In music, a fermata is a symbol used above a note to indicate that the note should be held for an unspecified amount of time. It looks like the upper half of a circle with a dot in the middle. If you have sufficient Unicode support in the program you are using to view this, you will see such a symbol in quotes here: “𝄐”.


Microsoft Windows Live Local: Bring on the law suits

Ok, this is going to get weird.

Microsoft Windows Live Local is going to have imagery of real places, with ads sold over top of it.

Somebody is going to not like the idea, for example a meat-space billboard company won't like Microsoft making money off taking their billboard "space" and making money off selling other ads. The counter-argument will be that it is just virtual space. The counter-counter-argument will be that a news program would not be expected to sell advertising space replacing the content on the billboards that appear in images in news stories.

Or, some company won't like Microsoft selling ads on the side of or near their building. For example, an ad for Microsoft windows that looks like it is on the side of the Apple headquarters building. Probably copyright law will be used in that case, with the argument that the building's design is copyrighted property of the company that paid for that design.

I smell law suits coming...



(Pronounced "Micklemas".)

The feast of St. Michael, September 29.

Spotted in Pride and Prejudice; definition taken from the Oxford American Dictionary.

See also: the Wikipedia entry.



(Hi, Pedraum!)

A charm or fetish, esp. of a type used by some West African peoples; supernatural power attributed to such a charm or fetish.

Definition from the Oxford American Dictionary.

I've heard Pedraum use this word, and also recently spotted it in a Scrabble dictionary.



a substance supposed by 18th-century chemists to exist in all combustible bodies, and to be released in combustion.

Taken from the Oxford American Dictionary.



Mentioning by not mentioning.

The most common English construction is the phrase "not to mention", as in "She is talented, not to mention rich." This construction is so common that it has lost much, if not all, of the device's rhetorical power. "Not to mention" no longer serves here as a device to separate the speaker from the claim of richness, but is just another way of saying "and". Another is the clause "if I don't say so myself" which is mistaken from the affirmative "if I do say so myself", meant to show the speaker's modesty.

See the Wikipedia entry.



A sudden charge out of a besieged place against the enemy; a sortie. (Oxford American Dictionary)



A framework on which fabric can be held taut for drying or other treatment during manufacture. (Oxford American Dictionary)

tenterhook: a hook used to fasten cloth on a drying frame or tenter.

on tenterhooks: in a state of suspense or agitation because of uncertainty about a future event.



A state that has some control over another state that is internally autonomous.




A unit of pleasure.

Spotted in a figure from the book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.



Counterfeit or improperly obtained money. Also a synonym for swag.


“Processing”: Cool graphics and interactive animations

I originally came across this on 2003-08-09 (in Wired 2003-09, "Web Design for Dummies" on page 61), where the URL was http://proce55ing.net. I just re-encountered my notes from that day and revisited the site (now at a different URL).

Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and sound. It is used by students, artists, designers, architects, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context and to serve as a software sketchbook and professional production tool. Processing is developed by artists and designers as an alternative to proprietary software tools in the same domain.

The Exhibition section on the site has some interesting examples of things people have done with Processing. Visual Scratch is pretty cool...

UPDATE 2008-08-31: Here are three books about Processing (the first is new; I have the other two):


Judson Laipply: The Evolution of Dance

Hilarious! Watch it here:

Or follow this link to YouTube, or this link to Google Video.

Judson Laipply has a web page here.



Being a powerful force in preventing.

Not to be confused with mitigate, which means "make less severe."



A fault or error to be corrected (usually in a book).


Randelbrot set

A variation on the Mandelbrot set (due to R.M. Dickau) that involves a random number in the calculation. See the Mathworld Article.


Enthusiastic Brights?

I was looking at the web site for the Brights, and found it amusing that there is a sub-section there for "enthusiastic Brights", given the definition of "a Bright" (in part: "A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements"), and the etymology of "enthusiasm" (in part: "inspired by a god").

Captious comments aside, the site is interesting, and the list of enthusiastic Brights includes authors I enjoy reading.

OK, back to poking fun...

There has been some negative reaction to this nounification of the adjective "bright" due to the very strong positive meanings of "bright" as an adjective, especially with respect to intelligence. However, the use of "Brights" as a collective noun for people with a naturalistic world view is not supposed to imply people with other world views are dim or dumb any more than using the collective noun form "gays" for homosexuals (also derived from an adjective with positive meanings) is supposed to imply that others are dull, drab, dreary, glum or gloomy.

However, I just finished reading The New Hacker's Dictionary (3rd Edition):

(I've been reading it on and off for a few years now, but finally made the push to finish it a few weeks back).

While Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell (the pair who in 2003 proposed this noun form of "Bright") haven't referenced it, this entry from the Jargon File points to an earlier (and harsher) use of "Bright" as a noun.



Having the characteristic of better than normal memory.

Coined recently by researchers studying a 40-year-old woman who has very detailed and accurate memory without use of special mnemonic devices.

You can read more here.



"Grooks," invented by the Danish philosopher (and mathematician, and scientist, and author) Piet Hein, are short poems often with illustrations. For example (there is a picture for this one, not reproduced here):

Grook on how to char for yourself
There's an art of knowing when. Never try to guess. Toast until it smokes and then twenty seconds less.

It is pretty easy to find grooks floating around the Internet (try this Google query, for starters. Or, try this Amazon.com search.

Piet Hein also invented one of my favorite puzzles from my childhood. My Grandma Purdy had a cube puzzle called SOMA and I enjoyed playing with it, making the cube and other shapes. She let me have it some years back and I pull it out from time to time to play again.

He also invented the game of Hex.



This week's word is brought to you by Ralph, who pronounces this "traunch".

A portion of something; one of a series of allotments.

Scrum example: "We pulled the next tranche of backlog items into the sprint."


Internet Patent News Service

I used to be in the software and Internet patent prior art searching business. At one point, I met Greg Aharonian through one of the lawyers I was working with. I recently discovered that he runs the Internet Patent News Service. Cool.


Chronic déjà vu

Spotted in Jargon Watch (on page 34) in the April 2006 issue of Wired:

n. A mental disorder in which victims respond to experiences with a false sense of famliarity, from films they've never seen to places they've never been. A mental disorder in which victims respond to experiences with a false sense of famliarity, from films they've never seen to places they've never been.



Spotted in Popular Science (February 2006 issue, page 85). Also spotted in Wired (Janary 2006 issue, page 36 in the form "promatorium").

A technique, developed by Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, whereby a body is freeze-dried in liquid nitrogen, and then jolted by a vibration at a specific frequency, reducing the body to a powder of flour-like consistency. The remains are placed in a box made of potato starch and shalowly buried so that the whole thing disintegrates in about a year.

See the Promessa Foundation web site for more information.



Ineffective / ineffectual / unthinking / irresponsible.

("feck" in this case is short for "effect".)


Great blog entry on math for programmers

I worked with Steve Yegge at Amazon.com back in 2003-2005, and he just posted a great blog entry on Math for Programmers. I do a lot of mathematical reading and writing (I hope to some day write a book on mathematics).

Mmmm… Slack

I just spotted this CNN article about the value of slack for strategic and innovative thinking on digg. I've witnessed this effect in my own professional and personal work.


Songs I’d like to hear Taylor Hicks cover

I've really been enjoying Taylor Hicks (the link is to what I think is his home page, but it is offline no doubt due to his current participation in American Idol) on American Idol, and I've heard a couple songs recently I think it would be neat to hear Taylor cover:

  1. You Make My Dreams Come True, by Daryl Hall and John Oates. Its a fairly simple song, and that could rule it out. But I suspect Taylor could throw in some "woo's" and other color to bring it new life.
  2. She's Gone, by Daryl Hall and John Oates. Its a five minute song, and doesn't move along very quickly, but a shorter arrangement could work. The song isn't a perfect match, but there are parts—especially in the chorus—where I can really imagine Taylor shining. Basically, an opportunity for Taylor to continue to show he can make a well-known song his own.

There was another one I was trying to find, but I don't know the name. The closest I came to getting that one (by lyric search via Google) was The Logical Song by Supertramp. But, I bought it and listened to it all the way through, and it isn't the one.

By the way, you can download some MP3 versions of three tracks from Taylor's CD "Under the Radar" here.


Want: Bombardier Embrio

Forbes recently ran an article on a concept vehicle from Bombardier called Embrio (video link).

The problem is, it is supposedly a concept intended to show what could done in 2025.


Build it sooner!

New blogroll entries

I just added these two new blogroll entries to the blogs of a couple of my Apple Store online pals.



Laughable, provoking laughter.

From Latin ris- ("laughed").

Seems like the word "derision" and the Spanish word for "smile" (sonrisa) would be based on this same root.



A confused mixture.

From the Latin for "mixed fodder."


Sanctuary - A remixable film

I originally spotted Sanctuary on page 50 of the January 2006 issue of Wired, under the heading "Hack This Film ".


Separated at birth? Geneva Sound System Model L and iPod Hi-Fi

Geneva Sound System (Model L); I spotted Model XL in Wired January 2006, Page 65 ("fetish").

iPod Hi-Fi, a new product from Apple.


Last week, I watched this video (35 minutes) of Maxis' forthcoming game "Spore".

Wow! If you watch it, it is worth watching all the way through. It starts out impressive, and just gets better and better and better as it goes through.

It is similar to, but way beyond some of my long ago dreams of a multi-level game that could be played at whatever level the player found most interesting...

WantWantWantWant - I hope they do a Mac version...

UPDATE 2006-03-13: Just saw this longer version...

Using sex to sell toilets is broken

The back cover to Wired's January 2006 issue had an advertisement with this picture:

and the caption:

Smooth, sensual technology with power that never quits.

That is just plain broken. Mixing sex and toilets is like mixing ice cream and horse manure. No amount of ice cream will make the horse manure any better, but even a little horse manure completely spoils the ice cream.

For crying out loud, the woman is even sitting on the toilet!


The Amen Break

I just ran across this nice piece on the Amen Break. Its a video (although the audio portion is really the meat of it -- there isn't much going on in the video portion) that discusses the history of the ubiquitous Amen Break. There is even a mention of Mantronix!


Naturally accompanying or associated.



(Thanks to Doug for mentioning the bus slewing his computer does and its concomitant special memory module requirements.)

Generically, the response of an electronic circuit when there is a large increase in its input.

More specifically, from the Apple page on PowerMac G5s and Bus Slewing...

To lower power consumption, heat generation, and fan noise, the Power Mac G5 computer incorporates an automatic power management technique called bus slewing. Bus slewing is designed to run at high processor/bus speeds and high voltage when the demand on the processor is high, and to run at low processor/bus speeds and low voltage when the demand on the processor is low.


SOA and Web Services

I've collected a folder of articles on SOA and Web Services, and this post captures those references electronically in one place so I don't have to retain the paper. I sure wish I had a good way to annotate pages I'd seen directly, and have those annotations be durable, searchable, manageable and based on back-up caches of the articles in case they go unavailable. Maybe that is a problem Google will tackle at some point...

Transport Encodings



Representational State Transfer (REST)

Introduced in 2000 by Thomas Fielding's dissertation Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures.

Here are a few comments on the article Implementing REST Web Services: Best Practices and Guidelines by Hao He, posted to XML.com on 2004-08-11.

  • I found these points attractive: Idempotency and having the caller specify the desired representation in the query (via the URI).
  • Under "Query String Extensibility", the paper says "If it needs to consume other services, it should pass all ignored parameters along" (Sounds dangerous - what if one of those sets an option on the downstream service call that makes it bypass security checks or return data in a different format?)
  • Also, "XML Schema provides a good framework for defining simple types, which can be used for validating query parameters." That is only so if you are doing a POST with an XML payload. If you are doing a GET, then XML has nothing to do with query parameters, since they will be expressed in the URI.
  • Under "Obligated Services", it says "Return a receipt immediately upon receiving a request", but then later says "... it must report an error if the service cannot process the request...". To whom would this error be returned? How? The only logical answer is to return that when later polled by the requester, but the wording of the item doesn't make that intent clear.
  • Under "An Implementation Architecture", it says "The architecture represented above has a pipe-and-filter style, a classical and robust architectural style used as early as 1944 by the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, to build the first atomic bomb in his computing team." First off, I'm not really sure how to parse that, especially the relation ship between the last phrase "in his computing team" and the rest of the sentence. But, aside from that, I could sure use a reference there. It sounds interesting and I've not heard it before. Possibly the entry "Genius -- Richard Feynman and modern physics, James Gleik, p. 201, Apacus 1993" in the "Further Reading" section is the one...

Bob DuCharme wrote Amazon's Web Services and XSLT, posted to XML.com on 2004-08-04. He calls out the ability to specify a format parameter, in particular where the value of the parameter can be the URL of an XSLT stylesheet to apply to the XML that Amazon.com would normally send in response to the query. Interestingly, the Amazon.com technology puts a copy of the request into its response, and if you pass in extra arguments in your request that are not part of the API, those arguments are still copied into the representation of the request that appears in the response. This can be useful if you want to pass information from your request to your XSLT stylesheet that will be processing the intermediate data from Amazon.com.

Jon Udell wrote The Beauty of REST, posted to XML.com on 2004-03-17. He talks about a bit of JavaScript that "extracts the ISBN from an Amazon (or other ISBN-bearing) URL and checks for the book's availability in your local library".


An ugly but popular web services convention. See the specification here.


Back on 2001-04-12, I released a critique of XML-RPC in the form of my own answer to the problem space: XPC. XPC has the same overall RPC style as XML-RPC (rather than being document centric, as is the current trend), but accomplishes it with a much cleaner notation.


Another ugly and baroque (some would say baroquen), yet popular web services convention. In a way, it is the EDI of the 21st century. Specifications can be found here.


Georg Bauer wrote an entry titled "XML-RPC vs. REST" on the Python Desktop Server Weblog's page for 2003-07-03. Georg appears to be interested in the Django Python web application framework, which I've looked at very briefly until now, but will probably look at more deeply soon.

Michael Daconta wrote Philisophical Split Hurts Web Services Adoption, posted on DevChannel on 2003-07-11.





Unusually vivid and detailed mental images, so much so that they seem as if they are truly visible.

Spotted in The Road to Dune.


Elepun (This entry rated PG-13!)

I was watching Spike TV with my wife a few weeks back, and they were playing World's Most Amazing Videos (alternate location here). One of the segments involved a person cleaning in an Elephant's cage (NOTE: Do NOT play this clip or read on in this post unless you don't mind a little gross PG-13 humor):


Now, incorrigible punster that I am, I couldn't resist making this comment to my wife: "Sat on him?!? She RECTum!".

(I found that copy of the video through the magic of Google. You can download it from here if you like.)

This particular video is available in Volume 5 of the VHS version, available from Amazon.com:

I also saw a reference to it on Rotten Tomatoes, although I don't know how reputable they are...

If you like this sort of thing, there are a bunch more on Wakin' Up With The Wolf...



Timid; lacking courage or determination.

Spotted on 2006-01-21 at the end of The Wizard of Oz, where the Wizard is dealing with the Scarecrow, and says to him:

Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing that you haven't got - a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th. D...Doctor of Thinkology.

From the Greek: pusillus = very small; animus = mind.


gaff / gaffe / gaffer (and gaffsman, gaffle, giffgaff and shandygaff)

(From my personal notes of 2001-07-26.)

gaff: a stick with a hook for landing large fish (from Middle English for "hook"). A gaffsman wields the gaff.

gaffe: a blunder.

gaffer: chief electrician of a movie or television crew.

gaffle: an artificial spur affixed to a fighting rooster, or a lever to bend a crossbow.

giffgaff: Mutual accommodation; mutual giving. (Webster's 1913).

shandygaff: A drink made of beer and lemonade.



Rapid eye movements among various points of interest.

Comes from the French for "jerk" or "pull".

See also the Wikipedia entry


Edsger Dijkstra and P-Slim

In one of Pedraum's recent blog articles (Symptoms of a Process) he ends with a reference to the music he was listening to at the time of writing:

Written while groovin' to Lola from the album “Blend Crafters” by DJ Nu-Mark & Pomo

I recently blogged about Edsger Dijkstra's correspondence being put online, and in one of the letters I read (on page 3 of the PDF of the July 1975 letter) Dijkstra does something similar when he resumes writing the letter after a pause:

(Continued after an interlude during which I just listened to Dvorak's Serenade--mainly for wind instruments--in D moll, opus 44: a delightful piece of music!)

Would Dijkstra have loved iTunes?


The fallacy of the amoral judiciary

In watching the build-up to and parts of the actual confirmation hearings for judge Alito and other recent nominees, I'm struck by how very broken what we appear to be doing is.

Specifically, it appears that we intend for judges to be virtually computer-like in their application of laws passed by the legislature and historical precedent. Any hint that a judicial candidate might have opinions on moral matters, or worse yet apply moral judgment in carrying out his or her duties is seen as endangering confirmation.

So, do we really intend that judges be this computer-like, or is the process we see in public just a farce? If the process is just for show, and the participants all realize, expect and intend that a judge must apply moral judgments at times, then that tells us something about what the producers of the process think about those of us observing...

But, for the purpose of the remainder of this article, I will take the process we see at face value and see where it leads, since this interpretation correlates well with other observations of the state of our government (in particular, the behavior of the legislature).

If we suppose that the function of a judge is to (a) find the facts of the matter and (b) apply the sum of the past products of the legislature (statutory law) and the judiciary (case law) to deciding the cases that come before him or her, without having or applying any moral perspective, then we are saying that only moral standards encoded in statutory or case law can be applied to deciding new cases. The finding of facts does not involve moral judgment (else they wouldn't be facts). By this view, new case law is not supposed to introduce new moral standards going forward, so we would expect that to the extent the case law history is good, it is also empty of moral content outside the statutory law in effect at the time the case was decided. Therefore, only statutory law is available as a source of bringing morality into the deciding of cases.

If the only way of bringing morality into the deciding of cases is to encode it in statutes, then we will find ourselves "legislating the edge cases" to the point where the laws are overly numerous and complex. A body of law of that nature is completely unreasonable. A system of rules of that size and complexity is not something people can keep in mind as they go about their daily interactions with the people around them. It is overspecifying correct behavior to the point where it becomes disconnected from reality. If you legislate to the edge cases, you lose sight of the centrality of the majority case. If you have to spell out every possible exceptional condition, you end up hiding what might otherwise be a clear moral principle that people could live by.

And, as it turns out, we do have a legislature that legislates the edge cases, creating a monotonically increasing body of statutory law, twisted and convoluted to the point of being both opaque and irrational. This supports the notion that the face-value interpretation of what we see in the nomination and confirmation process for U.S. Supreme Court justices applies. Our system is broken because it has come to the point where people seem to actually believe that moral behavior can be sufficiently encoded into statutory law that the judiciary can be amoral.



(Taken from my personal notes of 204-09-02.)

Word shape.

Spotted in the article The Science of Word Recognition by Kevin Larson (July 2004), which says:

The serial letter recognition model is also able to successfully predict that shorter words are recognized faster than longer words. It is a very robust finding that word recognition takes more time with longer words. It takes more time to recognize a 5-letter word than a 4-letter word, and 6-letter words take more time to recognize than 5-letter words. The serial letter recognition model predicts that this should happen, while a word shape model does not make this prediction. In fact, the word shape model should expect longer words with more unique patterns to be easier to recognize than shorter words.

Question: What about narrower letters? Is it (a) length in letters; (b) spatial width; or (c) some shape complexity metric that correlates better with time-to-recognize? The notion that spatial width matters is supported by this later statement in the paper:

The fovea, which is the clear center point of our vision, can only see three to four letters to the left and right of fixation at normal reading distances.

Also, wouldn't letter groups we are trained to see as a unit such as "-ing" or "-tion" count for less than other letter sequences of the same length (due to group recognition, as with subitizing for counting)?

Reading this paper reminded me of parts of Stephen Pinker's Words and Rules (a great book!).

See also: Bouma shape on Double-Tongued Word Wrester.


The Seventh Sign is Sakhrah-licious

I really like the movie The Seventh Sign. Generally, I'm a fan of apocalyptic stories.

In the movie, the "Guff" (aka "The Well of Souls", aka "Sakhrah") is about to go empty, ushering in the end of the world.

Office Assistant

I always found the Microsoft Office Assistant annoying, and back on 2000-10-09 I found this (at http://www.vaxer.net/~jeeves/assistant.gif). I just found it again (the "courtesy of" message was added to this version from http://www.berro.com/images1/OfficeAssistant.gif) and made my own copy so I won't lose it again.

Edsger Dijkstra’s “EWDs” Available Online

(Based on my personal notes of 2003-07-09.)

Edsger W. Dijkstra's copious correspondence has been put online. Here is a brief excerpt from that page:

For over four decades, he mailed copies of his consecutively numbered technical notes, trip reports, insightful observations, and pungent commentaries, known collectively as "EWDs", to several dozen recipients in academia and industry. Thanks to the ubiquity of the photocopier and the wide interest in Edsger's writings, the informal circulation of many of the EWDs eventually reached into the thousands.


AJAX Tech Talk

I attended a talk on AJAX by Greg Murray (Lead Engineer at Sun; also Servlet specification lead) last night at the Stevens Creek Barnes & Noble in San Jose. Here are my brief notes from that presentation (see http://java.sun.com/blueprints/ajax.html for Sun's main page on AJAX).

Advice: Choose a framework / library and use it. Don't re-invent the wheel.

Interesting applications:

  • Intercepting the "back" button (Dojo can do this) and making it operate like "Undo" in a GUI.
  • Single page application, but updating the address bar (without page reload) with a permalink that would return to the same or a similar page if bookmarked or shared with another person.
    (I think this is particularly interesting because it could be used to hide a session id from the user, but still pass it to the server in the URLs used for AJAX requests.)

Advice: Be careful about Section 508 compliance, especially if you sell or intend to sell to the U.S. government. It can be difficult to meet these accessibility rules with AJAX applications. You may even have to maintain two different applications: One with a great dynamic user experience built with AJAX, and another, simpler user experience suitable for screen readers.

Development notes:

  • Use encodeURI() in JavaScript for building URLs and sending localizable content to the server
  • Use UTF-8 for page character set
  • If implementing your own autocomplete text field (like Google Suggest), be sure to set the (nonstandard but well supported) autocomplete attribute of the input element to off to keep the browser's own autocomplete mechanism out of your way.
  • In your Servlet, set the character encoding to UTF-8 on servlet request before accessing parameters
  • Can send data back to browser via text, XML or JavaScript to be sent to eval() (JSON)
    (I think it would be interesting to have a SAX consumer that spit out JSON so code that used SAX to generate XML could be easily used to generate JSON too by plugging in a different backend.)
  • Browsers vary in support. Mozilla browsers and Internet Explorer are pretty good (although using a framework isolates you from their differences). Safari and Opera have some issues.
  • Some work is going into standardization
  • Don't forget (this isn't new): HTTP GET is for times when the request will not change state on the server. HTTP POST is for times when the request does change state.
  • Weblets: Packaging for web application resources
  • Some people are looking at ways of storing more data on the client side, including for offline operation of AJAX applications (AMASS is one).

Debugging notes:

Other Web 2.0 ideas: