Totalitarianism in a nutshell

Totalitarianism in a nutshell [smallcool].

How’s My Teaching?

My students are invited to club together and buy me a How’s My Teaching? t-shirt. Charcoal grey or olive, medium or large, long or short sleeved, phone number as on my work home page, please. ;-)

Crash Bandicoot was written with Lisp

WTF? Crash Bandicoot was written with Lisp??? Seems everybody’s talking about how great Lisp is lately…

And on the subject of games, these are pretty cool too.

Don’t Invent XML Languages

I saw this a while ago and meant to blog it, if only for the super useful/interesting “Big Five” list of XML uberlanguages whose existence means it’s best if you Don’t Invent XML Languages [lambda]. Of the Big Five, the one I’m interested in Right Now is DocBook.

Paul Graham: How to Do What You Love

Paul Graham on How to Do What You Love.

Our pouch-faced friends

Two hamster stories: First, With This Image We Can Achieve World Peace and second, Snake Befriends Snack Hamster [pixi]. It’s not just any hamster, it’s a snack hamster. Like a pure bred Siberian, but more snacky.

Gaah, I’m tracking STABLE, but should probably be tracking security… :-/

Nice explanation of FreeBSD release versions.

Handy dandy Subversion tools

Some Subversion-related tools I need to keep in mind, though not use right now: SvnReporter; svn-copy-register and svn-import-releases. That is all.

Sheep on Bikes

Mint Sauce [malc]. “Mint” was always something I experienced second-hand, mainly through Malc going on about how good it was, and seeing the occasional strip or single image. It always did look like something I’d like to read if I had a big book of them on my lap, Calvin-and-Hobbes style, and yes Malc, Summer is awesome, and by awesome I mean totally sweet. I particularly like the glimpse of Mint’s paw in her hand in that strip (and the CATs). Ah, it takes me back to days of big hair, cloaks and emberday tarts (must cook that again some time).

Baby Bush Toys

Baby Bush Toys – Barbara sent me this link before Christmas but I’ve shamefully only just followed it. Oh, so busy! Anyway, good stuff. I particularly like the Circle of Liberty Puzzle.

The Cyprus Crisis

I can’t remember how I came across it, but I’ve had a copy of The Cyprus Crisis: A Multilateral Bargaining Simulation (pdf, 100KB) sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, for about six months now. This morning I finally got round to it, and a good time was had by all.

The paper describes a technique used in Florida State University’s Political Science department, where students simulated a few days of the international situation surrounding Cyprus. (Note that the simulation takes place “in the real world” – this is not about computerised simulation.) Individual students took on roles of various political actors (eg members of the UN Security Council), and over a few days various negotiations took place, against a backdrop of unfolding events beyonds the students’ control.

It’s quite short, and well worth a read, even if this isn’t your field (it certainly isn’t mine). There’s not a huge depth of detail, and while the main concern of the article is whether the simulation worked as a teaching technique (it seemed to), there’s little in the way of heavy analysis – largely it’s just a description of what they did and why.

Spoof signs

The spirit of Quizzing lives on, in technicolor. Glorious.

Chomsky interview

A succinct interview with Chomsky, touching on the morbid state of democracy in the USA, the “War on Terror”, Iraq, oil, all the usual stuff… Some very interesting (but short) comments on China towards the end as well.

Now let’s talk about withdrawal. Take any day’s newspapers or journals and so on. They start by saying the United States aims to bring about a sovereign democratic independent Iraq. I mean, is that even a remote possibility? Just consider what the policies would be likely to be of an independent sovereign Iraq. If it’s more or less democratic, it’ll have a Shiite majority. They will naturally want to improve their linkages with Iran, Shiite Iran. Most of the clerics come from Iran. The Badr Brigade, which basically runs the South, is trained in Iran. They have close and sensible economic relationships which are going to increase. So you get an Iraqi/Iran loose alliance. Furthermore, right across the border in Saudi Arabia, there’s a Shiite population which has been bitterly oppressed by the U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny. And any moves toward independence in Iraq are surely going to stimulate them, it’s already happening. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian oil is. Okay, so you can just imagine the ultimate nightmare in Washington: a loose Shiite alliance controlling most of the world’s oil, independent of Washington and probably turning toward the East, where China and others are eager to make relationships with them, and are already doing it. Is that even conceivable? The U.S. would go to nuclear war before allowing that, as things now stand.

Apache vs Yaws

Apache vs Yaws. (Executive summary: Apache dies at 4,000 concurrent requests; Yaws is still working fine at 80,000.)

Yaws is written in Erlang, which seems to be far-and-away the best language around at the moment for concurrency.

Learn Python in 10 minutes

Learn Python in 10 minutes.

Swansea gets an indoor climbing wall

w00t. An indoor climbing centre is opening just north of Swansea – next month.

Back in 2002, I went to a nice indoor wall just north of Cardiff pretty much every week. I progressed from absolute beginner to semi-competent, and enjoyed myself enormously. Unfortunately, I haven’t climbed since I came to Swansea. The drive to the climbing centre is too long, and I had an enforced break when I crashed my car coming back from there one night. I lost the inertia, and got waaaaaay too busy, and just could never justify the journey. I don’t fancy outdoor climbing so much yet, though I’m sure I’ll get to that.

This, then, is good news.

Come out George Galloway, your time is up

Awesome: A petition to get George Galloway out of the Big Brother house, and back to work, pointing out that his salary comes from the public pocket (thanks, Will!).

Brains! Brains! Brains! Kids OK.

A couple of interesting brain-related nuggets kicked up by my feed reader this morning: losing sleep undoes the rejuvenating effects new learning has on the brain, and Bayesian reasoning vs frequentism.

Gimbo’s Girlfriend

Gimbo’s Girlfriend.

“Yes, and she doesn’t stop there. Having got her shoulders through, she puts her arms behind her so that her legs are locked under her shoulders. In this position she walks around the house and can even eat a sandwich.”

2007.01.24: sadly, seems to be a dead link

Hofstadter on the Turing Test

A Coffeehouse Conversation on the Turing Test by Douglas Hofstadter. I believe I shall enjoy this with a coffee and a large sandwich of some description tomorrow. Goodnight!

Classic Texts in Computer Science

Classic Texts in Computer Science.

10 reasons not to buy (or accept) a diamong ring

10 reasons not to buy (or accept) a diamond ring. (I’m happy to say that Bash’s engagement ring isn’t diamond.)

2006.01.10: More good stuff about the history of the international diamond trade here. (Wow, that’s long. Caveat: I have only read the first page! Looks good, though.)

Housing market crashes and fictional stock wealth

This is pretty fascinating… Written from an American perspective but the economic points he makes are universal, and I’m sure it could happen here: Warning signs of the housing bubble crash (part two). From “yay, we’re going to make loads of money” to “oh no, the bank is repossessing the house and we’ll still owe them a fortune” in six easy pieces.

My favourite part is the explanation of how fictional wealth is created on the stock market:

For example, let’s say five people each own one share of a company that has only five shares. Let’s say each share is worth $10. How much money is there total? Well, it’s five times 10, so that makes $50.

Now, let’s say that one of these five people decides to sell his share to his friend, but he’s convinced his friend to buy it for $20 (a profit of $10 to the seller). He sells one share to his friend for $20. What’s the share price now, for the whole company? The share price is $20 because the share price is based on the last sold price. Now there are five people and each of them has one share that’s worth $20. Suddenly, there’s $100 total instead of $50 total. All five people think they’ve just doubled their money!

That’s what happens in the stock market. See, all five people think they’re getting rich. But what really happened is that one idiot bought the stock at double the price. There was no new customer, no new business revenue and no new profit. There was just one guy who overpaid for the stock. That’s how fictional wealth is created in stock market exchanges. It’s just an illusion. Where did this extra $50 come from? It came out of nowhere. It’s just numbers on paper.

This explanation is slightly incorrect in the details. After one of the five shareholders sells his share to someone else, there are only four shareholders remaining, not five, but the explanation still talks in terms of fives. But you can see why, and the underlying principles are unaffected by this inaccuracy and more clearly illustrated for it, I’d say.

Now, for literally years I’ve been reading about people having, and losing, “fortunes on paper” without really understanding what it actually meant or how it could happen. “Why did all these people lose their money?”, I wondered. “Why couldn’t they sell their stock when it was up?” Well, now I understand: some did get out, but once the market started correcting, that immediately stopped happening for everyone.

How to prevent this? Seems to my untrained brain that the critical part is the statement in boldface: the share price for everyone is defined by the last sale price. There’s got to be a better way to do this? Surely you could base it on some sort of aggregated calculation over some subset of all sales. Presumably mean sale price over all sales would be too crude – you’d want recent sales to count more than older ones. Or would what I’m suggesting just slow the problem down, but not eliminate it? I Am Not An Economist, as you may have guessed. :-) Anyway, good stuff.

When the dot-com crash happened, billions of dollars were lost overnight through that exact same method I just described. Billions of dollars did not fly away. Those dollars did not get transferred into some rich person’s pocket, which is what most people believe. They think rich people ran away with the money. That’s incorrect. The money never existed in the first place. The money disappeared overnight because suddenly the stock price was dropping rapidly.

Much gothica and homespun on the streets of Helsinki

Helsinki girls have more style than Swansea girls (with some notable exceptions, of course) [shauny].

Honourable mentions: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Herring on Kong

As a small simian I believe that throwing women off of tall buildings, whilst tempting (especially if they hit you with a badmington racquet) is not acceptable behaviour. [simon]

Who’s your ADSL pimp?

Open question: what service/which provider can people recommend for ADSL in the UK? (Specifically Swansea, though I doubt that matters.) Right now we’re with NTL (ie cable), paying way too much.

On externalising costs

Says it all [simon]:

One of the great things about living in an industrialised, globalised society is that the economic power you unthinkingly wield means that others pay the excess costs of your wasteful and polluting activities. Externalising costs in this way and reconstituting patterns of global inequality in the process is of course one of the enduring triumphs of capitalism.

Snapshot of the state of the art in bionic cochlear implants

This seems to be doing the rounds but it’s remarkable enough, and close enough to my own personal & research interests that I just have to blog it: My Bionic Quest for Boléro [via boingboing which inaccurately suggests the author of the piece tinkered with the software himself].

While my friends’ ears will inevitably decline with age, mine will only get better.

This is awesome stuff – a perfect example of HCI at a very human level. The author puts it best himself, I think, in the title of his book: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human. I predict (or at least dearly hope) that this a theme we’re going to keep seeing played out, in increasing volume and sophistication, over the next fifty years, along with all the obvious reactionary conservatism from the usual suspects… In the words of Webb: bring the noise.

It’s also quite popular in South Africa, apparently…

Life’s full of surprises. I pointed out to Bash that my post on “Dinner For One” had been picked up by dev/null (hi Andrew!), and she said “Oh wow, Dinner For One! It’s so great! Have you seen it?”

Once I’d got over my initial huffiness that she clearly doesn’t read my website as often as I read hers, it became clear that Dinner For One enjoys the same status in South Africa as in most of Europe outside Britain (Christmas Eve is the night for it, apparently).

Bash was amazed to learn I’d never seen it, and astonished to hear it’s never even been shown on British TV. To address the situation, and brazenly ignoring that I’ve now read two articles on the subject (as she’d know if she attended properly to her wifely duties and read my blog!), she kindly went on to tell me all about it. I countered with “The same procedure as last year, ma’am?” and lemonade shot out of her nose.

So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!

A CS graduate school survival guide: “So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!”, which includes the marvellous Richard Feynman Problem Solving Algorithm: 1) Write down the problem. 2) Think very hard. 3) Write down the solution.

Dinner For One

The Mystery of Dinner for One [link via will]. I particularly liked: Why Germany finds it so funny and the British don’t is, according to Der Spiegel’s Sebastian Knauer, “one of the last unsolved questions of European integration.”

The Guardian’s Christmas TV guide mentioned this (more briefly) in an article about what the rest of the world watches at Christmas. From that article, the one I want to see is France’s Le Père Noël est une ordure:

Set on Christmas Eve in a social service helpline call centre, three workers try with varying degrees of failure to spread festive cheer among the depressed, suicidal homeless, heartbroken and bereaved who turn up looking for salvation. Utterly bleak, totally farcical, and very very funny.

Sounds good to me. :-)

It Is Pretty Much a Bad Idea to Expose Raw SQL…

On the joy of SQL injection attacks: Fun Things I Found Out About Your Company With Administrator Access to your Database [python-url].

Also includes a link to a guide to such attacks, for the uninitiated.

Uniquely Addressing

Nice (short) database design war story.


Being a plain-text luddite, this looks nifty: markdown [43folders].

Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML). Thus, “Markdown” is two things: (1) a plain text formatting syntax; and (2) a software tool, written in Perl, that converts the plain text formatting to HTML.