Celebrating Female Engineers

Wired magazine has not been know for women on their covers, and when they are, they were somewhat problematic. At least this month, things are different, and they chose a really spectacular female engineer for their cover.

Limor is the creator of Adafruit Industries, and online store / community for DIY open source electronics. She and her team specifically work on simplifying the electronic designs so they are more approachable by the average person with a soldering iron. She’s been one of the big proponents and drivers of the current Arduino craze, which is vastly expanding the ranks of the people that can make basic interactive electronics.

I love the callback to Rosie the Riveter, for those gentle readers outside the US.

Weekend hacking… much progress

This was one of the most productive weekends of hacking that I’ve had in a long time. I finally managed to get all my fixes for the drupal epublish module upstream. And, as a bonus, I wrote a first pass at exporting the data via views because I needed that in order to make the Featured Veggie block on the PFP website work. I’m actually hoping this is going to turn into an epublish 1.6 release before the end of the month.

On the PFP site I completed the last few things I committed to as part of the winter feature additions. This now means that instead of featured programs on the front page, we’ve got features, promoting columns from our upcoming (or just released) newsletter. I also managed to pull of a bit of a back flip and via the afore mentioned epublish views, figure out what veggie was most recently highlighted in a newsletter. Thus creating the featured veggie box.

The mid-hudson astro site saw a bit of work as well. My lending module is now pretty robust, and ready for review to become an official drupal module. Hopefully it will get some testing over the next month and we can have start transitioning to it come April.

And lastly, I managed to connect up with some of the NY State Senate developers working open government initiatives. Hopefully we can get one of them to come down and give a lecture at MHVLUG, as I think a local talk on open government would be really spectacular.

Making an Impact

Recently the Poughkeepsie Farm Project received a $100,000 grant for the Building Bridges program to attack hunger in the city of Poughkeepsie. This is part of a Department of Agriculture initiative to fund pilot programs and see what works so that they can apply it at a larger level in the US. 10 grants were given, and by all appearances the PFP was the smallest of the organizations that got the grant.

Which made me wonder. My major contribution to the organization has been a revitalized website, which I’ve been working on for two years. As we were approaching our annual volunteer retreat I dug into the analytics, and not surprisingly there were hits from the Dept of Ag in there. The website was not the reason that we got this grant, Susan Grove is an impressive organizer, and has come up with a great program. But I’m sure it helped.

It helped to show that as an organization we have resources at many levels, including a solid technical backing. It helped because it highlighted the depth and breadth of the programs run by the organization. It helped because it had current information on current programs, and thus showed how high the activity level is. It made an impact by exposing all that is done in the PFP in a way that’s easy to see and consume from the outside.

I felt very good that I was part of a team that helped make this happen.

Me and optics

I bought a telescope almost three years ago now, and I’d still consider myself pretty novice, but learning. One thing I was sure that I was doing wrong over the years was colimnation, which is aligning the optics in your scope. I missed a good chance to get some help with it last summer, but over the course of the fall, even with great new eye pieces, something didn’t seem quite right with my scope.

In December I bought a laser colimnator (much like the one pictured). Basically it has a red laser it shoots out of the cylinder which goes down, bounces off you primary mirror, then comes back and shines on that set of cross hairs. If you mange to put the red dot in the center of those cross hairs, life is good.

I finally got around to pulling it out today, as I’ve been a wimp all winter, and haven’t had the scope out since early December. I dropped it in, and didn’t see a dot on the cross hairs… and was really confused. So I popped off the cover of my scope and saw that the little red dot that was supposed to be in the center of my main mirror, was 6 inches to the right.

Oooof.

15 minutes later of tweaking things, life is good. I now can’t wait to get the scope out there, because it being that far out of whack would definitely have degraded my viewing incredibly.

Lesson: some times you are just an idiot and only time, experience, and the right tools are going to let you realize that.

Kindle Interupted

I broke down and bought myself a Kindle this past week. I will say that I am definitely in like with the device, but not really in love with it yet. The major reason for that is because in the kindle I can see so much more potential, which Amazon clearly has no interest in. Sadly, their main competitor, the Nook, has fully abandoned e-ink for the glossy shiney promiss of interactive CD-ROM… oh, sorry, wrong decade. I think they are now calling it interactive magazines.

E-ink is beautiful. Just beautiful. It is a pleasure to read, creates no eye strain, it’s paper, but better.

The missing potential is around how completely locked down development is, and looks like forever will be, on the Kindle. I recently tried to get access to the KDK to play around with astronomy code on the Kindle. E-ink represents a unique value in astronomy, because it is a dynamic screen that generates no light. I’ve got 15 lbs of books that I take to every star part (and another 15lbs I leave at home) to look up targets, facts and figures, when in the field. Replacing that with a Kindle would be amazing. Having Where Is Io run on the kindle would just kick some serious butt.

But that’s not in the cards. While this time I actually did get a response from the KDK folks, the tone was clear. They don’t want a homebrew market on the kindle, they only are going to let folks in with a product plan in place. Kindle active content is going to be extremely limited because of this, which I think is Amazon’s intent. Given that they are the ones paying for the wispernet cellular connection in every device, they’ve got some incentive to keep very tight control on what people can do. I get that, but as an open source developer, I still don’t like it.

It does sadden me, because I can see so much more potential for this device. Maybe Amazon will have a change of heart in the future. For now I’ll just have to live with this being a really great reader, and possibly play with some custom authoring myself.

Drupal Hacking

My typical morning blog writing time has gotten taken over by morning code writing recently, which I’m quite happy about, as I’ve been making very reasonable progress on a new drupal module: lending. This is still in the sandbox as I’m still in the project approval queue, but you are welcome to check out the code if interested.

The basic idea is an informal lending library designed to support the astronomy club. We at the club have a lot of DVDs and other things that club membership gives you access to. Up until now this was handled with index cards and crates. Someone suggested that we have a way to request items to lend so the full set of crates doesn’t have to be dragged around by our librarian at every meeting.

Most of the drupal modules in this space were really about reservations, and were really more complicated than I thought I could get people to consistently use. So I broke down and started building the module to just meet our needs. Some time spent with Pro Drupal and the drupal website, got me most of the way there. My hope is to have the 1.0 version of this out for next Tuesday’s astronomy meeting.

Once the project is official approved, I’ll throw up some screenshots to show the walk throughs of using it. Now, back to hacking in emacs.

Discover: People don’t know when they’re lying to themselves

You don’t have to look far for instances of people lying to themselves. Whether it’s a drug-addled actor or an almost-toppled dictator, some people seem to have an endless capacity for rationalising what they did, no matter how questionable. We might imagine that these people really know that they’re deceiving themselves, and that their words are mere bravado. But Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School thinks otherwise.

Using experiments where people could cheat on a test, Chance has found that cheaters not only deceive themselves, but are largely oblivious to their own lies. Their ruse is so potent that they’ll continue to overestimate their abilities in the future, even if they suffer for it. Cheaters continue to prosper in their own heads, even if they fail in reality.

Read the rest over at Discover Blogs. This seems to fit in line with the Dunner Kruger effect, though it’s even more subtle about the ability for us to self delude.