28 February 2010

World Builder

A beautiful and very neat short film by Bruce Branit. (It has stuff that's reminiscent of the Minority Report computer interfaces—except cooler.)

(Via Terence Tao's Google Buzz, which is, incidentally, a fantastic mixture of relatively accessible math blurbs and stuff like this video.)

19 February 2010

Artist's rendering of Emacs session

Piaw Na and I were recently granted US Patent 7,613,693 for techniques we implemented in gtags.

The thing about this matter that astonishes me the most is the fact that, for the illustrations in the application, some lawyer or paralegal took the Emacs screenshots we provided and painstakingly replicated them in black and white line art, right down to the squiggly Emacs logo:

Whoever you are, I salute you.


NPR's All Things Considered had a short feature on Matt LeBlanc, who is an "efficiency expert" at a global shipping company.

LeBlanc visits a site for a few days or weeks, watches the workflow there, and gives recommendations:

"We [...] move a lot of printers," he said. "I'm sure you guys have printers in your office ... have you ever thought about why that printer is there, and if it makes sense for it to be there?" Over the course of a career, you might walk miles back and forth.

And LeBlanc says he can hardly help but apply efficiency principles to his private life:

"There is a thing called 'five-s': it's sort, straighten, standardize, sanitize and sustain," he said. "I five-s my toiletries in the morning."

How very kaizen (though I'm sure everyone knows someone just like that). I find something compelling in the idea of rethinking the things that most people are content to leave unchanged for their entire lives.

15 February 2010

Static analysis: a case study of Coverity

The Communications of the ACM has a long but interesting article about the experiences of the Coverity team and the development of the Coverity Static Analysis product.

(The article has lots of war stories. I enjoyed reading it.)

There are many interesting technical hurdles the Coverity team has had to deal with (e.g. standards vs. reality in language implementations; integrating into complicated and established build systems) in order to make Coverity Static Analysis find as many bugs as possible in user code. But the Coverity team also recognized that in order to make a sale or keep a customer, the output of Coverity Static Analysis must be simple, consistent, and easy to understand— objectives that are often at odds with the goal of finding as many bugs as possible.

For example, one point of tension is that every analysis that identifies a bug has to be able to explain to the user the exact circumstances under which that bug could manifest itself, and

a not-understood bug report is commonly labeled a false positive, rather than spurring the programmer to delve deeper. The result? We have completely abandoned some analyses that might generate difficult-to-understand reports.

Finished a half century

I went biking today and completed my first half century— 52 miles and about 4h30m in motion. (I didn't leave the house planning to ride that much, but it just sort of happened.)

The weather was perfect.

I'm tired but I'm full of endorphins. I haven't felt this great in a while.

14 February 2010

2009 in Review (photo collage edition)

2009 was a good year. Here's to a great 2010!

Work is going well; there's hardly a day that goes by where I don't learn something new. And not being in school anymore, I have more time to work on pet projects, socialize, go on outings, travel, read, and enjoy the outdoors. Life has been pretty good.

Some photo highlights from the past year:

03 February 2010

50 years since Greensboro

Photo credit: Mark Pellegrini, CC-BY-SA-2.5

It seems scarcely possible that it was just fifty years ago, on 1 February 1960, that four black students in Greensboro, N.C. sparked a sea change in civil rights by quietly sitting down at a segregated lunch counter:

The students — Ezell Blair Jr. (later Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil — were not served that day because they were black. Woolworth’s was abiding by the local custom of only serving whites. [...]

Word spread throughout the campus of what they had done at the lunch counter and what had happened. By the following day, more than 20 students appeared at the lunch counter ready to sit in and protest. Soon, crowds of students were protesting at the stores regularly. [...]

By August 1960, six months after the initial Greensboro sit-in, lunch counters throughout the South announced that they were now integrated. [progressive.org]