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Goering on political dissent

Monday 30 September 2002

My brother-in-law sent me this quote by Herman Goering:

People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. Tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.

A longer excerpt can be found here.

BTW: some pages attribute this quote to the Nuremberg trials, so I tried to find the quote in trial transcripts:

Turns out, the quote isn't from the Nuremberg trials, but it's close: it seems to be from The Nuremberg Diary, by a psychologist working with the Nuremberg defendants in prison.

Evolutionary systems

Sunday 29 September 2002

Some fascinating work is being done with automatically evolving systems: software that simulates evolution to create systems that would normally be designed by people.

Computer Evolution of Buildable Objects is designing Lego structures that meet certain real-world constraints (for example, be able to lift a certain weight). The results aren't pretty, but they work.

In other recent news, an evolutionary program "invented" the radio. The real shocker is that it was trying to make an oscillator, and the solution it found to solve its goal was to become a radio that picked up on a nearby oscillator instead!

Vigilantism unbound: the Berman P2P bill

Saturday 28 September 2002

This story describes the Hollywood love-fest on Capitol Hill over the Berman P2P bill.

It's bad enough that Congress is holding hearings to which only one side of the issue has been invited, but the hearings are over a bill which would put copyright holders above the law in their attempts to stop theft. Basically, the law says that if you own the copyright on some material, and believe that the copyright is being broken on some network, you are allowed to disrupt that network to prevent the theft, and laws forbidding such disruption don't apply to you.

Note that due process is thrown out the window: the copyright holder can decide they have been the victim of a crime, and they can choose to take action, and they can break the law. No courts, no judge, no jury. Read what the Electronic Frontier Foundation says about it: Vigilantism Unbound.

Why do people treat the digital world so differently from the analog world? If my car is stolen, I have to obey the law while trying to recover it. Why should the principle be any different if the theft is digital? Would any sane person ever consider a law like this if it were about something other than Hollywood and piracy? It's outrageous. Write to your congressman.

A Formal Semantics of Patterns in XSLT

Sunday 22 September 2002

Philip Wadler wrote this paper to explore defining XPath with formal semantics. I have been interested in denotational semantics in the past, and use XSLT now, to produce this site. The paper claims that XPath was changed in response to ambiguities unearthed by the denotational semantics. Cool.

I can't say I've taken the time to read this paper, but would like to, and am glad that someone is using good theory to support and improve practical software.

256bytes demos archive

Saturday 21 September 2002

256b.com is an archive of 256-byte executable demos. Yes: 256-byte executables. These are actual Windows executables that draw something interesting, and are only 256 bytes long.

It's hard to imagine how 256 bytes of compiled code can do anything significant, but take a look at Tube, which produces a real-time dynamic pseudo-3D effect:

trippy output of tube.com

Another interesting entry is Self Disassembler, which disassembles its own code, and prints it to the screen. This is a good example of a quine, a program that when run prints its own text. The Quine Page has a large number of these programs.

Both 256-byte demos and quines are examples of geek challenges that twist the rules of coding to get a particular effect, much like the polyglot programs I wrote about earlier this month.

The first emoticon?

Thursday 19 September 2002

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first smiley, according to Mike Jones. This has been widely blogged elsewhere, as you might expect, and there are dissenting voices, including those that point out that Plato had them first (Plato always seems to have had them first, no matter what "them" you're talking about).

Of course, smileys are just one example of the larger class of emoticons. :-)

Plato's emoticons are more interesting than ASCII ones, since they are formed by overstriking characters, rather than just stringing them together.

In any case, regardless of technology, or history, I find emoticons interesting for a few reasons. They remind me of our amazing ability to see faces everywhere we go (there's a passage in Scott McCloud's wonderful book Understanding Comics about this).

More importantly, they point out the need for us to have facial cues to understand language fully. There's an interesting theory of autism that believes that one problem autistics face is that they can't read the emotions on people's faces, and have therefore lost an important source of information about the people around them. One book on the topic is Teaching Children With Autism to Mind-Read, which sounds almost like a humourous title, but is not: it aims to teach autistics to understand more about the mental state of people (mind-reading) by looking at their faces.

Pyramid robot

Tuesday 17 September 2002

Last night I watched the live TV coverage of the pyramid robot. I was struck by a number of things: how cool it would have been to be part of the technical team behind the robot, and how far live TV will stretch things out to make sure you watch until the very end.

But mostly I was struck by an underlying theme of the show, which was, "the pyramids were built by Egyptians, and they were not slaves." Dr. Zahi Hawass was the featured expert on the show, and I have no doubt that he is an expert, but I don't follow his logic. Because broken bones were set well, we should conclude that these people were not slaves? Southern plantation owners cared well for their slaves, farmers care well for their cattle. Tending broken bones proves they weren't disposable, not that they were free to choose another way of life. At one point, he asserted, "The pyramids were built by love." This is science?

Of course, our understanding of antiquity changes over time, especially with new archaeological information. But this seems to me to be a pretty simplistic line of thought, and one which glosses over the modern conflicts that may be underlying it.


Wednesday 11 September 2002

It is one year since the attacks, and there's lots being said about them, and the year since. At the time, many people felt that something had changed forever. I suppose something has (we have a greater understanding of what terrorism is all about, and perhaps a greater willingness to participate directly to prevent it), but I fear that the whole event and its remembrance have been reduced nearly to kitsch.

Aside from the nation-sized feelings about countries in conflict, and our role in the world, there were also a great deal of personal-sized feeling about heroes, and each other, and caring for small things. I have to (sadly) admit that I don't see much changed on that scale in the past year. For example, I still see cars running red lights for some reason, often an SUV with a tattered American flag flying from its antenna, while the driver chats on a cell phone. With all the remembrance going on, there's an awful lot of forgetting, too.


Monday 9 September 2002

Michael Herf's site stereopsis is a wonderful compendium of serious graphics tricks, useful free utility software, and interesting thoughtful articles. In particular, I like vjpeg (a cool, "UI-less" image viewer), but don't miss fonticate (a nifty font viewer) either. There's way more cool stuff than I can list here, just go take a look for yourself.


Monday 9 September 2002

While designing a piece of software, I needed to represent an object before it actually existed, and also after it ceased to exist. I picked the term "ghost" for the after-existence state, and to extend the metaphor, picked "zygote" for the before-existence state. Joining them together creates the term "zyghost" for any non-existence state. Seeing as Google reports only one uninteresting result for "zyghost", I hereby claim it as a neologism of mine.

Flanders and Swann

Sunday 8 September 2002

After posting the meat quote, I looked into it a bit more, and found that it actually originated in a Flanders and Swann song.

Flanders and Swann were a comic duo who specialized in clever and witty humorous songs, somewhat along the same lines as Tom Lehrer. The quote itself is from a song called The Reluctant Cannibal, about a cannibal who doesn't want to eat people. His father says,

If the Jou-Jou had meant us not to eat people,
He wouldn't have made us of meat.

I've only heard a Flanders and Swann song accidentally (A Song of Patriotic Prejudice as part of a web-cast of Napa 29 Community Radio). Long live the variety of community radio stations and the availability of them over the web.

Polyglot programs

Monday 2 September 2002

While looking for information for my entry on obfuscated code, I came across polyglot, a program in seven different programming languages at once. That is, one program text can be interpreted as being written in any of seven different languages, and produces the same result in each. This is indeed an impressive acheivement, though mainly in figuring out how to exploit the differences and details of comment syntax in the different languages.

I have a similar program, written sometime in the early '90's, I think. It is only for two languages, C and PostScript:

/* % Dual program: C or PostScript!
   % Ned Batchelder
   ( */
# include <stdio.h>
# include <string.h>
/* ) */char count , def = 0 ;
/* */main()
    char * /* */Courier = " findfont " + 36 , scalefont = 0 ;
    char * setfont = "(Hello, world!)" + 0 * 100 + 0 * 100 - 0 ;

    printf("%.*s\n", strlen(setfont)-2, setfont+1);
    return ;

char * exec ;

Although mine is only for two languages rather than seven, I like the way it maps a little better: the string "Hello, world!" only appears once, and is interpreted as a string in both languages, and the "printf" token is the one that puts the string out in both languages.

Other polyglot programs:

Pedagoguery Software geometry models

Sunday 1 September 2002

Pedagoguery Software is now selling die-cast aluminum models of geometric figures as well as software. I bought a set of these, and they are very satisfying. Each polyhedron is smaller than a golf ball, but perfectly cast, and quite heavy.

Pedagoguery's software is cool, too. I used Poly as a visual entertainment before a talk I gave at Lotusphere '99, and I got as many questions about the nifty polyhedron software as I did about the topic I was presenting.

By the way: the lab cam capture on the Lotusphere '99 page includes me, Pete Lyons and Julie Kadashevich making faces at the camera:

Ned, Pete, and Julie making faces at the Lotusphere lab

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