a tribute to summer

Harken back to the days of summer yore! I spent a lot of time out of doors then, which was wonderful. Here are some pictures from Big Basin and Redwood Regional, respectively. There should be a law requiring all parks to be named as alliterations.

Also, can you name this species?

Update: Tara's blog entry on the redwood adventure.


Electronic books. Bah.

Real, tangible, books will never go out of style. Even Google realizes this. There's just something awe-inspiring about a floor-to-ceiling library, piles of books in a used book store, or a single copy of an old hardback tome. Something about propping the book open by sticking it under the lip of your dinner plate, using your finger to hold your place, licking your finger to turn a page. Something about getting mad when it gets wet, crying when a page falls out, or finding someone else's notes in the margin. I love the way the pages feel, how the binding glue smells, and how you can feel the weight of it. There's a history to physical objects, and a surety of your ownership. Admittedly, I wouldn't have minded a kindle for my textbooks in College, but even still, I'm glad I still have them. I'll always have them. I love my books.

10/21 update: Okay, I admit, this is cool. Sharing ebooks? Thank heavens. So I can see a world in which we aren't burdened by as many physical objects. Less clutter, less hassle while moving. There are definitely some advantages. It would still make me sad not to have a big ol' library, not to smell the books, but I could deal. In order for me to convert completely, there are a few rules. 1) The must sell obscure and out of print books like "China Court" and "Mormon Sisters." eBook selection is still severly lacking. 2) They must sell books for as cheap or cheaper than I can get them at used book stores and library sales. I can get 50 cent paperbacks and dollar hardbacks easily. I'd settle for $1.50 for a novel since electronic format would last longer, but the current prices are nowhere near that low. Anyone see a market niche for a book selling equivalent of iTunes? iBooks, maybe? Or are we moving away from the app world?


back to page x

This morning I was taking the bart to work, per usual. It was crowded, so I was doing the surfing stance, balancing my open book in one hand and clinging to one of the vertical rods with the other.

A guy leans in and tells me he likes my hair bun. Thanks, I smile politely and turn back to my book. Then he says something else about it being fancy or something. It's the easiest thing to do with sopping wet hair, I tell him. Back to the book for a delicious few seconds.

So are you going to work or school? Wait, are you still talking to me? I'm going to work, and you? To work. Book. Do you work at a green place? Are you asking me this because I'm wearing a green sweater with a leaf on it? Umb, I work at a nonprofit. Oh, what do you do? Software development. Book. I didn't know there were non-profit software companies. Leave me alone.

I spend the next five minutes telling him how yorba works. We're open-source. No, we don't sell our product. Yes, that means people can use it for free. That's why we're a non-profit. Admittedly, lots of non-profits sell things, but I had to repeat a lot of stuff in order for him to get the idea. And I wanted to read my freaking book.

My favorite was when I said "Linux," he told me about how someone in India had fixed his Windows machine remotely. Because linux is apparently related to IT. And then when he asked what we developed, I told him multimedia apps and listed organizer, video editor, audio editor...then he pipes in "online social networking?" No, not that. And then he wants us to set up an online social networking site for his company. You aren't available are you? No, we aren't.

Then he asked what I studied. Computer programming? Computer science. I left off the engineering for brevity. But despite that, he praises me and does a little mock worshiping bow. And then finally the conversation stops and I can go back to reading. I get through a paragraph before he hands me his card. Without saying anything, wonder of wonders. I say thank you, and he leaves me alone.

There's a shuffle as passengers get off. I sit down. He sits down in the same row, across the isle. We go for a bit, I let someone out and move closer to the window. He takes the seat next to me. Let me see if I can guess your name, he says. Oh boy. Cythia...Sally...on and on, all starting with C/S/T sounds. He tries a couple others and then asks for the first letter. A. Angelina, Amanda... Finally, I just tell him.

And then he gets off, saying goodbye to me by name. He talked to me from MacArthur to Civic Center. Over 20 minutes, 2/3 my commute. While I was fairly obviously trying to read. Who does that??


not as they seem

My coworker Rob and I went to grab burritos for lunch today. The place was Pancho Villa Taqueria, in the Mission and it was quite delicious. As we were finishing up, a gentleman came to buss our dishes. He looked like he was a little mentally slower than average, and I was a touch startled when he asked Rob, "What your birthday?" Rob told him, and he said, "Next year, that's on a Saturday." Then he turned to me, and asked for mine. "Friday." After we left, Rob pulled out his iPhone and checked. He was spot on for both days.

The moral: "Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden..."


accounts - what's the point?

I was traveling by plane this weekend, spending 13+ hours in those delightful vehicles. We (boy and self) had picked AirTran and the ghastly SF to Altanta to Boston route in order to save on money. Such is life.

The planes, we discovered, had Gogo inflight wireless, which despite having a terribly nondescriptive name, was interesting. For an entire flight, the cost was just under $6, which would be great for really long flights, but since we were taking smaller hops, it didn't make sense. And I never like paying for wireless anyway, so I didn't want to buy it on principle.

Curious, I tried to access the internet, and was met with a Gogo screen, with login, prices, etc. Pretty standard. Bored, and with a lot of free time on my hands, I attempted to log in as someone else. Login name: jsmith. Password: password. (When I worked IT, I'd say 1/3 the people used "password" as their password...sad and scary, but that was also 4 years ago). Expectedly, the login failed. So I clicked the "Forgot your password?" link. Given the situation, they couldn't email the new password, so I was hopeful.

I was met with a question, "What was the name of your first pet?" Fluffy, Spot, Fido, Rover, Jimmy, Sally, Bob. No dice. I start again with Login name "jdoe," and I was met with an even harder question, "what was the name of your first school?" Way too many permutations on that one. Then Naychay had the bright idea to check to see if the system gives you questions even for bogus logins. He tried "etuiyiqwt5xxx," or something to that effect, and it doesn't register, which is good news for us.

This time I tried ksmith. The question: "What city were you born in?" Luck at last. People tend to say large cities instead of suburbs, so I began to guess. Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago. The last one gives us a reset password menu. And we're in business. Setting the password to password (whaddyaknow?), I explored around. By the way, I'm sorry ksmith, but you'll see below why you shouldn't be too worried or offended.

I had no intention of using the account if there were, say, credit card numbers linked to it, I just wanted to crack the system to see if I could. But there were no real account settings at all. Other than the user name and password, it appeared that Gogo didn't stash anything else. You had to re-enter credit card info every time you used the system, and there was no place to edit or view settings. My conclusion: there was no motivation for users to create an account. Perhaps Gogo used the info to track use, but it would just be an annoyance to users to need to log in. And if anyone tries to make an argument that it makes Gogo more secure, I can't wait to hear you opinions on using a sheet of paper as shield against a bullet.

I've seen so many websites or systems that require users to set up a login, and then don't offer any additional convenience to users when logging into the least other than not needing to create an account each time, which many of them probably end up doing anyway. I think Amazon and many others got it right when they allow you to check out as a guest. And offer the convenience upon logging in of remembering credit card and shipping info.

The point of all this is the following: don't require users to set up a username and password if you don't intend to save info between sessions. Maybe Gogo is still developing and will allow users to do that in the future, but wait until those features are there to implement the requirement to log in.


an evening thought

Unix is like eunuchs...they're both good for security. Do I really need to take that any further?


External Barriers Experienced by Gifted and Talented Girls & Women

I found a paper recently called External Barriers Experienced by Gifted and Talented Girls & Women by Sally M. Reis. It's been around for a bit, but I hadn't read it before. An interesting and funny quote:

"Hartmann (1981) compared statistics on different types of households and found that the presence of an adult male creates more work for a woman than the presence of a child under ten, even when the man believes himself to be sharing the housework equally."

This next one didn't surprise me too much, but I didn't expect the effect to be as strong as they found it to be.

"Even in college or university classes in which women outnumber men, women are outtalked in class. Catherine Krupnick (1984, 1992) studied talented women at Harvard and found that they speak less and are interrupted more. She also studied the classroom dynamics of coed seminars that resulted from the decision to change Wheaton College to a coeducational environment. She had expected to find greater classroom equity than she had seen elsewhere because the student body and faculty were still predominately female. Her results showed the opposite however, as even when men made up just one to two ninths of the seminar classes she studied, they did one third to one half of the talking."

There's also stuff on women making less money than men, but that's well known at this point. Doesn't make in unimportant or not worth mentioning, though.