ARC Quest, Part 3: I’m a reviewer now.

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Today’s blog is an update of Mission: Quest for an ARC. As I described in my first update, I requested more ARCs than I should have – I’ve learned that there are consequences to that. On a positive note, I’ve read 3 of the books I requested, so I’m starting to catch up. Let me tell you what else I’ve learned.

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Book Review: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Robots

Autonomous vehicles, package delivery drones, automatic grocery restocking units: these examples of emerging robot technology are vastly different from previous task-specific devices like your Roomba or even industrial assembly-line robots. That difference involves their need to interact with our world to safely perform their complex tasks while coping with our unpredictability. They need to learn how to behave to get along with us.

In What to Expect When You’re Expecting Robots, Laura Major and Julie Shah focus on the importance of relationships between working robots and their uncertain environment, especially humans. The authors’ experience includes robotics for the aerospace, military, and autonomous vehicle industries. Their consideration of robot behavior incorporates examples across industry and academia.

We are shown connections from past human/automaton collaborations from aviation and process control to today’s commercially-available smart robots. In parallel with technological innovation, they also expound on the related sociology and human-factors engineering that accompanied it.

As a product development professional, I found that the book contained numerous gems for me that apply outside the realm of Robotics. One such example involved NASA’s classification of events based on how decisions get made, which could help guide any automation design. Type II events, those foreseeable events where we can’t predetermine the correct response, can’t be automated. Still, we could enhance the human response by focusing only on the most relevant information. This principle could be applied to improve the design of a web app used to manage and monitor a communication network, for instance, where automation can mitigate many network failures. When a Type II event occurred, the UI could focus on that failure and filter the control elements to only those relevant to the human operator for problem-solving the error. In this case, the goal is to facilitate more effective creative problem-solving, which is a strength the human excels at over any current artificial system.

I initially picked this book to read because I am deeply interested in the relationship between Artificial Intelligence and Humans. Well, that plus the brightly colored cover with the tongue-in-cheek title harkening back to a universal parenting book and the cute robot-child on it. I found an accessible exploration of the social, environmental, and policy issues to tackle so that automation and robotics can continue to make our lives better by complementing our strengths.

This book should be required reading for anyone involved in products that incorporate AI, machine learning, or robotic technologies. I recommend it to anyone interested in or worried about technology and its impact on society.

Book Review: Daylight

David Baldacci’s latest novel, Daylight, continues the story of FBI Agent Atlee Pines’s search for Mercy, her twin sister, abducted from their bedroom at the age of six. This installment begins in New Jersey, with Agent Pine following up on a lead uncovered in the previous book. The pace accelerates as her personal inquiry collides – literally – with a drug investigation run by Army CID Investigator John Puller (crossing over from another Baldacci series). Puller, Atlee, and her assistant Carol Blum must expose the forces manipulating immense influence against them before becoming casualties themselves.

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Book Review: The Messy Truth About Leading People – It Ain’t Easy

Navigating the complex challenges presented by coworkers and their humanity can make or break a manager. In The Messy Truth about Leading People – It Ain’t Easy, Nicki Roth and Gavin Fenn-Smith take us on a journey through a career’s worth of leadership insights via a retrospective narrative in the voice of CEO "Micah." The book is structured like a novel, an unconventional choice for a business/self-help subject, but one that keeps the lessons fresh and memorable.

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ARC Quest, part 2: Be careful what you wish for

Today’s blog is a progress update of the Quest from the introduction to this blog thread. You may recall that my planned actions included opening accounts on two websites that connect publishers with reviewers and request some books to review. I may have gotten a little carried away once I found that I was attracted to so many new books available through these sources!

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Did you know? You might have Phantom Code!

Did you know? When a Google Apps Script project containing multiple ‘files’ is run, the entire script is ‘loaded’ and run. That might include what I call Phantom Code: script content that you don’t intend to execute. This situation is more likely when you are using the recommended practice of separating your code into different gs files, each focused on a different concern.

Problems might show up as unexpected behaviours, or it might be benign but contribute to your script execution limits and slow your scripts.

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PositionedImage Support introduced in Google Apps Script

Issue 1529, programmatic support of “Fixed Images”, has been fixed. As of December 2015, Google Apps Script can manipulate PositionedImage objects in Google Docs. Previously, we only had control over InlineImages via our scripts, so this is good news.

There are some hiccups with the introduction of this new feature, though, so this article aims to help programmers get quickly acquainted with it.

Note: This post is information I have concurrently posted on Stack Overflow.

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Debugging external host communication with UrlFetchApp

There is a large and growing number of Web APIs available out there, many of which can extend our ability to obtain information or automate workflows from our Google Apps Scripts. Using the URL Fetch Service is a little more challenging than the majority of the services provided by Google, and when things don’t work it can be significantly more difficult to figure out than those services.

We’re going to look at debugging techniques unique to the UrlFetchApp today. For people unfamiliar with HTTP’s arcane messages and responses, we’ll get an overview that should help unlock this powerful capability.

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Did you know? (It’s worthwhile including attribution for code snippets!)

I believe that everyone who writes software of any size will reuse code written by someone else at some time. I’m talking about referring to a library or API, but to copy & paste reuse; fully adopting someone else’s source code. Further, I believe that there are lots of great reasons to do so. Developers are quite used to performing internet searches or using dedicated code repositories to locate candidate code snippets that they will import into their projects in whole or part, and possibly modify to their own purpose.

Much of the code you’ll find this way is freely available (it will cost you no money), but may have additional licensing requirements that you should be aware of and conform to. One of the most common requirements is attribution.

attribution (noun) The act of attributing, especially the act of establishing a particular person as the creator of a work of art.ref

In today’s entry, I’m going to make a case for including proper attribution for all the third-party code we reuse, and suggest a consistent way to do so. My examples will focus on Google Apps Script, but this can apply to any programming language.

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