Oct 11, 2007

I had to declare email bankruptcy today. What did me in was not spam alone, but a combination of spam and high-volume mailing lists that might as well have been spam. I've unsubscribed from numerous email lists and I'm returning to my email being just for communicating with me, personally.

I recently changed the website over to use FreeSans. I don't know how it looks on Windows or Mac, but it looks really nice on Linux.

Apparently, I was just ahead of the curve. Appropriate for a blog started in 2000, I suppose. (via dangerousmeta!, which still amuses me with its name. It's the exclamation mark that really sells it.

Following up in a long-standing interest in online community formation, I notice that all of the supposed improvements on Slashdot like Digg and Reddit have long since decayed into democratically-moderated mediocrity, whereas Slashdot over the same time period was and remains a reasonable reflection of the community founders. Slashdot: 3, competition: 0.

Amazon MP3 Downloads: Yeah, I'm late to the party, but: Non-DRM'ed MP3s downloaded through the web browser (with optional program assist for Windows and MacOSX), for iTunes' price or better. All I can say is: What took so long? (Linux support is coming.) The selection will remain relatively poor until the other labels come onboard, but in the meantime I'll take what I can get. Encoding is stellar and the metadata in the MP3 is beautiful. If anything can dethrone iTunes, this is it. Amazon has continued to impress; they've done anything but rest on their laurels.

Spontaneous brain activity detected causing unforced errors. I think I know what this feels like; I suspected something like this existed. See also: utterly random muscle jerks. One thing I find amusing is the blog reactions; you can't leap to the conclusion this is a bug in human cognition. It may be, but you can't leap to that conclusion. The same random processes that cause occasional muscle jerks may also cause flashes of brilliance, or motivate an otherwise-actualized human to do something despite being content. The same goes for that execrable "conservative vs. liberal" study (the execrable part being the "vs." angle, not the study) after twenty flashes of the letter W, it is quite arguably rational to assume the next will also be a W. (Bayesian analysis would give it a very high probability under all reasonable priors, for instance.) Responding more quickly may reflect a difference in the learning rate, but the mathematical meaning of that term and the English meaning differ. Learning rates aren't "right" or "wrong", they only can be judged in the context of a given task, and drawing conclusions based on one rather abstract study is a travesty of science. It's an interesting data point, which is far from a proof of any meaningful statement, let alone the conclusions drawn. Cognition is complicated; if our naive ideas about how it worked were sufficient to explain it, we'd have built a working brain by now. Things that are self-obviously bugs are often features, things that appear to be features are often bugs, and most things are a little of both at once.

Oct 11, 2007

My ol' Why Not Mozilla? page recently wandered onto programming.reddit.com, though I wouldn't go clicking through for the comments.

Some specific criticisms are out of date, but the gist still seems true.

On the off chance any Mozilla people ever read this, the feedback has uniformly been positive about the piece. If any of you still harbor delusions of platform-ness, it's not going to happen. The developer community has been burned. I don't think we'll ever trust the Mozilla team to promise us a platform again.

If I could say one thing to the Mozilla/Firefox project, it would be this: You are a browser. You will never be anything else. When you're not being a browser, you're being a web-app (Thunderbird et al). Start simplifying. Drop RDF. Stop pretending XUL is anything but a browser-creation DSL. Simplify XPCOM. Do this conciously, and go over every abstraction and ask if you really use it or if it's there because somebody, somewhere might use it.

Think Agile, not BDUF-based platform. YAGNI.

But it's probably too late for that.

(To be fair, I haven't heard about this from the project for a while, but I still get the sense the heavy-duty design pervades the project, now with its reason-for-being lost in the mists of history.)

On Values
Oct 11, 2007

When we make a judgment, we are saying that one thing has a larger value than another. We have a value function in our brains that takes two arguments and returns whether the first is less than, equal to, or greater than the other. As cruel or as crazy as it may sound, that function can take any two things and compare them; we have to make decisions like Value(CoolJob, CloseToFamily) all the time.

Read the rest (644 words)

This entry is part of the BlogBook called "Programming Wisdom".

Oct 04, 2007

A novice in the ways of the Web came upon a Master, and implored him, "Sir, will you please teach me the ways of the Web and take me on as a student? For I am much in need of the knowledge the Web contains."

The Master agreed, and the novice began his training.

Within hours, he came upon a website containing thousands of strange cat pictures. The novice called over the Master and said, "Look, this is funny!" The Master thwacked the novice with a stick, and told him to ponder upon his transgression.

A year goes by, and the novice again comes upon the site. The novice calls over to the Master and says "You were right to discipline me. I can not believe I was ever naive enough to think this was funny." And the Master thwacked the novice with a stick, and told him to ponder upon his transgression.

Another year goes by, and the novice learns much. Again he comes upon the site, and calls the Master over. "I believe I understand now. The use of deliberately bad grammar harkens back to our childhood days, and cute pictures remind our brain of the faces of children. This site is a regression into immaturity in the face of a world that is increasingly complex and requires ever-increasing maturity to survive. Such as the maturity I am acquiring under your tutelage. Is that not right?" And the Master thwacked the novice with a stick, and told him to ponder upon his transgression.

Yet another year goes by, and the novice again comes upon the site. He calls the Master over, and says "I do not entirely know what you are looking for, but this site still seems silly." The Master this time gave the novice a small nod, and said "You are now on the path to wisdom, but you have not arrived yet."

A final year goes by, and the novice once again comes upon the site. He calls the Master over and says, "Look, this is funny!" The Master smiled sagely and nodded his assent, saying "Now you have learned all I can teach."

Oct 02, 2007

Many fans of Science Fiction refuse to acknowledge any Dune books not written by Frank Herbert, despite this ending the series on a massive cliffhanger. They choose to follow Muad'Dib's philosophy, instead: "Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife -- chopping off what's incomplete and saying: 'Now, it's complete because it's ended here.'" - DisContinuity, TVTropes Wiki

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