Sci/Math/Prog Summary: November 2017

A 1994 University of Minnesota alumni magazine spread featuring the Gopher protocol architects.

Interesting stuff from the past month:

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Sci/Math/Prog Summary: October 2017

Interesting stuff from the past month:

  • I feel the old “static typing vs dynamic typing” debate has gotten more nuanced recently with ‘spec’ and ‘schema’ in Clojure (i.e. better, fine-grained, runtime constraints). Also, as this article shows, there is a different “sweet spot” for different companies/people, which colors their perceptions of usefulness.
  • Cool antique stuff: check out this machine that debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
  • A fake interview with Linus Torvalds on Linux and Git, which made me smile 🙂
  • A balanced look at Urbit (not fawning, and not hating). If you’re curious, read this next.
  • You knew the moon affected the earth by its gravity, causing tides; but did you know it’s light was also influential?
  • Presented as idle curiosity: “Git bombs
  • Squids are marvellous creatures
  • Allen Wirfs-Brock gives a fascinating account of Smalltalk, and what it’s really about.
  • LIGO wasn’t just about discovering Gravitational Waves (and winning a nobel!) … it has also explained Gamma Rays, and the origin of heavy elements.
  • Inertia.
  • Someone’s journey developing a new Forth (ignore if you don’t know what that is).
  • As the subtitle of this text points out: “Once, robots assisted human workers. Now it’s the other way around.”
  • Cool weird trains of the past: duplex railway!
  • Been using Tinderbox for less than a year, but I share this person’s opinion.

Sci/Math/Prog Summary: September 2017

Fun stuff from the past month …

The 59 digits of the Babylonian number system used in ancient Mesopotamia.
The 59 digits of the Babylonian number system used in ancient Mesopotamia.
  • Blast from the past: a “Unix logo contest”, twenty years ago, that was in turn celebration thirty years of Unix.
  • A “less massive” black hole right next to the supermassive one at the Milky Way’s center.
  • An excellent talk by Bryan Cantrill: the Oral Tradition in Software Engineering
  • This, from almost twenty years ago, is the result of an internal Microsoft satire competition. I feel like copy-pasting the whole damn thing here, but maybe I’ll make a separate post for it, it’s that good.
  • “How does a database work?”: an excellent series of posts re-inventing a simple SQLite clone
  • Might have posted this before, but so what, it’s a classic: Gerald Sussman (the talk is six years ago now) on We really don’t know how to compute
  • 2048 ruined many hours of many people’s time, so someone went and did a detailed combinatoric analysis.
  • I wish I understood this better, for now I’ve just shelved it on my “to-read” list: one of those “how is everything really connected” pieces. I’ve stalked blog posts by John Shutt for a long time now, love all the insights in the past.
  • I’ve started and stopped reading The Elements of Programming a few times, but here’s someone who’s demonstrating the concepts (pun intended) in there.
  • Connecting programming language design to architecture.
  • I just don’t have time these days, but I do want to watch “The Orville”; here’s Seth McFarlane discussing it, and the possibilities for science fiction today.
  • I don’t always read Hacker News, but when I do, it’s for Alan Kay’s comments.
  • Urbit has been (IMHO) a strange thing, either crap or the holy grail, nothing in between, and it seems to have shifted over to Ethereum, so we’ll see how that goes.
  • Finally, (weekend casual reading!) a Scientific American article on The joy of sexagesimal floating-point arithmetic (related image on top).

Sci/Math/Prog Summary: August 2017

Random list of interesting stuff this month:

Sci/Math/Prog summary: July 2017

Random list of interesting stuff this month:

Sun and Netscape are announcing a new version of Java that is intended to make programming more accessible to non-computer experts. The version is known as a scripting language, Javascript, and is based on a simple programming language already developed by Netscape. The idea is to make program development possible by people who are experienced computer users but not programmers.

… there is no business case anymore for a truly open platform based on custom-designed hardware, since people refuse to spend extra money for tweakability, freedom, and security.

  • I had always heard about the “hammer and feather” experiment on the moon; now, thanks to Youtube, I can see it.
  • Yep, Datomic is awesome and I wish I had more time or reason to play around with it. One day, one day.
  • Evan Miller seems to think Perl 6 is worth learning.
  • Herb Sutter put out a real teaser about upcoming metaprogramming abilities in C++
  • Finally, a short but important article reminds us that regardless of the machine underneath, we program in metaphors, and there’s no point trying to deny that.

You must master the art of metaphor selection, of meaning amplification. You must know when to add and when to subtract. You will learn to revise and rewrite code as a writer does. Once there’s nothing else to add or remove, you have finished your work. The problem you started with is now the solution. Is that the meaning you intended to convey in the first place?

Brainstorming digital tool chaos

I used to think that I alone struggled with various tools and apps to manage, track and digest all the things I want to keep track of, but I now suspect this is a pretty common source of discontent.

Every few years I go through a phase of ‘churn where I signup for something new, with the hope that now, at long last, my cognitive load will lessen, ideas will be remembered, snippets and quotes will be stored and retrieved, and so on. Yet inevitably, after some initial enthusiasm, the experiment ends in deadlock and decay.

In the best case, the tool or app becomes inconvenient and sluggish, while in the worst case everything laboriously entered in is los forever. So after about a decade and half of this ridiculous waste of time, I thought I’d try to think through to figure out what exactly it is that I’m looking for.

There’s no point pretending that the one true, great tool out there will solve these problems. So this post isn’t about finding solutions, but just listing problems.

  • I need away to remind me to do something on a one-off basis
  • I need to be able to track a small group of related tasks
  • I need to be able to make lists of things, sometimes collaboratively
  • I need to be able to write medium size posts, like this one, with minimum fuss
  • I want to be able to save bookmarks (lots of them!) and find them later, by date and ‘tag’
  • I want to be able to save quotes or extracts from web pages
  • I want to be able to save pdfs and later search within them
  • I need an easy way to make short notes without making an official ‘doc’ about something with a title, etc.
  • I want to be able to quickly snap a photo of something, annotate it, and file it away, sometimes with a reminder
  • I need to make notes about a certain topic as I go along, sometimes sigh snippets of text or code, and retrieve his later by date or by ‘tag’
  • Sometimes emails have to be be turned into tasks
  • I have to be able to quickly capture thoughts and ideas for future retrieval
  • I don’t want to be locked in to proprietary formats or hidden libraries, as far as possible
  • It should be possible to ‘sync’ between devices
  • I don’t necessarily want to keep everything ‘in the cloud’
  • I want a lot of photos around, forever, accessible from everywhere
  • I need to be able to search across text, images, pdfs, but without always doing a huge amount of tagging up front
  • I want to be able to create small ‘projects’ with tasks, but without having to fight some rigid ‘true way’ of defining them (fluid due dates, deferred dates, priorities, easy capture and editing)
  • I need recurring reminders too (sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly, sometimes biannually, etc)
  • I don’t want to think too much about where to file a given snippet, all I care about is being able to look for it later as if I had filed it correctly to begin with
  • I want to avoid the risk of some one going out of business and taking my data with them (stick to regular files and plain text as far as possible)

Yeah, a lot to ask for, but also … it’s not all that much, there has to be a way to get all this to work somehow.