but to no avail.

I've wasted over an hour just trying to get a key to run their program.
I did not renew my MacAfee AntiVirus because it was too hard to get automatic updates.

Why is it so hard to write decent software to allow a customer to renew a subscription for virus scanning?

Why can't I just give the Norton AntiVirus program a credit card number and have it update itself?
Why do I have to visit their web site and get a key from an email that doesn't work?

Amazingly Frustrated,
Mitch

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28 September 04 - 14:19Two Odd Incidents of the New Age

Steve mentioned Sunday at church that he actually read my blog, so I felt inspired to pen some fodder for discussion.

While fishing with my daughter a fellow angler caught a good size fish. When I remarked to him about the good catch, he called out to his wife, "Honey, bring me the phone." His dutiful wife brought the phone, he punched a few keys, and proudly showed me a picture of him and a *really* big fish. "O Brave New World that has such gadgets in it."

Geek groups in town (SPIN, XML, AJUG, ADNUG, IASI, and IEEE) are pooling resources and sponsering a paid event. Instead of taking money at each group's meeting, they set up an EBay store to buy tickets for the event - how convenient. Adam Smith would be proud that the invisible hand is overcoming dearth-of-knowledge friction in commerce.

- Software - -

28 September 04 - 14:05SD Best Practices - Summary

After thinking about the conference for a few days, here's my list of the most significant ideas:

1. Executable Requirements. Requirements are written just-in-time by the QA personnel and the customer in a tabular format that can actually be read by code and compared against expected values. fit.c2.com and fitnesse.org are examples of assisting frameworks. The cool thing is that QA is involved at the very beginning of the coding of a new feature. Towards the end of the development, QA doesn't really have a lot to do.

2. We actually have metrics to measure the benefits of Agile Programming - and its much better than waterfall.

3. You have to be very involved with your customer and seek feedback on their issues. You won't hear much of the complaining without diligently asking.

4. The constantly connected world is right around the corner. The conference was blanketed by WiFi coverage which was very convenient. What new aps are around the corner merging constant connection with GPS location?

- Software - -

14 October 04 - 09:36Constancy in War and Humans

Something about the battle of Thermopylae intrigues me. I seldom watch a show twice, but I repeated "Decisive Battles"'s account of Thermopylae. One intriguing part is the fight for Leonidas's body. After the king falls, the Spartans fight the Persians viciously to gain the control of the body so it won't be desecrated.
A similiar battle takes place in the Iliad when the Greeks and Trojans fight over the body of Prochulous, who they erroneously think is Achilles.
But three thousand years later in "Blackhawk Down", the same flavor of battle takes place. The marines in Mogadishu are not going to let the body of their dead comrade be taken by the Somalis. "No one let behind. Semper Fi".

- History - -

08 October 04 - 14:52News about NHibernate

TheServerSide.Net has a good introduction to NHibernate, the .Net version of Hibernate. I really like the idea of abstracting out the storage details from the code.

You can download NHibernate at http://nhibernate.sourceforge.net/

- Software - -

04 October 04 - 21:25Watches? We don't need no stinking watches!

After the Java User's Group meeting last month we retreated to a local cafe. I was struck by a most trivial fact - only one of the four in our conversation was sporting a watch. The other three were occasionally checking cell phones for the time. Is this a trend? Should Swatch and Petak Phillipe be worried?



- Software - -

29 October 04 - 11:27Good viruses and Smart Rats

rat
The BBC reports,


Javier Lozano, director of health services in Chihuahua state, told AP that traditional poisons had not worked on the rats, because they had learned to avoid them after seeing their fellow rodents die.
But he added that the authorities had now ordered a special poison that took up to four days to kill its victim.
"Poison that slowly takes effect will be more effective," he said.


This just struck me as being very similar to a "good" virus. Good viruses don't kill their victum immediately, because it would not be able to spread.

- Science - -

26 October 04 - 16:54A pair of mutually recursive acronyms

From http://www.gnu.org


According to Thomas Bushnell, BSG, the primary architect of the Hurd:
`Hurd' stands for `Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons'. And, then, `Hird' stands for `Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth'. We have here, to my knowledge, the first software to be named by a pair of mutually recursive acronyms.

- Software - -

23 October 04 - 17:02AustinJug Lunch speaker Brian Behlendorf - CTO of CollabNet


Brian Behlendorf of www.collab.net/ spoke to our Austin Java User's Group this last Thursday at lunch. He was one of the original founders of the Apache Organization. He told an interesting history of Apache project and open source in general. Some of his more interesting observations:

"Reusable components are like a garden - they need constant tending." The underlying libraries and OS's are constantly changing, making the modules have a short shelf life.

Oracle is after PeopleSoft so hard because they realize open source databases will be cutting into their market and the future is in consulting.

- Software - -

01 November 04 - 16:52Postmortem for my latest project

On my current project, we just finished our post-mortem for the latest release. Most of our big problems,...er...issues could have all been solved by one thing - real user data.

Our previous version has been working well in the field for nine months. If I would have gotten the data sets being used in the field and used those as additional test cases, our major problems this last release would have been solved.

Moral of the story: Use real data for testing, even if its difficult to get and setup, use real data.

- Software - -

23 November 04 - 13:40Corruption in the World

Take a look at Transparency International's table of the corruption index for countries around the world. Corruption is the driving force behind poverty in the world, although little discussed. We prefer to think of poverty being caused by lack of natural resources or a poorly educationed populace. But many countries with enormous natural resources, especially oil, have much of their people living in poverty.

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11 November 04 - 14:50Sandia building solar dish engine power plant

Sandia Labs has built six solar powered Stirling engines to produce electrictiy.

Stirling engines are 30% efficient in converting solar energy to power, which is higher than typical solar cells.

Another article.

- Energy - -

11 November 04 - 12:35Google Hacks



Oreilly has a very helpful summary of Google hacks.

- Software - -

30 January 04 - 21:28Pivot 1.0..

If you can read this, Pivot is working.. Yay!

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31 December 04 - 17:35Dazzle Video Creator Card Looking for Good home

I'm giving away my old video capture card for Windows 98 machines. It will convert analog camcorder video to digital. Free to a good home. Email me if you are interested.

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27 December 04 - 09:57Free SpyWare detectors

PCWorld has links and explainations of the two most popular free spyware removers:
Ad-Aware and
SpyBot

- Software - -

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