Monthly Archives: August 2012

Cloudy with a chance of rain

According to a recent survey by Citrix*, many Americans appear to be utterly confused by cloud computing. While the cloud phenomenon is clearly taking root in our mainstream culture, there is still a wide gap between the perceptions and realities of cloud computing. While many use it, few understand it: 95% of people surveyed claimed they have never used the cloud, 22% admit that they have pretended to know what the cloud is or how it works. Nearly one third see the cloud as a thing of the future, yet 97% are actually using cloud services today via social networking, email, file sharing, banking and online shopping.

But the big stat is: 51% of respondents, including a majority of Millennials, believe stormy weather can interfere with cloud computing.

* FYI, Citrix is a software company that specialises in virtualisation, networking and cloud technologies, so you can see the potential angle of this survey; plus it was a relatively small sample size (c.1000).

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NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Perl’s pack function

I recently found this description of the origin of a number of the pack format specifiers in Perl’s pack function (which takes a list of values and converts it into a string using a specified rule template). Larry Wall recalls that they were added for processing data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft (launched in 1989, also known as the Venus Radar Mapper):

+=begin comment
+Larry recalls that the hex and bit string formats (H, h, B, b) were added to
+pack for processing data from NASA's Magellan probe. Magellan was in an
+elliptical orbit, using the antenna for the radar mapping when close to
+Venus and for communicating data back to Earth for the rest of the orbit.
+There were two transmission units, but one of these failed, and then the
+other developed a fault whereby it would randomly flip the sense of all the
+bits. It was easy to automatically detect complete records with the correct
+sense, and complete records with all the bits flipped. However, this didn't
+recover the records where the sense flipped midway. A colleague of Larry's
+was able to pretty much eyeball where the records flipped, so they wrote an
+editor named kybble (a pun on the dog food Kibbles 'n Bits) to enable him to
+manually correct the records and recover the data. For this purpose pack
+gained the hex and bit string format specifiers.
+git shows that they were added to perl 3.0 in patch #44 (Jan 1991, commit
+27e2fb84680b9cc1), but the patch description makes no mention of their
+addition, let alone the story behind them.
+=end comment

N.B. I’m a big fan of Perl — this kind of ad hockery perfectly encapsulates why!

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Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket-protector nerdy engineer — born under the law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-flow dynamics, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow.

Neil Armstrong (speaking in 2000)

Neil Armstrong

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

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The successful Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge

In June, Chris Chambers and I started the Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge, a declaration to send a copy of Mark Henderson‘s The Geek Manifesto to all 60 Assembly Members of the National Assembly of Wales.

Success! Yesterday, we received the final pledge and are collecting the donations. We are currently planning an event to maximise the impact of the delivery of the 60 copies of The Geek Manifesto to the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay (more details to follow shortly).

N.B. The Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge followed the original Geek Manifesto Pledge for the 650 MPs in Westminster; there are open pledges in Northern Ireland (“Geekmanifulster”), Scotland (GeekScotland) and Australia (Geek the Vote).

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Life is a trap for logicians

The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite.

Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.

Chapter VI: The Paradoxes of Christianity, Orthodoxy (1908)
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

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The Global Impact of Computer Science

I recently watched the excellent closing keynote from Megan Smith (Vice President, New Business Development at Google) at the 2010 Computer Science & Information Technology Conference at Google HQ in California. The annual CS & IT Conference is organised by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a membership organisation that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines in the US (CAS in the UK is modelled on the CSTA).

The keynote was originally pitched as a talk on the “future of technology and education” but was a wider analysis of the extraordinary global impact of computer science. And it is truly extraordinary and widespread: from analysing global flu trends, making critical information more accessible in times of disaster or using decades of satellite date to track Amazon deforestation, through to its impact on education: search engines for learning, the value of programming and creating apps and even widening access to learning.

Megan’s talk gives a great overview of what is happening in the world because of computer science and information technology, as well as the wider trend of convergence and interconnection between disciplines (especially between the physical sciences and the life sciences). It also reinforces the importance of data literacy and computational thinking; we frequently talk about the value of digital literacy and the effective use of technology for learning, but how can we truly embed computer science across the curriculum?

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