Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Science is Hard

The raging debates on evolution and climate may have root cause that is unavoidable. The fact is, science is hard. You have to actually work and think clearly to understand what is going on. As you study an issue and delve deeper and deeper, your opinion can flip flop back and forth.

My experience with climate issues has the following history:
1970 - As a kid I was fascinated by the ice ages, and lived in Upstate New Your that is all glaciated terrain. The belief then was that over the next several thousand years we would head back down into an ice age. Cool!

1990 - I was convinced that global warming was just hysteria.

2005 - Even the cynic in Scientific American flips over to believing in global warming. I'm fairly convinced it is happening.

2006 - Saw the Al Gore Flick. This was the turning point. His data was so clearly flawed it was ridiculous. Scientific data is never that clear. Also his conclusion was completely wrong. The issue is not how to halt global warming. The issue is how to deal with climate changes, both up and down.

2007 - Searched really hard for real data and unpublished (mainstream press) theories. The revelation was this chart which clearly shows the little ice age. More study showed that Dr. Mann's data used by Al Gore was seriously compromised.

But here's the thing: Finding scientific data in the press is impossible. I like to play a little game while reading articles on anything scientific. The game is, find the hard facts in the article. The vast majority of mainstream news articles have exactly zero facts. They are all opinion and he-said, she-said. Once in a while an article will have a single actual fact.

So the only way were are left with is to dig for the data on the internet. You can find the data but it is difficult. You then have to back away from the data and take a good hard look at it and suspend preconceived notions and really look at the data. What does it really say?

Most of the people on the planet are not able to seek scientific truth by them selves. First of all, they lack the education and training. Second, the average IQ in the world is 100. They just don't have the ability to figure things out. That was ok when all we had to deal with was spears and saber tooth tigers, but falls flat on questions like global warming.

So what would you estimate is the percentage of people on the planet that are able and willing to actually dig for real answers?

Sunspots, Global Warming, Wobble of the Sun

This is a must read for all citizens of the world concerned about global warming.

As the IMB sign used to say Think!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Web Browser as Scapegoat

The arguments for Light weight client vs. heavy weight client come and go in cycles. In management there is the adage: 'If things are going badly, reorganize!' The parallel in software projects is 'If things are going badly, redesign!'

One of the key technology issues in the last 30 years has been light weight vs. heavy weight clients. Back in the mainframe days, the only client was a green text only terminal. The mainframe was the 'server'. Then the workstation was invented and you could begin to move more processing to the client. Engineers tried Sun Workstations or PCs as heavy clients and ran into exactly the same client management problems. So you got the idea of a dumb client. The dumb client ran X Windows and nothing else. But that killed the bandwidth, so it was back to heavy clients. We had 2 tier, 3 tier, N tier, and lots of tears.

Then along came the web server. The browser was the new and fancier dumb client. But that was slow so things swung back over to the JavaScript enabled web browser.

What is hidden in all these cycles is the fact that neither the thick client, nor the thin client was ever the problem. What actually happened was that a fad for one style would rise up as the silver bullet to fix all the current problems, and a new wave of naive engineers and managers would hop on the bandwagon. After a few years the project would get in trouble, after all, 80% of software projects fail, and the thick/thin client model was a convenient scapegoat.

Management, trying to buy success, would hire in a new wave of engineers, who recommended the opposite of whatever client server model the old project had, and start all over.

The actual solution was to manage the project better by applying more attention from management, and 'Get It Right (tm)'.

With current computer systems, the difference between light weight clients, and heavy weight clients does not exist. Yes that's a bold statement, but who could argue the IE or Firefox or Flash are light weight clients? They are suitable for ALL applications short of first person shooters like Halo 3.

The difference between IE, Firefox free clients and .NET/C# and Flex paid for clients is exactly that, you pay for the more bloated clients both in licensing and in development time and salaries. Microsoft and others have a vested interest, with matching sales force, in convincing you that they have a better solution. They also pander to managers who are under the delusion that you can buy success.

What has remained constant is the pain associated with updating heavy client programs.

On a recent project they went with a C# heavy client to 'fix all the problems' because they wanted to be able to display real time plotted data. Ajax could have easily done it. The slowness in the system was due to database contention, poorly written HTML/JavaScript, and algorithms, not the web model. On another project management forced a switch from Ruby/Rails to Flex because they were the quintessential 'lets buy success' management team. (Also the Flex group had investment money which has all gone up in smoke now.)

At this point for any business project the only sane choice is web based Ajax/HTML/XML. If someone is pushing a heavy weight client, you can bet that they are either a sales person for Microsoft (.NET) or Flex, or has some other agenda related to 'fixing' the project.


Footnote: The one place where heavy weight client still is viable is computer games or scientific visualization. Go XBox!

Solar Cycle Delay and Global Warming

My list of links that I view every morning includes SOHO, The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which has a set of images of the Sun updated frequently. The Sun right now has zero sunspots.

Sunspots are dark places on the Sun where the magnetic lines have broken and loop above the Sun's surface. There is an 11 year cycle of sunspots. Over the cycle the number of sunspots increases and decreases. Sunspots start appearing near the poles of the Sun and gradually migrate south to the equator, then disappear. There are fairly accurate records of daily sunspot counts going back to the 1700s.

There is a hypothesis that when the sunspot cycle is reduced in amplitude, the Earth's climate cools. The exact mechanism is not known, but might be due to the solar wind intensity. When there are lots of sunspot you get much more particles being blasted off the Sun into deep space. This wind may act as a shield against cosmic rays, which in turn effects high altitude clouds, which in tern makes the climate warmer or cooler.

Back in the 1700s to 1840 the earth's climate was very cool and was called The Little Ice Age. At that time the sunspot cycle was also markedly reduced. Europe had very cold long winters. This is when Marie Antoinette said 'let them eat cake'. (Ok, she didn't actually say that.) The peasants were starving due to crop failures.

Right now the current sunspot cycle is delayed and may be a year late.

There is also a theory based on the wobble of the Sun caused by Saturn and Jupiter. This makes the Sun wobble around it's center and influences the sunspot cycle. The theory predicts lower sunspot cycles starting in 2030 for a hundred years. There are also several other competing and complementary theories of sunspot cycle drivers.

We are right now on the cusp of getting real data as to whether sunspots influence climate much more heavily that CO2 levels. If we have a drastic cooling in the next 20 years, then CO2 is not a factor. If the sunspot cycle is greatly reduced, and the climate does not get cooler, then CO2 is the driving factor. My bet is with a cooling.

Current climate theories are very shaky both for and against Global Warming. On the warming side the data is so heavily manipulated for political reasons that is is very difficult to trust any conclusions, especially from 'reputable global climate scientists'.

The sunspot/global cooling theories the data seems to fit climate changes very well going back a very long time. The number of sunspots yearly before 1700 can be estimated by isotope differences in ice cores and several other corroborating methods.

The political climate is quite hot right now and make rational scientific discussion difficult and charged with name calling and governmental edicts.

Luck for us, if we just wait about 20 years the answers will be much more clear. If the next cycle amplitude is low then we may get some very chilling data in just the next 5 years.


Update: Still no sunspots Sept 18, 2008. Just a few very tiny 'pores' that show the field has reversed as it should, but no spots appearing. Weird.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MYT Rotary Engine

This is one of those Wow, Must See designs. Very nifty.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Landmine Adds

We've put up with adds that grow bigger, adds that sucked up all our modem bandwidth, and adds that are just annoying, like the one from with the cheesy crazy woman. Give-me-a-break!

Now we have landmine adds. These are adds that appear as a link (underlined) word on a page. If you mouse passes over the link the add pops up (not a real popup, a CSS trick). It only goes away if you click on the very tiny x button in the upper right corner.

Here is an example on tgdaily.

Are these sites and advertisers so clueless that they think their content is so great that such annoyances will not drive viewers away?

We can thank Vibrant Media for this blight on the internet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Fish Oil

At the risk of sounding like some fanatical evangelist, I'll do a book review and give some advice today.

Several years ago I read a book called The Omega-3 Connection: The Groundbreaking Antidepression Diet and Brain Program by Andrew Stoll. This book discusses the use of Omega 3 fatty acids to increase vascular health and relieve depression. The book was a miracle for me.

For most of the first 3/4 of my life I suffered from anxiety attacks and panic attacks. As a kid I did not recognize the attacks as such. I just thought the things I was worried about were actualy normal things to panic about. Much later I recognized the attacks as such. Still there seemed to be no solution. I chalked it up to genetics.

A few years ago, while at the library, I felt inspired to pick out this book. It discusses how hunter-gatherers eat lots of fish. They got plenty of Omega-3 fats in their diet. In the modern world we are very deficient in Omega-3s. Cell walls are made of fats. Whatever fats you have in your diet will get incorporated over time in your cell walls. This effects two factors. First is the flexibility of cell walls. If you eat a preponderance of hard fats, your cell walls and thus arteries will be harder. The second effect is that neuron cell walls follow the same rule, so the balance of fats will effect neuron activity.

The result of having a sufficient quantity of Omega-3s is that your susceptibility to heart attack is decreased, and depression, anxiety, and such is decreased. This change is related to cell wall composition, so there is a delay while the fats get replaced in cell walls.

The two big sources of Omega-3 is fish oil, and flax oil. I've tried both and now take 4 fish oil capsules a day.

So the results. After taking fish oil for about a week, I suddenly 'woke up'. It was very strange. Something happened that usually would have sent me off on a panic attack, and instead I was simply rational and calm. No panic. It was so obvious and clear that I was quite startled by the change. After several weeks of fish oil I became accustomed to the new me.

Several weeks later I forgot to take fish oil for a few days. After a 3 day delay I suddenly had a panic attack right out of the blue. It was the strangest thing because it was so blatantly obvious that is was almost funny. Since I had not had a panic attack of any kind in weeks, I could clearly see it as such.

It could be the Placebo Effect, but if it is, it's the best effect I've ever seen. Also, there have been times since when I forgot to take the fish oil pills, and forgot that I forgot, and got hit by a panic attack.

In Europe, if you have a heart attack, the hospital will prescribe fish oil when you leave. It has been shown to reduce the chance of recurrences.

So, where to get Omega-3s? I buy the big bottle from Costco or WalMart. You may need to try different brands to find one that is not 'fishy'.

Human genetic variability is so broad that dietary advice for one person might not be applicable to another. The whole Omega-3 thing has so much evidence that it should be worth a try. I hope this article helps even one person to have a better life.


Friday, June 1, 2007

A Rare Gem

I bought my wife a diamond ring 20 years ago for our engagement. This was before the 'blood diamond' days.

It cost $750. A month after we were married, while working on the concrete foundation for a back porch, the ring disappeared. The next 'diamond' ring she picked out was a cubic zirconia, and also cost seven fifty ($7.50).

New diamond ring, $750, replacement fake ring, $7.50, my wife, Priceless.


Compact Fluorescent Bukbs - Advice

Recently I have switched many bulbs to compact fluorescent (CFL) in my house. Some advice from experience:

  • Always by just one of a bulb type to test it. There is a huge variance in color, turn-on time, and such. Try the new bulb and then if you like it, get more.
  • WalMart is convenient and has good color CFLs. is even cheaper but you have to order big batches of lights. I got a bit burned because I ordered lots of lights, and a bunch were poor color. So I'm not sure just which is a better way to go. WalMart is better instant gratification. Home Depot has very good prices and a very wide selection. I have not bought from them yet, but they appear to be the good kind of bulbs. WalMart now has a box of 12 for about $19.
  • Dimmable CFL's are awful. When you dim a light you want a warm romantic glow. Dimmable CFLs dim to a cold moonlight silver glow. Uuuuuuuugly.
  • In bathroom lighting over sinks, use a mix of CFLs and the old Incandescent. This keeps the color balance correct for applying makeup.
  • Replace the high use lights first. Or lights that the kids tend to leave on allot. We have a basement closet where the little kids like to make tents out of blankets in, and the light sometimes gets left on for days.
  • Replace outdoor lights. In very cold winter weather they take a few minutes to get fully lit, but are a huge energy user.
  • Color temperature is very important. A normal light bulb is 2800 K degrees. That is a nice warm light. Try to get CFLs in the 2700K range. They are called Warm White or Soft White. The Cool White CFLs are harsher and more blue-white. There supposed to be better for reading, but I don't buy them.
  • Today I bought a round vanity CFL at WalMart. It is a good color and I mix it with old incandescent. Sure is easier on the eyes than those clear glass with filament kinds that are so annoying. Unfortunately if the whole vanity light bar was the round CFLs the color would not be acceptable.
  • Ignore the crap about Mercury in the bulbs. One CFL is equal to about 100 cans of Tuna for Mercury content. Besides, coal has Mercury in it and the lower energy use easily makes for less Mercury in the environment. And you can recycle the Mercury in 10 years. If you break a bulb, just sweep it up and open a window to let any residual mercury vapor out.
Another thing I though of. The CFLs I have installed will never get replaced with more CFLs. They will get replaced with LED lights that are even more efficient, and will have perfect color, and dim correctly. They may also end up being slightly less expensive.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Whats wrong with Solar Power

All my life I've been an alternate energy enthusiast. As a teenager I built a 1Kw wind generator in my back yard. It exploded in a blizzard. (cool!) I've build solar heaters, solar cookers and small solar electric panels.

With all the recent articles about cheaper solar cells and such I went on-line and looked up what a home solar system actually costs. Turns out it's not the solar cells that are the big cost. It's the combined system.

Here is the math I did. Currently power is about 9 cents per kilowatt hour from the electric grid.

(Prices and systems from but this is not a cut against them. They just seem to have the best systems and prices.)

First a grid tie system. This is a bunch of solar panels, and a controller, mounts, disconnect and such. Ready-to-go. The system is $14000 but there are rebates so lets say $10000.
The solar cells are 2300 watts raw output. Given a 5 hours average power per day, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, it comes out to 3,500,000 watt hours per year. Divide the cost by 3.5 M and you get $2.78 per kilowatt-hour in one year. Of course the system last 20 years so divide by 20 and you get 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. Hmm, 1.5 times the cost of grid power.

If the system breaks earlier, or needs repair the cost goes up. One rock from a curious neighbor kid and the cost goes waaaaaay up. Also you can put the $10,000 in a CD and get about $200 per year. In 20 years this is $4,000. You could add this to the system cost so it is $14,000 instead of $10,000, raising the cost per kilowatt-hour, and you'd have the $10,000 left over at the end.

The solar panels are $610 each and there are 18 of them thus $10,980. The controller is $2,500. Since it is a package deal they cut the cost a bit.

Now lets assume the solar cells cut in half in price. The panel price will not cut in half since it includes glass, frames, and such. So we'll guess $3000 off the starting price, and after rebates you would save a bit less. So lets assume $2000 savings. Now the electricity over 20 years costs 11.1 cents per kilowatt-hour. Getting closer.

The same calcs on a battery off-grid system you could run your (very efficient) house on is 26 cents per kilowatt-hour because of all those batteries and power conversion. Here the solar cells base cost is $4880 or roughly half the system cost.

Oh, and don't even think that when you move and sell your house you will get any of the cost of the system back. It might even be viewed as a detraction from the value of the house. So you better live in the same house for 20 years.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the solar cell cost is half to one quarter of the system cost. The power controller and the batteries are most of the rest of the cost.

What will bring down the cost of home solar power will be when the systems get mass produced and the cost of the parts comes down.

The other issue with solar is the complete rejection of solar by utility companies via. regulatory obstruction. Don't think so? Try this article. Then there are the local regulations. The subdivision I live in has a flat out ban on any solar panels and wind generators. The home owners association is a bunch of 'tree huggers' yet ban anything actually ecological because it might not look 'just right'.

There is a bright side to this. These systems are not increasing in cost, while electricity is increasing in cost. If the states pass alternative power friendly laws in favor of solar installations, such as a law prohibiting home owners associations and towns from blocking installations, then solar could succeed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Worrisome Bulge in Mt. St. Helens

The US Forest Service announced today that the bulge in the summit crater of Mt. St. Helens has become a concern. Such an unsightly bulge may be due to the age of the volcano and lower activity rates.

The current weight loss plan include more frequent eruptions, and a reduction in input from the magma chamber below.

A Dexatrim(tm) spokesperson says that this will be their most challenging client. A contender for the weight loss program was the well know Weight Watchers(tm). An unidentified internal government worker was heard to say that 'Weight Watchers was not the lowest cost bidder, and the mountain would be unable to attend the weekly meetings.'

The forest service will be using their aerial water drop planes to dump 500 gallons of Dexatrim per day on the mountain summit.

Geriatrics specialist Dr. Friedman of the University of Utah Medical Center for Aging commented that the 1980 eruption seemed to due to comments by the Forrest Service about the volcano's weight. After the eruption the mountain kept the weight off for a few years and is now gaining it back, plus a little more.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York commented that she had visited the volcano years ago and taken some pictures. 'It's not pretty to see an old friend let her self go like this, but I'm supportive and she is trying', quipped her highness.

Mt. St. Helens was unavailable for comment as it is currently dormant.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

'Microsoft Sold' is a misnomer

Once again Microsoft touts the 40 Million Vista sold number.

But what does 'sold' mean in this context? Does anyone really buy Microsoft's OS?

Almost never. It just comes pre-installed on the new machine you buy. This is what being a monopoly does for a company. You don't have to sell anything. You just strong-arm the vendors of computers to include Vista, and forbid by contract the sale of XP, and so 'sales' of Vista skyrocket.

So what do the numbers actually indicate? That Microsoft has perfected their contracts to the point that the computer vendor have no wiggle room. XP was adopted more slowly because cautions customers had a choice.

Q1 2007 worldwide PC sales were 62 Million units. Microsoft 'sold' 40 million Vista. That's only 2/3 of the world PC sales, so maybe Microsoft needs to tighten it's legal grip even harder. It would be nice to know what OS was on the other 20 Million units. XP? Linux? Windows 98? Pirated Vista?

The truly interesting news is that Dell is allowing XP on some boxes due to customer demand. (11 Million / .176 = 62 Million)


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

US Software Industry Argues while Rome Burns

As things are now in the USA, Windows will never be displaced by Linux. Windows is simply too entrenched.

Such a monopoly will instead be overcome by becoming irrelevant in some other place, and then that place becoming dominant in some way.

That place will be Asia, and Microsoft knows it. A few years back China and several other Asian nations announced a project to replace the WinTel platform with a non-American platform.
This includes an effort to replace the BIOS-Intel based hardware, and replace the operating system (Red Linux).

The second step will be that China becomes the top economy in the world and can call the shots on an international scale. While the USA will have outdated WinTel platforms burdened by intellectual property fees, China et. al. will have a $50 box (India is talking about a $10 box) that out performs the old WinTel boxes in every measure.

After this the computer hardware and operating system will be truly irrelevant.
This is actually a good thing over all, just a very bad thing for the USA. We will finally have the dream of ubiquitous computers, and they won't be American made.

The other way Microsoft is in trouble is from a further irrelevance caused by
Google's office suite.

Microsoft is acting like they know these things already. They have just announced Vista + Office in a reduced version for $3 in the Orient. This is a desperate attempt to try to keep the Asian countries on Windows.

Violence (lawyers) is the last refuge of the incompetent. - Isaac Asimov -
and so Microsoft brings up the specter of patent issues. This is monumentally stupid and will be detrimental to the future of computers in the USA. While we (the USA computer industry) has hoards of lawyers fight out these issues, the rest of the world will just quietly laugh at us, and innovate. I hate to sound like some McCarthy era nut case, but what Microsoft is doing is Un-American.

I tend to think globally and feel that the whole Us vs. Them is a bad viewpoint, the problem is that the contributions that the USA computer industry could be making right now, is being squandered on the petty battles and skirmishes of irrelevant legal issues.


P.S. Lookout for Africa next century.

Historical Note: The USA used to own the world shipping industry. Around 1900 the USA responded to global competition with extensive tariffs on foreign shipping. The result was a trade battle, that the USA lost, and now ships are built in Greece and Korea.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ode to DRM

Ode to DRM

A judicially predisposed junta
barraged by puny computer junkies
never had thought,
only sued.

For legal knuckleheads,
in time baited user groups,
first very small,
upgraded greatly
into insurmountable mountains.


After College

A little advice for software engineers just graduating from college. My son who is age 19 just got done with his first year at college in CS. He just started his first real corporate job as an engineer/intern. Sure brings back memories, so a little fatherly advice is in order.

Your in for a big change in how you are treated. All your life you have been surrounded by people that had a major interest in your success. Parents, teachers, etc. This is no longer true. In the post-college world people are looking out for Number 1 and you are expendable. Even that boss that wants to promote your career is doing it because that is what promotes the boss' career. You will only be successful from here on out if you make it happen. In my first job at Westinghouse I was put on the really sweet project that everyone wanted to be on. One employee said to me, 'You are so lucky.' I thought (but had enough tact not to say) I make my own luck.

Outcome Based Education is an big fad in schools, but has no relationship to reality. In business, results matter, and effort plays a distant second. If you try really hard and fail, you may get a sympathetic pat on the back, but you're also silently labeled a looser.

You are now an equal to all those adults around you. It is a real trip the first time you get introduced as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so. Don't let it go to your head. Having just graduated from college, you have the latest ideas about how to do things. Don't discount the years of experience those boring old guys have. They have seen more computer fads come and go than you even know existed. (Remember 'visual programming' in 1993?) Make suggestions and explain nifty new ideas, but don't be snooty about it.

When you start any new job, but especially your first one, you go through the phases of Initial Enthusiasm, The Doldrums, The Learning Curve, and then Productivity. Just wait out the doldrums and work steady and hard.

The absolute most important aspect of engineering is the interpersonal relationships. It took me 15 years to learn this lesson the hard way. As my sainted father once said, Never Burn Your Bridges. Its amazing how that jerk you worked with ten years ago shows up working for a company you are interviewing with. This works the other way too. It is pleasantly amazing how the people you worked with 10 years ago pull you along into the really good start up companies.

Seek a mentor in the company, not directly above you in the management chain, but higher up, and frequently ask for their advice. A little flatter here will go a long way. They can warn you of covert attacks from older experienced snipers in the company. Also, make relationships with people that have the skills you don't have. If you are a complete computer nerd, make friends with a management charismatic type. That is how great start up companies are made.

Always be loyal to your boss and make the boss look good. If you get a bad boss, have the mentor help you get moved (quickly).

Always keep a resume out on line and up-to-date.

Try to take jobs that are so interesting that the pay is secondary.

Never get a secretary (oops, I mean Administrator) angry. They run the company and can make your life miserable. An occasional bag of candy goes a long way. In fact while were on the subject of candy, do something that is above the call of duty for everyone in the office. I keep a bucket of candy on my desk. It has brought me allot of good will and contacts that otherwise would not have been there. Keep your head up and looking around, not just buried in code. Keep track of the big picture. This makes for a good Halo player, and a good engineer.

Start a contact list right now, even if you're currently 10 years old. Have the name and address and phone number of everyone you ever talk to. It comes in very handy if you suddenly get laid off. I hear that Jimmy Carter's contact Rolodex fill two whole Rolodex.

And the final advice: The only way to be successful is to have ownership. Always keep an eye out and have some kind of spare time start up in the works. Take advantage of being young, single, and uprooted to take risks.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Deleting Mom's Phone Number

Mom died three months ago. She died of Alzheimer's. Probably the very worst way to die in the world. Two weeks later my sisters and a few other relatives went to Moline, Illinois to bury the ashes.

The other day I was scrolling down my phone list on my cell phone and encountered Mom. I stopped and stared at it. Her number was still there. What if I called it now? Would Mom answer? Could I tell her how her funeral went? How the kids are doing? Would she still tell me how proud she is of me?

Menu, Down Arrow, Down Arrow, Down Arrow, Delete, Ok to delete? Yes.

Friday, April 20, 2007

You Can't Buy Success in Projects

In many projects managers try to buy success. The usual sequence is like this:

Management: We need a database. Which one should we use?
Engineers: MySQL
Management: Lets use Oracle because it is better and not a toy.
Engineers: But Oracle is expensive, slow, a memory hog, feature bloated, and vendor lockin.
Management: But Oracle is the industry accepted standard.
Engineers: It is a waste of money both in direct cost and more expensive DB admins salaries.
Management: We have decided to go with Oracle, live with.

Now why is the decision really made this way? The reason is that Management believes that paying lots of money makes Oracle more 'real'. They are trying to buy success on the project. Management also belives, but will not say so, that you the engineer are incompetent.

The reality is that successful projects are not bought, they are managed and created. So we get to the Thundefist First Law of Projects:

The key element of success on a project is Pay Attention.

Buying expensive solutions like Oracle, .Net, heavy metal servers, J2EE, ClearCase, or any other proprietary solution will more likely hurt the project rather than make it successful.

Throwing more bodies at a project is another style of trying to buy success. The worst version of this one is bringing in expensive consultants to 'fix things'. Then the Expensive Consultant leaves and unfortunately takes his brain with him.

A subtle form of trying to buy success is adding layer after layer of tracking, management, paperwork and such. This is directly counter productive.

A good manager will instead pay the real price of a successful project, which is to spend actual time on the project engaged with the people and details of the project.

There is a term for this management approach. Hard Work.

Ruby on Rails date_select with bracket id

In Rails if you make a date_select in a rhtml file and put the empty brackets [] in the name, it goofs up the name. You must add the :index => on the end of the method params to get the name correct. Otherwise you get an error message like
Couldn't find Child with ID=birthdate(1i)
For example:

date_select('child[]', 'birthdate', {:index =>} )

Now in the controller things like Child.update(params['child']) will work.

You also may need to get the date_helper.rb and time_helper.rb patch from
if you are not up to date with Ruby revs.


Science and Religion Crossover Points

(Since writing this in 2007 I have become an Athiest. TF, Aug 2010)

Crossover Points:
Science has its ways of proving knowledge, and religion has its ways. The current heated arguments between the two have to do with a difference of methods. A crossover point is some issue or theory where religious ideas can be successfully proven by scientific methods. There are very few such points.
There may also be crossover points the other way, where scientific theories can be proven by religions means. But that is not what this post is about

The Scientific Method: Science proves ideas by analyzing evidence that can validate or invalidate in concrete ways. All evidence must be viewable by several parties, all of which must be able to verify the evidence. This may entail redoing an experiment and viewing the outcome, or looking at artifacts in an independent fashion. There is usually much discussion about the strength of given piece of evidence, that results in a general consensus of validity. After a time a consensus is reached and held until conflicting evidence arises, or a better 'fit' for the facts is discovered as a new theory.

Weak Religious Arguments: Most arguments presented by religious advocates fail in the 'all evidence must be viewable' and in the weakness of the evidence. For example, a religious person might state that the spiritual feelings they have about The Bible prove it is the word of God. This evidence is only valid to the person feeling it because no one else can see the feelings or spiritual witness. In addition the feelings could be caused by many other mental effects and are thus not universally accepted as valid.
Anyone else could read the Bible and get the same witness, but that will not validate the idea for people in general, and many people would say the evidence is just fooling your self

The recent article about the 18(?) invalid arguments given by religious believers (If anyone has a reference please email me) all the arguments made consist of self-reported evidence or of weak proofs. For example 'my church must be true because everyone there is so nice' or 'God must exist or the Universe would not be here.' This article was a good list of bad arguments and every one was correct in that none of the arguments are valid from a scientific view. Thus none of them are crossover points.

Synthetic Crossover Points: Some religious arguments attempt to create crossover points by either distorting scientific theories (Intelligent Design (yuck), or Evolution is 'just a theory') or citing evidences that are too weak. A classic series of weak arguments are proofs that the Bible is the infallible word of God, and then trying to disprove scientific theories by the Bible. If the base evidence (The Bible) is weak as a proof, then all the rest of the arguments fall down. I have yet to see a verifiable proof that the Bible is the word of God.
On the other hand, I do believe that the Bible is inspired by God, but all my direct proofs or of the internal weak type. More on this later.

Written Artifacts: The most obvious crossover point would be a written artifact of know age and origin. The Bible is a written artifact, but is obviously an evolved text over many centuries. While the Bible is interesting and useful, it is not miraculous in any verifiable sense. Its existence can be entirely reasonably accounted for by archaeological, social, and historic means.

What alternative artifacts or evidence could there be? Other verifiable evidences for the existence of God would be a repeatable and measurable miracle. I have never seen such a thing, and in fact most religious doctrines state that 'tempting God' for a repeatable miracle, on demand, is against the way religion works. (You evil sinner you!)

The Main Point: So now we arrive at my main point. The only crossover point I have ever seen is the Book of Mormon. Several ideas surrounding The Book of Mormon and the Mormon doctrinal story about where it came from are not crossover points. The part about the angel delivering the gold plates and similar ideas are not scientifically verifiable.

What is verifiable is the concrete text and it's claim to be of ancient semi-Hebrew origin and partly of Egyptian literary and cultural origin. Regardless of the spiritual claims made by Mormons about the Book of Mormon, in no way do such claims invalidate the concrete textual reality.

Facts of Origin: There are several concrete facts about where The Book of Mormon came from.
Note: I will be referring to The Book of Mormon, meaning the written of the text on paper with a pen by normal people and its publication on a printing press as a commonly available printed book.
  1. The Book of Mormon was not in existence before the early 1800's
  2. There is a very small pool of people that were involved in the creation of The Book of Mormon. It was not a huge group collaboration.
  3. Egyptian was not yet translatable when The Book of Mormon was created.
  4. The Book of Mormon first edition is available. Since then revisions have been very minimal punctuation changes and a few word changes for clarity. Thus the current edition is valid for analysis.
Thesis: If The Book of Mormon can be shown to have linguistic, cultural, and literary artifacts that show it be a combination of Hebrew and Egyptian text, translated (not transliterated) to English, then it is a concrete, verifiable evidence of the existence of God. In Mormon parlance, it is 'A Marvelous Work and a Wonder'.

Microsoft Marketing Disaster

This week had the privilege of sitting through a presentation given by a Microsoft Field Engineer about Vista to a room full of software engineers. The intent of the presentation was to generate enthusiasm for Vista and Silverlight. The presentation started out with about 7 slides telling us how exciting Vista is. None of the slides said anything about actual features, just repeated how exciting it is.
Then they finally showed slides of actual features. The first feature, and the most impressive, was the new look. The windows are prettier, the buttons rounder and the backgrounds are nearly black. Then the next most important feature was that you can show all the windows in a 3D view as pages you can flip through. The third feature was that while editing text the text change dialog will popup right next to where the mouse is.
That's it. The three top features and improvements. We were underwhelmed. Their key tag line on their Vista page is 'Crank up the Wow'. Since when do you have to tell your audience that what you have is exciting? Compare this to the marketing approaches of Apple. When they announced the first iPod, Jobs simply stood on a huge barren stage, pulled out an iPod and demonstrated it to the audience. The audience when hysterical. There was no need to tell anyone to get excited. For developers Linux is exciting because it is wide open.
I then started to contemplate how irrelevant Windows Vista is, and quickly realized that Vista is not at all irrelevant. The problem is that Vista is relevant for all the wrong reasons. Vista will be the dominant OS because Microsoft will use it's dominant position to force Vista on users. The end users have no say in what OS they use. If they are a home user it is simply what comes on the box preinstalled, and corporate users are forced to use what the company standardizes on. (Yes you can be a maverick, but that can be a career limiting move, or limit what games you can play at home.) Apples products are relevant because they are interesting and desired by end users. Google is relevant for the same reasons.
Silverlight is a Flash wanabe. During the demo of the Silverlight the IDE failed. The engineer tried to drag-n-drop an element and the machine froze. This leaves an engineering group with the problem of choosing Flash, which is well proven, functional, and ubiquitous, or to choose Silverlight, be guinea pigs for the Beta IDE, and hope that in the future Microsoft does not drop Silverlight on some marketing whim. Of course, Microsoft realizes that the engineers don't make the buying decision. Top management is the one to sell to, behind closed doors.
I'm old enough to remember clearly the good old days when IBM had a dominant position in the computer market, and for the exact same reasons given above, lost it.