Posts tagged ‘tech talks’

XKCD: an inside perspective

Randall Munroe, creator of the hilarious webcomic XKCD, gave a talk at work last week, and it was pretty interesting. I bring this up because he discussed the current comic in his talk. When the Google Labs Aptitude Test came out, Randall decided he was going to apply, but he didn’t want to turn it in until he had gotten all of the questions. He couldn’t get the resistor question, and eventually asked his physics professor about it. They filled up an entire blackboard without getting anywhere on the problem (see the alt text in the comic). Randall gave up on the GLAT and never turned it in. However, he eventually looked up some literature on the resistor problem: it wasn’t actually solved until the 60’s, and wasn’t solved elegantly until the 90’s. Both proofs required math so complex that he didn’t recognize it. He no longer feels bad about not solving the problem, though.

One of the other things he mentioned in the talk is that now that people read his comic, he has nothing new to talk about at parties; everyone has heard all of his stories and jokes already.

‘Cable News Confidential’ talk

Jeff Cohen, founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and author of Cable News Confidential, gave a talk at work earlier this week.

A summary of the talk →

Tech Talk: Ubuntu

Mark Shuttleworth (co-creator of Ubuntu Linux) gives an interesting look at how Ubuntu is developed, and how it fits into the world. This talk, much like Ubuntu itself, isn’t particularly technical although it makes reference to lots of other projects/programs that you might not recognize if you’re not already familiar with open source software.

For those who aren’t in the know, Ubuntu is a Linux distribution designed for ease of use with little required knowledge on the user’s behalf. It is one of the newest distributions, one of the most quickly growing ones, and one of the simplest to use (which makes sense, because it was designed that way). There is also a lot of mention of the Novell/Microsoft deal, in which Microsoft is going to start supporting some parts of the SUSE Linux distribution (which is owned by Novell these days).

Like tech talks, but without the tech

Google has several series of talks that are always going on. I think of them all as tech talks because that was the series I was first introduced to. However, they’re apparently quite separate. Google periodically has authors come in to give talks about their books, and these are called the Authors@Google series. I’ve gotten to see Scott Ritter (former UN weapons inspector in Iraq) speak live, and I’ve gotten live video feeds of news reporter Tom Brokaw, Steve Wozniak (cofounder of Apple Computers), Ken Jennings (the Jeopardy dude), and Dr. Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel prizewinning economist) speaking. It turns out many of these are on Google Video as well! Some of the ones that have caught my interest (but I haven’t watched them yet): graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, Dr. James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA), and Dr. Jane Goodall (the chimpanzee lady).

Potpourri (and remember to vote!)

There is a fantastic tech talk about how to teach computer science to kids. Too often, they see the name and think it’s about programming, and are consequently turned off to the subject. This kiwi teaches CS without using a computer, but has all sorts of fun, hands-on activities for kids to do as they learn about sorting and compression algorithms, error-correcting codes, DFAs, and other parts of CS. If you ever need to inspire kids, this video is definitely worth a watch!

Speaking of videos to watch, check out this Dove commercial. I’ve gotta give them props for that.

On a newsier topic, Bush has begun to admit that the war in Iraq is going poorly and is starting to accept the parallels between this war and Vietnam. Might this be the beginning of someone in the Republican party taking a look at reality and then accepting responsibility for what they’ve screwed up? Not likely, but a man can dream, can’t he?

By the way, please, please register to vote (and then actually vote) in the elections on November 7. In California, you need to register (which can be done at your local DMV) by October 23 (this coming Monday). As John Stewart once quipped, “this country is run by extremists because moderates have shit to do.” However, voting doesn’t take up much of your time, and can help shape which direction the country will go, even if it’s still being run by extremists. No matter which parties/candidates you support, please vote. and please take 10 minutes and read up on the parties/candidates you plan to vote for, and make sure that they really do represent your interests; too often people are elected by an ignorant population that doesn’t realize what it’s doing. You want to vote for the communist party? That’s fine, so long as you know what they stand for and agree with it. You wanna vote for someone because the politicians tell you to? that’s not so good.

So learn about your favourite party, and then vote for them!

Another Tech Talk

Google Video also has a Tech Talk on it about the history of copyright law, which was fascinating. He isn’t great about handling the questions at the end, but the talk itself is pretty good.

A summary of the talk →

Google periodically has visitors who come in and give talks on various subjects (a lot like the Nelson Series, but without a yearly theme, though most of them are CS-ey in some way). I have just found out that many of these are subsequently posted to Google Video so other people can see them, too. They’re pretty great, if ever you have a yen for intellectual discourse.

In particular, I’m quite impressed with Chris Spurgeon’s talk about great achievements in map-making and navigation.