Saturday, July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch, RIP

Although I did not like being a professor (the grading, the repetitiveness, the isolation stemming from the hours), this is why we teach. I think teaching, and teaching well, is very important, and this is why we do it. The Last Lecture.

Prof. Randy Pausch, Oct. 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008, NYT story. One hour sixteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds that you won't regret. Currently viewed over four million times.

See also the NYT page of web coverage of all sorts, massive and widespread.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DFW and Grammar

I have, for years, been haunted by the dreaded "Victorian grammar rules", introduced to me as rules without reasons in school (one merely accepted, one did not even have the capacity to question back then, sadly), but eventually, as I began to realize the coolness of language and linguistics and all things such, they became things that made no sense

One day, whilst (hey gettin' crazy) assisting on the Microsoft Press version of Word 6.0 for the Mac (terrible program, the Windows version of the book is to be found on Amazon but not the Mac version), author M. David Stone mentioned "Victorian grammar rules", how they were absurd, based on Latin even though English is not a Romance language (it's Germanic), and how he hated them. He may have been excoriating a poor junior editor who had taken the very first sentence of a chapter and, sin of sins, made the verb passive (I am not very good at keeping track of that, sometimes I want to use a passive verb, English allows me to).

I see I haven't actually mentioned them. The two I am aware of are do not split an infinitive (since in Latin, verbs are one word, in English, the infinitive form is two words - split away by all means, to boldly go, etc.) and do not end sentences with prepositions. Now, if there is one thing most men can't stand being on the receiving end of, it's rules that say don't do this. We will do whatever it is, immediately if possible. (Reverse psychology does not always work on my nephew though, do not eat broccoli has yet to succeed.)

But, David Foster Wallace has a lengthy piece where, thank his socks, he mentions the evil Victorian grammar-meister: "The avoid-terminal-prepositions rule is the invention of one Fr. R. Lowth, an eighteenth-century British preacher and indurate pedant..." It is a good piece, but I didn't get into it until about a third of the way through where he talks about pants. That's when he really hits his stride (sorry, the pun, it was just there).

I Knew That (Open Systems)

From yesterday's NYT Bits blog:

But I think we have seen the power of open and flexible computing environments over closed and specialized systems.
Really? Oh wait, that's what I wrote in my dissertation. Back in 2003 - 2004. (Note, I fully expect that dissertation link to not work, because it is Google HTML'ing a PDF that is no longer on the web, even though it works currently - clearly a cached version, and actually just the front matter - sorry I don't currently have my own URL.) And honestly a lot of people point this out. But, glad to see the meme has hit up the NYT! Spread, meme, spread...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bento! C/o Mimi Ito

I may have been introduced to bento back in high school (aka, "the eighties"), but I know we used to eat it when I was at Ziff-Davis out in the Bay area in 1992 (with font-man and Colin). Mimi Ito apparently makes a lot of bento -- every day for her kids! And she's posted a lot of beautiful bento photos at flickr. There's a large set of images and a smaller tagged group, they may overlap, not sure. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

Unusual Games

Via Kotaku, I discovered these.... things.... games... well they're unusual, somewhat grim, with no super clear win conditions. 2D, very short. But try them. They're different (oh they're like the Mac, that's why I like them, think different). They are all by designer Jason Rohrer, go check out his sourceforge page. Some of the ones I have seen are under Video Games, others under Game Design Sketchbook -- these ones are all at the Escapist, where you should, if you are interested in electronic games and don't mind possibly offensive things mixed with humor and usually negative game reviews, watch all episodes of Zero Punctuation, especially the Orange Box review since he actually likes, nay loves, Portal.

Wow, Rohrer's blog site got me on to Fez. That video is amazing (ok the music is also amazing). What a neat idea. Watch it, it will be good for you.

Somewhat related (topic), go check out Indie Games.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

American Artisans

Run by some friends of mine, they have an awesome website! They do beautiful designs. They do "cabinetry, architectural design, furniture and custom millwork." Really, I've seen their stuff.

I think it is desirable that the artist and what is technically called the designer should practically be one...A designer ought to be able to weave himself. (William Morris, 1882)
I don't even have a tag for this kind of post. Now what, my taxonomy is shot! Oh, interfaces! Design is an interface between ourselves and the object.

Grand Army Farmers' Market

Hit up the farmer's market this morning. The smell of fresh produce is awesome! Hits the right spot in the brain (yes, evolution!).


More flowers:









Airport! Danger!

For the last three summers, IIRC, this sign has been up at ACK, the Nantucket airport. Maybe it is not up in the off-season. ACK is a very small airport, in the middle of nowhere on the island, and, if you didn't notice, it's on a small island. Let me be clear: small. Not a lot of people. Yes it gets relatively busy, I am aware of that: relatively. There are really never many people there compared to large regional airports that do not serve seasonal destinations. In other words, it is not a sensible terrorist target (the it's on an island part helps, but don't cite the Bali bombings because I've been to Bali and it is much larger, and very different in several other relevant ways).

High risk? Really? No. And what is "red", is that "we know one is about to happen"? (Let us change the posted placards first!)
Ok, DHS says it is "orange or high" for all airports. (Well which is it, orange or high? Please choose one.) Elevated, High, Severe. This sound like the US Postal Service's naming for mail, "Priority" and "First Class". Honestly if you're going to use a labeling scheme, use labels that are easily differentiated from one another.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obligatory Summer Nobska Post

Old school, when it was the Nantucket (the current Nantucket seems to have undergone some weird renovations but I couldn't Google-find notice of them).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The 4th Amendment is Dead

Long live the 4th Amendment.

Sometimes I do not cover things because those stories are covered at great length in many other spots, several of which are linked to from here. However, sometimes things are too important to not mention. Today, the US Senate, mainly republicans (who were in charge when 9/11 happened, thank you), voted to gut the US Constitution. As others have pointed out, Bush said Bin Laden (still out there) hated our freedoms (even though that's not what Bin Laden talks about), so Bush is taking away our freedoms in order to make use safer (nice plan!).

The 4th Amendment is the latest victim, along with all of us.

Pre-Internet Trolls

Given that technology changes but people don't, and given that we have Internet trolls, we probably had trolls before the Internets. We did. Tom Standage observes this in his A History of the World in Six Glasses, and this section will remind you of his The Victorian Internet.

News traveled fast across this coffee-powered network; according to one account published in the Spectator in 1712: "There was a fellow in town some years ago, who used to divert himself by telling a lye at Charing Cross in the morning at eight of the clock, and then following it through all parts of town until eight at night; at which time he came to a club of his friends, and diverted them with an account [of] what censure it had drawn at Will's in Covent Garden, how dangerous it was believed [to be?] at Child's and what inference they drew from it with relation to stocks at Jonathan's." (p. 154)
Awesome, except for the "they are trolls" part.

Monday, July 7, 2008

History and Wianno Seniors

I don't always know how I come across these things, I'm just watching Anthony Bourdain (he blogs on occasion), who is awesome. Was surfing the Internets. Found a page which lists every Wianno Senior (that's a boat, local to the Cape and Islands) ever made. Some are still around. Some were broken up. Some are... missing? Since 1996? How can a boat go missing in 1995 or 1996? Weird. But a lot had burned in 2003. What had happened? The Internets told me! There is a bit more about it, such as this page which mentions a lot of other Wianno Senior material (such as our good people the Kennedys).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Subway Story, Illustrated

Nice little illustrated subway story, by an artist about his kids and the NYC subway, over at his NYTimes blogspace. Again I insist the blogs are the best thing there (not denigrating the rest of it, note).

Code Optimizing (in SPSS)

(And optimizing, well, making workable, code in blogger!)

So, I am co-authoring a paper with some colleagues (aka friends) and I am the stats lead for it. We're using the World Values Survey, which I recently noticed received a lot of housecleaning (the website is better, the dataset has a 1-4 file available instead of just 1-3, the dataset is much cleaner except for a bunch of Americans who have "11" on the 1-10 income scale... Yes yes, this one goes to 11, but it's not supposed to).

I don't know SPSS syntax that well, but I was a computer science minor in college so coding is a great thing. You can easily get the syntax (CLI) for most commands from the dialog boxes (GUI), which is nice, then you have a record of what you did and can redo it in case you make a huge error. Syntax files are great. 

When I cobble them together from best-guesses derived from the help documentation (pretty decent) and bits and pieces from the dialog box-based syntax, it works. My computer is fast enough (3.06GHz) to run SPSS on our dataset (not huge) even in Parallels under XP fast enough so that I don't notice it. 

But I was finally looking at some of the code, instead of just looking at it from the point of view of wondering if I actually changed all of the variable values for the IF loops, and I realized it was not at all optimized: There were three IF statements, when really there only needed to be one with another nested for the second conditional variable (if nation/wave=x, then if income=y). With the copying and pasting it worked fine and fast, but was like this:

IF (nation/wave = x & income = y) DO lots of stuff.
IF (nation/wave = x & income > y) DO other stuff.
IF (nation/wave = x & income < y) DO other stuff.

So basically for every case, it was checking one or two conditions (assuming it pops out of an IF if the first condition fails) but it was doing this three times. So I recoded, and it worked fine but not noticeably faster. Note that each case (a person) is part of a nation, was sampled in a particular wave of a sample, and has a reported income (well income is not always there). 

IF (nation/wave = x) DO
   IF (income = y) DO lots of stuff.
   ELSE IF (income > y) DO other stuff.
   ELSE IF (income < y) DO other stuff.
   END IF.

The point is if you check for nation/wave first you will eliminate a lot of cases that you aren't recoding at that point in time, so you go on to the next case instead of checking all the other stuff. Then I realized that it was still inefficient, since with the IF loops you can code it to reduce the number of checks it has to do -- in this case, with (A > Y) and (A = Y) you don't need to check to see if everything else is (A < Y) since it has to be, unless there are messy cases with missing values, which there alway are. Tight code is good, but so is error checking.

IF (nation/wave = x) DO
   IF (income < y) DO stuff.
   ELSE IF (income > y) DO other stuff.
   ELSE DO lots of stuff.
   END IF.

And that was really optimized code. The majority of cases are income <, and = varied by nation/wave. I am really tempted to run the unoptimized and optimized versions on the larger dataset (which has all of the nations in it, not just the ones we are using, so has thousands more cases). Agh, blogger doesn't like the less than and greater than signs, it keeps hashing up the post -- it is interpreting them as HTML. Time for HTML coding...

Ok, the times for the two versions of the code were the same on the big file (267,870 cases -- ok not that big really), which, given the weird "execute" syntax, makes me think that SPSS is compiling the syntax file to some extent and optimizing what it is doing. Nice if it is.