Saturday, February 24, 2007

Air Force Two and Donuts

I just drove past Sydney Airport on the way home today and took a detour past Krispy Kreme, just to get a small coffee. Two great things happened - we noticed that the business jets area contained two much larger jets than normal - an impressive looking C-32, presumably acting as Air Force Two for Dick Cheney, and a KC-10 Stratotanker.

C-32 from Flickr

KC-10 Stratotanker via Wikimedia

Secondly (and arguably better) was that the nice guy in the drive-through window gave us two free chocolate iced donuts with sprinkles ...

Donut from Krispy Kreme

Friday, February 23, 2007

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

I re-discovered Google Docs & Spreadsheets today, and realised that I can post from it to my Blogger blogs. It can even include images such as the one below.

In fact this post was written as a Google document. The spreadsheet function leaves a lot to be desired, but then I'm a fairly expert user of Excel and include a lot of conditional formatting, complex formulas and macros in my spreadsheets. The ability to edit text documents from anywhere on the web is a nice feature and one I will be using more now it allows me to post to my blogs directly.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Project management quotes

Stephen Seay has posted a collection of project management quotes on his ProjectSteps blog. here are some of the ones I found funniest/most truthful (you get to guess which):
“The sooner you begin coding the later you finish.

A badly planned project will take three times longer than expected - a well-planned project only twice as long as expected.

There are no good project managers - only lucky ones.

Everyone asks for a strong project manager - when they get him they don't want him.

Some projects finish on time in spite of project management best practices.

Fast - cheap - good: you can have any two.

The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time the last 10% takes the other 90%.

If everything is going exactly to plan, something somewhere is going massively wrong.”
via Devshop

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Honest Broker

Roger Pielke Jr runs the Prometheus science policy blog and is releasing an interesting sounding new book called The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics.

“For scientists seeking to play a positive role in policy and politics and contribute to the sustainability of the scientific enterprise, scientists have choices in what role they play. This book is about understanding this choice. Rather than prescribing what course of action each scientist ought to take, the book aims to identify a range of options. Using examples from a range of scientific controversies, The Honest Broker challenges us all - scientists, politicians and citizens - to think carefully about how best science can contribute to policy-making and a healthy democracy.”
Regardless of where you might sit in the climate change debate, I think it is worthwhile taking the time to think carefully about the role that scientists should play in the formation of public policy.

This will definitely be going on my wishlist at Amazon!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Obie's software opinions

Ruby author Obie Fernandez has some interesting opinions about software development. I like this one:
“When it comes to delivering a successful project, developer motivation and productivity trump other factors.”

Dialog Boxes: Stopping the Proceedings with Idiocy

Jeff Atwood points out that dialog boxes, especially modal ones, are often unnecessary and in the words of interaction designer Alan Cooper are simply “stopping the proceedings with idiocy”. Jeff gives the following quote from Alan's About Face 2.0:
“There is a particular form of excise that is so prevalent it deserves special attention. In Chapter 9, we introduced the concept of flow, where the user enters a highly productive mental state by working in harmony with his tools. Flow is a natural state, and people will enter it without much prodding. It takes some effort to break into flow after someone has achieved it. Interruptions like a ringing telephone will do it, as will an error message box. Most interruptions are avoidable; a few aren't. But interrupting a user's flow for no good reason is stopping the proceedings with idiocy and is one of the most disruptive forms of excise.

Poorly designed software will make assertions that no self-respecting individual would ever make. It states unequivocally, for example, that a file doesn't exist merely because it is too stupid to look for it in the right place, and then implicitly blames you for losing it. A program will cheerfully execute an impossible query that hangs up your system until you decide to reboot. Users view such software behavior as idiocy, and with just cause.”
I know that programmers frequently implement error handling strategies without much consideration for the users' experience. After all, they want to find out all about the errors before the user gets the application, so the end-user experience is bug-free. Whilst laudable in its intent, this ignores the fact that often the 'bug' is simply the failure of the application to meet the user's expectations.

If we look at web applications we can see that designers have moved away from popup error messages to ones embedded within the page the user is acting upon. Validation warnings that are unobtrusive, but yet noticeable, are perhaps the best example of this. Sometimes a modal dialog box is necessary, but application developers need to be aware that the end-user is often only annoyed by, rather than informed, by the messages our applications give them. It's something I will be thinking about the next time I start coding.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Global Warming is like the Dotcom Boom

It occurred to me this weekend that global warming is much like the dotcom boom of the late 90's. Just when everyone thinks they understand what is happening and is ready to jump aboard - reality steps in and pulls the rug out from under the whole thing.

In fact, it is following the trend for people to only buy into something after it's past it's use-by date, like the housing boom in Australia, the stock market boom in the mid-80s and a plethora of other examples of social behaviour at work. The difference is that this time, the Emperor will really be revealed to be wearing no clothes, much like he was in the dotcom boom.

In Australia we now have both political parties talking global warming, the State governments waving their green credentials and the Greens suggest bold and economically disastrous solutions such as stopping coal mining in Australia. However if you look closely the politicians are playing doubting Thomas, mouthing nice platitudes but basically playing a waiting game in the hope that the hot air around global warming will cool down in time to avoid them committing to disastrous Greens policies.

You wouldn't even need to be into conspiracy theories to see SMH's Miranda Devine's point here:
“By creating a bogeyman scarier than Islamic terrorism, but one which, we are told by eminent personages such as Al Gore, it is possible to defeat, given the political will, using the infallible weapon of science, we are back in control of our destiny.

We don't care how much it costs because we're rich. And it has the added bonus of being global, creating a common abstract enemy to unite all of us here on earth. Nice idea if it works.”
Going back to the scientific facts, there are some interesting reports that increase the doubt factor in the IPCC's recommendations.

New evidence has emerged that global warming has less to do with human causes than the IPCC would have us believe. The Telegraph reports that Danish research into solar effects on global warming has revealed that as well as the simple increase in heat due to extra radiation during active periods, there is an additional effect of reducing cosmic radiation due to magnetic activity that reduces cloud formation (most excellent image courtesy of the Telegraph).
“Henrik Svensmark, a weather scientist at the Danish National Space Centre who led the team behind the research, believes that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

This, he says, is responsible for much of the global warming we are experiencing.

He claims carbon dioxide emissions due to human activity are having a smaller impact on climate change than scientists think. If he is correct, it could mean that mankind has more time to reduce our effect on the climate.”
Svensmark has also released a book, co-authored with science writer Nigel Calder, called The Chilling Stars. Calder makes the case for cosmic radiation influencing cloud formation in a recent Times article.

It also appears that reports of the demise of Greenland's glaciers were premature, with a new report indicating they are now back to growing again.
“Using satellite-derived surface elevation and velocity data, we find major short-term variations in recent ice discharge and mass-loss at two of Greenland's largest outlet glaciers. Their combined rate of mass-loss doubled in less than a year in 2004 and then decreased in 2006 to near the previous rates, likely due to fast re-equilibration of calving front geometry following retreat. Total mass-loss is a fraction of concurrent gravity-derived estimates, pointing to an alternative source of loss and the need for high-resolution observations of outlet dynamics and glacier geometry for sea-level rise predictions.”
We can blame some of the IPCC's problems on the fact that it has a fairly early cut-off date for relevant articles, which means it is more a record of the science a year or two ago than now. But the glorying of our modern druids in the supposed confirmation of Mother Earth's intolerance of human technological progress is sickening, and will probably be looked back on like the dotcom boom - as a good idea gone bad.

[UPDATE: The SMH has also caught onto the good news about clouds.]

Monday, February 05, 2007 Standards Dropping

It seems that in recent months has allowed its online journalists to get away with a (relatively) large number of grammatical errors. Often they are at the end of a large piece rushed out in response to breaking news, but sometimes I just wish they'd read it one more time before going live. Check out today's typo on the Superbowl results (scroe for score):

However their greatest crime is when they out out a story headline on RSS without any body text. To be fair to the journalists this may be a problem with their CMS pushing out RSS feed changes at set intervals, without regard to whether an item is completed yet or not. The end result though is that the reader sees an attention grabbing headline, clicks to read the story and is presented with nothing more than a headline and a blank page.

It seems obvious to me that mainstream media such as News Corporation need to learn to play online, but they also need to maintain their existing high standards. I wonder if some of the slackness is because Rupert's so focussed on the TV and print editions that he can't keep an eye on the web editions of his newspapers? (of course that begs the question of why you would rely on one senior exec for such oversight ...)

UPDATE: The images below show the version of a story that the RSS page takes you to and the same story in full. It looks like one explanation for the difference might be that they are trying to publicise stories that they show in their entertainment area's Flash-driven story viewer. It's a pain however for RSS users who then will need to search their website for the full story.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sydney disaster data simply rehashed 2004 research

The NSW State government has been caught red-handed recycling their climate data. Apparently yesterday's 'exclusive' for the Daily Telegraph was simply the re-hash of a bunch of numbers from a 2004 report.
“Dr Preston said details specifically relating to Sydney had been extracted from the 2004 study and republished this week in what he described as "a brochure". Similar brochures, also based on the 2004 study, were being prepared for all NSW's water catchment areas. "There is no new research in this," he said.

Mr Iemma later acknowledged the data had been released in September 2004 by his predecessor, Bob Carr, and that the latest report was a "new cut" of Dr Preston's work.

"Well, this new cut looks at Sydney," he said. "This further analysis is confirmation that we don't need to be looking for the impact, it's here. Hence my call for a national summit and a national action plan."

The Opposition environment spokesman, Michael Richardson, called the report a "stunt" and said the Government should introduce stricter renewable energy targets.”
So this was just a publicity stunt that the Daily Telegraph fell for, and now their rival paper the Sydney Morning Herald has uncovered?

They put the boot into Premier Morris Iemma in a related story.