Wednesday, February 27

zotero, a cool firefox plugin

If you do a lot of search, while gathering material for a particular topic, it would be better to do it as if you are writing a research paper on the topic. For that, I recommend this Firefox plugin : Zotero. Its really cool, and works with Flocktoo!

I recommend Flock too!

Thursday, February 21

terminology usage

Often, we come across situation we some terminology is blatantly misused, probably because of mis-understanding of the terminology. But sometimes, we come across creative use of certain terms. I was reading this report, an appending to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

In spite of these variations from case to case, officials behaved as if they understood it, giving apparently logical arguments to each other often depending on the "success" of previous flights. For example. in determining if flight 51-L was safe to fly in the face of ring erosion in flight 51-C, it was noted that the erosion depth was only one-third of the radius. It had been noted in an experiment cutting the ring that cutting it as deep as one radius was necessary before the ring failed. Instead of being very concerned that variations of poorly understood conditions might reasonably create a deeper erosion this time, it was asserted, there was "a safety factor of three." This is a strange use of the engineer's term ,"safety factor." If a bridge is built to withstand a certain load without the beams permanently deforming, cracking, or breaking, it may be designed for the materials used to actually stand up under three times the load. This "safety factor" is to allow for uncertain excesses of load, or unknown extra loads, or weaknesses in the material that might have unexpected flaws, etc. If now the expected load comes on to the new bridge and a crack appears in a beam, this is a failure of the design. There was no safety factor at all; even though the bridge did not actually collapse because the crack went only one-third of the way through the beam. The O-rings of the Solid Rocket Boosters were not designed to erode. Erosion was a clue that something was wrong. Erosion was not something from which safety can be inferred.

Feynman calls this "fooling oneself while degrading standards". While Feynman ends the report by "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.", What were these officials actually fooled by ? I would say, a sense of unbridled optimism.

Wednesday, February 20

my origami boats

Well, You are in this really neat restaurant - one of those where the waiters wear uniforms and you have your water in glass(!) cup. Of course, You are hungry and need something fast. Naturally, for some reason, - may be, because the kitchen is as dimly lit as your table - the Chef takes way too much time to get your "Hyderabadi Prawn Biriyani" done. Now what do you do ? Apart from offering a Phillips energy-saving light bulb for the supposedly dimly lit restaurant's Kitchen, you can of course yell at the waiter three or four times. But this is not really going to make things better. Every one seem to expect this reaction, especially those restaurants, where it is a habit to serve you late. They have grown insulated to such yelling. I guess, may be, even dancing won't work there. So, my answer is Origami!

Yes, really. They have paper napkins on every table in such restaurants - at least in the restaurant I went to.(If its not there ask for a few paper napkins.) Do origami with paper napkins. Well, the only thing I know how to make out of a paper is the lame 'Origami Boat'. So, I start to make boats out of paper napkins, and place it every where on my table. (I was planning get down the floor, when the table fills up -or- Ask for more paper napkins from the next table). It worked! Probably the waiter was worried about cleaning the mess I am happily and willfully generating. I saw him head for the kitchen at my 4th boat. And Tada! There is my Biriyani. Try it(Of course, I didn't mean the biriyani. Not that I don't want you to have Biriyani) and let me know, if it works for you.