Sunday, May 31, 2009

The paperless office?

If you ever come to my house you'll see that we're a very heavily literate family, with books adorning book shelves in pretty much every room in the place. But recently my wife took to reading in ebook format, for convenience (she can now read with the lights out) and for storage (one SD card can accommodate 1000s of books and is a heck of a lot easier to store than 1000s of books!). I managed to convert an old Jornada 720 that I had from my HP days into an ebook reader so it was also good for the environment in that regard. But it got me to thinking again about paper vs bits as far as reading material goes.

I've had this discussion with friends and colleagues for decades and my opinion has always been to prefer paper than bits. Excluding the tens/hundreds of papers I read each year for work, or simply because I want to, I usually have at least another hundred or so that I go through for the various conferences/workshops that I'm involved with. Then there are the two or three PhD or MSc theses that I have to read as well.

Most of these papers come in electronic format although there are the odd exceptions. It's true that I rarely print out papers that come in, say, pdf. But I do print some of them off. Why? For convenience for a start: I can't remember the last time a stack of A4 sheets ran out of battery, and marking them up is a lot easier. But also because I like the tactile input that I get from paper. The same goes for books: I much prefer physical books than ebooks, even though the content is the same. Then there's the connectedness aspect of reading an ebook/epaper: when I'm reading them on my laptop and my mind starts to stray I quickly head for the internet or Eclipse, or something else that can take my attention and soak up my time. With a physical copy of the same material I find that my mind wanders less and if it does it tends not to go too far. Weird.

Probably the only time I yearn for an electronic version of a book or paper is if I want to do a search for something. So I suppose what I really need is for someone to invent an ebook reader that gives you the look and feel of paper!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Feeling more human again

It's a long weekend here (national holiday on Monday). I have a number of things I need to do for work, but at the moment I'm back coding on JBossTS for fun. Not something I have to do, but definitely something I like doing. It (coding, architecture, etc.) makes me feel good! I'm off to JavaOne next week so I'll take a few more coding tasks with me, probably on some other projects.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The clock is ticking!

Only a few hours left to finish the SOA/ESB book! It'll be a relief to be honest. A lot of time and effort, but it's definitely time to finish it and move on to the next one.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

What ever happened to the Jiffy?

Back in the 70's when I first started to use computers we were told that computer time was measured in Jiffys (a 60th of a second back then). It was still a commonly used term when I started at university in the 80's (I even ran into it in physics). But since then it seems to have vanished from everyday use, at least in my field.

Science fiction to reality

Well over 30 years ago I read Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? I loved the story and it's one I've returned to many times over the years. So when they announced a movie version of it I knew I had to go. I was a mere 16 when I went to see Bladerunner for the first time, on the back of such films as Star Wars, Close Encounters and Star Trek. I liked the film and have liked/owned every version since (yes, even the "original" with Harrison Ford/Deckard talking over in order to explain the plot). Of course they missed out bits from the book, but it was still a masterpiece.

One of the things I really liked in the movie is when Deckard uses a computer image scanner to look through photographs for signs of the Replicants. But this is no ordinary scanner: it uses data in the image to extrapolate further, uses reflections to look round corners and has incredibly good resolution. I found that idea fascinating and it was a high point for me when I played the Blade Runner game on my PC 10 years later. Over the years photographic resolutions and contrast capabilities have improved and we've all probably heard the debates of whether or not we can read newspapers from orbiting satellites. Not quite what Deckard was able to do, but interesting nonetheless.

However, today en route to Boston for a meeting, I found time to read my monthly dose of Scientific American. In this month's issue (May 2009) they have an interesting article on computer security and specifically how people can steal information from a computer without having direct access to it or the machine being networked at all. Of course they cover the areas known for a while, such as catching RF from screens, but it's the work on viewing screens through reflections off teapots, spoons and even the human eye that made me sit up and think! OK at the moment it requires a lot of time and money to do, but I'm sure it would be worth it for certain secrets. Plus it'll only be a matter of time before the equipment becomes smaller and less expensive.

What can you do about this information leakage? Well as the article says, "privacy filters" can increase the chances of being read in this way and flat-panel displays still emit some information. So curtains or blinds are the best defence at the moment. But I'm not going to worry too much. It was a nice article that brought back memories of a great movie and book.