Friday, February 27, 2004

On Learned Helplessness

Malcolm Gladwell on why people would choose SUVs over other types of cars is insightful. It reminds me of the type of criticism used against the nuclear industry vs the coal and the oil industry.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

We need better maps IV

So I am in the plane reading the newspaper and bam, what I was describing earlier is now sold as a product. It is called TomTom. It is a software for mobile devices but it has several problems. First it looks like it is for cars, so it won't work for walking tourists in Paris (specifically having to carry a battery for the gps receiver). Second, it is only for one region of the world. Third, it costs 499 euros and as far as I understand it doesn't include a PocketPC/Palm computer with it. So the final bill for it is pretty steep and I don't see how the price could go down. It is a far cry from a 10 $ solution....

Friday, February 20, 2004

Sisyphus job

You just wonder why it took so much time to devise a business model to automate the sisyphus job that seems to be prevalent in electrical engineering when designing Digital Signal Processing Systems.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Mind mapping exists

I just started to use Freemind. All I can say is WOW. One of the people using it describes the application as a "complexity organizer". This is pretty how I feel after using it for two hours. This treasure was found after reading answers to a question on slashdot. Wikis never did it for me, I need to dump my thoughts into something like a web page or in Word in order to write a proposal for instance. The task manager we have at work should eventually migrate to this type of image/graph representation. Another thing I like is the fact I can save the whole structure in XML. This is important since I have had problems in the past to go from one application and hardware to another because the format was proprietary. I probably need to also check DENIM.

But we're the FBI !

Back in 1989, Rocky Flats was the center of all the attention because its plant was allegedly not following federal regulations on health, environmental and safety standards. After a whistleblower went to the EPA, one branch of the U.S government (the EPA) decided to look into another (DOE).

Since the EPA is mostly a regulatory body, it needs the help of the FBI to investigate the matter further. One way to check the whistleblowers' account was to enter the facility. The FBI (Justice Department ) and the EPA then decided to set up joint task force and a raid was decided. Now, one needs to realize that entering a federal facility is one thing if you're an agency of the government, but it is somewhat a totally different thing if you're an agency of the government and want to enter a facility where nuclear weapons are built. It's a federal facility all right, but of a special kind. 

In to make the raid happen, the Secretary of Justice at the time asks the Undersecretary of Energy to come by their offices because "they need to talk". Once in the room, the undersecretary is surrounded by Justice department officials and abruptly learns that one of his facility is going to be raided by 150 agents the morning after. This is first time this has ever happened in the history of the Department of Energy (or the Atomic energy commission) in that one branch of the government is going to be raiding another branch of the government. This is stunner for him but he is also sworn to secrecy because nobody wants any leaks to reach the Rocky flats folks. After much dismay that one arm of the government would do that to another, the Department of Energy official inquires on how they are going to raid *that* facility. The following is an account of that discussion:

Justice Dept Rep: Well we have about 150 agents ready to show up tomorrow morning at 7:00, we'll say who we are, show our credentials and be on our merry way

DOE Rep: But surely you realize that these guys are a little army on their own, they train on scenarios like this where the bad guys say they work for the FBI/CIA and whatnot. I mean these people will not just not let you in, whoever the hell you think you are

JD Rep:  But we're the FBI!

DOE Rep: How are they going to know you're the FBI ?


After a long discussion, the facility was eventually raided the day after....

Monday, February 16, 2004

We need better maps III

In this article, they show how a system used in natural parks can provide direction information to mobile tourists. It is interesting for different reasons:
- First, I did not realize Zope could be installed on a palm sized device.
- Second, it is not wireless, a GPS system does the trick. No need for a complex infrastructure. If one were to develop a solution for Paris, there is certainly a market for telling people the story of a particular place. Nearly every street in this town seems to have a link to a particular part of the History. The bar next door for instance is where most french people think WWI was not stopped. An interesting conclusion from this article is that only one third of people are interested in paying for this service. One particular instance of using this type of service in paris is to match the tourist nationality with events/places of interest to their own history. For instance, if you go to the Palais Royal, you can find the place where Bonaparte signed off on the Louisiana Treaty, the place where immigrants from eastern europe decided to join France in WWI to fight the germans, the place where Bolivar lived before going back to South America.....Each of these events has only a particular interest to only certain people of specific nationalities and no paper map could do the trick...

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

On diets

So much for the atkins diet. The worst part of the story is that you will always have people telling you that specific foods are bad or good in great quantities when one knows that one should always be on the safe side. The other part of the equation is just plain thermodynamics, one simply needs to eliminate more than one consumes. Actually, studies on animals show that the more starved (within reason) you are the longer you live

Friday, February 06, 2004

Coming home

A year ago, Good people who were supposed to come home didn't. Our camera was a prototype built to check an advanced algorithm to find stars and attitude. The next generation startracker based on this technology will guide and give a very accurate imaging capability to GIFTS EO-3. It is ironic that one of the most well known spin-off technology from NASA is foam and that it was what doomed Columbia.

Most of the spacecraft broke apart near home. Most of our camera melted. Two pieces were found not far from where they were designed and built. The lens assembly was found at 31.494900 N Lat -94.41119 W Long. The base plate was found at 31.53765 N Lat -94.58580 W Long .