Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"I'm going to read through Keeton this summer"

When I was in college, I was a double major in a special program that took five years. I majored in electrical engineering and biology. I was hoping to get a job with a company that made instrumentation for medical research or for hospital use. But I was stuck with the mixed problems of needing experience to get a job and needing a job to get experience. No one was willing to take the risk on me. Perhaps I just didn't exude confidence. Maybe I wasn't as smart as I thought I was (only a 3.0 average out of 4.0). Maybe I didn't apply to the right companies. I probably should have gone to graduate school (like my friend in the program did - he is now a medical physicist working with doctors to design MRI and X-ray therapies and imaging). Anyway, that explains a bit about this story - why would an engineer be talking about a biology text?

Every spring, just before we would leave for summer vacation, every other biology major I would talk with about our plans for the summer would include the phrase, "...and I plan to read through Keeton before fall semester." What we were referring to was our general biology text, Biological Science by William T. Keeton (later versions include a second author, James Gould). It was a fantastic text book. It covered every major subject in biology in surprising depth. It covered everything from cell biology to phylogeny. Ecology to animal behavior. Evolution (its theory and its problems) to developmental biology. We used to joke that you could probably use that one book for any course on your way to a degree. But there was so much there that, to my knowledge, no one ever managed to find the time over the summer to actually read through Keeton! There were just too many things to do - like work enough to make money for the coming year of school.

I was reminded of all this recently when Jeff Atwood, at the Coding Horror blog, did a write up of The New Turing Omnibus by A. K. Dewdney. Here is the link to Jeff's article. This is NOT the Keeton of computer science but, in a lot of ways, it is better. It covers a large number of topics that would be covered in a computer science curriculum but the subjects aren't covered in the depth that Keeton covers its subjects. Each chapter is from four to sixteen pages with references and further reading lists. It covers subjects such as algorithms, random numbers, text searching and compression. It talks about Shannon's Theory, regression and Karnaugh Maps. Its long enough to explain what you ought to know but is short enough so you really could get through it over the summer and still get other things done.

I think the obvious difference is that Keeton was meant as a text book and later as a reference book. Dewdney's book is meant more as an introduction; like a preview of the subject. I am going to make an attempt to read through The New Turing Omnibus over the next few months and then see where that leads. Since I never went through a computer science curriculum, I will be learning a lot of new things. I am sure it will open up areas that I will explore more deeply at a later time. I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Great ideas :-)

I thought I'd better write these terrific ideas down before someone else uses them:

1) I remember a bunch of commercials years ago that stated that their product, or the people who used their product, were giving 110%. I believe this started when NASA was televising its launches and they would announce that the engines were running at 110% as the rocket or Space Shuttle rose. This meant that the engines were working harder than their rated specification. You wouldn't want to do this for long but with machinery, it was possible. Now, every other commercial says they are working 24/7 for us. This is just as silly as saying you're giving 110% but it sounds good when a customer is looking for a new bank or a new dog groomer but it's not real. But reality has never stopped advertisers. So, my idea is to come up with a marketing scheme where you say you are working 25/8 for your customers. That's like giving 114% on the days side of that expression!

2) The doctor always tells you to take two aspirin and call him in the morning. Well, my idea is to make each aspirin the size of two aspirin so you only have to take one pill. Think of the time you'll save. You'll be giving 200% when you take a pill.

3) I have a great idea for one of those one-panel New Yorker magazine style cartoons. A person is pushing a vacuum cleaner that has obviously broken (maybe a plume of smoke is rising from it) and they say to a person standing next to them, "Well, you know, nature hates a vacuum."

4) Another New Yorker style cartoon would show a husband and wife doing the dishes together and the husband has dropped one of the dishes he was washing and turns to his wife and says, "I thought you said these were dishwasher safe!"