Monthly Archives: June 2009

Risky analysis

Bruce Sterling Schneier has a good article on the dangers of risk analysis when estimating software projects – and, by extension, estimating the risk of terrorist attacks.

It is the everyday risks that kill you – largely because the effect is delayed and the risk itself not very visible. I seem to remember someone proposing that the way to get responsible driving would be not to increase the safety level of the car, but instead decrease it – for instance by outlawing seat belts and mandating a four inch sharp metal spike placed in the middle of the steering wheel.

If too much imagination can make us overly risk-averse, a heavy dose of reality might have the opposite effect.

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Ode to joy, in a poetic way

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anything Stephen Fry writes is bound to be a joyous experience, but this one has to rank among his best (possibly only beaten by his autobiography and "The Hippopotamus", my absolute favorite.)

In this peon to poetry, Stephen Fry shows the rules and rhythms of how to construct a poem, allowing you to see the many intriguing details and quite possibly get on with writing some yourself. I knew about trochees and jambs and so on, but had no idea about the villanelle, for instance – an intriguing and rhythmic poetic form.

Stephen Fry has a loving relationship to language, and manages to convey both his feelings and knowledge about it. Highly recommended if you like to read already and would like to read or possible write some poetry with a likable, humorous and extremely knowledgeable advisor at your side.

View all my reviews.

Plagiarism showcased – and a call for action

image I hate plagiarism, partially because it has happened to me, partially because I publish way too little because I overly self-criticize for lack of original thinking, partly because I have had it happen with quite a few students and am getting more and more tired of having to explain even to executive students with serious job experience that clipping somebody else’s text and showing it as your own is not permissible – this year, I even had a student copy things out of Wikipedia and argue that it wasn’t plagiarism because Wikipedia is not copyrighted.

I suspect plagiarism is a bigger problem than we think. The most recent spat is noted in Boing Boing – read the comments if you want a good laugh and some serious discussion. (My observation, not particularly original: Even if this thing wasn’t plagiarized, isn’t this rather thin for a doctoral dissertation?)

The thing is, plagiarism will come back to bite you, and with the search tools out there, I can see a point in a not too distant future where all academic articles ever published will be fed into a plagiarism checker, with very interesting results. Quite a few careers will end, no doubt after much huffing and puffing. Johannes Gehrke and friends at Cornell have already done work on this for computer science articles – I just can’t wait to see what will come out of tools like these when they really get cranking. I seem to remember Johannes as saying that most people don’t plagiarize, but that a few seem to do it quite a lot.

It is high time we turn the student control protocols loose on published academic work as well. Nothing like a many eyeballs to dig out that shallowness….

A wave of Google

This presentation from the Google I/O conference is an 80-minute demonstration of a really interesting collaborative tool that very successfully blends the look and feel of regular tools (email, Twitter) with the embeddedness and immediacy of Wikis and share documents. I am quite excited about this and hope it makes it out in the consumer space and does not just rest inside single organizations – collaborative spaces can create a world of many walled gardens, and being a person that works as much between organizations as in them.

Google wave really shows the power of centralized processing and storage. Here are some things I noted and liked:

  • immediate updating (broadcast) to all clients, keystroke by keystroke
  • embedded, fully editable information objects
  • history awareness (playback interactions)
  • central storage and broadcast means you can edit information objects and have the changes reflect back to previous views, which gives a pretty good indication that the architecture of this system is a tape of interactions played forward
  • concurrent collaborative editing (I want this! No more refreshes!)
  • cool extensions, such as a context-aware spell checker, an immediate link creator, concurrent searcher
  • programs are seen as participants much like humans
  • easy developer model, all you need to do is edit objects and store them back
  • client-side and server-side API
  • interactions with outside systems

I can see some strategic drivers behind this: Google is very much threatened by walled gardens such as Facebook, and this could be a great way of breaking that open (remember, programs go from applications to platforms to protocols, and this is a platform built over OpenSocial, which jams open walled gardens). This could just perhaps be what I need to be able to more effectively work over several organizations. Just can’t wait to try this out when it finally arrives.

From surfing the net to surfing the waves….

Update: Here is the Google Blog entry describing Wave from Lars Rasmussen.