Why Commercial Development at GSU Cannot Possibly Succeed.

We’ve been getting the occasional, “Why don’t you try to build a business” email of late.

Here’s why not.

    • Computer Science

The intellectual property rules at GSU say that the university owns every thing you write that is a program. The lawyers say we might license your work to you, and then we might not. It depends.
Forget launching a company under those conditions.

    • Biology/Chemistry

Things are better here. You get to keep the first $20,000 you make. Hurrah. Lets say you launch a start up and it does OK. You make, say $100,000 which is not bad, then the company gets $25,000. Oh well, lets try harder $200,000, you get $30,000. Hmmmn, somethings wrong here. The return is so low that you cannot possibly survive as a company.

On the other hand if you write a book of fiction you get to keep everything you earn. I suppose they might change that, but who am I kidding.

Written by Rob in: pedagogy,rant |

The Death of Publishing

I had the chance to try self-publishing with Amazon’s create space and KDP. The book itself, while readable is a bit of fluff. What was impressive was the quality of the automated setup and publishing tools. There may have been one manual step, other than mine, a last review before generating proofs, but that was all.

So the cost of assembling a professional-looking book is almost zero.

This strongly suggests that page charges and all of those sorts of things are a bit of a con-job. It also suggests that textbooks are highly over-priced.

On a pedagogical note, this means that writing a low-copy-number course specific text book would be feasible.

Written by Rob in: engineering,pedagogy,rant,science |

Better Wifi on Asus tablets

I’ve been experimenting a bit with an Asus tablet – partially to have an Android system all of my own, and partially for reading books and things like that.  Mostly it’s been fine – except (and this is a doozy) it wouldn’t connect to wifi unless it had an extraordinarily strong signal. Essentially it had to sit on the wifi router. Using the latest firmware updates didn’t help.

There are a number of sites saying that the pins used to connect to the antennas can be goofy and with careful squeezing around the edges of the device you can make the connections stronger. This was not the problem as one of the wifi apps could measure very strong (but not connectable) signals.  One site was talking about GPS signals and how that needed the antenna fix.

I’d turned GPS off (to save battery lifetime) but left Google’s location services on.  When I turned on the GPS it connected for about 5 minutes and then dropped the connection with no change in signal strength. Since I was inside and beneath tree cover, there wasn’t much of a GPS signal. No amount of squeezing did anything. In frustration – I turned all the location services off, turned off the Wifi. read Candide and went to sleep.

This morning the Wifi connected right up and has stayed on for about an hour. The location services are completely off. It seems likely that there is a software bug – Google location services will not report an inaccurate location and rather than report a slightly bogus location it prefers to shut off the network.  So either turn location services and GPS on (and hope for a good GPS signal) or turn them all off.

No guaranties that this is the real problem, but it does seem likely. If it is, it is not good software engineering to remove function under sub-optimal conditions for vendor-based snooping that are otherwise fine for the user.

Written by Rob in: engineering,rant |

Moving to km

Just a few thoughts before I post some more UK trails.

I think it is (well past) time to move into SI units for hiking and backpacking. Units are just a measure of things – so in one sense it doesn’t matter what I use, rods, furlongs, leagues, cubits or miles. Except certain unit systems are more convenient than others. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the light blue grids on both UK ordnance survey and US Geological survey maps. They are 1000 meter (1km) grids.

These make it very easy to use a GPS to figure out where you are and how far you have to go to get where you want to be.

In the UK

SP(which grid sheet), Westerling (in meters), Northing (in meeters).  (SP 54101 23950 for example).

and in the US (and Canada – just make sure to use the right UTM datum)

Northing (in meters) , Westing (in meters)  (43100 38131 for example – though I might have north/west mixed up).

In either case the GPS will read out your position and and then you can just use simple subtraction to find how far you are from where you want to be.

It’s pretty simple to convert km to miles – multiply by 0.6 to get a ball-park estimate.

Written by Rob in: backpacking,outdoors,rant |

That hypothesis is not necessary.

There is a petition on the Whitehouse petition site asking that “Creation Science” and “Intelligent Design” be banned from public school science classes. Since they are thinly disguised religion, this ought to be a “no brainer” in the good ol’ USA where – despite the “in god we trust” on our currency religion and government are supposed to be separate.

It isn’t. There are plenty of people (and some of my extended family) who are worried about science promoting atheism. This misses the point of science completely.

Science is non-theistic.  If a devious “sky monkey”  plays tricks with our experiments, then we cannot possibly learn anything from experience – since the ideas we deduce will have changed by the time we try them again. To paraphrase Einstein – “God doesn’t play dice with reality” – well if she does, then she doesn’t load the dice.  Laplace – quoted in the title – was asked by king Louis the somethingth – why God didn’t show up in his ground-breaking work on Celestial Mechanics. His response captures the relationship – “I didn’t need that hypothesis”.

Creation Science and Intelligent Design are so bad that they’re “not even wrong” – There is no part of modern biology that they can predict, which is completely different from natural selection (a major part of the mechanism of evolution), genetics, and evolution.  (I already did write about this in depth).

Even the most difficult question for an evolutionary theory of life, “how did it start?” is not suited to a theistic answer. If we believe that divine intervention was absolutely necessary for life to start, then we cannot ask questions about minimal conditions for life or “what is living?” or “how did it start?” because, not being God, we can’t answer them. Of course, if we don’t have a prior hypothesis of “the sky monkey did it”, then we can try. Science is about trying to understand the world, based on the general hypothesis that “if we know what is going on, then maybe we can make life better for people”.

If theists thought hard about it, they would thank Thor that we’re not mixing science and religion. Imagine a science experiment on the efficacy of different religions. We take 16 or so religions, and to be correct have to include a control like “the church of the flying spaghetti monster” as well as some of the less salubrious forms of voodoo, paganism  or Wicca as well as more mainstream ones like Christianity or Islam. Remember, though, that if you’re doing “scientific religion” you have to take the results as what you will practice – even if it does involve nailing chicken entrails to your wall.

We then design a set of binary outcome things to pray for so that on average half of the religions are praying against the other half all the time. If we use Hadamard matrix to schedule the prayer objectives then we can balance out the trials and make sure that we get an unbiased estimate.

Well, almost. We can’t do infinitely many trials, so given the null hypothesis of “no effect”, we can estimate a probability of observing a given outcome. It isn’t pretty.

  1. Somebody has to do best (Mean value theorem – either they are all the same or else someone has to be better than everyone else). It might not be the religion you like. In fact with 16 random choices of religion, the odds that you’re the best are 1/16 with the null hypothesis.
  2. With a small n of trials (say 16) where each has a prior probability of 0.5, the cumulative probability of someone getting 75% response is non-trivial. ( the odds of  having exactly 0,1,2,3,or 4 negative outcomes is  1*(1/2)^16+ (1,16)*(1/2)^16 + … + (4,16)*(1/2)^16 ) where (n,m) is the binomial coefficient for n things taken from m things.) When you do the math – that’s 4% or so, and 75% response would qualify you as a saint.  If you’re willing to accept only being blessed, with say a 66% out come – that’s about 23% of the time.

Any bets?

    Written by Rob in: rant,science,Wildlife |

    one of these is not like the others

    I found my self thinking about the differences between “adult-centered” and “youth-centered” organizations. Which of these most reflections what your organization is like?

    1. I, (last name, first name), joining the ranks of the  Pioneer Organization, in the presence of my comrades solemnly promise: to passionately love and cherish my Motherland, to live as we were taught, as required by the laws of the Pioneers.  (slightly edited)
    2. I am a member of the Young Pioneers. Under the Flag of the Young Pioneers I promise that: I love <my nation>, the motherland, and the people; I will study well and keep myself fit, and to prepare for: contributing my effort to the cause. (slightly edited)
    3. In the presence of this blood banner which represents our nation, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the  our country. I am willing and ready to give up my life for it, so help me God. (slightly edited)
    4. In the name of God and <my leader>, I swear that I will execute his orders and serve the cause of the revolution with all my strength and, if necessary, with my blood. (slightly edited)
    5. From this day forward, I sincerely promise to set an example for all youth to follow. I shall never do anything to bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my country, its flag, my parents, myself or the <organization>. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself.  (slightly edited)
      1. Obey my parents and all others in charge of me whether young or old.
      2. Keep myself neat at all times without other people telling me to.
      3. Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith.
      4. Keep my mind alert to learn in school, at home, or at play.
      5. Remember having self-discipline will enable me to control my body and mind in case of an emergency.
    6. On my honor I will do my best
      To do my duty to God and my country
      and to obey the Scout Law;
      To help other people at all times;
      To keep myself physically strong,
      mentally awake, and morally straight.

        A Scout is:

      1. Trustworthy,
      2. Loyal,
      3. Helpful,
      4. Friendly,
      5. Courteous,
      6. Kind,
      7. Obedient,
      8. Cheerful,
      9. Thrifty,
      10. Brave,
      11. Clean,
      12. Reverent

    There is only one of these that focuses at all on our duty to help each other. The others focus much more on obedience. There is something different about that.  Only one of these organizations tries to develop the kind of person that is a citizen of a democracy.

    You can probably guess (young poineers (1,2), Itallian Fascist (4), Hitler youth (3), Young Marines with creed(5), and Boy Scouts (6)).

    Written by Rob in: pedagogy,rant,scouting |

    Designing for Catastrophe

    GSU’s internet went down today. Actually the internet-based phone system reached critical numbers of restarts and took down the rest of the network. It was basically a self-inflicted resource denial attack.

    In essence, if too many of the phones request a new IP address at once, the delay on the response from the DHCP server takes longer than the time that the phone waits for its IP address. (It is a little more complex than this as the phones also download their system software so the process takes a “measurable” interval.) So the phone stops listening and eventually issues a new request. Which of course, reinitialises the process. If the request does not get addressed in time it issues another request, after a “random” delay. So the whole thing snowballs out of control and soon the network is full of nothing else than DHCP requests and invalid responses.

    It would not make sense to size the network and phone-DHCP server for maximum possible load. (although maybe a bigger size might make sense). The capacity would not be needed 99.999% of the time – which is a huge waste of resources.

    It uses a stochastic algorithm that works well when the load is moderate and which fails catastrophically above a critical threshold. Is there a way to cross over to a more deterministic algorithm when it would be needed? (Right now they more or less manually reset parts of the network).

    A simple solution would be a gated network of physically distinct subnets, where each sub-net was smaller than the maximum capacity of the DHCP server. Then using a deterministic switch between each sub-net would let the the sub-net’s recover, while limiting the damage. This description is a bit simplistic but could work. This is somewhat similar in spirit to “token-ring”, but for DHCP only.

    Another simple solution would be to use a different physical layer for the phones and the data. This would work, but defeats the economic advantage of the internet phones. On the other hand, it would preserve the integrity of the data network – which is sort of important when the students are registering online for their courses and faculty are trying to write grant proposals. (but then that’s another cost center).

    Apparently the crash was caused by “water damage”.

    There is a software-only solution though. The central server should monitor the depth of its queue of unresolved requests. When this gets too large, it should issue “shutup” messages to the clients, reset the queue to zero, and then systematically (in O(n)) check and restart as needed. While this may take longer for total reset, it is bounded and more importantly will not shut the network down.

    Written by Rob in: engineering,rant,security |

    So What Should I Carry?

    A glock 17/22 (22 caliber conversion) with a holster and 10 rounds of 22lr weighs 753 grams. (the 9mm version would be about 200 grams heavier)

    My crew-sized first aid kit, which has everything needed to stabilize some fairly severe injuries (though not gunshots) and treat minor injuries for a couple of weeks, weighs 506 grams.

    So which is it that I should carry in the backcountry?

    Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,rant |


    Asterix threw a wobbily and I lost a bit. This is from the last backup and will be udated as I can.

    Google’s page caches can be recovered with a search to cache: which gives the first few pages.


    Written by Rob in: rant |

    Benefits of Walking

    The BBC had an article about the benefits of walking for depression. More evidence, if any were needed, that getting outside is good for you.

    Written by Rob in: backpacking,outdoors,rant,scouting |

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