24 Nov

Ars Technica – Google drops the axe on its internal renewable energy work

So although RE < C wasn’t misguided, its cancellation isn’t going to have a discernible impact on the renewable energy field, since companies that specialize in this field were outperforming it. And, unlike many of the companies that are also suffering in this fast-moving and competitive market, Google at least has a profitable side-business to turn to.

via Ars Technica – Google drops the axe on its internal renewable energy work. Ars answers my earlier question.

27 Sep

Vivek Haldar – Size is the best predictor of code quality

A long paper trail of software engineering studies has shown that many internal code metrics (such as methods per class, depth of inheritance tree, coupling among classes etc.) are correlated with external attributes, the most important of which is bugs. What the authors of this paper show is that when they introduce a second variable, namely, the total size of the program, into the statistical analysis and control for it, the correlation between all these code metrics and bugs disappears.

via Vivek Haldar – Size is the best predictor of code quality. Essentially length of code tied with code metrics becomes a reasonable predictor of bugs.

24 Aug

NYTimes.com – Its Gene Patents Upheld, Myriad Genetics Moves to Protect Its Secrets

Myriad Genetics retained its monopoly on a lucrative genetic test for breast cancer risk when a federal appeals court recently upheld the company’s patents on two human genes — and the validity of gene patents in general.

But it is only a matter of time before the company’s business faces severe challenges, some experts say, because that $3,340 test is technologically outmoded, incomplete and too costly.

“Science has moved beyond what these folks do,” said Mary-Claire King, a professor of genome sciences and medicine at the University of Washington. “It’s not good for the science and it’s not good for the patients and their clinicians if they cannot have the most complete, up-to-date information.”

via NYTimes.com – Its Gene Patents Upheld, Myriad Genetics Moves to Protect Its Secrets. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the idea of patents on genes, the fact that these patents are forcing patients to undergo a more expensive and less effective procedure should give anyone concern.

20 Aug

The Atlantic – Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F

This week, I talked with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, about the time he spends with random people studying how they search for stuff. One statistic blew my mind. 90 percent of people in their studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page! I probably use that trick 20 times per day and yet the vast majority of people don’t use it at all.

via The Atlantic – Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F. It always astonishes how many people who use the computer every day for a large part of their daily lives know almost zero shortcuts.

01 Aug

Messy Matters – This Post Won’t Go Viral

In a recent study, Duncan Watts, Dan Goldstein, and I examined the adoption patterns of several different types of products diffusing over various online platforms — including Twitter, Facebook, and the Yahoo! IM network — comprising millions of individual adopters. The figure below shows the structure and frequency of the five most commonly seen diffusion trees in each case. In all six domains the dominant diffusion event, accounting for between 70% to 95% of cascades, is the trivial one: an individual adopts the product in question and doesn’t convert any of their contacts. The next most common event, again in all six domains, is an independent adopter who attracts a single additional adopter. In fact, across domains only 1%-4% of diffusion trees extend beyond one degree.

via Messy Matters – This Post Won’t Go Viral. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is that most adoptions occur without a peer-to-peer influence or within one step of the original peer.

13 Jul

Freedom to Tinker – New Research Result: Bubble Forms Not So Anonymous

If bubble marking patterns were completely random, a classifier could do no better than randomly guessing a test set’s creator, with an expected accuracy of 1/92 ≈ 1%. Our classifier achieves over 51% accuracy. The classifier is rarely far off: the correct answer falls in the classifier’s top three guesses 75% of the time (vs. 3% for random guessing) and its top ten guesses more than 92% of the time (vs. 11% for random guessing). We conducted a number of additional experiments exploring the information available from marked bubbles and potential uses of that information. See our paper for details.

via Freedom to Tinker – New Research Result: Bubble Forms Not So Anonymous. Even something as simple and low tech as bubble forms can’t be totally anonymous.

26 Mar

NYTimes.com – Next-Generation Scientists

The research paper they submitted for the school expo was 30 pages of code and 60 pages of writing to explain it. “Emotion is innately meta information,” Matt says, “and that’s why it’s a real challenge. A lot of people base their algorithms off of speech-recognition systems because those have been established. But emotion is a really different task, and it’s a different goal.” For one, in speech recognition, sequence is essential; get the sounds out of order, and you mess up the words. In emotion recognition, the order isn’t nearly as important as various measures of energy and pitch. Determining what information to pay attention to in the audio signal and how to process it involves imagination, some sticky calculus and a lot of trial and error. “We tried to think of something new,” Akash says of the algorithm they built, “instead of using what other people tried to do.” The algorithm they came up with allows them to determine the emotion of a speaker by measuring 57 different features of an audio signal against a prerecorded signal that’s already been defined by a human listener as, say, “happy” or “angry.” Their algorithm doesn’t yet recognize confidence, or sarcasm, but what it does do (imperfectly, but better than the rest of the field) is detect fear, anger, joy and sadness in real time, without eating up so much processing power as to be impractical in a handheld device.

Their project won the team competition at last year’s expo, and they went on to represent O.E.S. at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, where they received the team award in physical sciences. In the fall, now juniors, they entered the Siemens Competition, one of two premier science competitions in the nation, and made it to the nationals in Washington, where they won the team grand prize. With the honor came $100,000 in scholarship money and two thick glass plaques — one sits above the fireplace in Matt’s house, the other in the dining room of Akash’s. When I met them last month, they had just returned from ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. “Someone gave us his card,” Akash says, “and said, ‘When you make your company, be sure to give us a call.’ ”

via NYTimes.com – Next-Generation Scientists. Impressive work.

06 Mar

Bad Astronomy – Has life been found in a meteorite?

Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, thinks he may have found bacteria in a meteorite.

Yes, you read that right. The question is, is he right?

I don’t know. Dr. Hoover has published his findings in the online Journal of Cosmology (see below for more about this journal), and it was reported today by Fox News (thanks to Sheril at The Intersection for the tip).

Basically, Hoover found structures inside a rare type of meteorite — the Orgueil meteorite which fell in France in 1864 — that look very much like microbes of some sort

So, to conclude: a claim has been made about micro-fossils in a meteorite. The claims are interesting, the pictures intriguing, but we are a long, long way from knowing whether the claim is valid or not! We’ve been down this road before and been disappointed. As with any scientific claim, skepticism is needed, and in the case of extraordinary claims, well, you know the saying.

via Bad Astronomy – Has life been found in a meteorite?. So has it, maybe, but it seems like the answer is leaning more towards no, as opposed to the yeses being heard in the media.

24 Jan

Cosmic Variance – Scientists Aren’t Always Complete Idiots

Nobody is harder on scientific theories than scientists are. That’s what we do. You don’t become a successful scientist by licking the metaphorical boots of Einstein or Darwin or Newton; you hit the jackpot by pushing them off their pedestals. Every one of us would love to discover that all of our best theories are wrong, either by doing an astonishing experiment or coming up with an unexpectedly clever theory. The reason why we have the right to put some degree of confidence in well-established models is that such a model must have survived decades of impolite prodding and skeptical critiques by hundreds of experts.

via Cosmic Variance – Scientists Aren’t Always Complete Idiots. Something that I notice that non-scientists seem to make as an assumption about scientists is that it’s this static idea, ideas are rarely challenged and the big shots are always right and never assumed to be wrong. In a conversation with a friend, who’s getting her Master’s in Mathematics, one of the professors at the university is working on disproving her doctoral thesis. This is one of the greatest things about science it never assumes itself to be 100% accurate or correct. However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t consensus on issues that given the current knowledge the current theory is correct and valid simply because it’s always open to be attacked or disproven.

19 Jan

Electronic Frontier Foundation – Sony v. Hotz: Sony Sends A Dangerous Message to Researchers — and Its Customers

Not content with the DMCA hammer, Sony is also bringing a slew of outrageous Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claims. The basic gist of Sony’s argument is that the researchers accessed their own PlayStation 3 consoles in a way that violated the agreement that Sony imposes on users of its network (and supposedly enabled others to do the same). But the researchers don’t seem to have used Sony’s network in their research — they just used the consoles they bought with their own money. Simply put, Sony claims that it’s illegal for users to access their own computers in a way that Sony doesn’t like. Moreover, because the CFAA has criminal as well as civil penalties, Sony is actually saying that it’s a crime for users to access their own computers in a way that Sony doesn’t like.

That means Sony is sending another dangerous message: that it has rights in the computer it sells you even after you buy it, and therefore can decide whether your tinkering with that computer is legal or not. We disagree. Once you buy a computer, it’s yours. It shouldn’t be a crime for you to access your own computer, regardless of whether Sony or any other company likes what you’re doing.

via Electronic Frontier Foundation – Sony v. Hotz: Sony Sends A Dangerous Message to Researchers — and Its Customers. Oh silly companies, let’s attack security researchers for finding exploitable holes in our software/hardware.