2006-01-31

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):

[[ VIDEO UPDATED TO YOUTUBE 2008-08-31 ]]

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...

2006-01-30

pusillanimous

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.

2006-01-23

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.

2006-01-16

saccades

Rapid eye movements among various points of interest.

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

See also the Wikipedia entry

2006-01-12

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?

2006-01-10

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.

2006-01-09

bouma

(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.

2006-01-06

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.

2006-01-05

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: