Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's Linky

Dylan Hears a Who! and Green Eggs and Ham rocks! (via E3DP), It's a little bigger than the one in Batman's utility belt, but Atlas Devices' rope climbing machine is still pretty cool (ht: TechReview). Given the release of Vista, recent posts and comments at Mini-Microsoft have been interesting. As a consequence of Antarctic ice shelf break up, new fascinating critters have been found. What if you took kids' art and made it better? Dave Devries' The Monster Engine. The latest Barenaked Ladies vid, The Sound of Your Voice, stars a collection of YouTube! celebrities. Funny.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ancient Man on a Stage


Taken last Friday while meandering through antiquities at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The Oscars

Will Jack Nicholson return to the screen in Steven King's Daddy Warbucks Strikes Back? Wish Thank You For Smoking had been nominated for something. Out of touch, it was sad to learn of the passing of Bruno Kirby. R.I.P.

In music, I was pleased to see awards going to Ennio Morricone and Gustavo Santaolalla, the latter of whom composed soundtracks for 21 Grams, the Motorcycle Diaries, Brokeback Mountain and Babel.

I've mentioned my appreciation for the Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack before, and I think it worked particularly well with the sweeping scenes of two young men sputtering along dusty South American roads on an old Norton 500 motorcycle. Here's a great montage from the film with Santaolalla's De Usuahia A La Quiaca in the background.

Alan Kay, OOPSLA 1997

The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet.

A good talk by Alan Kay at OOPSLA 1997.


"A lot of our confusion with objects is the problem that in our Western Culture we have a language that has very hard nouns and hard verbs. Our process words stink. I have apologized profusely over the last 20 years for making up the word object-oriented because as soon as it started to be misapplied, I realized I should have used a much more process-oriented word for it."

"Japanese have a word 'ma' ... and 'ma' is the stuff in between what we call objects; it's the stuff we don't see because we're focused on the nounness of things rather than the processness of things whereas Japanese has a more process oriented way. You can always tell that by looking at the size of a word it takes to express something important. So 'ma' is very short. We have to use words like 'interstitial' orworse to express what the Japanese are talking about."

Google video link

(ht: Lambda the Ultimate)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Amazing origami

If you missed posts in the blogosphere regarding Robert J. Lang's amazing origami, I highly recommend checking out his site. Wow!


(ht: 3QD, Kottke)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Accidental loneliness cure?

I think I may have inadvertently stumbled upon a means of combatting loneliness. If you're lonely, if you have nothing to do, if you have no one to talk to, if you sit by the phone like a Basset hound wishing someone would call... then you should consider hosting with Godaddy (and make sure you give them a good number where you can be reached when you register).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Damien Rice. Volcano. 2002.

The Great Lettuce Harvest

Since work has been sufficiently taxing my rational faculties, the need for balance leaves me thinking about art and music more than anything else.

I enjoy Andrew King's wry minimalism--so much so that we've purchased a couple of his originals. Currently, his home page is graced with a piece titled The Great Lettuce Harvest.

Check out his work at Andrew King Studio.

Thoughts on the Upsell...

Dear Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in Database Nation: Death of Privacy in the 21st Century also ordered Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy by David H. Holtzman. For this reason you might like to know Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy is now available at a special discount just for you.

Best regards,

Your online bookseller



A snapshot from a morning walk on the lake...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Something to Talk About

Recently I saw Hugh Grant's latest film, Music and Lyrics, and I'm afraid I'm just going to have to write myself off as a fan, because I've yet to see him in a movie I haven't enjoyed.

The following video is from Badly Drawn Boy, aka Damon Gough, and it's a tune from the soundtrack of the film adaption of Nick Hornby's About a Boy, which also starred Grant.

I've mentioned it before, and I believe it's also a backdrop for a new Hummer commercial. Gough's an interesting character with a distinctive style.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Recently, my brother introduced me to Farkel, a dice game we've all been enjoying. I'd seen it before, but I dismissed it as yet another Yahtzee with the additional sixth die looking a little too much like Spinal Tap's one louder. In retrospect, I feel I misjudged the game.

Vis-a-vis Yahtzee, three differences seem to change the dynamic enough to make Farkel its own game:

1. Score accumulates roll-by-roll, but, unlike Yahtzee, combinations cannot be accumulated over the course of multiple rolls. You've either got a scoring combination in each roll or you don't.

2. There's no three roll limit. As long as you roll something that can add to your score, you can keep rolling. If you use up all six dice, you recycle them starting with a fresh roll of six.

3. If you roll nada (Farkel), you lose all of the score you've accumulated during your current turn. This adds an interesting "guts factor" to the game, and when you're way behind, it offers an opportunity to catch up.


Brainwagon looks into hacking the Wii controller, which apparently uses Bluetooth. Cynicor wonders why Endtimes magazine offers 6 year subscriptions to readers living in the End Times. Raymond Chen sees irony in fining basketball players for saying they do it for the money. Google Reader is now reporting subscriber counts and Feedburner has updated its reporting accordingly. (Thanks to both!) RFID powder? Scary.

Perfect Skin

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions

(Also: Rattlesnakes)

Hate when it happens (paraglider)

You know when you're paragliding and a thunderstorm comes along and tornadic winds waft you up to 32,000 ft and you pass out from a lack of oxygen and you wake up 40 miles from where you started all covered in ice?

I hate it when that happens!

(And it's another way to catch a cold.)


In a Lonely Place

The Smithereens & Suzanne Vega. 1986

Friday, February 16, 2007

Gradual Typing for Objects

I believe the next big language should find a means of bridging the gap between dynamic typing and static typing.

via Lambda the Ultimate, a post about a paper: Gradual Typing for Objects.

"Static and dynamic type systems have well-known strengths and weaknesses. In previous work we developed a gradual type system for a functional calculus named [...]. Gradual typing provides the benefits of both static and dynamic checking in a single language by allowing the programmer to control whether a portion of the program is type checked at compile-time or run-time by adding or removing type annotations on variables. Several object-oriented scripting languages are preparing to add static checking. To support that work this paper develops [another calculus], a gradual type system for object-based languages, extending the [...] calculus of Abadi and Cardelli. Our primary contribution is to show that gradual typing and subtyping are orthogonal and can be combined in a principled fashion. We also develop a small-step semantics, provide a machine-checked proof of type safety, and improve the space efficiency of higher-order casts."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Digging Authority

Slashdot and Digg are two of the most popular geek news aggregation sites. While Slashdot offers its own irritations, lately Digg has been bugging me the most. Why?

News flash:
Just because some web site somewhere claims something that doesn't make it so.

It's embarrassing.

This page contains a nice collection of links to to various university pages for evaluating web resources.

Call before you Digg.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Energy Under Your Feet

IMHO, a LOT MORE attention should be paid to geothermal energy. Recently, SciAm discussed the release of a new study by M.I.T. on the subject:

"...Tapping this geothermal resource is the subject of a new study prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). The researchers estimate that more than 13 million exajoules (EJ), or 1.23 x 1022 British thermal units, lurk deep beneath U.S. soil and 200,000 EJ--or '2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005'--is recoverable, without taking into account cost..."


Even though the initial capital investment for geothermal can be more significant than other forms of electrical generation, factor in the costs of relocating the cities that will someday be below sea level or the costs of another disaster like Chernobyl. According to the latest Newsweek, China and India are planning on building 650 [sic] coal power plants, which will increase CO2 emissions 5X the proposed Kyoto decrease and heaven only knows what it will do to the mercury levels in our oceans and lakes. Tuna will probably become a key component in thermometers.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ye Olde Google Book Shoppe

Three cheers for Google Book Search! Until yesterday I hadn't explored it in sufficient depth (cf. the New Yorker article).

I was thinking about the expression bread and circuses, and I got it in my head to hunt down Juvenal's 10th satire and read the source. Maybe I searched poorly, but I had trouble finding an English translation via the standard Google search, so I decided to give Book Search a whirl. Clearly they've been busy beavers--the results are amazing.

In addition to illuminating the original context, I learned a couple of other new things. For example, people have been flipping the bird for a long time, since at least the 2nd century:

"That great men, and those about to give great examples,
May be born in the country of blockheads, and under think air.
He direded the cares, and also the joys of the vulgar,
And sometimes their tears; when himself coudl persent a halter
To threat'ning fortune, and shew his middle nail."

The other interesting thing is that just before Juvenal bemoans the Plebians caring about nothing more than bread and circuses, he notes that their interest in politics waned when they lost the right to sell their votes. So, there, if you're looking for a way to increase interest in the political process, all you've gotta do is let people sell their votes (and, no, I'm not seriously advocating that).

I'll be surprised if you have any trouble finding any classic literary goodness via this search. In some form or another, I'm sure anything in the Loeb Classical Library is there. And Einstein's Relativity, G.H. Hardy's A Course of Pure Mathematics, Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Aristophanes, Epictetus. In all my experimentation, I never came up empty-handed. There are countless classic full-text publications you can download in PDF form.

Yey and thanks for Google!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ripping Yarns

So it goes something like this...

Anna Nicole Smith aka Vickie Lynn Marshall nee Vickie Lynn Hogan died recently leaving behind a daughter, Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern whose paternity was ostensibly a fairly simple case of contested paternity between boyfriend Howard K. Stern and ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead until Zsa Zsa Gabor's prince husband, Frederic von Anhalt, threw his hat in the paternity ring claiming a long-standing affair with Ms. Smith and failed plans to adopt her into princesshood (overruled by Zsa Zsa) in much the same way von Anhalt himself was adopted in to a royal family while in his thirties by an aging German princess of Anhalt. (Isn't there an age limit on adoption and how many times can the royal baton be passed via adoption?)


"It is hard not to write satire" -- Juvenal

Wikipedian Infinity

I noticed the Wikipedia entry for Wikipedia includes a sidebar showing a picture of Wikipedia. For some reason this is amusing to me. I think it could be improved by making the sidebar a snapshot of the current page. Like this:

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -Nietzsche

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What is Intelligence, Anyway?

When I was sixteen, I was very excited to have a small article published a few pages after an article by Isaac Asimov. Every time I run into something written by Asimov, I'm reminded of it. Today I stumbled on an Asimov essay pondering a question I've often pondered myself.

What is Intellgence, Anyway?
Isaac Asimov

What is intelligence, anyway? When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me. (It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too. Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed my car.


Andy Warhol

New York Magazine on Andy Warhol:

"Andy's more alive than ever. The press loves him, young artists discuss him reverently, foreigners consider him essential. The filmmaker Ric Burns recently made a two-part documentary about him. A show of his late work was one of the most discussed exhibitions last year. Phaidon just published a giant book called Andy Warhol: 'Giant' Size..."

more (via 3QD)

My addition is a fairly obscure 1980s music video. Find Warhol (2:38 / 4:04) spoofing Dylan in Curiosity Killed the Cat's Misfit video. (Did those guys think they were too cool or what?)


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Odds & Ends

Thailand Unique is where to go for edible insects. Smokey BBQ canned scorpions. (Yum!) And King Cobra Snake infused whiskey.

"Biology bloggers have Tangled Bank. Medical bloggers have Grand Rounds. Neuroscience bloggers have Encephalon. And now math bloggers have the Carnival of Mathematics." (link)

Lawrence Welk Meets Velvet Underground (YouTube link).

If you mix water and cornstarch, you're on your way to Kung Pao Chicken, but if you stop there and shake the solution at the right frequency, strange things happen (YouTube: Cornstarch Science).

The coming war with Iran? I hope not.

Monday, February 05, 2007



It's 15 degrees below zero here and too cold to snap some new pictures, so I'm back to culling through old vacation photos. This is a shot of Capri, an enjoyable short cruise from Positano. The crowd seemed to contain an above average share of Ari Onassis wannabes and trophy wives. We trudged across the island to the Blue Grotto only to find we were too late for the last tour of the day. Still, it was a beautiful hike.

Duh! No Evil!

If the great philosopher John Rawls had offered the exhortation "Write no bad code!" to the programmers of the world, I imagine a large proportion of the responses would have included the word "Duh!" Likewise, I imagine the philosophers of the world offering "Duh!" in response to Google's "Do no evil." In both cases, however, the maxims are essentially useless because they leave all the difficult questions of good and bad unanswered. What is good and bad code? What is good and bad behavior?

Nicholas Carr discusses Google's tax break negotiations in North Carolina:

"Even if you look beyond the ethics of demanding that public officials sign nondisclosure agreements, you have to wonder about the business rationale of this kind of corporate bullying. Google, after all, is extremely conscious of its public image and has gone out of its way to portray itself as a company with a pristine moral character, presenting itself as the anti-Microsoft. Did it really think that its pressure tactics, documented in emails to public officials, would remain under wraps?"


The Superbowl Commercials

This year's appears to be the worst crop of Super Bowl commercials ever. Where's Joe Seidelmaier when we need him? The only antidote I can think of is the YouTube "Wayback Machine," back before the dotcombomb: Remember

A Mac today...

If you didn't see the unflattering 2004 email from Allchin to Gates and Ballmer...

Via Slashdot: "From the class action 'Comes et al. v. Microsoft' suit, some very enlightening internal Microsoft emails are now made public. Emails to and from Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Jim Allchin, etc. all make for some mind blowing reading. One of my favorites is from Jim Allchin to Bill Gates, entitled 'losing our way,' in which Allchin states 'I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft.'" (Ouch! link)

Myself, I came very close to buying a MacBook Pro today, and this is coming from a Windows application developer. Why? Windows + Mac on one box. Parallels is super cool. The other thing nearly pushing me over the edge is "Intel inside." It's not a matter of Intel is better as much as Intel is what I know. I began life as a Motorola man (6502 as a kid), but in college I wound up hacking away at x86 and stuck with it: 8086, 80268, 80386 and beyond. AL, AH, AX, EAX, RAX. Desperately in need of a new laptop, I ultimately ordered a new Dell, but I won't be surprised if my next laptop is a Mac.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Eat Food

"I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants!" -- A. Whitney Brown

Myself, I'm not a vegetarian, but I do consider it a healthy and noble aspiration. I guess you could say the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak... and grilled... and tender... and smothered in garlic butter.

That said, I continue to grow progressively more terrified of what's available to eat, what many of our children are eating and, generally, the horrors of today's Western diet. There's too much misinformation when it comes to food, and there's too much plastic masquerading as food.

Thinking scientifically, I look to the evolutionary tree and our closest relatives, the monkeys. Perhaps we should eat what monkeys eat, because, in comparison to humans, monkeys are stupid. They're not smart enough to write advertising copy, they're not smart enough to hydrogenate oils, they're not smart enough to refine flour, and most of them can't even fry an egg.

Since monkeys haven't evolved to the point of synthesizing food out of inedible components, they're doomed to sticking to the theoretically optimal diet thrust upon them by millions of years of natural selection. Poor suckers don't have Twinkies. Personally, I haven't had great success in assuming this diet, but one must consider ideals.

Last week, Omnivore's Dilemma author Michael Pollan published a great piece in the NYT titled Unhappy Meals. It offered the welcome advice of eating food:

"1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn't recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these."

I think eating what your great-great-grandmother ate is even better than eating what monkeys eat, especially when I reflect on their personal grooming techniques.

It's worth the read, especially if you have children.

Averaging One

There are a number of sites that allow users to rate things (books, recipes, hotels, etc.). I've noticed many of them simply sort by average rating in descending order regardless of the number of votes. This is a bad way to do it, because there's a much higher degree of confidence surrounding a 4.9 average coming from 50 votes than there is a 5.0 "average" resulting from a single vote.

So what's a person to do?

I have some ideas, but this has become yet another puzzling bee buzzing around in my head.

Diet Caffeine-Free Cherry Vanilla...

Nicholas Carr writes on the brand expansion of Anheuser Busch:

"AB is certainly getting into niches. But if the essence of the Long Tail is the expansion of buyers' options, I'd argue that AB's strategy is more interesting as an example of an anti-Long Tail move than a pro-Long Tail one. It provides a lesson in how big companies can use Long Tail tactics to reestablish their dominance and, in the long run, reduce consumer choice."


I think he's right on the mark again.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Knowing what doesn't work

"I have not failed! I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work!" -- Thomas Edison

Philosophy has long been an interest of mine. Friends often say, "What's the point?" Little by little, I've been collecting answers to the question, and one answer is the value of "Knowing what doesn't work." In this case, what doesn't work alludes to the pitfalls of various philosophical arguments and positions.

As far as the mysteries of the universe go, many of the questions being asked today have been with us for most of recorded history, and many of the arguments, points and counterpoints are thousands of years old. Knowing what doesn't work can save you a lot of trouble--knowing the pitfalls of classic philosophical arguments can save you a lot of breath.

Take, for example, arguments regarding the existence of God. In the entry for Teleological Argument, Wikipedia offers a pretty decent history going back to Plato and Aristotle. With the"Intelligent Design" movement many of the classic arguments have once again resurfaced and, as is typically the case, many of the most fervent proponents seem oblivious to the history of the arguments.

Arguing that everything is so complex it has to have been designed immediately leads to a troublesome question asking who designed the designer (and who designed the designer of the designer, ad infinitum). And this isn't the only problem with the argument, as demonstrated by Hume.

The question of Intelligent Design is an area where Dilbert creator Scott Adams has generated a quite a bit of criticism from scientist and blogger PZ Meyers. There are two new posts on the subject from both bloggers this week.

Adams writes: "I take the practical approach--that something is intelligent if it unambiguously performs tasks that require intelligence. Writing Moby Dick required intelligence. The Big Bang wrote Moby Dick. Therefore, the Big Bang is intelligent, and you and I are created by that same intelligence. Therefore, we are created by an intelligent entity."

Meyers responds with: "Will Scott Adams never learn?"

Philosophy probably won't ever prove God exists, but it can show you the shortcomings in the arguments of those claiming proof. Even if you lack a solution, there's usually still great value in knowing what doesn't work, because that knowledge saves you from pursuing paths known to be fruitless. Edison understood this.