Something for the coffee break: Rubik's cube

Eric | November 12, 2007

Rubik‚Äôs cubeI just rediscovered and revived an old assignment I did for my Computer Graphics class at the University of Kent four years ago. It’s a VRML implementation of Rubik’s Cube. As a special feature the cube holds photographs of some well-known models to make life more interesting. You have to download and install the Cosmo Player (for Windows; for other OS’s click here) to use VRML in your browser. Then check out the cube here. Have fun!

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November 9th, in 18 years from freedom to mass surveillance

Eric | November 9, 2007

Berlin Wall fallingToday is November 9th, an important date for all the Germans – for two reasons. The first reason is a very happy one. 18 years ago, the borders of Eastern Germany were opened and for the first time since decades people were allowed to travel freely between both parts of Germany. I got a little nostalgic today and watched a few videos on youtube from back then. It’s just such a moving moment for me. I was only nine years old when it happened but I still remember the day because it changed so much in everybody’s life. From one day to another, millions of people regained their freedom, not only to travel but also to express themselves and their opinion without any fear of pursuit.

SchaeubleIt seems fairly ironic that today, on the very same day, only 18 years later, the German government decided on a law that gives up one of the most basic constituent rights of all Germans: Every person needs to be treated as innocent unless proven otherwise. Today, the CDU/SPD led government decided to implement a country-wide data retention policy. Very soon, German internet providers have to store in advance every connection data (phone and internet) and email headers of any internet account hosted by that provider. This policy makes anybody a suspect – without any allegation whatsoever. Today, the government claims that they will only make use of the data for first class criminal offenses and felonies like a concrete threat of terrorism. The new law however says otherwise: In theory one could even get access to this data if the allegation is as insignificant as for instance insulting someboy over the phone.

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Meeting Canadian astronaut Dave Williams

Eric | November 9, 2007

Dave WilliamsTonight I attended a special lecture by Dave Williams, McGill Alumni and Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency who served on the STS-90 mission in 1998 (watch that photo! ;-)) and the STS-118 “repair” mission this year. In his lecture he spent a lot of time walking us through his story about this last mission, backed by dozens of breathtaking images taken in outer space – truly impressive. He talked about quite some remarkable experiences he had up there, such as only being held to a spaceship by a small cord, while moving at 25 times the speed of sound, “lifting” a 600 pounds unit that needed replacement or fearing re-entry because of yet another damage to the hull plating. Another such experience was to drink Ice tea “from a bubble”. One experiment that he proposed for a later mission and which caused a lot of laughter was to place a fish in a big bubble of water and see what happens. Would the fish just be totally confused, “swim” out of the water and never find back or would it actually be able to perceive its environment well enough to identify the bubble of water as such and stay inside. Who knows? … interesting food for thought!

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McGill takes 12th spot in global ranking

Eric | November 8, 2007

McGill, arts buildingAs the Globe & Mail reports, McGill University has just been ranked on place 12 among the world’s top 200 universities just published today by the London Times. It is further ranked first on the Canadian level. My former university, RWTH Aachen, now “elite university”, at least made it to place 203-304. (I think they really have to do something about their image.)

The study put emphasis on “science programs, the strong contingent of international students and faculty, student/faculty ratios, and publications by faculty and graduate researchers”. I am proud to have contributed at least some few of those publications. Hopefully more to come… And I agree – McGill is a great place to be!

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Canadians playing hockey in Afghanistan

Eric | November 8, 2007

Canadian hockey player in AfghanistanSpiegel Online published this photo two days ago on their website as picture of the day. It shows the shadow of a Canadian hockey player standing in the goal at Kandahar, Afghanistan. Does he not really look like King Kong? Anyway, it’s good to know that even there, the Canadians keep up their traditions.

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Java and generics: handle with care

Eric | November 7, 2007

Type this in Eclipse and hit “save”. It will happily give you a compile time error in the third line. After all, you are casting a set of Strings to a String, which clearly is not well-typed.

Set<String> stringSet = new HashSet<String>();
Set<String> otherStringSet = new HashSet<String>();
otherStringSet.add((String) stringSet);

Now, type this here in Eclipse… it’s the same code, just with the interface type <List> where there was the class type <String> before.

Set<List> listSet = new HashSet<List>();
Set<List> otherListSet = new HashSet<List>();
otherListSet.add((List) listSet);

What happens? The code happily compiles!!! Does it run? Well, yes until line 3, where you get a ClassCastException. And the worst: The same happens when you use javac!!! So what? Is that a flaw in the language after all? Or are just all compiler people having a hard time getting their typechecks right? What are generics good for? Since when is a Set a List? I hope that bug 209071 can bring some insight.

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Seeing the world as Google does: Google Trends

Eric | November 5, 2007

I just learned about the existence of Google Trends. This service allows you to show a graph of how often certain search terms are looked for over time. The typical periodical patterns arise with queries like “gifts“. A growing pattern can be found for example when entering “global warming” (except in the ignorant United States). On the other hand, a query for “microsoft support” suggests that their software indeed has become better over the past few years! Apple seems more worrisome with respect to that. If you compare the two with Linux however, the situation seems pretty clear. Pretty interesting stuff, I find!

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You asked for it: Legacy code made available

Eric | November 4, 2007

A few weeks ago, when I started redoing my website, I installed Google analytics on it, together with a WordPress plugin to support it. Surprisingly and disappointingly, it turned out that about 1/3 of access to my web page were not through search engines or direct accesses but rather to websites referring to PHP scripts I wrote ages ago, a seminal paper I wrote about Arithmetic Coding and a report I wrote about how to recover bad sectors from an NTFS partition that are not actually “bad”. Apparently, to people that matters a lot more than performing super-efficient runtime verification. A bit worrisome.. :-(

Anyway, since those contents were so popular I tried to make them available again. It turned out that all of it was more or less deleted. However I remembered that there was this fabulous website archive.org that captures regular copies of popular pages. As it turns out, I was able to recover about 95% of the content that way – including all the downloads! This is kind of scar, actually. Are they allowed to store all that? Plus they must have huge storage capacities, I guess.

So all the contents are now available here. Happy scripting, arithmetic coding or a happy NTFS recovery!

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Update to "Generate clone()" plugin for Eclipse

Eric | November 2, 2007

Today it was brought to my attention that the code generation facilities of my my code smell detection and code generation plugin for clone() methods did apparently not work correctly with Eclipse 3.3. This problem should now be fixed in version 0.9.1 of the plugin, which is available here.

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An AspectJ library for fault tolerance

Eric | November 1, 2007

As a course project at McGill, I developed a little library for fault tolerance, written in AspectJ 5. It contains two components:

  1. Support for automatic N-Version programming.
  2. A full implementation of a recovery cache.

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