Tag Archives: Science


Nature software

Hmmm, looking at the credits on an episode of planet earth, I don’t see any credits for software/IT support staff. I’m sure there _is_ some, but the fact that it’s uncredited probably indicates that there isn’t as much computing going on in the production of such a series as there ought to be. I can think of lots of ways that software and computing infrastructure could support efficient production, insightful exploration of A/V materials and data, exceptional editing, etc., and I’m sure that current off-the-shelf software can’t be doing everything that can be done there.

So, if anyone reading this is a nature documentary producer, I’ve got two requests of you: produce lots and lots more content on the level of quality of planet earth (even a level or two lower quality would still be great), and talk to me about how to make more and better stuff through software magic.


Psychology of info-space navigation

I’m also fascinated by the psychology of getting around in unfamiliar info-spaces. In order to find a workaround for my problem outlined in Geek TV: open source rocks, I had to:

  • find anchor points
  • learn terminology
  • learn systemic interactions
  • build an environment for experimentation
  • build models of a system with dozens of components
  • perform experiments
  • twiddle code

and finally, reason about interactions between things I don’t understand, within a system I don’t understand, driven by a practical problem that I wanted to solve. And this all took place in a period of days, in a total of a couple dozen hours, on and off, with the final effort between getting annoyed with the problem and having a workaround occurring in a couple hours.

I’d really like to know more about how all that happens. I know that lots of academics have spent lots of effort on learning about that, and I have spent some time delving into their research, but still, I don’t feel like I have much of a feel for the most important parts of the whole process. It’s fun, in any case.


Sociology of software

I’m pretty fascinated by the concept that there’s a sociology of software, that the patterns of relationships in the little world of software components installed on a computer mirror, to some degree, the patterns of relationships in the world of users and developers. I suspect that some academics out there study such things, so I’ll have to see what they’ve learned some day.

I did find one interesting paper in an earlier search: Sociology in machines (PDF). It’s not hitting quite the nail with the exact hammer I’m thinking of, but it might be a good starting point.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I was researching my problem in MediaPortal as mentioned in Geek TV: open source rocks. In that situation, we have at least three development groups (Nero, Team MediaPortal, and Microsoft) plus one user participating in transactions, specifically, User wants to use software from all three groups on the same computer. The sets of components are developed pretty independently of one another, but there are significant dependencies on Microsoft for both Nero and MediaPortal. Each set of components can be installed and uninstalled in somewhat independent ways. Nero and MediaPortal make calls to Microsoft components, but Microsoft also makes calls back to both. It’s in that particular web of interactions that problems arise.

I could go on, but won’t.


Light and time

There’s lots of stuff in the popular press like “Hubble has let scientists make direct observation of the universe as it was 12 billion years ago.” (CNN). But that sort of construction doesn’t really make sense, does it, in light of relativity theory?

And when sources like CNN are making such scientifically suspect remarks in passing, what has the world come to?

[This has been #33 in the series “Things you didn’t know you don’t care about”.]


Wikipedia, media, academics, etc.

This article gives a fairly reasonable-sounding overview of Wikipedia’s latest appearaces in the newspaper headlines:

JOHO – December 29, 2005: Why the media can’t get Wikipedia right

This got me to thinking about the fact that, despite its shortcomings, the academic model of knowledge transfer has one clearly good effect: it forces researchers to learn to write (usually).

One of the problems of the journalistic model (highlighted in the Wikipedia thing) is that, except for the fields that are popular enough to have dedicated news staff (politics, weather, sports…), journalists are people who know how to write but don’t necessarily know much about what they’re writing about. If there wasn’t a specialization between the knowers and the writers, news outlets would have a lot fewer incidences of distortion.