March 20, 2009

An indicator light for gas stovetops

Leaving a burner turned on after cooking has finished is wasteful of energy and unsafe, but it is also an easy mistake to make. A harried or forgetful cook might well turn off the lights and leave the kitchen, leaving a burner going for hours. For this reason, electric stovetops have indicator lights which glow when a burner is on.

However, gas stovetops have no such indicators. Adding one after the fact is likely to be difficult and might well be dangerous: modifying gas appliances is not a safe hobby for amateurs. Can we fashion a solution that is reliable, safe, convenient, etc? ...
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March 12, 2006

Our Spotlight book is out!

Spotlight, introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), is Apple's new desktop search feature. Although it isn't perfect, it's quite a useful addition to other forms of file-system navigation. So, when SpiderWorks asked me to write a book on the topic, I jumped at the chance. Now, after a year of off-and-on effort, the book is available for purchase. ...
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March 6, 2006

Mechanically-augmented wikis

I've been thinking about ways to augment wikis with mechanically-harvested information, navigation aids, etc. The result would have the convenience and flexibility of wikis, but wouldn't depend on humans to provide all of the content, links, etc. As an example, let's consider the problem of generating detailed documentation for large collections of software.

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March 5, 2006

Using DBMS tables for inter-application communication

I have been thinking about ways to integrate some large applications and frameworks into an even larger system. In line with the Perl virtue of Laziness, I'd like to write as little code as possible, particularly if it means making changes to the apps themselves. At the same time, I'd like to avoid supporting a plethora of interfaces and protocols. Fortunately, I may have hit upon a useful approach.

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March 4, 2006

Polyglot Programming

Programmers who are facile with multiple languages frequently combine them, to great effect, in single projects. In Using PHP as a Macro Pre-processor, I only used two languages (HTML and PHP), but others (e.g., CSS, JavaScript) could easily have been added. ...
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February 2, 2006

Graph-related notions about LinkedIn

LinkedIn bills itself as "an online network of more than 4.8 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 130 industries". My spouse Vicki Brown has a weblog entry that gives a general introduction, but it says little about the graph-related aspects of the network. So, here are some initial observations, based on a day or two of my own explorations... ...
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January 28, 2006

Checking out Benford's Law...

I spend far too much time following links on Boing Boing, Digg, and Slashdot, but they're really rather addictive (and make a nice break from my other activities :-). Anyway, after reading a fascinating article on Benford's Law (courtesy of Digg), I decided to check its assertions for myself... ...
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December 28, 2005

Peirce's semeiotic as a foundation for ontology

John Sowa, an expert on knowledge representation systems, developed Conceptual Graphs (CGs) as a notation for First-Order Logic (a form of Predicate Calculus). CGs are "a system of logic based on the existential graphs of Charles Sanders Peirce and the semantic networks of artificial intelligence". The Conceptual Graphs Interchange Format (CGIF) is being proposed to ISO as part of Common Logic (CL), which seeks to define logic-based formats for knowledge interchange.

I have been following the discussions on the CG and CL mailing lists with great interest (if not always complete understanding :-). ...
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July 7, 2004

A Little Bit o' Nuthin'

One of the cool things about working at SLAC is being around "Big Science". I had lunch the other day with a physicist and his grad student (or so I surmised) and learned something new and interesting.

I had picked a nice shady picnic table for my lunch. The scientist and his colleague joined me and started chatting about their experiments. I listened in on their conversation and, eventually, got brave enough to ask a few questions. The scientist was happy to indulge me, telling me about an experiment he had done with neutrinos.

Neutrinos are about as close to nothing as it is possible to be (and still be something :-). They have no charge and very little mass. They go right through most matter, with few noticeable effects. With no charge, you can't grab onto them, let alone fling them around. All of this makes them rather, erm, challenging to work with!

Nonetheless, this scientist needed to do so. Specifically, he needed to generate a stream of neutrinos. And, because neutrinos are hard to detect, he needed rather a large stream. Here's how he did it.

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March 13, 2004

One Man's Rubbish Is Another Man's Gold

This story may appear to be about physics, but it's actually more about convergence, cooperation, serendipity, etc. In any case, I'll try to keep the physics details under control.

SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) gets its name from a two-mile "linear accelerator". Electrons and positrons are "injected" at one end, moving at almost the speed of light. As they move down the line, they are passed by high-energy microwaves (which are moving at light speed). Each passing wave gives each particle a bit of a push.

By the time a particle has reached the end of the line, it has gained a lot of energy (and a tiny increment of speed - see Einstein :-). This means that it does interesting things when it runs into any of several types of "targets" at the far end. These things are studied diligently, producing many papers and occasional prizes for the scientists at SLAC. ...
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