cogitans alta voce 

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Bruce’s Magic Spell

At my first (real) job my boss, Bruce, had a little ritual which I thought funny at the time.

After editing his code for a little while, he would kick off a compile & test cycle. While this was running, he’d wave his twinkling fingers over the keyboard and solemnly chant

Tuuuuuurn toooooooo shiiiiiiiiit.

And yea verily, the code would turn to shit (not compile, fail tests, crash the machine, etc).

This magic spell is so effective I’ve found it work on not just my code, but all sorts of things:

  • Blog posts, and other writings
  • New Year resolutions
  • Careers… :-)

YMMV but this spell’s a keeper!


Stray Question: Water

Assume I have a steel box of fixed size. I fill the box completely with water, at room temperature. I then place the steel box inside a freezer for 24 hours.

  1. Assuming the steel box remains intact and at its initial fixed size, does the water freeze? If it cannot expand, can it freeze?
  2. What is the temperature of the water in the centre of the box?
  3. If I suddenly opened the box, what would happen to the water?

No idea why this occurred to me.

Rough Cut: Code aesthetics as a design consideration

From GNU sed 4.2.2 released, and a rant from the maintainer, and apparently quoting Richard Stallman:

We [the FSF] still prefer C to C++, because C++ is so ugly

The aesthetics of programming languages as an influencing factor in choosing which ones to use is relatively recent. Ten years ago I don’t think I ever heard anyone express a preference for say Pascal over C because it was “prettier.” It’s not that code didn’t have aesthetic judgements being made about it — you’d often find and complain about “ugly” code. It was however usually a comparison between code formatting styles for the same language.

Now Stallman might not have been making a purely aesthetic statement. I don’t know the context. He’s an old hacker from way back and there’s not a lot you could teach him about programming languages. He may have been referring to design trade-offs he didn’t like. Plenty of other people however have expressed, for example, a preference for Ruby or Python over Perl because Perl is “ugly.”

I’m just wondering out loud if it really is a new thing to see people use judgements about the “attractiveness” of a language’s syntax or if it’s always been there. Perhaps the rise of open source means that, compared to programming 10-20 years ago, we’re all reading a lot more code that we’re writing.

xkcd: Instagram

Popular web comic xkcd reminds us about Instagram.

He’s quite right. First cab off the rank for Operation: No More Freebies is Instagram. I’ve deleted my account today.

Updating my Web Presence

Really not sure what’s prompted this stocktake. Maybe it’s just that time of year.

Or it’s because it’s time to consolidate and stop relying so much on all these free services (free software, as in libre, is fine… free services however is another way of saying “productising myself so that others may sell me“).

So I now have some presences that are coming back to life:

  • A Blogger blog, where I try and write down some of the half-thoughts that are taking up too much time.
  • A Tumblr log, which is for random things.
  • My Instagram feed (followers only).
  • Also: multiple other blogs, another Tumblr feed, Google Reader, Picasa, GMail, Wikipedia account for editing, GitHub, CPAN,,, Eventbrite, AOL AIM, Skype, Slashdot, Twitter, Vimeo, Yahoo!, Coursera, Venture Labs, and trial accounts at dozens of free services that I’ve long since forgotten about. Those are just the “free” ones.

There is also of course the inevitable Facebook and LinkedIn pages which I’m not ready to link in yet.

And so in 2013 I’m going to see what I can do to switch off all these free services and take back ownership and control of my own data. It shall be called… Operation: No More Freebies! :-)

ATP at Eveleigh

Questions & Threads

The breadth of the questions in my head has stopped growing, so dumping them all now. These may or may not be related. Just thinking out loud…in no particular order:

  • What are the constraints on thinking? (Short list: metaphor, language, culture, semantics)
  • Why did I become interested in privilege and intersectionality?
  • Why have I become interested in innovation as a thing in its own right? (As opposed to being interested in it as a tool to achieve some other end — eg launch a business)
  • Why have I come back to intellectual property as something of interest?
  • What is it about the philosophy of science, the “science of science” and systemic scientific failures that keeps grabbing my attention?
  • Why, again, am I interested in cross-discipline research as a thing in its own right? Have I gone full-meta?
  • What are the constraints on problem solving, especially big problems? What is it that links Silicon Valley Technology Entrepreneurship, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, and our missing moon landing?
  • What is it about start-up incubators that makes me want to help build one?
  • “Research takes time.” Why? I mean, why exactly?
  • What is the value of diversity? What axes matter? What are my motivations for wanting to promote it?
  • Why do I see the distorting effects of KPIs everywhere… am I seeing what I place there myself?
  • Why have I linked Systems Thinking, lean manufacturing, agile software development and Japanese management and what nuances have I missed in doing that?

These are just the work related ones.

No wonder I’m having trouble sleeping. :)

Is it possible to improve understanding & communication independently?

Brain dump again. It may or may not make sense in hindsight.

We (the people) seem to do a terrible job of understanding each other. All our communication methods are “lossy”, in that information is lost in both the encoding & decoding processes. The act of listening actively alters the content of the message. And so does the act of speaking: it can force a sharpening of thought, but it can also force you to abandon a “feeling” or inexpressible viewpoint that changes how you are thinking but cannot be communicated to the listener.

For example, the preceding paragraph…

Is it possible to improve our abilities to understand each other?

Is this done in solely by focusing on communication, or are there other ways to improve understanding that can be independent of communication?

Has there been an inverse correlation between the rise of sophisticated communication networks and understanding between people? Comments section of most online news outlets suggests “yes”. :)

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