Posts about Stanford

Autonomous Helicopters Teach Themselves to Fly

photo of Stanford Autonomous Learning Helicopters

Stanford’s “autonomous” helicopters teach themselves to fly

Stanford computer scientists have developed an artificial intelligence system that enables robotic helicopters to teach themselves to fly difficult stunts by watching other helicopters perform the same maneuvers.

The dazzling airshow is an important demonstration of “apprenticeship learning,” in which robots learn by observing an expert, rather than by having software engineers peck away at their keyboards in an attempt to write instructions from scratch.

It might seem that an autonomous helicopter could fly stunts by simply replaying the exact finger movements of an expert pilot using the joy sticks on the helicopter’s remote controller. That approach, however, is doomed to failure because of uncontrollable variables such as gusting winds.

Very cool. Related: MIT’s Autonomous Cooperating Flying VehiclesThe sub-$1,000 UAV Project6 Inch Bat PlaneKayak Robots

S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates

2007 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO (they deleted the link so the link was removed – yet another website proves to be unreliable without basic web usability principles being followed) shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field.

% of CEOs
2007 2006 2005

Engineering 21 23 20
Economics 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 12 15
Accounting 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3

The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 40% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 27% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 12. University of Texas has 10 and Stanford has 9.

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Engineering Education Study Debateposts on science and engineering careersScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

Interview with Donald Knuth

Interview with Donald Knuth by Andrew Binstock, April 2008:

I currently use Ubuntu Linux, on a standalone laptop—it has no Internet connection. I occasionally carry flash memory drives between this machine and the Macs that I use for network surfing and graphics; but I trust my family jewels only to Linux. Incidentally, with Linux I much prefer the keyboard focus that I can get with classic FVWM to the GNOME and KDE environments that other people seem to like better. To each his own.

I’m basically advising young people to listen to themselves rather than to others, and I’m one of the others. Almost every biography of every person whom you would like to emulate will say that he or she did many things against the “conventional wisdom” of the day.

Still, I hate to duck your questions even though I also hate to offend other people’s sensibilities – given that software methodology has always been akin to religion. With the caveat that there’s no reason anybody should care about the opinions of a computer scientist/mathematician like me regarding software development, let me just say that almost everything I’ve ever heard associated with the term “extreme programming” sounds like exactly the wrong way to go…with one exception. The exception is the idea of working in teams and reading each other’s code. That idea is crucial, and it might even mask out all the terrible aspects of extreme programming that alarm me.

I also must confess to a strong bias against the fashion for reusable code. To me, “re-editable code” is much, much better than an untouchable black box or toolkit. I could go on and on about this. If you’re totally convinced that reusable code is wonderful, I probably won’t be able to sway you anyway, but you’ll never convince me that reusable code isn’t mostly a menace.

Related: Donald Knuth – Computer ScientistProgrammers at WorkPreparing Computer Science Students for JobsTeach Yourself Programming in Ten YearsCurious Cat Ubuntu posts

The Future is Engineering

Do Great Engineering Schools Beget Entrepreneurism? by Brent Edwards provides two great links.

How to Kick Silicon Valley’s Butt by Guy Kawasaki:

Focus on educating engineers. The most important thing you can do is establish a world-class school of engineering. Engineering schools beget engineers. Engineers beget ideas. And ideas beget companies. End of discussion.

If I had to point to the single biggest reason for Silicon Valley’s existence, it would be Stanford University—specifically, the School of Engineering. Business schools are not of primary importance because MBAs seldom sit around discussing how to change the world with great products.

Why Startups Condense in America:

You need a great university to seed a silicon valley, and so far there are few outside the US. I asked a handful of American computer science professors which universities in Europe were most admired, and they all basically said “Cambridge” followed by a long pause while they tried to think of others. There don’t seem to be many universities elsewhere that compare with the best in America, at least in technology.

Both essays make many excellent points – read them! Continue reading

Donald Knuth – Computer Scientist

photo of Donald Knuth playing his home organ

Love at First Byte by Kara Platoni:

In the early ’60s, publisher Addison-Wesley invited Knuth to write a book on compiler design. Knuth eagerly drafted 3,000 pages by hand before someone at the publishing house informed him that would make an impossibly long book. The project was reconceived as the seven-volume The Art of Computer Programming. Although Knuth has written other books in the interim, this would become his life’s work. The first three volumes were published in 1968, 1969 and 1973. Volume 4 has been in the works nearly 30 years.

Its subject, combinatorial algorithms, or computational procedures that encompass vast numbers of possibilities, hardly existed when Knuth began the series. Now the topic grows faster than anyone could reasonably chronicle it. “He says if everyone else stopped doing work he would catch up better,” deadpans Jill Knuth, his wife of nearly 45 years.

Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1: Fundamental AlgorithmsArt of Computer Programming, Volume 2: Seminumerical AlgorithmsArt of Computer Programming, Volume 3: Sorting and Searching

Usually a lone wolf, Knuth collaborated on his typography programs with some of the world’s best typographers and his students. He produced two software programs, the TeX typesetting system and the METAFONT alphabet design system, which he released to the public domain. The programs are used for the bulk of scientific publishing today. “He made everybody’s life so much better and made the scholarly work so much more beautiful,” Papadimitriou says. “He has exported a lot of good will for computer science.”

See photo:

He likes to hide jokes in the index, as in Volume 3, where “royalties, use of” leads you to a page with an illustration of an organ-pipe array, a little wink to the 16-rank organ that dominates his home. He plays four-hands music with Jill, who swears that the neighbors tend to complain that the music emanating from their house is in fact not loud enough.