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March 31, 2005

Lunch at FlashForward

I've set up a reservation at a nice place near the FlashForward conference for lunch on Wednesday. If you'd like to join us, please comment to this post (or send me an email) so that I can send you the details.

A propper head-count, makes it faster for them to seat us....and faster for us to get back to the sessions :-)

March 29, 2005

Convoluted Paperwork

Ahhhh, I can take a deep breath now. I've been working on some very important paperwork lately, and just now sent it off in the mail.

Starting up a non-profit organization is a lot of work. In fact, for the first five years the IRS gives you an "advance ruling period". At the end of these five years you're required to demonstrate that you are indeed a publicly supported organization.

Most of the paperwork is fairly straightforward, but a couple of the "questions" are just a bit confusing...to say the least. Here's an example:

"For any amount included in line 3 that was received from each person (other than "disqualified persons"), attach a list showing the name of, and amount received fro each year, that was more than the larger of (1) the amount on line 11 for the year or (2) $5,000. (include in the list organizations as well as individuals.) After computing the difference between the amount received and the larger amount described in (1) or (2), enter the sum of these differences (the excess amounts) for each year."

:-) I had to read through that a few times before I figured out what they wanted.

March 25, 2005

Dinosaur soft tissue discovered

Wow! Apparently, some soft tissue (as in blood vessels and possibly cells) of a T. rex was recently found. Scientists are talking about extracting DNA from it and about how the blood vessels look a lot like those of an ostrich.

T. rex soft tissues recovered in Montana / Nonfossil rarity has scientists talking about DNA studies

Check out the original source articles in Science (25 March 2005, Volume 307, Number 5717). Access to Science online requires a subscription, but any good library should have a copy of the journal.

March 24, 2005

GalaxyGoo Flash Challenge: Mathematics and the Cosmos

April is Math Awareness Month, and that means it's time for a GalaxyGoo Flash challenge.

Mathematics is at the core of our attempts to understand the cosmos at every level: Riemannian geometry and topology furnish models of the universe, numerical simulations help us to understand large-scale dynamics, celestial mechanics provides a key to comprehending the solar system, and a wide variety of mathematical tools are needed for actual exploration of the space around us.
~Math Awareness Month

March 22, 2005

Congratulations Doc Chapin!

Congratulations Doc Chapin!

Great big congratulations to Nick Chapin, vice-president of GalaxyGoo, for successfully defending his PhD dissertation!

March 21, 2005

Flashy Dinner and Happy Hour

Coming to San Francisco for Flash Forward? We've set the time and location for dinner, followed by drinks at a nearby cocktail lounge.

Want to join us for dinner? To ensure enough tables, I need a count by Sunday, April 3rd. After dinner at Esperpento, we'll all walk up the block to the Lone Palm. If you miss dinner, catch up with us at the bar.

Change of plans: Lunch on April 6th instead...stay tuned for details. --updated March 29, 2005

It's official, Moock endorses SEPY

If you get Colin Moock's newsletter, then you already know this. In today's update, he says "lots of people have asked me what editor i use for coding actionscript 2.0. so here's my official response: i use SE|PY..."

sephiroth.it - SEPY ActionScript Editor Home Page

March 19, 2005

Learning made easy: Tivo and PBS Telecourses

Learn science and more at home! I find that I value my Tivo more and more the longer I have it. I have it programmed with a keyword search for science and education, set to record automatically. I've been thrilled to find that it has recently recorded a collection of three programs, each offered as a series in science education.

The Mechanical Universe and Beyond

This introductory, college level Physics edcuation program was developed at CalTech. Its a series of 52 episodes, 30 minutes each, starting with topics in the 15th century and ending the current period with quantum theory. The first four episodes were serendipitously recorded last night, and I watch them today. They provide the context and history surrounding the development of new ideas in physics, rather than just covering pure physics. For instance, the first four episodes paint a portrait of Issac Newton as a bitter miser, driven, and ending up mad. The physics lessons are clear, though, and the math is provided in equations and demonstration. Its been many years since I've had calculus, but watching the development of the first two theorems in calculus resulted in several a ha! moments. A great series.

Learning Science Through Inquiry

This is an 8 part workshop intended to help science teachers with grade school and middle school science education. Since I'm not a science teacher, I found this one a little bit dry, but there were some lessons that sunk in that perhaps I'll have the chance to employ when my wife and I have kids.

Beyond Human

I haven't watched this one yet, but it looks to be very interesting. Its a two part series on robotics, computing, and bioengineering. The companion website makes it seem very Kurzweil-esque.

You can find more education programs through PBS Campus and PBS Adult Learning Service. The Annenburg/CPB project's website has many offerings for free, online educational programs with video, such as this program on The Brain.

I plan to build a telecourse archive using my Tivo's DVD burner, but if your Tivo doesn't have a burner, check out TivoToGo which allows you to copy programs to computers on your home network, for burning there.

-Steven Erat

March 11, 2005

Translate a Poem into Code?

Very cool! I love this kind of stuff!

ActionScript Poetry contest is on! // or, trace (contest[poetry].annual[0]);

Flashback to My Very First Animation

Yesterday, I came accross the first animation I ever created. I've just got to share it. Flash? This one's an animated gif. It's supposed to be subtle...a few bubbles come up now and then.

This was back when animated gifs were oh so exciting ;-) At the time, it seemed like everyone was going crazy with blinking graphics, and I wanted something a little less annoying.

March 10, 2005

Spring Cleaning...building our own forum application

At GalaxyGoo, we really need to simplify our community tools. We've got the blogs, forums software, and our own in-house discussion and project tools. It's just too complicated. Too many log-ins. So, we're going to close our forums, and beef up the simple discussion forums we built for our project pages. This way, our users will only have to deal with one log-in.

We need some feedback from the general community. From a technical stand-point, what makes forum software successful?

March 08, 2005

International Women's Day

Wow, today is International Women's Day and I didn't know it until I noticed today's google logo. Google Search: international women's day

Way to go google!

Poll Widget Wanted

Everytime I see the poll on Christian Cantrell's blog, I think "ooh, that's neat".

Well, I'd like one for GalaxyGoo. So, if anyone knows of an affordable version, and what server requirements there are, please let us know. If it can run on a very old version of ColdFusion, PHP, or Perl, that would be great. Why a very old version of ColdFusion? It was donated to us a long time ago, so that's what we have.

March 07, 2005

GalaxyGoo Goes to Print

At the beginning, GalaxyGoo was purely an online organization. Over time, we've expanded into the brick-and-mortar world. As part of this growth, we're now developing a printed newsletter.

Now, I can't stand getting newsletters that just take up space on my kitchen counter and eventually end up in the recycling bin without getting read. They just clutter my life, without adding anything to it. A great newsletter--now's that's an entirely different beast. It gets marked up, it's articles get clipped and saved.

Of course, we want to publish the best newsletter we possibly can. Here are some ideas we're tossing around:

  • brain games (puzzles, mathematical recreations...)
  • GalaxyGoo news--info on current projects, new volunteers, etc
  • Upcoming events
  • background information for current topics in science and math (ie: why is everyone worried about avian flu)
  • interviews
  • do-it-yourself science experiments
  • science kit/toy reviews
  • issues in science education
  • reviews of educational tools built with Flash

You can help us develop a great newsletter! Tell us what you'd like to see in a newsletter from GalaxyGoo.

March 04, 2005

Blogs = Information Overload?

Are blogs poorly designed? Is there too much on the screen, and does it confuse new visitors?

Yesterday, I met with four new volunteers. As part of a technical writing course at San Francisco State University, they'll be writing four documents for GalaxyGoo. One of the possible documents would be about blogging at GalaxyGoo, and maybe blogging in general. But it was clear, from the student's initial comments, that a standard blog is a bit much for a non-experienced blog consumer to digest all at once. She asked "where are you supposed to go? There's the articles and then all that other stuff" (paraphrased).

What seemed clear and easy for me to use, both on our blog and on the other blogs I read on a regular basis, isn't really all that clear. I'll be thinking about ways to make it more visually focused. My first thought is to use Flash to visually simplify navigating all of the links and info in the side panel. But then better written text for the headings would probably work as well.

Search for science-based examples for programming courses

Today I'm wrapping up another web technology course, in J2EE/EJB. The course material uses the same business examples as all the other programming courses I've taken. You would think that by now I've built so many banking applications that I'd be qualified to work at Fidelity or BOA, and so many Coffee vendor store fronts that I could run Starbucks.

Why is it that programming courses all use business models as the vehicle to teach the material? If you are building a genomics application to manage data coming from microarrays would you still write "business logic" or just "logic" to handle the rules governing data transactions?

I'd like to see some ideas proposed based on real world science or biology examples as the foundation for examples in programming lessons. I would imagine that it is assumed that the average developer can follow the lessons when they use banking examples without being too distracted by the actual banking aspect. Why not science?

What ideas do you have for interesting science use cases that could be applied as the foundation of programming classes, without overwhelming the student developer with with excessive jargon or difficult concepts? I think I'll google for children's science experiments on the web to see if I can find any subjects that might work for and information management type of a use case.

Please post your ideas!

-Steven Erat

March 03, 2005

FlashForward is just around the corner

It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since last year's FlashForward! Last time, we organized a lunch, and it was a great success. This year, we're thinking of something that will allow more mingling, like a happy hour...maybe the night before the conference starts? When are folks getting into town?

If you're coming to San Francisco for FlashForward, and would like to join us, comment on this post, or use our contact form. If we have an idea of how many folks to expect, we can scout out a good spot.

March 02, 2005

Getter-setters, public-private debate

Very interesting post and discussion (in the comments) from Darron Schall on 'No-brain' getter and setters