April 2009 Archives


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I love finding examples of the world paralleling concepts I learn about from computers.


Here’s one I just realized while driving the other day: lanes are great illustrations of abstraction at work. Yes, it’s possibly more efficient to let cars run freely and pack in as many cars will fit on the road, but someone realized a while ago that it’s a lot easier if we just demarcate lanes for cars to be in. We’ve abstracted away a lot of what each individual driver has to worry about. Now they just have to drive straight in their lane, and to move laterally, just see if there’s an opening in the lane next to them.

(Speaking of parallels: just like we discovered computing before discovering OOP, it also took us a while to discover lane markings after we had automobiles.)

Last Mile

Another interesting parallel has to do with the last mile problem. CDNs have figured out that they can actually beat the “regular” internet by shipping packets through their “first-class” channels, taking advantage of their already existing infrastructure. For the final leg of the delivery, they just dump the data back onto the regular network and it go from there.

FedEx has also figured this out and calls it SmartPost. By skipping over the USPS’s intermediate nodes, FedEx can get your package delivered quickly without having to burden their last mile resources.


Of course, I’m approaching all this a little backward. It’s probably just a cosmic truth that these are universally good design principles (the “last mile” Wikipedia article cites a ton of examples in nature) and I’m just viewing this through a computer scientist’s lens because that’s what I’ve been doing the last few years of my life. And I’m OK with that.

♻ Norm!

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When this post on Dharmendra S Modha’s Cognitive Computing Blog (a mouthful for a name, but basically he writes about the ambitious task of simulating the brain) came up in Google Reader, I was surprised and captivated.

Then I got to the end and realized it was a “Cheers” quote.

♻ A. vaderi

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A. bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and A. rumsfeldi are species of this genus named after George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively.

Apparently this phenomenon is not new.

♻ White with black stripe

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One of the rare instances when I like the mashup better than the original: DJ BC - Free Adidas (Run-D.M.C.’s “My Adidas” v. Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”)

The Art of Wikigroaning:

The premise is quite simple. First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called “Knight.” Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we’ll go with “Jedi Knight.” Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

An oldie, but goodie. A lot of the articles mentioned have been “corrected” so that the more important one is more detailed, but I’m still amazed at the depth of Japanese toilet (and the fact that it’s still “beating” Japanese mythology).

♻ Cowabunga!

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Are you kidding me? Nunchucks might be discussed in the Supreme Court? After District of Columbia v. Heller last year, someone wants make a Second Amendment claim to get New York State to decriminalize owning Michelangelo’s weapon of choice.

Please be awesome, Supreme Court, and take this case. I really just want to hear Scalia make a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” joke.

Did you know that TMNT was heavily censored in Europe? (Thank you, Wikipedia.) They must have had their shit rocked when “The Simpsons” came on a couple years later.

♻ %PDF

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jsPDF generates PDF documents using pure JavaScript.

The coolness is not really in the code, but in the fact that one can even do this because the language is hosted in the browser.

[via Eytan]

♻ See also: Planet killer

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Oh god. It’s real.

♻ Divisive

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Like asking Obama about NCAA picks, but less relevant and less informed: Justice John Paul Stevens and the rest of the Supreme Court weigh in on who they think wrote Shakespeare’s works. Why is this on the front page, WSJ? Why?

Scalia, as always, has an opinion:

It is probably more likely that the pro-Shakespearean people are affected by a democratic bias than the Oxfordians are affected by an aristocratic bias.

I guess this is better than having a bunch of 9/11 “Truthers” on the bench…

[via How Appealing]

♻ Dark arts

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Opening season shot of Al Myers, Washington Statesman, performing baseball voodoo (with the help of some string, it appears):

While you paged through the Tivo Live TV Guide, area man and friend of yours, Adam Hahn, resisted the compulsion to tell you about how “there was this one Onion article that made fun of the Strong Man competition” when you unknowingly flipped past the ESPN2 offering.

With mouth open, Hahn cut himself off, crucially realizing that, based on previous Onion references, the retelling of the satire would only elicit an empathetic “ha” from you. He then sunk back onto the couch wordlessly.

When asked what he would do with the time he saved fruitlessly explaining humor that must be read to be appreciated, Hahn replied, “Eh, I’ll probably write some stupid blog post or something.”

♻ Makes sense

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You’ve gotta love the name of dotnetdotcom.org’s archive: web.20080201.gz. Yup.


♻ i_CTRL-O, ^U

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Daily Vim is certainly no longer daily, but I can always count on it to teach me something about my favorite editor.

For my *nix nerds: Do you know about ^U? (I just found out about it yesterday.) It erases whatever you’ve written on a line on the shell (or in vim). Especially useful when you mistyped a password and need to start over!

♻ Get it

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You know that face means only one thing. Get it, creepy pastor. Get it.

♻ U*U*U*U*

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…just making sure none of your bits are getting flipped: RYRYRYRY

♻ Convergence

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Every once in a while, some of your nerdiest interests converge into awesomeness you know few will appreciate, let alone care about. Most recently for me, this is Typography for Lawyers.

Taking some tips from the referenced “Painting with Print,” I’ve switched up the typefaces of trashcan. The headers are now a sans-serif (Helvetica Neue Light) for emphasis, but I retained the serif (Baskerville) for paragraph readability.


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Speaking of the USPS, I just revived an old paper I wrote back in high school. The assignment was to write about the one thing we’d always wanted to learn about, but never had the chance to explore. Being nerdy, it didn’t take me long to know I wanted to look at the post office.

Digitally remastered (i.e., I converted it to LaTeX because it was easy and fun), I present to you my I-Search paper.

It’s not great, but I still enjoy it. While I was re-reading it, I remembered that I promised to email the final version to those I interviewed. I’m sure postal employees don’t get much in the way of fan mail, so I felt compelled to follow through. I still had the USPS employee’s business card (miraculously), and shot off an email.

A second later, I received the following email:

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.

Delivery to the following recipients failed.


Aw, he wasn’t there anymore… Well, Jim Ahlgren, if you ever google for your name, here’s hoping this comes up.

But that wasn’t the best part: the email came from—yes, you guessed it—postmaster@usps.gov!

Googling to see if others had been hit by this awesomeness, I found that the IETF beat me to it:

The objection is that by using the Postmaster token for something special, one removes that token for anyone. Thus, the Postmaster General of the United States, for example, cannot have the mail address Postmaster@usps.gov. However, one may debate whether this is a significant limitation.

P.S.: For all my LaTeX peeps, definitely check out the microtype package. One simple \usepackage{microtype} in the preamble of your document really spruces it up. Check the documentation for all it does for you. N.B.: This only works for pdfTeX, but you are already using that, right?

♻ Stare decisis

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A landmark court decision awaits:

There are no strong precedents in favor of a parent being able to request post-mortem sperm retrieval.

[via Avishai]

♻ Speaking frankly

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More stuff you didn’t know you didn’t want to know about: franking. The House lays down the rules. To summarize:

Franking ok:

  • Congratulations to a new Eagle Scout
  • “Best Wishes” calendar
  • Seven sq. in. photograph of the Member with someone else

Franking not ok:

  • Condolences to a new widow
  • “Happy Holidays” calendar
  • Seven sq. in. photograph of the Member alone

I don’t even know why this still exists. Can’t we just make them pay for stamps, eliminating all these exceptions and controversy about mass mailing before an election?

♻ Slam Harder

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The word “slamwich” makes me want to vomit. You can get one for free tomorrow if you have no job or life.


♻ Champagne Champagne

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After hearing Rex’s song of the day, I immediately wanted to hear more Champagne Champagne. They’re a Seattle-based hip-hop group, and I want them to make more music. I just bought their album and definitely got my money’s worth.

To give you a taste beyond “Soda & Pop Rocks,” I’ve transcoded their great live performance on a Seattle radio station to a more bearable format (from WMA to MP3). So good I can’t figure out which song is my favorite. Check it:

Champagne Champagne - Live on KEXP (8/16/2008)

♻ L.H.O.O.Q.

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I’m surprised Slate’s piece on Britney’s use of puns in her latest single didn’t include a mention of Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q.

“If U Seek Amy” (say it three times fast):

“L.H.O.O.Q.” (say it three times fast in French with slang in mind—nevermind: it sounds like “elle a chaud au cul,” i.e., “she’s horny”):


♻ Google as Banker

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This latest post on the Google Research blog got me thinking about the implications of Google’s mission statement; namely, that indexing the world’s information includes how people use this index. What if Google became the world’s best banker simply because it knew about our actions before we had done them, but after we thought about them?

♻ Dullea/Lockwood

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Just discovered this trove of “2001” photographs c/o the “Life” archives and Google. This one was the most jarring, mostly because the profiles of the astronauts are so peripheral to the film:

P.S.: If you haven’t checked out the HAL screensaver, I highly recommend it. I don’t know if it makes me feel like I’m living in the future or in the past.