25 February 2007

Link of the day: "The Cult of Genius"

I came across an interesting post at Cosmic Variance about hero worship in physics. I don't have anything against Feynman, but I think physicists should publicize other personalities. Feynman was a brash, outspoken genius. How about the quieter theorists and the hardworking expermimentalists? How about John Bahcall, a theorist who studied solar neutrinos when no one took him seriously? Bahcall proposed a solar neutrino experiment in 1964 and almost forty years later, solar neutrino experiments were awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize! I would just like to break the stereotype that physicists are either showmen (Feynman) or wacky and "bad at math" (Einstein) or study cosmology/particles (Hawking).

23 February 2007

Link of the day: Colloqium talk on community-based data management

I learned about a really interesting talk via Dave Bacon's blog. Here Raghu Ramakrishman talks about the emergence of social websites (e.g. flickr, del.icio.us, etc) and how the future of the web may lie in leveraging community input to improve data extraction. In the beginning, we had the web which was just static text and pictures. Then Alta Vista and other search engines used anchor text to improve searching. After that, Google came up with the concept of page rank. By looking at the many levels of linkage and giving more reputable sources a higher weight, you can come up with the most relevant search result. The next step in the evolution of the web may be using the direct input of users (e.g. tags) to improve data extraction.

Ramakrishman has been doing research on a very small-scale example called DBLife. It is a site that tries to extract data about academic researchers in the field of databases. If you search for a particular researcher, DBLife will attempt to generate pictures of the researchers, his/her list of publications and talks, and other information. You (the user) can then submit input on whether you think the information is accurate. So Ramakrishman's great hope is that we can develop software that is easily maintained by a community of users, that it will be easy to abstract the underlying structure of DBLife and apply it to other communities like Hollywood (e.g. HollywoodLife). In other words, one could give the software to another community without them having to look at any code.

The video of the talk is available here.

19 February 2007

Fonts for computer presentations

I prefer sans-serif fonts for presentations and I've been looking around for alternatives to the ubiquitous Arial. Here are two I like: Verdana (standard on most computers) and MgOpen Moderna (description, download).

12 February 2007

Would you like to work in a treehouse?

Via Ramit Sethi, I found out about Inventionland. Here are some interesting pictures of their "corporate" headquarters. Yes, apparently it's a real company.

11 February 2007

My backup/maintenance solution

I think I've finally figured out a good plan to maintain my computer and digital information.
  1. Compressed backup of home computer at beginning of month onto a portable external hard drive (Seagate 100 GB notebook drive). Rotate several backup copies on the drive, deleting the oldest copy before writing a new copy. Bring drive home to do backup, then take drive off-site to another location away from home.
  2. Compressed backup of home computer mid-month on a large-capacity external hard drive at home. Rotate several backup copies on the drive, deleting the oldest copy before writing a new copy. I currently have a rather small external hard drive and I'm thinking of replacing it with a Western Digital 500 GB My Book.
  3. Once a week: run anti-virus and spyware programs and use rsync to a) backup/update work folders on a work server, b) backup/update pine mbox files from my university email account onto my home computer, and c) backup/update an uncompressed mirror of my home computer on the large-capacity external hard drive. I use ssh encryption when connecting to remote computers. The anti-virus/spyware check is a set of automated tasks (I just leave the computer on). The rsync process is handled by running a Windows batch file which calls a Cygwin shell script. Unfortunately, I can't automate this process because rsync needs my password to connect to remote servers; I'd rather not use SSH keys for hands-off password-less login.
  4. Every two weeks, backup Gmail via POP access to Thunderbird and also backup information on del.icio.us, Backpack, and Yahoo Calendar.
  5. Once a month, run ccleaner, chkdsk, and O&O defrag. I run chkdsk with a Windows batch file and manually run ccleaner and defrag (I like to do it by hand since they are sensitive tasks).

07 February 2007

Retaliation never pays

I have learned that retaliation never pays, at least in hockey. During one game, I accidentally skated into another player on the opposing team (which should have resulted in a charging penalty.) However, the referee only saw the part where she shoved me back and instead she received a trip to the penalty box (despite screaming at the ref in protest.) In another game, I was rushing the offensive zone during a hard forecheck. While an opposing player and I were both chasing the puck in parallel, I shoved her (due to my excited aggressive state I suppose). She tried to push me back (mostly missing me) and ended up dropping her stick. I'm not trying to gloat about my cunning cleverness, but I did find it amusing that retaliation failed in both cases.