Prehistory of Computing

Kewl… We do a third year “History of Computing” course here, and next year we’re trying something new, splitting the ten lectures up among various lecturers who’ll then talk about an area of interest. I’ve just volunteered to talk about “antiquties”, ie computing from waaaaay before there were computers – stuff like Euclid’s algorithm and so on. Should be funky.

Just thought I’d share. :-)

Thing in a Jar

Thing in a Jar [buffoon].

It’s fun to leave the Thing in a Jar in someone’s refrigerator and watch their reaction.

On the same site: time the Earth had an image upgrade, and just how far away is the moon, anyway?

Demonstrating Venn diagrams for the uninitiated

Demonstrating Venn diagrams for the uninitiated [chicken] – fantastic.

Programming Languages Family Tree

Jorn pointed at this family tree of programming languages (2200×1300 600Kb jpeg), which is interesting in terms of the relations between the languages, but which also has some bafflingly stupid things to say about the languages. Examples:

On Lisp: Lisp has an unusual syntax made up of lots of nested parentheses. Er – how about mentioning the most important point about the language, namely that it’s functional? Same comment for ML, Scheme, O Caml, and Haskell. Similar comment for Prolog, though yes, I know it’s not functional, that’s why I said similar, dummy.

On Python: A popular language among Web site builders, it includes features missing from Perl. That has to be the strangest summary of Python I’ve ever read. Python’s by no means the most popular lanugage among webbies, nor is website building its only (or even main?) application. Why the comparison with Perl? Why that particular one? Baffling.

On Tcl: The duct tape of programming (a scripting language for patching together different languages). Unlike, say, Python?

On Ruby: A hardware description language. Er – excuse me? OK, I can find RHDL, but RHDL != Ruby, people.

Still, it’s pretty.

Black Cherry

Saw Goldfrapp in Bristol last Friday – great gig. I hadn’t, at that time, heard anything from the new album, and was feeling somewhat trepidicious. Gladly, all was well – they seem to have moved a little away from the acoustic and orchestral, and considerably closer to the analogue, which is Just Fine With Me. Lots of big bleepiness, squelchiness, and bassiness. Having rushed out and bought the album the very next day, I can report that the highlight of the gig was Train, which I’ve just noticed is the first single from the album, so maybe I should get that too. It’s huge and marvellous.

Plus, Alison looked uber sexy. Of course.

Señor Coconut

Strange co-incidences of our time. Bifurcated Rivets just pointed at Señor Coconut, which was the music the good people at Spillers refused to interrupt last Saturday. It was, actually, pretty damn cool, in an extraordinarily cheesy manner.

The Museum of Techno

The Museum of Techno [null]. Just the job if you don’t know the difference between the Peruvian long-tailed kickdrum and the Lesser Canadian kickdrum, for instance.

There is no Spoooooon! (tah-dah)

Something to read after I’ve seen the new Matrix movie: Corporate Mofo reloads The Matrix [gamma].

Watching the movie, I was personally less impressed by the fists of digital fury than by the Brothers’ evident familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the theology of Origen of Alexandria. Seen in the light of the books they’re referencing, the movie’s plot is brilliant; of course, to the non-initiate, the characters’ actions and dialogue seems arbitrary and incomprehensible, and the exposition is just filler between car crashes. It would seem, therefore, that a bit of exegesis of The Matrix: Reloaded is warranted. But be warned: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read on. There are some major spoilers.

Is North Korea a nuclear-armed drug cartel?

So how’s the USA going to persuade the rest of the world that Iran and North Korea must be destroyed? How about this? [null]

Old Speckled Hen Ahoy!

Delight. My new local (or one of them, at least), has Old Speckled Hen (“it’s hopped up to the nads” – EvilC) on tap. Real ale ahoy!

Grand Challenges for Computing Research

Grand Challenges for Computing Research – and the ten tentative proposals. Number 7, Journeys in Non-Classical Computation, sounds particularly groovy:

A gateway event (a term coined by Murray Gell- Mann) is a change to a system that leads to the possibility of huge increases in kinds and levels of complexity. It opens up a whole new kind of phase space to the system’s dynamics. Gateway events during evolution of life on earth include the appearance of eukaryotes (organisms with a cell nucleus), an oxygen atmosphere, multi-celled organisms, and grass. Gateway events during the development of mathematics include each invention of a new class of numbers (negative, irrational, imaginary, etc.), and dropping Euclid s parallel postulate.

A gateway event produces a profound and fundamental change to the system: once through the gateway, life is never the same again. We are currently poised on the threshold of a significant gateway event in computation: that of breaking free from many of our current classical computational assumptions. The Grand Challenge for computer science is “to journey through the gateway event obtained by breaking our current classical computational assumptions, and thereby develop a mature science of Non-Classical Computation”.

Exciting stuff, eh?

Positional Sacrifice

Band/track name idea: Positional Sacrifice.

Is he back?

OK, I think Gimboland may be up and running again. And to start things running, I’d like to recount a strange tale of something which happened to me on Saturday. I was in my favourite shop on the planet, viz Spillers Records in Cardiff, which claims to be the oldest record shop in the world, and it characterised by the following things, amongst others:

1. The merchandise is presented on bits of cardboard with photocopies of the album covers. 2. The prices are invariably much lower than the big chains (generally 11 or 12 quid, but many (good) things for less). 3. They have Lots Of Good Stuff. 4. There’s usually Very Cool Music playing there. 5. There’s usually Very Cool People working there, and I don’t just mean cool as in stupid, I mean cool as in I’d like to have a drink with them.

Alas, on Saturday, Spillers disappointed. It was partially my fault, but nonetheless… I was idly browsing just before closing time (6pm), and was trying to decide whether to pick up, from the “Electronic/Experimental Compilation” section, one called Painted Black – an entire album of covers of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”. Not being in a truly adventurous mood, I went to the desk and asked if I could have a listen. To my surprise, the lady serving me, hummed and harred, and said they were about to close, but er, maybe, hmmmm, errrr. I assured her that the briefest glimpse of a few of the tracks would be enough to give me the gist and make up my mind, and she disappeared into the back to put it on.

She reappeared shortly, holding the cardboard sleeve out for me to take back, and said that sorry, but because it was so late they didn’t want to, …, and left the sentence unfinished. I stepped in and helped her out with the words “… sell the disk to me?”. She nodded, to my amazement.

I suppose I should be happy, really. I do love that shop, and to find out that they’re doing so well that they can afford to throw away a purchase in order to ensure they get home a minute or two earlier than they otherwise would, is surely good news in terms of their long-term survival. All the same, it rankled somewhat.

I haven’t managed to Soulseek it yet, for which I’m glad to be honest. If I do find it, I probably won’t buy it (sad but true, best intentions and all that), whereas if it remains Unknown To Me them I might at least see if it’s still there next time I’m over that way. Hey ho.

If I do get it, rest assured gentle reader, you’ll be the third or fourth to know.