7 exo-planet system

http://www.eso.org/public/archives/djangoplicity/shadowbox3/libraries/mediaplayer-licensed/player-licensed.swf

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.

HTTPS Everywhere: interesting idea, terrible implementation

Last night I finally figured out why Amazon wouldn’t let me view inside books, it was because I still had HTTPS everywhere enabled for amazon.  It’s a neat idea to force your web session secure for sites that support it, but don’t make it easy.  Good in theory… in practice not so much.

When I finally figured out that it attempted to work with Amazon I noticed that I had disabled all the sites I actually use in the tool.  Twitter is rediculously slow under https, like 1 minute to load a page slow.  Google images aren’t searchable under https, so you don’t see it on the sidebar as an option.  Some of the facebook javascript wasn’t fetchable over https.  Wikipedia inbound search from google doesn’t work if it’s enabled.

It makes me wonder what part of the internet is used by the folks writing this addon, because it doesn’t seem to be the same part that I’m using.

Google App Inventor

Google did something pretty brilliant last month, and created a visual programing environment for Android devices. Google App Inventor is a combination web application for app layout, and java application for building programming logic with java blocks. If you are familiar with etoys at all, it is very similar.

For those that are already developers, this approach to developing is going to be tedious. We are not the target audience. This is really designed to open up the world of mobile development to a much wider set of people, especially as an introductory computer science course.

Set Taxonomy on Confused

Today I found myself in a requirements database where a small group of people had come up with a priority scheme composed of three levels: Very Important, Must Do, and Critical. And I was stumped: what is the relative priority of these terms?  I, as it turns out, wasn’t the only one confused by this.  I did appear to be the first one outside of the core group to raise my hand and ask the question.  (I have the answer, but I’ll leave it as a guessing game in the comments for people).

User Experience (UX) is important on many levels, some times surprising ones.  Reusing words that people think they understand in ways they don’t causes a lot of confusion and adds a lot of confusion (and thus waste) to systems.  I did propose that priority words were annotated with a number, so those outside the core could get a handle on what’s going on, which was a well received comment, and will go into the next version of this tool.

3 rules for running events

Rule 1: Spend as much time on logistics as on content

Most events run by amateurs are “amateur” because they fall down on details. They have a great idea, or a great speaker, but the event turns out mediocre because the sound system doesn’t work or because there’s no parking nearby. It’s more fun to focus on the big stuff, but getting the little stuff wrong will kill you just as dead as getting the big stuff wrong.

Overall a very good refresher on the things to pay attention to when trying to run public events, especially handy if you are involved in local groups doing community outreach.