Flowcharter 0.1 alpha

Last week in my drawer I discovered a very early version of Visio or ABC Flowcharter:

I probably got this in 1980 when I joined IBM. Boy, did we really draw flow charts on paper for software we wrote ? Actually we did during the programming classes I went through at the beginning.

For my diploma theses work I wrote in 1983 with Script on a mainframe computer I had to come up with some ASCII art to enrich my paper with flowcharts:

Happy New Year 2012 everyone !

Happy New Year 2012 everyone ! I hope you have had a good start into the New Year and hopefully don’t start it with too many items sitting in your in-box and waiting for you to get you into the same hectic and trouble like every year.

Still looking for some good New Year resolutions ? Check out this Lifehacker article: Top 10 Easy-to-Keep Resolutions for This New Year. And here are some more general hints and insights about making New Year’s resolutions: The Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions (and How to Use It to Achieve Yours)

Don’t need any of those ? I don’t have any but I actually like this one from Garfield.

May be you are just curious about the most successful blog postings on Lifehacker last year ? Here they are: This Is the Best of Lifehacker 2011: about How-To guides, DIY projects, photography, Mac and linux downloads, desktops and workspaces, browser extensions and Android apps. How about starting an information diet this year ? Or some very basic means to improve your health: “A Half-Hour Walk Can Make a Big Difference, Even If It’s Your Only Activity” ?

Many seem to say the world will end this year: the Bible, the Maya Calendar, Nostradamus, http://www.polereversal.com/. Most likely this will be a mis-interpretation of “information” one can find there or elsewhere; don’t forget my last posting from last year: Common knowledge doesn’t exist. : It is more a question of belief which evidence you accept and who you trust … and how you interpret information.

Nevertheless, even if the world would end this year, let’s just continue to do what we do now, let’s do it right and with our full power, let’s follow the philosophy of Martin Luther, to whom the following quote was attributed:

“If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today.”

Image from Wikiquote.

My favorites for week 33, 2010

Big GrinSomething to laugh: my favorite comic strip of the weekabout next generations

  This “Moderately Confused” comic strip reminds me of a day a few years ago when friends visited our house and had promised their kids that I would show them my turn table player. With big eyes they watched how I played one of those gramophone records on this strange device – strange for them of course. Man, I felt old that day.

NerdSomething to watch: my favorite video clip of the weekabout people under water

Can people walk, talk and breath under water ? Apparently they can – as long as this is no real water as in this Amazing Japanese Fake Pool.

ApplauseSomething to learn: my favorite tip of the weekabout “undo” in firefox

Hit Undo in Firefox’s Address Bar to Browse Your Recent History is a tip published by Lifehacker beginning of this week: Hit the undo shortcut (Ctrl+z/Cmd+z) in Firefox’s address bar to move through your recent history via keyboard and find tabs you’ve closed—sort of like a lightweight version of the Undo Closed Tab feature. And: You can re-open closed tabs in browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Opera by hitting the Ctrl+Shift+T shortcut (or Cmd+Shift+T on Mac) … !

  Something to enjoy: my favorite photo  on flickr under a Common Creative licenseabout the smallest monkey of the world

Pigmy marmoset
"Pigmy marmoset" by Tambako The Jaguar.

“This is is a pygmy marmoset, which is the smallest monkey of the world. They come from Brazil …” writes Tambako the Jaguar in the description to this photo. He has an awesome collection of animal photos in his flickr photo stream.

Something to talk about: my favorite quote of the weekabout decisions made by groups of people

A committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members.

What is said here about a committee might hold true as well for teams or any other type of group of people. As a project manager I should believe in the power of teams, but frankly speaking I actually buy this quote. Often teams come up with a bad decision, because that decision is not derived from true thinking, intelligence and honesty, it is derived from politics and power struggle. >> Where there are people there are politics << is a quote from a PM education class about taking control of an existing project I participated in more than one year ago. My father used to give me the following advice: “Stay away from the opinion and behavior of the majority”.

The year of the astronomy

2009 not only is the year of Charles Darwin ( read more about this also here in “The bamboo raft” ), it is also the Year of the Astronomy, as has been decided by the UN and the International Astronomic Union (IAU) on December 20th, 2007.

Exactly 400 years ago Johannes Kepler published what he had discovered about the physics of the sky, the laws of planetary motion: "The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the sun at a focus." And: "A line joining a planet and the sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time." (The third law has been added at a later time). Galileo Galilei, not the inventor of the telescope, was the first to use it – after making some improvements – to look at the sky. When he saw mountains, lowlands and the landscapes of the moon and when he observed the moons of Jupiter he discovered that planet earth is nothing special in the universe, just an orb like many others.

The knowledge those two gained was in total contradiction to what human mankind up to that time thought about the fundamentals of our world. Described more by philosophers like Aristotle and Ptolemy and strongly supported by religions and the Christian Church the picture of the world up to this time was a “geo-centric” one, describing planet Earth as the one and only centre of the universe. Some say that this gain of knowledge initiated by Kepler and Galileo has been the most dramatic one in the history of human mankind, it definitely was part of the Scientific Revolution, as well as Charles Darwin’s discoveries.

Geo-centric picture of the world according to Tycho Brahe.
Source: wikipedia.

You must imagine this time when only a few people knew what Kepler and Galileo knew at that moment. What they had discovered was not just a little improvement of our knowledge about the world, it was a revolutionary change in total conflict with traditional knowledge, an attack against religions and church.  People probably were not that open minded anyway these days but under these circumstances people like Kepler and Galileo had to make a tough decision whether they wanted to practice what we would call knowledge sharing nowadays. It probably was not really an option for them to hold back their knowledge, but with that they started a fight against those forces who claimed to know everything about our world at that time. Sharing knowledge in these times could easily have a major negative impact on those attempting this. Galileo actually found himself in front of the Inquisition where he had to argue about his findings and  finally confess that he was wrong. especially also in regards to his support of what Kepler had published.. At the end he has been found suspect of heresy and has been put under house arrest for the rest of his life. It took the church until 1992 to come up with an excuse how the Galileo affair had been handled and to admit that our planet is not stationary.

Knowledge sharing in these days is much easier, isn’t it ? At least for us as we live in an open and democratic world – which is still not the case everywhere on this planet. Nevertheless, who of us would ever be in the position to discover something as spectacular as Kepler and Galileo did ? Sharing knowledge about information technology or project management, discussing things like social software or SOA is by far less dramatic compared to those topics “discussed” 400 years ago. But still we have big discoveries to make: finding the theory of everything, explaining what happened during the first sub seconds after the big bang or even before it,  finding ways to produce the amount of energy we need without killing us and our planet, findings cures against our major diseases.

Source: bild der wissenschaft 2/2009 (article “Die Astro-Revoluzzer”) and wikipedia

Today, 53 years ago, on August 5th, 1955 …

VW Käfer Cabrio
"VW Käfer Cabrio" by Schockwellenreiter.

… the 1 millionth VW (Volkswagen) Beetle was “born”, according to the Brockhaus Multimedia screen saver on my home computer. Since June 2002 21.5 million VW Beetle have been sold. Manufacturing of this car started in summer 1945.

Its successor was the VW Golf. The VW Beetle inspired designer to come up with the VW New Beetle manufactured in Mexico starting in 1998.

From Axel’s archives: a pocket calculator eating magnetic stripes

After I blogged about how I used a logarithm book in school to “compute” something like log(99) I want to write a little bit about the “computer” I worked with while being at the university studying electrical engineering.

This was the time between 1980 and 1983. As you all know Personal Computers had just been invented at that time. The IBM PC  was announced in August 1981, thus those computers just became available while I was a student but you can imagine that at the beginning they were not used widely and they of course have been too expensive for a poor student.

During my training at IBM I learned how to write Assembler programs on a System/370 and how to write APL programs on an IBM 5100 Portable Computer. Nevertheless, those computer have not been available for me as a “personal” computer during my time at the university.

The “computer” I started using at the university was what has been called a programmable calculator: the TI-59. If I remember correctly I had to pay more than 500 Deutsche Mark for this, which is around 250 € nowadays or around 330 $. Programming was done with a very low level language: statements consisted of three letter words either describing one of the keys of the calculator or some constructs like a label (LBL) or a goto (GTO) or STO and RCL to store and recall a number from a register. Number of register and program steps could be configured depending on how I wanted to use the memory, the largest program I could write could consist of 512 steps.

Programs could be stored on or read from a magnetic stripe through a magnetic card writer/reader built into the upper part of the calculator below the red LCD display. A video in this Wikipedia article illustrates nicely how this worked.

The most complex program we wrote was for dimensioning an electronic transistor circuit requiring some iterative algorithm to correctly determine the voltage at the different pins of a transistor. Besides this we of course also spent some time on writing first computer games, like the Lunar Lander ( text only version ), where the player has to enter the right amount of fuel to be used at the right time for slowing down the vehicle as it is coming down to achieve a safe landing, while the “computer” computes and displays speed and altitude of the vehicle all the time.

From Axel’s archives: a logarithm book

Yesterday during a lengthy phone call I had some time to explore the bookshelf in my working room at home. One antique item caught my attention: a logarithm book.

As looking into it I can’t believe that we used that to “compute” logarithms in the 70th when I went to high school. It took me some time again to figure out how it works. Nowadays we simply press the logarithm key on our pocket or windows desktop calculator and compute a logarithm without thinking too much about it.

As mentioned in the introduction to this book the tables used in it would show the mantissa for decimal logarithms. Hmmm, what was a mantissa again ?

According to wikipedia a mantissa can be many things. It is also called significand, a word even my Windows Life Writer spell checker doesn’t know. A significand (also coefficient or mantissa) is the part of a floating-point number that contains its significant digits. Depending on the interpretation of the exponent, the significand may be considered to be an integer or a fraction.

That explanation does not really help, does it ? After further reading I discovered that for computing a decimal ( base 10 ) logarithm the mantissa would be the part of the number behind the comma.

Let’s make a practical example how this book works. For numbers between 100 and 999,99 we know that they can be expressed in a form 102,mmmm where mmmm would be the mantissa. We know that the integer part of an exponent to base 10 for a number between 100 and 999,999 is 2,  thus we are only interested to find the mantissa – that’s what the table in this book actually is doing.

For 501 it tells us that the mantissa is 6998, thus the solution for the decimal logarithm is: 2,6998. After pressing the logarithm button on my pocket calculator I get: 2.6998377258672457172791038131756.

Looks like the book does work ! I just can’t believe that I belong to a generation doing such antique way of computations !

Anyway, in another posting probably next week I show you what “computers” I used as a student.