|Ned Batchelder : Blog | Code | Text | Site|
» Home : Blog
An interesting twist for fans of cellular automata: Minesweeper as the basis for computation. Richard Kaye has studied Minesweeper as a foundation for building logic components and Turing machines, and has therefore made connections between it and the theory of algorithms. I don't fully understand all the P and NP stuff, and there's clearly nothing practical about it, but there's something about this that tickles my geek funnybone.
I found this through the Clay Mathematics Institute, which has a more approachable description of the work as part of their prize problems: They're offering million-dollar prizes for solving hard classic math problems. Sharpen your pencils!
We were walking downtown today, and wanted a snack, so we stopped in at a Starbucks. Now, of course, all the tables were occupied with people who had clearly been there at least an hour. Don't get me started on the difficulty of finding somewhere to sit at these places, because that's not my point.
As we approached the counter to order our stuff, a man stood up from a table of about eight people, and was going to take a picture of all his friends around the table. The guy behind the counter called out, "Sir, I'm sorry, but there's no taking pictures here."
"It's company policy, you can't take pictures in here."
The customer looked bewildered, incredulous, and annoyed and didn't take the picture. I asked the guy behind the counter why there's no pictures allowed. He said, "The company doesn't want pictures to end up in magazines, so all pictures have to go through corporate communications."
How dumb is this? Here's a customer clearly having a good time in the store, and wants to take a picture of his friends. He's got a typical point-and-shoot camera for taking snapshots. Because Starbucks is worried about the less-than-microscopic chance that this picture will end up in a magazine and somehow make Starbucks look bad (how, exactly?), they've squashed these peoples' good time, and made themselves look like the corporate weasels they are in front of at least twenty customers. Nice going.
Why do big corporations have to act like such soulless control freaks, even when it is in their own worst interest?
The Handbook of Rhetorical Devices is fascinating. As someone who has always been interested in the workings of language, it is satisfying to read about all the different obscure terms for structures in language.
Reading about these terms can also give us an insight into the ways we use language, and therefore, about how we think:
Somehow, this has not been blogged everywhere: Bill of Rights. Absolutely, I couldn't agree more.
In this column Michael Eisner tries to invoke Lincoln in defense of his push for totalitarian and impractical technology to protect his company's profits. He says,
This would be fine, except so far, I haven't heard any new business models coming from Disney, and they are pushing legislation that doesn't just make me pay for music on my hard drive, but would make it illegal for me to do that the way I currently do it (buy a CD, then rip it).
Certain other classic principles from American thinkers, such as the presumption of innocence, seem to be dropping by the wayside in the entertainment conglomerates' desperate struggle to control all media. In the column, Eisner describes 19th century fear of innovation created by poor intellectual property protection. And somehow draconian federal legislation is going to make people free to innovate?
For our second birthday this year, we made a pirate ship cake. Special features: pretzel masts, fruit roll-up sail, marshmallow cookie crow's nest, and chocolate bar plank (not visible off the back).
After reading a Talk of The Town piece in The New Yorker about obnoxious car horns, I thought something I had thought while stuck in traffic myself: why do car horns have to be so loud? Over the course of my driving career, I've come to the conclusion that car horns should only be used to warn other drivers of danger, not to express anger or frustration. After all, what good does honking the horn do when stuck anyway? What are the chances that the problem is due to some recalcitrant driver who could move forward but chooses not to? Even if that were the problem, why would they move just because they knew you were angry about it?
Occasionally, a delay is caused by a driver at the head of a line of cars who hasn't noticed that the light has turned green (I've done this myself, as have we all, I suppose). In these cases, I will briefly toot the horn to alert them, but will try (ineffectively) to give it a polite sound.
If the rule of using the horn only to warn of danger is a good one (and I think it is), then how about this: why don't we make car horns that are quiet if the car is still (or nearly so), but are just as loud as they are now when the car is moving? Plenty of characteristics of cars seem to be adjustable based on speed (some adjust the height of the car off the road based on speed), so why not the volume of the horn? When a car is stuck in traffic, it could only make quiet beeps, sufficient to alert inattentive drivers, but not enough to cause real aggravation to others. Once the car is moving (and therefore able to get into danger), the volume would return to normal.
Gunnlaugur SE Briem is a type designer with a simple, clean, informative site. It includes the factoid that he designed a new Times for the Times of London (who knew?)
In Curious George Takes A Job, there are two painters, one in a red jacket, the other in a blue jacket. Earlier in the book, there's a scene where George is riding through town on the top of a bus. One of the trucks on the busy street is carrying those two painters! I know, it's not that exciting, but when you're reading the book for the thousandth time, little discoveries can seem like a big deal.
Also in the original Curious George, in the picture of George floating high above the town, you can see the man in the yellow hat driving along on the street below.
My friend Andrew Wharton has a political rant blog called baxterant. He's a good guy. His politics are downright frightening, but really, he's a good guy. I try to use our vast disparity of political outlook as an exercise in understanding the other guy's point of view regardless of my gut reaction.
This passage from a story by Robert Heinlein has been widely quoted:
It's clear why this paragraph is so popular among technologists now: it is a strong statement of technological libertarianism, the absurdity of using legal means to prevent technological advances, and the short-sightedness and selfishness of business interests that try to perpetuate themselves at any cost. Its relevance to the recent events in the music industry and the intellectual property arena is startling.
It's even more startling because the quote comes from "Life-Line", Heinlein's very first published story, written in 1939.
Pentix is a site devoted to the art of pen spinning. I've seen guys doing this, and was surprised at how hard it seemed when I tried it myself. Now that this site exists, maybe I'll try again. Something annoying and distracting to work on during meetings!
Looked at the right way, this is really a specialized, office-compatible form of contact juggling, the art of juggling where you keep objects in contact with your body rather than throwing them around.
The full text of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica is online. Cool. Now will someone please explain to me what this blurb is doing on the site:
Even with Disney trying to extend copyrights forever, surely the text of a 1911 book is in the public domain by now?
I sent an email asking this question to the editor, and got a reply that said the issues were more complicated, and they were working on an answer.
Happy Pi Day everyone! (3.14, get it?) It's also Albert Einstein's birthday, so geeks have twice the reason to celebrate!
When Python claims that batteries are included, they mean that Python has a very rich standard library.
Today I had a vivid demonstration. I was sick of seeing ads in my Yahoo mail, so I did the hosts file hack: enter the ad servers' names as 127.0.0.1, and the images can't be served. It worked: instead of ad images, I had broken images. They're not pretty, but at least they aren't ads.
Then I figured, "if I had a simple web server running on this machine, I could serve my own gif in place of those ads, and I wouldn't have broken images".
I did a little poking around in the Python manuals, and 8 lines later, I was done:
import BaseHTTPServer, SimpleHTTPServer
This is a web server which returns a one-pixel green gif no matter what file was requested. I run this on my machine, and now I have nice clean pages with no ads and no broken images, and a pleasing green field where the ads used to be!
While looking for a link about the New York Coliseum for my memories of my first job, I discovered that Coliseum Books in New York closed in January. I used to enjoy browsing there, because it was large and varied, but not stuffy or intellectual.
My teenage years in New York involved a lot of browsing in bookstores. I learned many things reading in their aisles. Another favorite was the McGraw-Hill bookstore, in the basement of the McGraw-Hill building. They had technical books on unheard-of topics, and a calculator counter with the latest marvels from Hewlett-Packard. Many a happy hour was spent there.
A tradition on my sons' birthdays is for us to make a cake in an unusual shape, related to the theme of the party. The only rule we set for ourselves is that everything on the cake has to be edible. We've made many cakes over the years, in typical kid-oriented themes: firetruck, pirate ship, Lego, and so on.
This year was no different. Today's party was dual-themed: Kirby and movie-making. The cake was in the shape of Kirby holding a video camera (although none of the kids could tell it was a video camera, d'oh!) The kids loved the cake, which was the goal.
It was sometime in the late seventies, and I was a high-school kid who knew how to write programs in BASIC. I had a subscription to BYTE, I was reading about all the microcomputers then, and I was fascinated by all of them. My mother (who is a software engineer) also subscribed to some computer magazines, and one of them sent her an admission pass to a computer show that was being held in the Coliseum in Manhattan.