Skip to content

Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for September 2nd, 2009

Harry Potter Scholar writes new book… John Granger, the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars, has written four books on the boy wizard, Harry Potter… I recently finished one and found it delightful and thought provoking; it put Harry into a Christian perspective – without overstretching the metaphor… Read about his new book for yourself; I look forward to reading it myself…

John Granger, Dean of Harry Potter Scholars: The Nerd World Interview – Nerd World – 
Source: nerdworld.blogs.time…

John Granger writes rigorous but accessible literary criticism about Harry Potter. He’s written four books on the subject so far, most recently Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures, and he blogs at He is, basically, the scholar that I set out to become but never did.

When I met John at LeakyCon in May, I wasn’t sure if we’d have anything to say to each other. He’s a successful scholar, a practicing Christian and a former Marine. I’m a failed scholar, an atheist, and an ex-Space Ranger. And you know how the terrestrial and interplanetary services do squabble.  … [MORE]

Another good TV program falls by the wayside… PBS is dropping the favorite kids program, The Reading Room, from its schedule. While the economy is tough on everyone, we should not lose sight of the development of our children. I remember buying a new TV when my oldest daughter was young so she could see the various PBS shows; PBS required UHF capability and our old set didn’t have it. [Archaic by today’s standards, I know…] What do you think?

PBS cancels hit child’s program | The Daily Illini 

In the 23rd century, history will be documented not by bespectacled Ph.Ds, but by a race of sentient paper shredders. While destroying all physical evidence that human civilization existed, they will simultaneously scan and upload all our collective cultural knowledge onto an iPod Nano.

When the iHistorians try to locate the event that signaled the end of the human era and all the creativity, ingenuity, and processed dessert snacks we were so proud of, they need look no further than August 27, 2009: the day that PBS’ legendary children’s show, Reading Rainbow, was cancelled.

Over its 26 years, the mission of Reading Rainbow was simple: Teach children not [[how]] to read, but [[why]] to read. It helped kids place value behind printed words, a value derived from the reassuring invariability of the letters, words, and sentences on the page.

The show’s theme song told us to “take a look, it’s in a book.” No matter what happens, the words, thoughts, and dreams captured between those two covers stay the same. The importance of books lies not only in the words they preserve, but the permanent, steadfast way in which they preserve them. … [MORE]

SmartPhones.. Easy for the consumer, but hell for the developer! That seems to be the story. With all of these phones now being able to run this ‘program’ or that ‘program’, like the iPhone, one would think that it is a fertile field for the application developers. NOT SO… There are at least 5-6 different phone platforms that can be used, but each one is different. Or, you could develop a web-based app and ignore the special bells and whistles of any given phone. That is the dilemma addressed here…

Smartphones: A Tower of Babel for developers by InfoWorld: Yahoo! Tech 

In the fast-moving world of smartphones, application developers must make choices: Develop native applications for Apple’s iPhone or perhaps for the Palm Pre. Or maybe build for Symbian, the RIM BlackBerry, or Google’s Android. If you have the time and skills, you can build your application again and again for different phones, using native development resources.

Or you can build applications using frameworks and Web technologies to work on multiple brands — but any apps you build this way might not fully leverage some capabilities of specific phones. … [MORE]

What do kids need to know before they leave home? Good Question… This article presents some good way for kids to progressively gain experiences that will prepare them for adulthood. Read them over and share your thoughts…


son_sink_pad You walk into your bathroom, and the toilet paper roller is empty.

On the back of the toilet sits a new roll, put there by a previous visitor who apparently never mastered the task of replacing a roll of toilet paper.

Reloading the dispenser is just one of those things that kids should learn before they move out, things that will stay with them throughout adulthood.

They don’t pick up these life lessons by themselves; that’s what parents are for.

But when should the mystery of the toilet paper roll have been explained? When the child was 3? 10? Certainly by voting age.

Well, Schools are restarting for the Fall Term… And so is the Swine Flu! This article gives 10 steps that will help you fight off the current strain of swine flue that is just waiting to break out. Probably the most important way to resist it is by WASHING YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY AND LONGER. This is an inexpensive and easy to accomplish procedure. And, you do not catch swine flu by eating pork or poultry…

Swine flu: 10 things you need to know – Yahoo! News 

Since it first emerged in April, the global swine flu epidemic has sickened more than 1 million Americans and killed about 500. It’s also spread around the world, infecting tens of thousands and killing nearly 2,000.

This summer, the virus has been surprisingly tenacious in the U.S., refusing to fade away as flu viruses usually do. And health officials predict a surge of cases this fall, perhaps very soon as schools reopen.

A White House report from an expert panel suggests that from 30 percent to half the population could catch swine flu during the course of this pandemic and that from 30,000 to 90,000 could die.

by Gerald Boerner

“From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.”
— Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer

Bonus: Thought for the Day… “To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge.”
— Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer

Bonus: Thought for the Day… "It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission"
— Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer

Bonus: Thought for the Day… “I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. … they carefully told me, computers could only do arithmetic; they could not do programs.”
— Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer

GraceHopper Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Naval officer. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and she developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace". The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) (see below) was named for her.

Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944, and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a Lieutenant, junior grade. She served on the Mark I computer programming staff headed by Howard H. Aiken. Hopper and Aiken coauthored three papers on the Mark I,II,II also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator.

"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for."
— Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer

Hopper’s request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war was declined due to her age (38). She continued to serve in the United States Navy Reserve. Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favor of working as a research fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.

While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the system. Though the term computer bug cannot be definitively attributed to Admiral Hopper, she did bring the term into popularity. The remains of the moth can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Computer Bug In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I. In the early 1950s the company was taken over by the Remington Rand corporation and it was while she was working for them that her original compiler work was done. In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I. In the early 1950s the company was taken over by the Remington Rand corporation and it was while she was working for them that her original compiler work was done.

In the 1970s, she pioneered the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. The Navy tests for conformance to these standards led to significant convergence among the programming language dialects of the major computer vendors.

Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long, which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." Later she used the same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast. At many of her talks and visits, she handed out "nanoseconds" to everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper which she called picoseconds.

[Biographical information is from the Wikipedia article on Grace Hopper that can be found at: ]

by Gerald Boerner

“The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”
— Julia Margaret Cameron, British Photographer of 19th Century

Bonus: Photographer’s Thought for the Day… Bonus: Photographer’s Thought for the Day… “When we are angry or depressed in our creativity, we have misplaced our power. We have allowed someone else to determine our worth, and then we are angry at being undervalued.”
— Julia Margaret Cameron, British Photographer of 19th Century


497px-Julia_Margaret_Cameron_by_Watts Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer. She became known for her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for Arthurian and similar legendary themed pictures. Cameron’s photographic career was short, spanning the last eleven years of her life. She did not take up photography until the age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present. Her work had a huge impact on the development of msicodern photography, especially her closely cropped portraits which are still mimicked today. Her house, Dimbola Lodge, on the Isle of Wight can still be visited.

In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera as a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer. Within a year, Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote, "I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied."

“When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.”
— Julia Margaret Cameron, British Photographer of 19th Century

591px-Sadness,_by_Julia_Margaret_CameronThe basic techniques of soft-focus "fancy portraits", which she later developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She later wrote that "to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my success". Alfred Lord Tennyson, her neighbour [sic] on the Isle of Wight, often brought friends to see the photographer.

During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the copyright office and kept detailed records. Her shrewd business sense is one reason that so many of her works survive today. Another reason that many of Cameron’s portraits are significant is because they are often the only existing photograph of historical figures. Many paintings and drawings exist, but, at the time, photography was still a new and challenging medium for someone outside a typical portrait studio.

The bulk of Cameron’s photographs fit into two categories – closely framed portraits and illustrative allegories based on religious and literary works. In the allegorical works in particular, her artistic influence was clearly Pre-Raphaelite, with far-away looks and limp poses and soft lighting.

[Biographical information is from the Wikipedia article on Julia Margaret Cameron that can be found at: ]