Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Deep Links: God, Strings & how BIG is your h-index?

I concluded my last post (regarding the internet) with a reference to the Deep linking sessions you can have when you get yourself going on a good link hopping session. It amazes (& amuses) me what dark alleys of the net you'll find yourself in ... spending hours reading some crazy shit totally tangential to why you hit the net in the first place. This happens to me all the time, go online to pay some bills and end up reading some True Hollywood story on the cast from Different Strokes. I decided to track occasional linking sessions and publish it under a Deep Link series of blog postings (remember where u heard it first). I'm going to write this in a stream of consciousness style -- summarizing what I read and providing my thoughts (or reasons) for jumping links and some thoughts that cross my mind as I read the passages.

God, Strings and my h-index is bigger than yours ....

I've been on this physics mania lately, consuming as much as I can read regarding topics such as relativity and quantum mechanics. Don't get too impressed ... I usually realize that I probably don't get beyond a layman's understanding of the more granular concepts of the theories, especially since my math is so weak these days ... but I do comfort myself with the little lie that I have a "strong grasp" of the higher level abstractions of the shit I read .... (sigh).

It started with my daily visit to ScienceDaily. Linking to the article about NASA announcement of Direct Proof of Dark Matter. Immediately I thought to myself that these Dark Matter knuckleheads are just running around like chickens with their heads cut off .... their theories are wrong and they keep blaming the shit on some mystical Dark Matter. Once I completed reading the article I wondered what was the issue tripping up all the scientists on this dark matter? maybe its time to read up on it and those strings that my astronomy professor from Rutgers used to get all excited about - Dr. Blood. Damn I love that name. Time for Wikipedia.

Looked up string theory and starting reading and quickly hopped to a link named the Holographic Principle. Which If I understood correctly; stated that the only information needed to know about the events of a given volume of space is the boundary of that region of space. In other words ... if you want to model the events in a given room, then all the information is available on the walls of that room. OK, that was good brain candy and it went on about information density and entropy.

In a given volume, there is an upper limit to the density of information about the whereabouts of all the particles which compose matter in that volume, suggesting that matter itself cannot be subdivided infinitely many times; rather there must be an ultimate level of fundamental particles, i.e. were a particle composed of sub-particles, then the degrees of freedom of the particle would be the product of all the degrees of freedom of its sub-particles; were these sub-particles themselves also divided into sub-sub-particles, and so on indefinitely, then the degrees of freedom of the original particle must be infinite, violating the maximal limit of entropy density. The holographic principle thus implies that the subdivisions must stop at some level, and that the fundamental particle is a bit (1 or 0) of information

more good brain candy, gotta spend some more time researching this holographic principle and entropy stuff but I'm heading back to string theory for now so I linked back to the string theory but I didn't get past the History section of the page when I saw a picture I recognized of Dr. Ed Witten. I havent really heard about him for awhile but I did remember that he was some math genius ... so I clicked on his link. Started reading about his life; born in 1951 in Baltimore, primarily works in Princeton at the Institute of Advanced Study, his brother works in hollywood. The passage went on to describe how mathematically "endowed" he is and how respected he is by his peers. It mentioned all the progress he's made in mathematics & physics including his proof of the postive energy theorem in general relativity -- ooooh -- dont know what the hell it is but it must be impressive. Then it mentioned M-Theory, this theory just sounds cool ... so it was time to hop links and learn about M-Theory.

In a horribly oversimplified nutshell ... there were 5 complementary theories regarding superstrings [ Type I string, Type IIA string theory, Type IIB string theory, heterotic SO(32) and the heterotic E8×E8]. Some smart guys realized that Type IIA & Type IIB were really just different aspects of the same underlying theory so they got merged. Also, the heterotic SO(32) and the E8xE8 were just different aspects of the same theory so they merged those two. And this left 3 but they also found that Type I theory and the merged SO(32) theories were related so they merged those but in 1995 Mr. Witten pretty much told everybody to sit down and let the master show them that they're ALL RELATED in a theory he dubbed M-Theory. He stated that M-Theory gives rise (at low energies) to eleven-dimensional supergravity and is related to ten-dimensional string theory by dimensional reduction.... dimensional reduction to a circle yields the Type IIA string theory, and dimensional reduction to a line segment yields the heterotic SO(32) string theory.... duh !! -- its so fucking obvious.

Goes on to describe a notion of membranes and how the big bang is just a couple of branes "doing the wild thing" -- these physicists are pervs -- after reading all this stuff on M-Theory I back-linked to Ed Witten's page and the following sentence caught my eye.

Witten has the highest h-index of any living physicist ...

So of course .. I hopped the link to h-index and found out that size really does matter ... (sigh again). Seems that h-index is a measurement used (invented in 2005) to assess how prolific a particluar expert or scientist is in his area of expertise. The definition given is

A scientist has index h if h of his/her Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np – h) papers have fewer than h citations each.

In essence this means that the bigger your h-index is ... the more respect (or most influence) you have amongst your peers in your subject area. And it seems that Mr. Witten is enormously endowed with h-index ... he slaughters everybody on the list. But to my surprise Stephen Hawking wasn't on the top 5 of this list. The top 5 guys for Physics were:

Edward Witten: h = 110 (132 as of December 2005)
Steven Weinberg: h = 88
Dimitri Nanopoulos: h = 86
Cumrun Vafa: h = 85
Nati Seiberg: h = 84

I first hopped to Dimitri Nanopoulus because his last name started with the nano- prefix and one of my best friends in college was Greek .... hey, we all hop links for different reasons, nobody said that they had to be rational reasons...

Dimitri's page spoke about his work on the Grand Unified Theory and then it presented this interesting passage :

Flipped SU(5) is the only successful unification of superstring theory with the Standard Model of particle physics. He is the first to successfully merge quantum mechanics with gravity through his theory of spacetime foam

Spacetime foam? cool beans ... that was enough to pique my interest so I went to check out the Flipped SU(5) page.

WHOA!! -- WTF was that ?!!? This page looked like somebody was on a serious LSD trip -- this cannot possibly be english -- just follow this link and read the description of a superpotential.

So as I cursed my greek buddy's name under my breath as I hopped back a couple of steps to the h-index page and looked up the #2 guy on the list --- Steven Weinberg. Now this page was interesting; first of all this guy just looks pissed off but then it was confirmed when I read this passage - a quote from the honorable Mr. Weinberg.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

OUCH !!! -- damn ... that hurts .... but the truth usually does :).

This guy may not be a happy camper but his physics credentials are DEEP. He won the Nobel Price for Physics in 1979 for combining the Electromagnetic force with the weak force - merging the two into the electroweak force. He authored "the First Three Minutes". I remember reading that book when I was around 18 years old -- around 1990. It always left an imprint on my psyche, whenever I thought about the big bang, I would always envision the first 3 minutes being this ocean of chaos, an orgy of energy - spreading in all directions -bouncing off the edges and like gas molecules exerting a pressure - it pushed the boundaries of the universe ever larger .... but I digress.

Anyway the Weinberg Wikipedia page had an interesting link to a lecture titled "A Designer Universe" - the name of a talk that Mr. Weinberg gave in 1999. Another link hop --- I read the summary where he speaks about the Anthropic principle and intelligent design of the universe. He sounds pissed off in this lecture too -- but its pretty good.

Well - after I finished the Weinberg lecture I asked myself what the hell was I doing initially before I went on this Deep Link rampage -- and thats when I laughed and realized that I did it again. Went online for a particular reason and ended up reading about a dozen different physics theories and some pissed off scientist (with a HUGE h-index). Till the next Deep Links Session.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

8th Wonder of the World - the Internet

Feeling a little appreciative (must be the 35th birthday) and wanted to blog about it. I've been blessed to be part of the generation that has actively participated in the early childhood and growth of what's easily the 8th wonder of the world - Today's Internet. I was an undergraduate during the years of the Internet's text-based obscurity (I miss u Lynx, Gopher, Usenet & NAILS MUD) andI remember when our network wiz and the IT dept. first put Mosaic on the Unix boxes. - the first popular web browser. For a satellite campus of a major univeristy, we had one of the top networks around... BIG shout out to Stan Kolasa and the computing crew from Rutgers - Camden.

The beauty (and terror) of the internet is that its so humanly chaotic. An infinite landscape of hate, spirituality, love, war, sex, knowledge, ideas, news, crap, text, video, audio, sex, images, crap, pervs, dating, photos, angels, scientists, devils, zealots and yes .... more sex.

The current downside is that the internet is still largely skewed English and western but that should be changing with the growing worldwide Asian clout in India, China and the most wired country in the world - South Korea.

There's going to be a huge influx of fresh material during the next decade.... especially once more disconnected segments of society start ramping up their presence online too including Africa and South America. (Good luck to MIT Media Lab's Negroponte $100 laptop effort and AMD's 50x15 efforts).

The internet has changed so many aspects of my life ... I work exclusively over the internet now (via telecommute), A majority of my communication is via email and instant messenger and I get ALL my news online now (rarely ever watch TV news) ... but suprisingly, my book consumption (and budget) has not decreased even though it would've seemed natural that the internet should've displaced that too .....

So many sites ... so little time ....

Wikipedia - this online encyclopedia can get you on some serious deep linking sessions.
MIT OpenCourseWare - get smart.
YouTube - the old guy rocks but Shakira rules
mySpace - teenagers, old men disguised as teenagers and more teenagers.
SmugMug - SteveM pix - shameless plug but great photos
NYtimes.com - best US online newspaper .
Berkeley Webcasts - get smart (again)
eBay - sell anything... and I mean anything.
Amazon.com & Shopzilla- charrrrrrrrrrrge it!!
idSoftware - I gleefully watched my cousin clutch his throat and give a death cry as I fragged him for years during multiplayer DOOM & QUAKE gaming !!!
slashdot & wired news - geeks, nerds and more geeks.
Limewire - Peer2Peer clients - poor P2P guys always getting sued, they go bankrupt, try to come back and then fade (RIP Napster, Kazaa) ... hopefully Limewire survives.
Yahoo Answers - Even Stephen Hawking was asking questions
healthCubes.com - shameless plug
ScienceDaily.com - just straight up science
Google & Maps - Maps started the Ajax hype
MSN Games - closet bejeweled lover
HubbleSite - Most beautiful pictures in the universe
BoxingTalk.com - boxing rocks
CNN.com, BBC & Al-Jazeera - hey .. one man's truth is another man's bullshit
Facebook.com - the new Frat
Flickr - more photos
PokerStars - so much poker hype these days
CDC.gov - not all government sucks - some of the gov websites are surpisingly resourceful
WHO.org - get the latest on the pandemics that'll doom us all one day
Space.com, SpaceRef.com, JPL - the final frontier ... until we're all cyborgs one day.
ESPN - their real-time GameCast Flash apps are simply amazing
Technorati, Blogger, PodCastBunker, blog.com - Blogs, podcasts and more blogs.
Yahoo Personals & sex.com- Don't act like you never looked - get your love on.
Craigslist - I've used craigslist to find sublet apartments in NYC & San Francisco.
Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu - get your prayer on
CartoonNetwork - kept my niece busy for hours playing their games
Fantasy Art, NYPL Art, Art Museums, Digital Art, CG Art, SciFi Art, Graffiti Art

... but the more obscure sites on the internet is what continuosly boggles my mind ... it's amazing the shit you can find during deep linking sessions on the net but thats for another post ... i'm sleepy.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Geek: Software Architects - More than UML

Just finished reading a nice little article in Dr. Dobbs Portal concerning the roles that many software architects play in today's software development teams and some of the "soft skills" needed when trying to be an effective architect and implementation lead. Serving in this capacity myself for a couple of different clients... I learned many lessons that were outside of the technology realm that were just as important to the success of the project:

Clear Business Vision: Just like any project for any type of effort ... you absolutely need a clear vision from the business side of the house. If the vision from the biz side of the house is unclear .... then you (the architect) along with the project manager need to clarify your own vision that approximates the business' goals and then run with that vision. If the business has no idea on their vision ... then you may want to shift to a more agile or short-cycle development process with frequent builds ... so that the business can get some traction after they see some functionality .... I know ... I know ... GUI is the devil ... I agree ... but sometimes business guys (especially the creative types) need to see GUI before they can articulate their vision. A persisently unclear business vision will doom any software project since mapping any type of metrics, setting goals or generating effective builds will be near impossible and then ur team will start getting frustrated and may start leaving.

Young & Old: If the project is a multi-year effort, then ensure that your team has a diversity of personnel regarding age groups and family situations ... in other words ... make sure you have BOTH young, single team-members along with older married members. At the risk of generalizing .... your young guys/gals are probably going to leave you within 2 years since ur company's salary structure probably can't keep pace with the market conditions. This is when your older, married team-mates (whom are less-likely to leave) can absolutely save a project ... since they maintain the domain expertise in-house and can be effective leaders when ramping up new team members.

Design Teams: The greatest aspect of software/system design (and sometimes it's worst) are the infinite ways a solution/design can be crafted. Software design can be a very creative and artistic process but Time To Market (TTM) should put a reasonable upper bound to any design session(s). If you design in a team (versus individually) ... then you need to keep the design team SMALL but diverse... if not the design sessions can become endless and will ususally result in the "booting" of a member or two in order to close out the design and this can breed contempt. Also, design teams tend to just include the most experienced members of the group ... but frequently include some of the talented young blood in on the design sessions ... you'll be surprised sometimes how effective and important their input can be.

Some Golden Rules:

Pizza & Pespsi: No matter how much status, money or titles a software guy/gal attains ... their "geek nature" will ALWAYS appreciate free Pizza and Pepsi ... and don't be cheap ... you wouldn't believe how much $$$ you save in the long term by just committing to a treat every week (or every other week). Honestly ... this can reinforce the bonds between teammates ... and silently encourage teammates to work harder and longer.

Jumping Ship: Any member of the development team that either doesn't communicate or reduces their communication to you (or other team leaders) will be on his/her way out the door soon ... so either plan for it ... or pre-empt it by shifting duties off the team member or by proactively trying to address the teammate in an informal setting (lunch/dinner) . This observation comes from 10 years of watching and leading teams... believe me folks ... this is not theory ... it's practically a law. If they stop talking ...they're leaving. Also, start looking for visual changes in their cubicles, if they reduce the number of books in the cubicle/office or less clutter then usual is another strong indicator of imminent departure.

Leadership: As an architect and/or implementation lead, you must have effective leadership skills. I truly believe that a software team assumes the personality of their project manager and/or tech lead. The cliche "the speed of the leader is the speed of the crew" is probably most relevant in describing the impact of leadership on software teams. Team leads should exude passion ... passion is contagious but so is a lack thereof. Seriously ... if ur leadership skills suck then you also comprimise your architecture ... because it's the development team that has to implement your designs and if they don't respect you as a leader... then the quality of implementation will reflect that.