Archive for the ‘Technology and Gadgets’ Category

Epocrates Presentation at SJSU

October 4, 2007

Glenn and Tom, from Epocrates, gave a presentation at MacQuarrie Hall (the CS/Math building at SJSU) today. Glenn comes from a Computer Science background and developed one of the original versions of the Epocrates software and Tom is the Main Manager at Epocrates. They both started working at Epocrates in 1999 so they know a lot about the company and are full of great information.

Epocrates is a company that provides a suite of PDA applications that are designed for use by health care professionals. They have some pretty cool tools that are helping doctors make fewer mistakes. For instance, doctors can add a list of drugs to be prescribed, and the Epocrates software can help determine if any of those drugs conflict with each other. Apparently their software is very widely used, and they have subscribers around the world.

During the presentation I learned about how Epocrates started, how their products developed, and the development process they use, among other things. I was expecting them to talk a lot about their products from an end user perspective which I have seen from many other presenters. Instead they talked much more about how the company started and how they develop software. This was a nice surprise because I’m not that interested in health care software but I am very interested in how an idea can become reality and how an entire business can be built around it. These guys are really smart so it was fun to hear about all the types of solutions they used to make their products better. Glenn and Tom were both very honest and open and had a lot of information to share with us. I appreciated the approach they took.

Dr. Louden, the Computer Science Department Chair, specifically pointed out that Epocrates was started by Stanford business students. He expressed that he would like to see more collaboration between Computer Science and Business students which is why he is asking CS students to get involved in the Entrepreneur Club.

One cool thing Glenn and Tom talked about is the fact that the developers at Epocrates developed their own PDA abstraction layer called XPlat that makes it easier for them to create software that will work on both Palm OS and Pocket PC. We were actually shown some of the XPlat code so we could see how it is used by the Epocrates software. I was also interested to know that they use Perforce for version control. In conclusion Glenn and Tom gave a great presentation and I’m glad they took the time to come talk to us.

Saving Electricity

September 26, 2007

There was an article about saving electricity in the The Spartan Daily today and I had a personal interest in the section about turning off computers when they’re not being used. I was interested in this because it reminded me of an issue I had with my last employer.

The company I used to work for requested that employees not turn off their computers because the IT department did system wide maintenance at night. That angered me because the practice seemed to be a horrible waste of electricity. Think about it, thousands of computers running idly for 14-15 hours per day, not to mention weekends, and just sucking up energy. What’s worse is that my managers (I worked in the IT department) actually laughed at the idea of turning off computers at the end of the day because it would make their jobs harder. I think that all organizations and individuals should put hard thought into wasteful practices they participate in, if not for the bottom line (wasted money on electricity bills), then for our communities, our country, and our world, all of which are negatively affected by waste. Even if turning off computers turns out to be something that isn’t practical, I think it is worthwhile to consider it seriously.

Reading the article in the Spartan Daily inspired me to learn more about how much energy computers use. I did a Google search and found .”How much electricity do computers use?” as part of a great overall webpage about saving electricity. It turns out that most new computers are setup to go into sleep mode automatically which saves a lot of electricity. That put my mind at ease somewhat. So if possible, don’t disable the energy saving settings on new computers because they can make a big difference in helping the environment. Another thing the website explained, which I found confusing in The Spartan Daily article, is that turning on a computer does not use extra energy so it saves more energy to turn off a computer versus letting it go into power saving mode.

I encourage everyone to check the website out anyway. It goes into detail explaining how much electricity we use, what the environmental effects are, and the most important things we can do to save.

Java Closures

April 25, 2007

Last week I went to a really cool talk given by Dr. Neal Gafter about closures in Java. I wasn’t really excited about going, but I was between classes so I stopped by to hear what he had to say. I was pleasantly surprised. The subject was much more interesting than I had anticipated and it turns out that closures are very powerful.

Dr. Neal Gafter was a very enthusiastic speaker. You can see from his profile that he has been involved in some really interesting activities such as the development of C++ and Java. He has his own blog where he has written much more about Java closures for anyone who is interested. I think a good post to check out is “A Definition of Closures”, which describes the history of closures.

Dr. Cay Horstmann, a Computer Science professor at SJSU, has also written about closures on his blog as well as more details about the talk. Actually it turns out Dr. Horstmann is the one who setup the talk as he was teaching the topic in one of his graduate courses. His post “Dr. Gafter comes to SJSU” was easy to follow and goes over the main points of the talk.

Thanks to Dr. Gafter and to Dr. Horstmann for making this talk happen. The talk was very informative and exciting.

There is another talk that may be interesting coming up this Thursday, April 26, at 4 pm in BBC 202. The talk is being given by Bob Sutor, IBM’s Vice President for Open Source. Check out the flyer here.

UPDATE: I went to the IBM talk and I thought it was interesting. Steve Sloan wrote about it in this post.

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Tagging STEM

April 12, 2007

Yesterday the Students of SJSU Technology and Emerging Media Club (STEM) met and Andrew Venegas gave an interesting talk about tagging. Listening to his talk reminded me of my own experiences with tagging on my blog.

During the first STEM meeting, earlier this semester, we all decided that we should tag any posts about the club to allow readers to quickly get a list of posts related to the club happenings. On WordPress, there is built in tagging called categories that works nicely, but I didn’t want to add a new category for every specific thing that I wanted to tag. I wanted the categories to be more of a general table of contents and to have separate tags for more specific topics.

I read this post, Tags and Tagging in WordPress, on the Lorelle on WordPress blog. The article gave me a clearer idea of what tags are and how they can be used. I ended up using site search tags as suggested in the article. If you click one of my tags at the bottom of my post it has the same effect as doing a search in the search box for that term. You will be directed to a list of posts from my blog that mention the term in the tag. All of the posts that have that same tag will be listed as will any article that mentions the term anywhere in the article. This is different than the tags that Andrew mentioned in his talk that direct the reader to Technorati. Those tags would list blog posts from any blog that Technorati somehow deemed relevant to that tag. My tags only list my blog posts, which I think is more useful.

As a user of tags, if I am reading an article that I find interesting, I might click on of the tags listed with that article to find more relevant information. Often times, those tags will lead to nothing, which is frustrating to me and is useless from my point of view. So I try to have only a few tags that will lead to lots of related material. To help with this I keep a list of the tags I have used in the past and try to reuse those if they are relevant.

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Linux Installfest at SJSU

February 20, 2007

Keith Callenberg wrote on the SJSU Linux User Group discussion page that there will be an installfest on Saturday February 24 in MacQuarrie Hall 227. If you want to install Linux on you computer or laptop, they are willing to help. The LUG also has a pretty informative page up here that explains more of the details and even provides a map to MacQuarrie Hall. You should read about my previous experience with their installfest as a reminder to back up your system before trying to install Linux. They do have a 200 GB hard drive for backup purposes, so go ahead and ask to use it.

Linux Club Officers

Picture of SJSU LUG officers (left to right) Andrew Tomlinson, Keith Callenberg, Evan Luine, Jeffrey Thompson.

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IBM Mashup Talk

February 8, 2007

On Wednesday Dr. Volker Markl, from IBM Research, talked about project MAFIA (The Mashup Fabric In Almaden). I found it interesting because I didn’t know how seriously IBM was taking mashups until this talk. One of the things they are working on is how to create mashups in a more declarative manner, which would make them faster to create and possibly easier to search for. From what I understood, one of the problems with declaring mashups declaratively, is the ambiguity of the data sources. Dr. Markl mentioned that he believed that localized semantic standards might arise that would allow more data sources to be used in a uniform way. On behalf of SJSU Computer Scientist students, thanks for the talk.

Dr. Volker Markl giving talk

The picture above is Dr. Markl (left) and our Department Chair Dr. Kennneth Louden (right).

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Wikia Approves SJSU Wiki

February 6, 2007

I mentioned before that I was working on a wiki for SJSU on students.wikia.com. As I was hoping, the people at Wikia have granted the community a private wiki and domain. The new domain is sjsu.wikia.com. In order to edit the wiki you need an SJSU email account which you can get by filling out an application here and picking it up at the Academic Success Center Help Desk (First floor of old Clark Library). So please, if you find this idea at all interesting, get an SJSU email account and start adding content.

SJSU wiki on sjsu.wikia.com

There are some things to consider before participating in this wiki. Wikia is a private for profit company and the wiki they created for us is in no way directly associated with SJSU. Also, I’m not sure about the details, but if you submit content, you are in effect associating it with an open source type license, meaning that although you may be attributed, you may not own that content in the traditional way. However, if someone puts your content on this wiki without your permission you can contact me or someone from Wikia and it will be removed.

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Video Blogs Not Accessible

January 29, 2007

More and more I am finding that there are tons of great online content being produced on video. This is all very cool because it is kind of like having my own personal TV channel. The problem I have is that I never have the time to sit in front of my computer and watch these things. Actually its not that I don’t have the time, but for some reason, I just don’t like to watch them on my laptop, I’d much rather watch them on my iPod. Maybe it’s because whenever I’m using my laptop, I’m usually multitasking, reading some blogs while I respond to an email. Video blogs demand too much of my attention to do that. But there are lots of times when I have my iPod that I am doing nothing else and would love to watch the latest news from the Scoble Show or maybe a video taken at SJSU such as those on the Soapbox Prophet. What I’ve found though is that it’s not as easy as it should be to get those videos on my iPod in a timely manner. The coolest thing I’ve seen so far is the podcast/vodcast support built in to iTunes, but that’s not cutting it for me because I don’t want to have to subscribe to a feed to easily get a video onto my iPod. I use Google Reader and it would be nice if I saw a video linked to there to be able to just click a button and have it uploaded to whatever type of portable music/video player I have. I’ll be looking around for better ways to manage video blogs, if anyone has suggestions let me know.

UPDATE: Andrew Venegas pointed out to me that, even as I wrote this post, Google was improving the way its Reader handles video. I can’t wait to see more of this, so that watching news online become as easy as watching it on tv.

Blogging in Word

January 3, 2007

I just found out the hard way why you shouldn’t use Microsoft Word to create blog entries.  When you copy and paste from Word it adds in extra html that you don’t need in the background.  I had been blogging in Word for the past couple of weeks until I realized that the posts created in Word were the wrong font.  The only way to fix it was to go back in html view and remove all of the extra html tags that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

There is a more in depth article about the problems that blogging using Word creates on Content Robot.  I would prefer to create my blog posts in word though.  Luckily I can look forward to that in the next version, Word 2007, which will include the ability to create “clean html” blog posts according to Joe Friend, a Microsoft Office Project Manager.

Blogging on Soapbox

January 3, 2007

I’ve been reading about proposed changes to the online Spartan Daily recently.  Its a pretty interesting topic.  Some opinions I’ve read are here, here, here, and here.  I gave my two cents about changes I think should be made on The Soapbox Prophet.  You can read my first collaborative bloge entry here.