Sunday, November 07, 2004

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

The Writer's Almanac - NOVEMBER 1 - 7, 2004

The poem 'A Ritual to Read to Each Other'. This is the most wonderful thing that I can remember reading or hearing recited in a very long time.

A quote:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

You too can train your brain- The Times of India

You too can train your brain- The Times of India

Saw this on Science Journal on WSJ (pay site), but it's in The Times of India too.

Anyone have any ideas on how to go about directing neuroplasticity toward goals you might have for yourself? I imagine there's no good science yet on this question, but it seems like some exercising the brain wouldn't be time terribly wasted in any case.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Quote Details: Kurt Vonnegut: We are what we... - The Quotations Page

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

Got this on from Quotes of the Day yesterday, which I follow via Bloglines.

I recommend Bloglines. I much prefer a web-based aggregator. I understand that Yahoo has a similar service, but I haven't tried it.

Enough of meta-discussions, the Vonnegut quote is one of those things that is really important to remember, all the time.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

[plt-scheme] Re: Programming for non-programmers

[plt-scheme] Re: Programming for non-programmers: "It is a sad state, because for me, recursion has now become almost second nature, and if I did not have that skill, most of my programs would cease to be working ones. I think recursively, and without that skill, I do not know where I would be."

Saw this discussion referenced over at Lambda the Ultimate.

Go read this mailing list entry. It's full of wisdom, I think. Another gem:
Programming is just another name for the lost art of thinking. People are quite capable of thinking, but they do not. If they are taught how to think, they are also taught how to program, and vice versa. It is simply a necessity that people learn to program, it is part of a liberal education.
There is so much garbage out there about the Lisp languages and recursion as a technique. People complain about it being used when it's "inefficient" or "obscure". I don't get it. In a time when we are supposed to model our programs in "objects" that reflect the "real world", it is common to denigrate modeling conceptual entities in a natural recursive way, just as they appear in mathematics.


A singer/songwriter that I enjoy, I won't say who it is, uses a lot of imagery and metaphor from things that are translucent and insubstantial. I often think about the power of the insubstantial.

The James Legge translation of the Tao Te Ching has this for Chapter XLIII:
1. The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose). ...
"that which has no substance enters where there is no crevice." I just love that.

I feel that the most powerful things are those things which are indefinable, unsubstantial, have no substantial existence.

Some translations of this chapter of the Tao Te Ching refer to water as the thing that dashes against anything in it's path and wears it away. Ice will eventually bring down a mountain. Ice, water, air, light, space, time, truth, love, beauty... Anyone can see where the most substantial of these, ice, water air and light, determine our whole existence. If there were too much or too little of any of these things, we could not exist, certainly the foundations of existence would be radically changed, yet we rarely think of them in our day to day.

But, even moreso, these seemingly insubstantial conceptual things such as space, time, truth love and beauty have control over us. These things permeate our beings at the most seminal level. Those of us who are seen as being the most self-actualized, the most independent and capable are chained to these things. To the fully indepent artistic mind, beauty is the most compelling thing. The pursuit of beauty becomes the master.

I'm not being prescriptive, I would not say it should be different. While slavery and chains have a negative connotation of limitation and the Buddhist or Taoist would say that such striving is vain, I would say instead that it is a high calling to become enslaved to those things that are insubstantial, to truth, to love, to beauty. The scientist who studies the unseen, like light, space and time comes to touch the deeper understanding of existence. The thinker who dwells in the insubstantial comes to touch the deeper reality. To reach to the deepest reality is why we have comprehension, I believe.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


The Writer's Almanac - AUGUST 16 - 22, 2004: "It's the birthday of author and editor William Maxwell ... He said, 'What we ... refer to confidently as memory ... is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling.'"

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac is wonderful. I heard this quote on there some weeks back and was meaning to blog it. It has such relevance to me.

I was catching it most every weekday morning on the Radio, but my schedule changed and now I rarely catch it. I must remember to sign up for it in email or something, because it really is worthwhile.

If I were making a suggestion for improving the Writer's Almanac, I might wish that Keillor sometimes have guest readers in for the poetry recitations. Much of the poetry that is selected for the show is beautiful, but sometimes, I feel, Keillor's delivery isn't always fitting to the particular piece. I mean no criticism of Keillor or his delivery style by this. Specifically, some pieces might be better recited with a woman's voice, I feel.

Friday, September 10, 2004 The Blacksmith and the Bookkeeper:The Evolving Modalities of Human Missions [Sep. 09, 2004] The Blacksmith and the Bookkeeper:The Evolving Modalities of Human Missions [Sep. 09, 2004] looks like an interesting article.

I'm waiting on the next installment. This could be good, or it could be yet another overreaching theory of everything.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy overreaching theories of everything... really, I do, it's just that they aren't useful for much, well, except for getting people to buy in to your world view and making them your mindslaves, other than that, not useful.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


Well, I'm on Gmail now. I got an invitation the other day and took them up on it. I'd gotten an invitation before and didn't follow up...

It's great. I really like the convenience of web mail. I use 3 or 4 different computers and it's nice to be able to check mail really quickly. Gmail is by far the best web mail program I've ever used.

I think the model with labels and starred email for the stuff you are currently working on is good, but I'll have to use it awhile to see. Good search will be a help once I have enough of it... I think. Keeping things in linear conversations is a good way to go also.

One thing that's annoying. It's been down a couple of times recently. If it happens a lot, that'll be a big downside, but I'm willing to wait and see before I pass judgement here. It could well be that I've just started using it when it had a few problems.

Scheme and Java project report

Remember the project talked about here? Well, I stalled on it and I'm doing it in Perl.

I already had some modules for doing this laying around, so it was easier to just do it in Perl. I do want to get back to it, though. I decided to drop the Jakarta Net Commons stuff. It appeared to me that had everything I needed, and the Jakarta Net Commons stuff is largely plug compatible, so...

I will say that LWP is just a lot easier to use, even when you forget about the fact that Perl is easier to get simple things done in quickly than Java. The perspective of is wrong, to me. Doing Basic Authentication is way more complicated in than it is in LWP and there's no real reason for it except bad choices for the objects, from what I can tell.

Once I had some Java interfaces built, things seemed pretty easy to do in SISC Scheme, but I still had a lot of convenience functions built up to deal with my application in Perl that made things a lot simpler.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Richard Feynman - Get your free audio lectures

If you are a Richard Feynman fan, as I am, you'll be thrilled to learn that a set of four audio lectures are available on QED and related subjects.

I don't have time to listen to them right now, but I'll be checking them out over the weekend and I'll write something about them here.

Friday, August 20, 2004 Article: The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life) Article: The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life): " Article: The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life)"

Read this NYT article. It's just wonderful.

This is what academia should be all about. Asking interesting questions, maybe sometimes even trivial or silly questions, and getting better answers.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Low level languages losing?

Java pulling ahead? Java versus C benchmarks: "This article surveys a number of benchmarks and finds that Java performance on numerical code is comparable to that of C , with hints that Java's relative performance is continuing to improve. We then describe clear theoretical reasons why these benchmark results should be expected."

I find this article very interesting. I see a time, in the not-to-distant-future, when higher level languages will standardly outperform lower-level languages for programs humans write. By this, I mean that a higher level language will be more efficient with managing the computer resources of typical computer programs than the hand-coded micro-optimizations that humans like to put in.

This article mentions GC as an area where high-level management beats humans. Here's the text version, from the Google cache, of a presentation that Hans Boehm has done on issues surrounding GC vs. malloc performance. Hans Boehm, being a careful scientist, doesn't state an unambiguous case either way, but he does explode a lot of myths people have around these questions.

There's also this delightful little story about how prototyping in a higher level language created a success story.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Little hope for the English and thinking in America

Just saw this over at Delicious. It's from 2002.
The Princeton Pauper - CompSci Major Confuses attacker with "Leet-Speak": "proceeded to fire off threats in a manner of speaking so archaic, few human beings outside the world of internet message boards can understand it. The confused would-be mugger was apparently intimidated by the devil-talk and broke off the engagement."

The dumbing down continues. The manner of speaking was anything but archaic. I think the writer meant arcane, but who knows?

I would assume that the writer here is a Princeton student. When even Princeton students write so carelessly, what hope have we for the future of thought in America?

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The secret of successful online communities...

I don't have it, but I have some observations.

It's true, Slashdot is a cesspool. It attracts a host of pathetic vermin, who apparently have nothing better to do than troll the place. What passes for analysis on Slashdot is at its very best mildly interesting and at its worse just highly attenuated groupthink. But, Slashdot thrives. There is a community there, it's undeniable. A lot of people read it, mention there is important in some circles and as an Internet Media, it's somewhat influential in that mention there can bring many many hits to your site and attention in other more traditional media.

Bruce Perens' Technocrat, which aims to be a more serious and cleaned-up Slashdot doesn't seem to be taking off. I was hopeful, but there doesn't seem to be critical mass forming up there. After an initial flurry of new story posting,

Other places like Codingstyle, which, I think, deserves more attention, seems to languish, almost completely ignored and never influential.

Orkut, which seemed to be taking off a few months ago now seems to be stalling out. There's just not much there to recommend. Those kind of sites - social networking sites - have little advantage over maintaining weblogs and keeping in touch with email, it seems to me.

I think places like Delicious - social bookmark sites - are really filling an important need and I see these becoming a really big thing. Other social bookmark sites of interest are Simpy, Spurl and Unalog (there are others, but I believe that Delicious is the "first" recent example, Clay Shirky wrote up an interesting history of such sites on the Delicious discussion mail list awhile back (search for a June 1 post by Clay Shirky).

I'm not sure what builds a community on the internet. I'd like to be able to say that if you offer something new, or offer it done well that people will be attracted and community will form around it, but I think that's too easy an answer. I think that it has something to do with appealing to egos of those who use it, making them feel special for being a part of this community, but that, too, is the obvious and probably wrong answer.

I guess if I knew the answer, especially if I'd known it before 1999, I would have bottled it and made my .com Million$.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

An application for Scheme and Java

I've been planning to do some Web Automation in Scheme. I thought this particular task really lent itself to the use of SXML, so I've been checking out Scheme environments.

I spent some time checking out PLT and I do think there's a lot there.

What I'm kind of excited about today is the prospect of using SISC. I really want to do something with Java, because I want to be able to say that I have and I need a project. For Web Automation, I should be able to pull in The Jakarta HTTP client, which looks excellent.

One thing I was judging Scheme environments on were the quality and maturity of their HTTP client API. I didn't find anything too exciting out there after being spoiled by LWP in the Perl world. I think the Jakarta HTTP library will be darn close to LWP and SXML will be a natural for what I'm planning on doing.

I'll keep you posted

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Remembrance Agent

The Remembrance Agent, remem, sounds really interesting.

I think the only way I'm ever going to get into Emacs is to immerse myself in it, use it for my shell, ftp client, news and mail reader (although I'll still need Outlook at work, but maybe I can copy all my email in plaintext to a repository which remem could access). Remem might convince me to do just this, as it's real power would be to bring all those things together.

One significant challenge is that this will be under Windows, running cygwin. I carry a Windows XP system, it only makes since that I'd try to make it work there.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

My new blog

I've been poking at a bloxsom blog for awhile, but I'm giving up and doing the Blogger thing instead. Bloxsom isn't much work, but I kept messing with the CSS and other things. With Blogger, I have fewer options, which might get me focused on what's important.

Also, maybe a Blogger account will increase my chances of a coveted Gmail invite.

Really though, from what I can see, Blogger has 95% of what I want in a blog, with a lot less work. I don't want my blog to be so much work.