Sunday, September 12, 2010

My first two slide rules have arrived

My father had (has, rather) two slide rules that I can remember. One was metal and yellow, pegging it most likely as being a Pickett. Interesting thing about Pickett: they were for a time located in Santa Barbara.

I thought that surely the metal rules would be superior to other materials: more durable, easy to clean, etc. I now have two slide rules: a metal Pickett and a mahogany K&E. I'm finding the wood one to be much more pleasurable to use. It's got a nice weight to it and the wood slides back and forth very smoothly. The one I have is slightly swollen at the edges, but is otherwise perfectly usable.

I'm looking forward to receiving my first plastic one, a Faber Castell 2/83.

Just thought I'd share. :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

EduBlogs 2009 Nominations

It's time for the annual EduBlogs awards nominations. Here are my picks:

Best teacher blog: Computing Education Blog

Thursday, June 11, 2009

App Store pricing model defies logic

In his column dated June 11, 2009, David Pogue detailed the pricing of Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" and suggests that Apple may be taking a page from the App Store playbook.
What do you suppose is the difference between the pricing model of the App Store and more traditional pricing models?
I recall reading an interview with an Apple ][ developer from the 1980s. I'm afraid in ten minutes of searching Google I can't find the article anymore.
His company was developing one of the first spell-checkers for the Apple -- it was a revolutionary product at the time. There were other competitors in the market, but his software was faster and fit into less memory: thousands of English words stored in just a few kilobytes. (Back then an Apple computer had only 64K of memory.) His product was also cheaper than the others. They sold very few copies.
So they raised the price of the software and sold more copies! Astonished, they raised the price again -- now more in line with their competitors -- and sold even more!
Price is a reflection of perceived value and quality. With no other quantifiable measures of quality available to consumers (remember, they're just reading ad copy or a box cover), an estimation of a product's value and quality is based on price. All other things being apparently equal, something that costs more than another must be of higher quality.
How does this play out in the App Store, where something that costs less than another sells better?

Apple seeks wrath of the Author's Guild

MacRumors today posted a few screenshots of the upcoming Mac OS X Snow Leopard release. One of the features in particular grabbed my attention: automatic text to speech with conversion to an iTunes track.
Whoa! That's a shot across the bow to the Author's Guild which in February tried to seek an injunction against the Amazon Kindle 2 for its text-to-speech feature. Amazon has since bowed to the pressure and has started to disable TTS on some of its offerings.
This Snow Leopard feature creates new content from existing content -- the very thing that the Author's Guild objects to. With this feature you could buy an e-book, convert it to an audio track, and listen to it on your iPod.
I wonder how the quality of Apple's TTS compares to the Kindle's.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

History of Programming

Programming in the 1980s


Programming in the 1990s


Programming in the 2000s


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How to Shop Online and Stay Out of Trouble

So-called Internet experts will tell you that to avoid trouble when shopping online, you should only buy from reputable sources. But without prior experience, how do you know who the reputable dealers are?

This is my personal list of online resellers who won't try to scam you, they charge reasonable prices, and offer good-quality merchandise.

Computer Parts

For things like hard drives, mainboards, peripherals, and accessories, look no further than NewEgg. They've been in business for over twenty years (formerly Egghead Software). Prices are always competitive, although not necessarily the lowest. Shipping charges are never excessive and often free. Every product can be reviewed by users, so it's easy to find the high-quality stuff.

One should never pass up checking, just in case they have it for less than NewEgg.

Photographic Gear

This is a tricky market to navigate. There are literally hundreds of fly-by-night and bait-and-switch shops luring you with unbelievably low prices, only to gouge you later with exorbinant shipping, overpriced accessories, and dubious warranties. Check the website before you buy electronics from any online seller.

Or save yourself the trouble and buy from one of these two retailers:

B&H Photo and Video. One of the few photographic stores in New York that is not a scam. Professionals shop here. They have a massive brick-and-mortar store in New York with knowledgeable staff. Prices always beat your local camera store, though be sure to factor in shipping to make sure it's worth it.

There's always trusty, too. They stock all the popular cameras and accessories, often at prices that beat even B&H. Some of their stuff is cross-listed with B&H competitor Adorama, whose prices and service are just a tiny notch lower than B&H. I have no qualms about ordering from Adorama.


Everyone needs cables, whether it's to hook up your new Blu-Ray player to an HDTV or simply have a spare USB cable laying around. Want to know a secret? You don't have to spend $50 on an HDMI cable or $20 on a USB cable from your local electronics chain store. You can get cables of equal or higher quality from Monoprice at a fraction of the price. Don't fall for the overpriced brand names such as Monster Cable; generic ones of high-quality construction will do just as well. Here's a sample of what Monoprice has to offer:

Premium 24AWG 6 ft. HDMI 1.3a cable: $9.98
USB 2.0 6 ft. cable: $0.94
10 ft. Category 5e network cable: $1.28

Business Cards, Flyers, Postcards

Want high-quality, four-color, press-printed business cards on thick cardstock instead of photocopied cards from your local office supply store? Check out America's Printer. Based in Los Angeles, America's Printer will accept your camera-ready documents (PDF, JPEG, InDesign, Illustrator) and run them on Heidelberg presses with a matte or glossy finisg. One thousand cards for under $40. Do keep in mind that you're expected to deliver files that exactly meet their specifications. They will not adjust your files or otherwise hold your hand in any way. You get what you ordered, whether or not it's what you wanted.

A couple of caveats: First, although they accept electronic upload of files, the job order has to be filled out by hand and faxed in. I don't know why. Second, it will take a couple of days from the time you submit your job to when it runs on the press. Even if you pay for overnight shipping, it will take at least 4-5 business days to receive your job. Finally, as with any third-party vendor, expect that your order will be messed up somehow and factor in extra time to re-run the job. They'll re-do it for free, but you'll lose about a week. On the other hand, you may end up with two sets for the price of one.

Photographic Printing

The inkjet printer manufacturers have spent millions to convince you that you need to print out your digital photos on one of their products. You know that the ink costs more than Dom Perignon champagne, right? Why pay that kind of money when you could get beautiful prints at a fraction of the price from your local Costco? There are dozens of online photo printing sites, such as Shutterfly and Photoshelter, but if you have a Costco nearby, there's no reason to go elsewhere. (OK, there's one; see below.) Costco will allow you to upload your files using a web browser and choose the print size. ICC color profiles of their Noritsu printers are available for fine control over exact color matching. About an hour later, pick them up at the one-hour photo desk. Prints are cheap: 17 cents for 4x6 and $2.00 for 8x10.

But when you want very high quality, such as printing a photo for exhibition, a wedding, or a gift, go to White House Custom Colour. They're a bit more expensive that Costco, but what you get is calibrated color prints on premium-quality Kodak Professional Crystal Archive paper. Prints can be as small as wallet-size and as large as 30x45, including huge panoramics. Your order will be carefully packaged in a plastic bag protected by layers and layers of cardboard and shipped to you via 2-day UPS for free. They can even bind your photos into books and matting/framing service is available. But as with any vendor geared toward professionals, they won't hold your hand. You're expected to know what ICC Color Profile is, how to use the sRGB color space, and how to crop to the exact dimensions and PPI they need.


Keep an eye on any of the Deal News sites, which include Deal News, Deal Mac, and Deal RAM. Every day they post a list of the best deals found around the Internet for gadgets, computer parts, clothing, TVs, flash cards, computer memory, and brick-and-mortar sales. All of the retailers featured have been vetted, so you won't get scammed.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Izumi, 1991-2009

Izumi, my cat and longtime companion, died today at the age of 18. It was a peaceful death, brought on by old age and steadily deteriorating health due to hyperthyrodism.

Izumi joined my family in 1991 while I was attending college at UC San Diego. He was the only cat I'd ever known who liked to follow me around. I understand that's a common characteristic of Siamese cats. Always present, always just beyond arm's reach. He'd even go on walks around the apartment complex, always a few steps behind, sniffing the bushes and going up to all the doors. He loved watching the neighbors go to work in the morning and come home in the evening, keeping an eye on them from atop the stairs leading to the second floor apartments.

When we moved to Davis, California, in 1995 he came with us and was soon joined by three other cats: Stripe, Oreo, and Isaac (all siblings) in 1997. (Isaac passed away in January, 2006.)

I fondly remember living in a two-story condo in San Diego. Izumi loved playing on the stairs. I'd play hide-and-seek with him. He'd run up the stairs, stop at the top, and look back toward me. But I'd be hiding around the corner at the bottom. Soon, Izumi would be back at the bottom of the stairs to find out where I went. When I emerged, he'd let out a joyful "meow!" and dash back up the stairs. This play would repeat a dozen times before we both got tired.

In some ways, I bought the house I'm in now for Izumi. Having lived in a one-story house for the past eight years, I wanted him to re-live those stair-climbing days. And that he did, for a while, until he started showing symptoms of his declining health. The last few months have been particularly difficult and he was put to sleep this morning.

Izumi is survived by my two remaining cats: Stripe and Oreo. May they live to be as old, wise, and worldly as Izumi.