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Real Life Debugged » Education

Archive for the Category ◊ Education ◊

My What a Lovely, Yet Worthless, Picture
Thursday, October 14th, 2010 | Author: lisaksimone

I recently joined the Visual Analytics group on LinkedIn as I drag my many ad-hoc and homemade visualization techniques into the 21st century.  Representing data without bias, but with clarity and with usefulness is hard.

Years ago, one of my favorite data mining profs intoned, “If tortured enough, the data will confess.” - Lyle Unger, UPENN.  Whether good or bad depends purely on intent.

One discussion in LinkedIn focused on an odd graphic from the Wall Street Journal article “Broader U-6 Jobless Rate up to 17.1%: Why the Jump?”

What the heck does this picture mean?!?   It’s got some red stuff on it, should I be worried?


Really folks, I’m not usually someone who posts rabid tirades against companies.  Well, I did work very hard to debug the 1969 bug (and several subsequent bugs) for BitDefender, who did not appreciate the publicity despite my best intentions.

But my forays into these arenas are the exception.

However, this whole Facebook Privacy Issue really has me going (see previous posts Eroding Privacy, Info are now Connections and your friends are sharing your info).

I found another privacy issue with Facebook I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere about the information it saves, but I’m guessing on a hack to address it.  The We Save Information Forever issue.


I got a check from the Department of Defense that represents Your Tax Dollars At Work.  You paid for me to recommend where some of that defense money goes.  I tried my best, and I hope you’re happy with my performance.

Whatever your opinions or political leanings, I think we all agree that the effects of war on our warriors and their families is tremendous.  And we hear stories how returning soldiers and veterans don’t receive the best possible care.

Let me tell you about some of the medical research being funded.  Real research and development projects aimed directly at the most significant medical problems.  A huge new challenge is dealing with IEDs - Improvised Explosive Devices - causing blast injuries.  Those who survive often suffer lost limbs, traumatic brain injury, PTSD.

I’d like to tell you about where the money is going, and how the government decides to spend it.


Cheat Sheets for Jacking Up Google on Steriods
Saturday, July 25th, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Did you know Googling “movie: Star Wars” will give ONLY movie reviews and info about each Star Wars film and movie times if appropriate? Or that “phonebook: John Smith NJ” lists public phone numbers for all John Smiths in New Jersey? You don’t need a calculator anymore - find the cube root of 109 or convert three quarters of a cup in teaspoons. Just type either phrase into Google. Neat!

Check out the Google Guide Cheat Sheet, and also the Google Calculator Cheat Sheet.

More advanced options can be found in the Search Operators Guide. Great hints for searching within only one or two websites and for removing the zillions of stores selling the same product from the results.

You can also access info from old or removed pages by searching cached (previously saved) pages. If a search result produces an error or the content isn’t there, click the “Cached” link.

The cache trick can also bypass restrictions on certain sites. One company I worked for slammed me with a huge red “BLOCKED - ATTEMPT TO ACCESS WEBSITE CONTAINING NUDITY” when I searched for a hand x-ray of a hand? Nudity???? (What did you think I meant, anyway?)

Lots of cool stuff. Check it out at

I wrote before about Siftables - the toys that think. Taco Lab Blog explores this kind of creative thinking from all angles including emerging technology, education, and product design with international perspective.

Some recent posts:

» Advice to kids interested in technology including the “basics” - take stuff apart!

» Technology-based art: “[H]ow artists use dynamic, interactive technologies to reveal the logic, structure, and beauty inherent in experimental, non-traditional applications.”

» Ideas and products based on gestural input (like the Siftables)

And the concept of Chinese Shanzhai and China’s tactics to slide into the gaping price gap between high cost American goods and the inexpensive American DIY (Do It Yourself) culture.

Taco Lab was founded by MIT grads who have a great mission:

We won’t give you a design that can’t be made, and we won’t build you a solution no one wants to use.

Siftables - Toys that Think: I Want ‘Em!
Sunday, March 22nd, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Mixing paint with cans of blue and red

Mixing paint with "cans" of blue and red

Hi tech toys are pretty cool. Hi tech toys that think are beyond cool!  And what if they also secretly foster learning and problem-solving?  Sign me up!

When I originally started this post musing how we learn problem-solving skills as kids. Like neat toys that promote creativity. Or just wandering around in the woods. Tying Hot Wheel’s orange track sections to our shoes to go “skiing.”

But nahhh. Let’s jump straight to the chase. I found a toy I want for Christmas.

“Siftables” - One part of me instantly tries to dissect them in my head - little micros, a low power wireless links like Zigbee, oh the algorithms! Another part of me just wants to lay them all out on the table and muck around for hours.

Siftables - the Toys that Think - ” … cookie-sized, computerized tiles you can stack and shuffle in your hands. These future-toys can do math, play music, and talk to their friends, too. Is this the next thing in hands-on learning?”

Watch the movie and don’t miss the end! I want ‘em!

Subtitle: Another digression about talking with those silly customers

I had a discussion with a good friend the other day - we’d spent years fire-fighting embedded systems gone wrong. During many all-nighters and several 110-hour weeks, our deepening ire became sharply focused on the idiocy of using zillion-line industry standards as product requirements.

On that project, there was no “customer need” or requirements document. I’d never met a customer. That was 12 years ago. It hasn’t changed much, he admitted. Now, as it was then, buggy products are still late.

Then I was approached by a university to redo their senior design program. Cooool - I got to indoctrinate brand-new engineers to the entire industry-standard process: starting with customer needs and requirements. “Back away from the keyboard,” I told them. “TALK to the customer.” And you know what? They got it!

To my delight, my best teams delivered beyond the customers’ expectations, and one won a national design award for their work. (Their story is below)

If graduating engineers can do it, why can’t we?


The stereotypical learning style for engineers is that of visualization - we learn through seeing. Pictures and diagrams, watching facial expressions, doing practical projects. The other two learning styles are auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (feeling). Since ~65% of the population are classified as visuals, proposed changes in education include adding more visual elements to improve learning.

And here it is in practice! While searching for a recipe online, I found Cooking for Engineers. Lemmee jump to the punch line - here’s the summary for Shrimp Scampi.


In the same issue of JackGanssle’s Embedded Muse newsletter where he reviewed my book, he let me rant on about the state of computer science/engineering education and its disconnect with industry needs.

He had mused in an earlier newsletter article when (and what type of) programming languages should be taught at the university level. He proposed banishing all such courses until Junior year so students can learn more about decision-making, methodologies and real design, rather than just cranking out code. His article struck a real nerve with me.

I blathered on for a bit, but apparently coherently enough that he decided to print my response.


I was reading a post about the danger of cutting innovation efforts and R&D costs in this radically crappy economy - kinda like the farmers’ saying about not eating the seed corn. Seems a no-brainer to me that while forward-looking efforts might be optimized, long-term strategy and activities should not be compromised or curtailed.

You tech companies want a hint? Bag the next generation 140-button electronic gadget remote control that manages every electronic device in the house, washes your dishes, and vacuums the rug. Instead, gimmee a 15-button remote control in a fashionable color that doesn’t require me to turn on the lights to find the button to pause my DVD.

You want a rant? Here ya go.