Monthly Archives: February 2012

IEEE Computer: Brendan Eich – Inventing JavaScript (February 2012)

In this Computing Conversations column, I talk with Brendan Eich, the CTO of Mozilla on the beginnings of the JavaScript language which was created in about 10 days back in 1995 when he was working at Netscape.

This is my column for the February 2012 issue of IEEE Computer magazine’s Computing Conversations column.

Audio version of the column.

Here is the associated video:

This video was filmed December 16, 2011 in Mountain View, CA.

Other Videos in The February Issue

I also produced the following video for the February issue of IEEE Computer associated with an
article in the issue.

Yahoo’s Raghu Ramakrishnan Discusses CAP and Cloud Data Management

This video was filmed December 15, 2011 in Mountain View, CA.

If you want to comment on the videos or the article – you can comment here or at the YouTube videos by opening them in a new window.

Management is not the “big brain”

This is an excellent post that I saw via a mention from Ben Kamens of Khan Academy on twitter. The blog post is written by Joel Spolsky. It is a great post. The following snippet nicely summarizes the essence:

The “management team” isn’t the “decision making” team. It’s a support function. You may want to call them administration instead of management, which will keep them from getting too big for their britches.

Administrators aren’t supposed to make the hard decisions. They don’t know enough. All those super genius computer scientists that you had to recruit from MIT at great expense are supposed to make the hard decisions. That’s why you’re paying them. Administrators exist to move the furniture around so that the people at the top of the tree can make the hard decisions.

I would add my own corollary to this: It is the job of management to find the funding and create the environment where creativity can happen and then help the creativity happen. Just because someone is great with powerpoint and can get the funding – it does not mean they are the smartest person on the team and it does not mean that the PowerPoint jockey gets final say over product design decisions.

Smart projects with innovation as a goal, keep the creative engine as independent as practical from the money engine. At the same time, those in management can contribute to the creative processes in an organization if they do as as a peer rather then the boss.

This is a bit of personal pain for me because my demise as the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation was because of management-types feeling and asserting their “power” over a product simply because there were management.

… “With great PowerPoint comes great responsibility”

Iowa Electronic Market Fail – Santorum in the Republican Presidential Primary

I am not very into politics – but I am into markets, crowds, social, computing, etc. So when I heard that last night Rick Santorum surprised folks with some Republican primary wins, I figured that I would go and check the Iowa Electronic Market to see if it was somehow smarter than the other pundits.

Folks like James Surowecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds (which we use in my SI124 class) like to cite the IEM as a better way to aggregate knowledge than polls. So I ran to the IEM to see the current trade values for the “Winner of the Republican Primary” market. (data) (Graph)

The numbers in the data indicate the current market price to buy a $1.00 payoff if you guess right. A summary of the top-candidates as of right now is:

		Bid	Ask	Last	Low	High	Average
ROMN_NOM	0.804	0.842	0.804	0.780	0.832	0.804
RROF_NOM	0.120	0.135	0.142	0.120	0.159	0.147
PAUL_NOM	0.015	0.022	0.015	0.015	0.015	0.015
GING_NOM	0.040	0.046	0.036	---	---	---
BACH_NOM	0.001	0.002	0.001	0.001	0.001	0.001
PERR_NOM	0.001	0.002	0.001	0.001	0.001	0.001
CAIN_NOM	0.001	0.002	0.001	0.001	0.001	0.001

As of this morning, Romney is trending downwards. The second highest bid is for “Rest of the field”. RROF_NOM is anyone other than the listed folks. Apparently those who set up the market apparently gave Santorum so little chance of winning they did not even include him in the list of options.

Funny and kind of a “fail” in a way. But of course it supports James Surowecki’s concept of the wisdom of the crowds. I would assume a small group of people at the IEM decided who the six best candidates might be (oops).

It is funny and ironic that there is some non-zero chance that the members of the Iowa Electronic Market will in effect be betting that “None of the above” will win. It will be funny if Santorum gains steam and the bidding goes through the roof for “none of the above”.

Again, I must emphasize that I really am not very political at all and this is not a political post nor a political commentary on anyone in the race. It is just a really fun example of the concepts in SI124 at work and a teachable moment for my class. It is fun to teach a class titled, “Network Thinking” (SI124) during an election year. :)

Two Camera Sony HD Interview Shoot – Lightweight / Travel setup

This is the camera setup that I use for my IEEE Computer Computing Conversations column.

The contents of my two-camera HD Interview kit fit in a backpack (except for two sixty inch tripods). With this kit, I can travel with the full kit and a week of clothes in a backpack and small rolling carry-on case. I pack the tripods in the carry on case and they have their own cases that I use once I unpack to go to each interview shoot. I can comfortably carry the kit on a bus, train, public transportation, or taxi. A particular feature I like is that I do *not* look like a television crew walking around – I just look like a normal guy with a backpack that no one should pay any special attention to. Sometimes it is nice not to advertise that you are packing about three grand of video gear when you are walking around….

A key for this kit is that it is specialized for interviews and in particular aimed at traveling as light as possible. In particular, it is well suited for interviews in offices or conference rooms. It is self-contained and can be transported, set up, and operated by one person.

Here is a sample video using this setup using this kit, taped, December 16, 2011.

I will update this document as I add new equipment and gain more experience and add some “as packed” pictures as well in an upcoming blog post. I wanted to get this “initial equipment list” post out and then add to it later.

I will also talk about setup, lighting, and interview technique in upcoming blog posts.

Comments welcome.

Lowepro CompuDaypack Camera Bag

This is a great backpack, combining space for a laptop and normal stuff I need traveling with a bottom compartment for camera gear and lights. I can fit both my cameras, both my lights, and the power supplies for the lights, and shotgun microphone in the bottom compartment. I use the upper compartment for my 42-inch tripods and clamps as well as my laptop power supply. The space for the laptop works really well and I can carry papers, my iPad, a few copies of IEEE Computer Magazine or books as props, and all my travel documents with room to spare.

Packed this way, it does get pretty heavy. All the equipment is small but dense. So I need to carry it with both straps. In general the CompuDaypack is the perfect compromise for me and my kit *just* fits. I am very happy with it.

Sony HDR-CX360V

This is one of my HD cameras. It costs about $700. It is the lowest price Sony HD camera that does 24 frames per second progressive (24p). I prefer progressive mode for interviews since there is less motion and since an interview is pretty static, not needing ability to handle motion each frame is more like a picture. And since the destination of these interviews is the Web, I figure that I might as well let the camera do the de-interlace. I really like this camera. It is small, compact, and shoots great video. It also has a built in LED light that is surprisingly bright for hand-held filming.

Sony HDR-CX550V

This is my other HD camera. It costs about $1000. I wanted this camera because it has manual focus. But I find the manual focus hard to use because you just turn the knob and there are no stops. With a roll-focus move you want to know when to stop moving. And the focus knob is hard to get to without disturbing the camera and is very unnatural to use. So If I were doing this again – I would save the extra money and just get two HDR-CS360X cameras. This camera also has 64GB of memory – but I find that hte 32GB of the HDR-CS360X is more than sufficient. The CX550V does not have an on-camera LED video light. It has a LED flash – but it cannot be used while video taping.

Sony WCS999 Wireless Microphone

I really am a fan of wireless microphones in interview settings. I want my interviewee to feel like they are not strapped into their chair and can move around. So I really like this microphone. I am only using it at distances of about 5 feet or less and only using it for indoor applications. But is has good strong sound. The weakest aspect is the clip on the microphone. It is not the typical alligator clip – it is a little spring-thing and is terrible. It tends to move around and ends up with clothing noise. I cannot understand why Sony made this mistake.

3.5mm Stereo Male to 3.5mm Mono Female Adapter

Using this adapter makes sure that your mono microphone signals end up on both channels.

Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Microphone

I use this microphone as a backup if something goes wrong with my wireless microphones.

Sony ECM-HGZ1 Shotgun Microphone

I use this microphone for outdoor taping and use the microphone in “Gun/Shotgun mode” rather than Zoom Mode. I like it because it is powered by the hot–shoe and does not need any cables. It feels a little light but it is nice and small and fits nicely in my backpack.

Sony ECM-HGZ1 Foam and Standard Black WindCutter Set (WC03-HGZ1SET-STDBLK)

This is a rather expensive ($60) foam cover and wind cutter (a.k.a. Dead Cat) for the Sony ECM-HGZ1 microphone. I could not find any other option for a wind cutter and it is pointless to record outside without a wind cutter so I spent the money. It is a nice product and well-made.

Polaroid 42″ Travel Tripod

This little tripod folds up to a very small size and fits in the backpack. It uses a novel way to extend and store the legs. It only goes up to 42-inches – but it works great for interviews and travels very well. There are lots of vendors for this product and they all look completely identical except for the brand label on the item. You might find it searching for “Sima STV-42K” – I actually found these locally in a department store but they are cheaper on Amazon. I carry two of these and use them either for lights or camera, depending on the setup. I use them either floor-standing or on a table.

Their only weakness is that they don’t last very long. The little spring loaded-balls that keep the legs extended fall apart pretty quickly. But they are so perfect for my travel kit that it is worth replacing one every few months. So I always keep an extra one in stock.

Sunpak ClampPod Pro

I also carry two of these clamps. Usually I use these for lights and they work very well to clamp a light to a shelf or a chair but they can hold a camera in a pinch.

Sony VCT-60AV Remote Control Tripod

This is the most amazing tripod ever. It is inexpensive and light and allows really smooth pan-tilt-zoom shots with the zoom controls on the handle. I use it both for B-Roll and for my primary camera in interviews. Note: The remote for this tripod only works with Sony camcorders – but it works really well. I only carry one of these tripods since I can only operate one camera at the same time. My secondary camera for interviews is locked down and slightly zoomed out.

I also have a generic 60-inch lightweight tripod with carrying case that I purchased at a local electronics store so I have two 60-inch tripods, two 42-inch tripods, and two clamp-on mounts. This combination allows me to deploy two cameras and two lights in most situations.

Switronix TL-50 Dimmable LED Light

I have two of these lights and they are an essential part of the kit. They cost about $200 but they are truly worth it. They are self-contained with built-in batteries and run for about two hours at full power. They are perfect for interviews since I can keep the lights within four feet of the interviewee. They have three filters to adjust the color temperature. I tend to use the orange filter for indoor filming and to reduce the eye-strain on the interviewee. The charger for this unit only works with 110V so I need the power-adapter (below) for international travel/filming.

240 To 110 200W Step Down Adapter

I need this adapter for international travel because the power supplies for the TorchLED lights are 110V-only.

Still in progress…

I should buy a couple of spare batteries. Most interviews are 40 minutes and the batteries have plenty of juice. But sometimes I shoot two interviews in a day with no chance to recharge and if the interviews go really well and go a little long I don’t want to sweat watching battery life drain down. Replacement batteries are so expensive so I will likely hold off for a bit.

Since I am experiencing problems with the WCS999 microphone, I have decided I want high quality audio on both cameras. I want a second wireless microphone and since I am a little unhappy with the microphone clip on the Sony WCS999 Microphone – I am looking at the very popular Azden WMS-PRO Wireless Microphone as a possible replacement. I also have ordered a replacement clip on Olympus ME-15 Microphone to see if it works with the WCS999.

Once I finish the evaluation, I will carry two of the same wireless microphones. As a Sony fan-boy, it bums me out that Sony made this little mistake on the WCS999 that puts me on this quest to find non-Sony equipment :)

Three new abstracts for talks

This is a couple of abstracts that I wrote up and added to my page on speaking engagements

Sakai: Free as in Freedom

This presentation describes the experiences of building the open-source Sakai teaching and learning environment and community from the inside. Sakai was founded by the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Sakai project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and over 100 Sakai partner schools and companies for over five million dollars over a two year period.

The project was very ambitious with an almost impossible schedule for delivery. Almost nothing in the project went according to the plans and yet today, the Sakai software is in enterprise production use at nearly 300 schools world wide with three million daily users and a ten percent market share of top-100 universities worldwide.

This is the story of the successes and failures and challenges and recoveries along the way as well as the laughter, joy and sadness as the project went forward from the perspective of the chief architect and later executive director. The book “Sakai: Free as in Freedom (Alpha)” describes this period of the Sakai effort.

Experiences Teaching a First Programming/Technology Course at the Graduate Level

The University of Michigan School of Information master’s program has a programming requirement ( for all students regardless of whether their major is Human Computer Interaction, Social Computing, or Library and Information Science. With a typical enrollment of 70% women and almost no prior programming technical experience for the typical student, this class provides unique challenges in the design and teaching of the course. The course features a textbook specially designed for the course (Python for Informatics: Exploring Information). The course is much broader than most first computing courses and includes topics like database modeling, SQL, HMTL, CSS, XML parsing, security, web scraping, internet architecture, and others in addition to the programming component of the course. The course moves back and forth between programming and conceptual topics throughout the semester. One of the goals of the course is to empower and encourage students to take additional technology courses such as web site design and development. The presentation will describe the course and describe the results of the course to date.

Workshop: Building Learning Tools using IMS Learning Tools Interoperability

The IMS Learning Tools Interoperability standard ( greatly reduces the effort required to integrate an externally hosted learning tool into nearly all of the mainstream learning management systems (Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, OLAT, and others). IMS Learning Tools Interoperability uses the OAuth protocol to send identity, course, user, and role data to the external tools. External tools can do roster transparent provisioning and single sign on using LTI as well as return grades to the calling learning management system. LTI allows those who would build innovative tools for teaching and learning an unprecedented simplicity in plugging their tool into any number of different learning management systems. This workshop will introduce the standard as well as demonstrate freely available sample code to simplify the building LTI compliant tools in PHP. Participants will develop and integrate a simple tool into Canvas, Sakai, Blackboard, or Moodle as part of the workshop.

IMS Learning Tools Interoperability: What’s New and What’s Next?

This is an abstract I prepared for the 2012 Blackboard Developer Conference – BbDevCon. We shall see if it gets accepted.

IMS Learning Tools Interoperability 1.0 now has very broad market adoption and has been in Blackboard since Release 9.1SP4. Blackboard has added LTI support to building blocks, making it very simple to add LTI to a building block. Developers can plug externally hosted learning tools into Blackboard and the rest of the marketplace with a few lines of PHP. Now that the low-level LTI “plumbing” is in place, what will we do with it. This talk looks at the tools that are available in the marketplace that support IMS LTI and show them plugged into Blackboard. We will introduce and describe IMS Learning Tools Interoperability 1.1 that includes support for returning grades from external tools back to the grade book and demonstrate this. This talk also looks at ways to quickly build and host tools that function as LTI Providers and plug those tools into Blackboard. This talk also looks at the next release of IMS Learning Tools Interoperability 2.0 that includes even simpler provisioning and installation of tools, expanded grade/outcome services, and improved ability to import and export classes with links to dynamic content and services hosted on the web.