Why Pluto is not a planet

We used to think Pluto was all on it’s lonesome out in it’s far away orbit.  It turns out, we just got lucky in finding it, and it’s part of a class of objects, now called Trans Neptunian objects.  As more and more objects got discovered in the Kuiper belt it became pretty clear that there were good odds we’d find something larger than Pluto.  In 2005 we did, it’s now called Eris.

Wanted – Android Layout Manual

I finally got back around to working on Where is Io again, trying to get myself past this hump that I’ve had in front of me for a couple of months where I know exactly how I want something to look…. and I have no idea how to do that with the layout tools provided.  After almost 14 years of hacking on web applications in my spare time I’ve got a set of tricks that I understand pretty well.  Given an end goal, I can do a pretty good job of getting html to look like it.

I remember with fondness when I got myself a copy of DHTML the Definitive guide, which had 200 pages of all the html tags, all their style attributes, when they were supported, what they did, and some examples.  That, and the “view source” button on every browser, made learning HTML layout something that was feasable.

The mobile application space lacks both of those things.  While there is a decent amount of open source applications on top of Android, they cover a very small set of similar appearances, so I definitely find my motivation can sometimes wane while trying to figure out how to right align columns in a table.

I think this explains a lot about why Flash isn’t going away any time soon.  Learning new layout paradigms is a heck of a lot harder than learning a new programming language, and that kind of investment is far more of a lock in than a language.  It’s the reason my Chumby will probably never end up with any custom widgets from me (as I’d need to learn Flash), and the Meego effort has a very dim future (C++ and Qt… in 2010… really?).  At this point I’m willing to put in the time to learn a new layout and UI model for Android because I’ll be able to use it on my phone and my TV, but my interest in having to get good at a 3rd UI paradigm is just not thrilling.

Update: I managed to get over the hump with learning a bit about building custom components.  Hopefully that means a new release of Where is Io out this week.

The end of the software patent cold war

“Would you like to play a game?”

It looks like the software patent cold war that we were in is over, and we’re now moving into a software patent hot war.  Ars Technica has a piece on Paul Allen’s IP holding company suing 11 big internet giants.  This comes after a number of large patent suits, including Oracle v Google, Nokia v Apple, Apple v HTC.

I’m hoping that we actually get another case in front of the supreme court for them to rethink punting on deciding on software patents.

The Great Flood of ’27

When I was in high school (circa 1990), an extraordinary number of bridges in Vermont were crumbling, all at the same time.  This is because they were all built in 1928 – 1929, and 60 years was apparently the lifespan of those materials given the upkeep and conditions.  The reason all the bridges were built in such a short window of time was the great flood of 1927, which washed away over 1200 bridges in the state.

The Vermont Historical Society has this incredible video on the event, which is really something to behold (embedded below).

Central PA Open Source Conference open for registration

CPOSC is now open for registration.  It’s in Harrisburg PA on October 16th (a Saturday), which makes it about a 4 hour drive from here in Poughkeepsie, NY.  This will be my first year there, but based on the list of talks they’ve got posted I’m sure it’s going to be great, and not just because I’ll be talking ;).

If you are in the mid Atlantic area, and are interested in Linux and Open Source, you should check it out.

Interesting Listening

The Commonwealth Club of California has become one of my new favorite sources of audio, with some really great speakers over the last month.  Here are my favorites, all are worth listening to.

Investigating Cults

David Sullivan, Professional Cult Investigator

Learn about cults from a man who’s seen them from the inside. Professional investigator Sullivan describes the process of identifying and investigating cults, providing an overview of how cults recruit, convert and maintain control of their members through a variety of psychologically coercive techniques. A licensed private investigator for more than 19 years, Sullivan has worked in collaboration with leading authorities in the area of undue influence.

MP3 Audio Here.

Richard Dreyfuss

Academy Award-Winning Actor; Founder, The Dreyfuss Initiative

Recognized for his roles in Jaws, American Graffiti, and Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss has issued a call to action in our classrooms. Dreyfuss believes civic education is the foundation of public education; yet over the years, it has become more about memorizing facts and dates than understanding context and history. By incorporating logic, history, and critical thinking with a national standard, Dreyfuss hopes to inspire a new way of teaching and preparing America’s youth. Learn more about his bold national initiative to enhance civic education in today’s classrooms.

MP3 Audio Here.

Tony Hsieh

Author, Delivering Happiness; CEO, Zappos

In conversation with Geoffrey Fowler, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Meet the man who built a business based on happiness. Hsieh co-founded LinkExchange and sold it to Microsoft for $265M in 1998. He then took Zappos from $1.6M in 2000 to more than $1 billion in 2008. Contrary to the take-no-prisoners persona one might presume would be required to rake in such revenues, Hsieh has made his mark by focusing his business model, ironically enough, on happiness. Hsieh now brings you his secret recipe for Zappos success. How does a company go from $1.6M to more than a billion dollars on happiness? And how did Hsieh make Zappos one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”?

MP3 Audio Here.

David Boies: Challenging Law and Making History

Attorney; Chairman, Boies, Schiller and Flexner LLP

Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, Stanford University; Co-director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford University – Moderator

Challenging Law and Making History: Overturning CA’s Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban.

Boies has been deeply involved in some of the most prominent legal disputes of the past two decades. From serving as special counsel to the Justice Department in the United States v. Microsoft trial to representing Vice President Al Gore in the Bush v. Gore case following the 2000 presidential election, Boies’ legal experience is extensive and varied.

Together, Boies and former Solicitor General Theodore Olson have successfully overturned California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. The judge’s ruling on the case happened just one day before this program was recorded. In a recent interview with Salon.com, Boies asserted that overturning this legislation will “improve the lives of gay and lesbian couples…it will not in any way harm heterosexual marriage.” In 2010, Boies was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Boies provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Prop. 8 case, and provide insight into what it takes to challenge the status quo and make legal history.

MP3 Audio Here.

I’m also sticking these all over in Sean Cast as well, for anyone that wants to add to their normal podcast listening.

7 exo-planet system


This is way too cool. The European Southern Observatory just released a press release with data for a exo solar system they’ve been studying which appears to have 7 planets. More importantly, the planets are in a pattern very similar to our solar system, with the smallest one found as small as 1.4 earth masses.

This was presumably rushed out after it was announced yesterday that on Thursday NASA would be making the first Keppler announcement.  Which means there may well be even more exciting planet news by the end of the week.

Prettier fonts for Git Gui on Ubuntu

The default fonts for git gui (aka gitk) in Ubuntu are down right horrible.  Even Ubuntu 10.04 defaults to tk8.4, which doesn’t support font smoothing.  Fortunately there is a simple way to fix this and make a whole bunch of applications look prettier all at once.

# sudo update-alternatives –config wish
There are 3 choices for the alternative wish (providing /usr/bin/wish).

Selection    Path                   Priority   Status
* 0            /usr/bin/wish-default   10000     auto mode
1            /usr/bin/wish-default   10000     manual mode
2            /usr/bin/wish8.4        841       manual mode
3            /usr/bin/wish8.5        840       manual mode

Then type ‘3’ and hit enter.  Now you’ll be using tk8.5 by default, and miracle of miracles your eyes won’t be scarred by jagged ugly fonts in gitk anymore.

Maybe it has more to do with never being exposed to nature

NY Times: Technology Leads More Park Visitors Into Trouble

The national parks’ history is full of examples of misguided visitors feeding bears, putting children on buffalos for photos and dipping into geysers despite signs warning of scalding temperatures.

But today, as an ever more wired and interconnected public visits the parks in rising numbers — July was a record month for visitors at Yellowstone — rangers say that technology often figures into such mishaps.

People with cellphones call rangers from mountaintops to request refreshments or a guide; in Jackson Hole, Wyo., one lost hiker even asked for hot chocolate.

Though the article doesn’t really stress this point, this has always been a problem.  People that are clueless about nature, possibly because they’ve been sheltered from it in the cities or suburbs, are clueless, whether or not they have a cellphone or gps.