Monthly Archives: January 2011

Compiled Fortran program for the first time in 30+ years

I had forgotten how ugly Fortran could be, tho it has gotten a lot prettier since 1979/1980.

And it caused me to reflect on all the programming languages I have used over the years, starting from my earliest days…

* TI-59, whatever language that thing used. I had no idea what I was doing really but was intrigued.
* Fortran. Yay punchcards.
* COBOL. ugh.
* Basic in many forms. Apple’s Integer Basic was maybe the first, or maybe the Basic on the TI 99/4
* PL/1. bad memories here. A command for everything, programming was an exercise in finding the right command.
* ASM in 6501, 68k, and x86 flavors at least. I am sure there were a few more in there too. probably my first in depth coding.
* Forth. always thought it was interesting.
* Pascal.
* C and a little C++ tho the C++ came much later of course. still as comfortable in c as anything.
* APL. what a terrible idea for a language! unreadable 10 minutes after you looked away from it. impossible to type.
* dBase. ok barely a language but useful.
* Hypertalk. never anything serious but always fun.
* So many batch language variants I can’t remember.
* Javascript.
* Java. never did much with.
* Perl. learned enough to deal with movable type at one point, never loved it.
* PHP.
* Python. still learning. mostly interested in scientific use with numpy/scipy.
* MatLAB.

Sure I missed some. Probably forgot some on purpose due to the pain they caused.

Scalzi on Facebook

Scalzi has some thoughtful criticism of Facebook.

For me, Facebook isn’t bad, it is just boring. For all the things I do online there are experiences and sites which are so much more engaging. Twitter for late breaking tech and sports news and snark around them; sports sites and sports blogs for college football; immersive games for entertainment (have you tried Minecraft? or Steam best sellers?); photography and electronics sites for gear reviews; and so on. Occasionally I get some useful extended family pictures from Facebook but no great pictures. There is just no great reason to go to Facebook that often.

The movie was entertaining though.

The Design of Car Audio Alerts

I am fortunate to own two very nice cars, a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi S6. They are both great pieces of engineering, they drive well, they are comfortable, I get a great amount of utility out of them. I have been just as happy with less expensive cars, but these are great cars.

The Audi has a beast of a powertrain, handles very well, and the interior controls and layout are very good. Out of the many OEM and aftermarket GPS systems I have used, it is in the top quartile of usability, tho a touch screen would be nice. The iPod integration is reasonably well done though could make better use of the screen in the dash. The seats are awesome. Overall a super nice car.

The Cayenne also drives well, the interior finish levels are very nice. The interior control layout is a bit of a disaster, clearly the A-Team engineers work on powertrain and suspension, and leave controls to summer interns or MBAs (I’ve been both so I’m allowed some latitude…). But still a very nice car.

Both the cars have interior audio alerts to make the driver aware of important conditions and faults. What would you imagine the shrillest, loudest alarm is for? I could imagine a lot of things that demand my immediate attention. An imminent collision. Backing into an object. Brake system failure. Maybe even the traction control system engaging, indicating unsafe driving surfaces or unsafe driving. Maybe even driving at night without headlights on. All these conditions are unsafe and could result in injury to myself or others. I could make a case for all of them to result in the loudest, shrillest interior alarm.

The Audi has excellent interior controls so of course the loudest, shrillest interior alarm is used to indicate that a rear light has failed. Not necessarily the rear brakelight, but any rear light — turn signal, operating light, brakelight. And the alarm sounds every time you start the car and cannot be silenced. And I am not sure exactly what the “shrill” scale is, but this sound is 3x shriller than any other alarm in the car.

The Cayenne is not to be outdone though! The shrillest alarm by far is used to let you know, after you turn off the car, that you have left your turn signal on. Not that the light is actually lit or visible, but the control arm on the steering wheel stalk is in the “on” position and damn it, that is just wrong. Of course, given the general goofiness of the Cayenne interior (the worst GPS ever, cup holders the size of thimbles, two control screens with functions randomly split between), this is to be expected.

OK, no one should feel sorry for me, these are two great cars, but Audi and Porsche — if you are going to spend this much care designing these cars, can’t you spend a few minutes getting this right?

My thoughts turned to the importance of design this morning on the news of Steve Jobs’ leave of absence, here is hoping he is well soon, the world needs more people who care obsessively about the details of design.

Computational Fluid Dynamics – my winter quarter adventure

This course may kill me as I know nothing of fluid dynamics, but I am hoping the computational focus will play in my favor. I’m not so interested in macro-scale behavior but more focused on nano-scale applications.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a set of methodologies to solve numerically the governing equations of fluid motion. In the past decades, the development and use of CFD has widely grown in both academia and industry to perform fundamental studies and engineering computations of fluid flows, e.g. for the design of airplanes, turbine blades, jet and rocket engines. This course is an introductory course to CFD covering its fundamentals, as well, few advanced topics.

The students completing this course in good standing are expected to learn: 1. the fundamentals and few advanced topics in CFD; 2. to select and implement numerical schemes for solving model equations for fluid dynamics; 3. to write and execute their own CFD codes (in Fortran or C); 4. to postprocess and analyze CFD results; 5. to write technical reports on CFD results.

What’s on the first screen of my iphone — year-end 2010

I’ve made a number of changes on the first page of my iphone since “last survey”:http://theludwigs.com/2010/08/whats-on-the-first-screen-of-my-iphone-august-2010/.

Firstly, the bottom row: Mail, Messages, Safari, and Calvetica in place of the Apple Calendar app. Calvetica doesn’t offer a lot more features but has a pleasing look. I’m not sure I will stick with it but worth a try. But I use all these apps constantly so they all deserve bottom row status.

The rest of the first page then, a set of communications apps:

* The Apple Phone app for voice and voicemail.
* The GroupMe app for group texting. Actually I have been bouncing this position between GroupMe for group texting and Google Voice for wifi texting. And I still have the Messages app in the bottom row. I would really love one app that did texting, group texting, and on either wifi or carrier networks.

A set of cloud apps:

* Evernote. For text and increasingly for photos. In fact I have pretty much relegated the standard iPad camera app to the dustbin, by using Evernote for photos, they are dumped into the cloud immediately. Handy.
* Dropbox. For docs that don’t fit well into Evernote — spreadsheets, etc.
* WordPress. For managing the blog.

“News” apps:

* Echofon for Twitter stream access. I’ve tried the official Twitter app and it is fine, but I am used to Echofon.
* Byline for RSS feeds. I’ve been using this for a longtime, there may be better choices, but I am comfortable with.
* NPR for general news. Echofon and Byline both just feed me topics I have self-selected, I need a source of news that informs me more broadly, the NPR app is about right for me.

Reference apps:

* Stocks and Maps. I’ve tried to find upgrades to the Stocks app but there is nothing great that I have found. I’d like something that tied to my Yahoo finance portfolio data.
* Weather HD. I am toying with apps that replace the Apple Weather app. Weather HD looks nice but otherwise is no more functional. I really want something like the WX for Ipad app.

Utilities: Settings, Calculator, Clock. Don’t love any of these but need regular access to them, and not worth the trouble to go find upgrades (tho the Apple Clock alarm issues this year have been annoying).

And finally, a folder of Travel apps: TripIt, KAYAK, Southwest, Flight Update, Urbanspoon, OneBusAway, Yelp. The first four get solid use.

Apps that don’t quite make the first page:

* App Store.
* Google Voice, previously mentioned
* A sports app — ESPN Scorecenter or Yahoo Sportacular. I like the Yahoo app.
* Facebook and LinkedIn. I rarely use these anymore. Just don’t get any distinguishing vale.
* Kindle and Amazon.com. I rarely read Kindle books on the iPhone. More frequently I shop at Amazon.
* Goodreads. Growing in use.
* US Bank mobile banking app.
* Starbucks Mobile Card app.
* Wolfram Alpha. Very episodic use.
* Redfin and Zillow. Also very episodic.

Recent books — Deutscher, Blair, van Gulik, Kaufman

* “Through the Looking Glass”:amazon by Guy Deutscher. Interesting exploration of how language may impact perception with examples drawn from color perception, direction, and gender in language. Engaging and educational. 3.63 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8444621-through-the-language-glass, 4 stars on Amazon, I’d say 3.5.
* “A Journey: My Political Life”:amazon by Tony Blair. Could have used more editing. I was interested to see the past 20 years thru Blair’s eyes but it just wore me out, too many details and not enough conclusions and insight. 3.29 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8861670-a-journey, 4 stars on Amazon, I give it just a 2.5 and that is generous.
* “The Emperor’s Pearl”:amazon by Robert van Gulik. Fine detective story set in first millenium CE China, starring Judge Dee, who per the author is the Sherlock Holmes of China. Much more readable than the typical Holmes story tho, closer in feel to an Agatha Christie tale (not shocking, the book was written in 1962). 3.95 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1055473.The_Emperor_s_Pearl, 4.5 stars on Amazon, I give it a 4.
* “Misadventure”:amazon by Millard Kaufman. Nice noir detective tale in modern-day LA, written by the (late) creator of Mr. Magoo. 4.5 stars on Amazon, 3.57 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7763581-misadventure, I’d give it a 4.