Archive for September, 2008

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: language

Native Germanic-language speaker: “What is your name?”

Native Romance-language speaker: “How do you call yourself?”

Native RDF speaker: “How do you call what your name is?”

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Monday, September 29th, 2008

My energy plan

Cringely writes that a mandatory ban on incandescent lighting would cut U.S. electricity consumption by 18% within a year. What else could have a big impact?

The Onion Radio News reported on a new eco-friendly Hummer that kills its owners. (aired Aug 7, 2008) That’s not bad, but a tax on SUVs of one dollar per pound per year would be fine too.

On a more serious note, telecommuting could significantly reduce energy usage. Twenty percent of person-days should be doable within a year, averaged across all industries and workers. I wonder what percentage of petroleum usage that would represent?…


Friday, September 26th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: election politics

One state, two state.
Red state, blue state.

Yes. Some are red. And some are blue.
Some are old. And some are new.
Some are sad.
And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.

Why are they
sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad.

Not one of them
is like another.
Don’t ask us why.
Go ask your mother.

Today is gone. Today was fun.
Tomorrow is another one.
Every day,
from here to there,
shenanigans are everywhere.

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Thursday, September 25th, 2008

The power of narrative in software development

I’m working on a piece of software that, while not the answer to world peace, is still pretty neat and approaches a specific problem in a fresh way. The project is at the stage where it needs to get unveiled to early adopters in the target audience. So how does one introduce possibly unfamiliar concepts in the form of a new API?

The approach we ended up using for the initial documentation is essentially a narrative–telling a story. Narrative fills the gap between use case and solution in an engaging way. People are naturally inclined to listen to stories, and to expect certain story structures, such as having a beginning, middle, and end with suitable transitions. Thus, if the listener senses a gap in the story, it’s easy for them to speak up. When the story works, people find it easier to map their personal story on to the narrative, leading to better absorption of new concepts, and a more positive impression of the software.

And it’s working. So far we’ve gotten far more useful feedback than we would have otherwise. Even before showing others, the exercise of writing the narrative has exposed gaps and flaws in our thinking, leading to a better, more cohesive design.

If you think back about how you learned about, say, object oriented programming, or event-driven programming, likely there was a story or detailed use case involved that helped you get on board with a new way of thinking. Software + story: It’s a powerful combination, I recommend it.

BTW, my team is hiring full-time positions. Especially if you’ve got XML skills, you could be part of this team. Send me email if interested. -m

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Geek Thoughts: calorie counting

A food calorie (kilocalorie) is the amount of energy required to heat one liter of water one degree C. Therefore, when you drink one liter of ice water your body has to warm it up to 37C, giving it an effective calorie content of negative 37.

Room temperature (25 degree C) water, on the other hand, has only -12 calories per liter.

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Sunday, September 21st, 2008

My economic plan

Levy a $24,000, one-time tax, payable in installments over 10 years, against anyone who took out an interest-only mortgage (or various other high-risk instruments) during the previous 10 years, using the full nasty power of the IRS to collect (garnishing wages, etc.)

Take the proceeds and give it to homeowners who did NOT engage in high-risk activities as a tax refund.

Since taxpayers will be bailing out wall street anyway, why not move the blame closer to where it belongs? -m

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: we’ve got to do something about these libraries

A Geek sits in a room filled with books, internet terminals, and a few comfortable chairs. All around, people are reading copyrighted materials, event taking them home to “borrow”. The Geek uses free wi-fi to catch up on email and postings. And the poor, starving content creators aren’t getting a cent. How can this travesty continue?

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Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The case for native higher-order functions in XQuery

The XQuery Working Group is debating the need for higher-order functions in the language. I’m working on honing my description of why this is an important feature. Does this work? What would work better?

Imagine you are writing a smallish widget app, in an environment without a standard library. When you need to sort your widgets, you’d write a simple function with a signature like sort(sequence-of-widgets). That’s great.

Now imagine you find your app to be steadily growing. An accumulation of smaller one-off solutions won’t work anymore, you need a general solution. What you’ll end up with is something like qsort in C, which takes a pointer to a comparator function. By providing different comparators, you can sort anything any way you like, all through only a single sort function. C and C++ have something like this, as do PHP, Python, Java, JavaScript, and even assembly language. XSLT has it, as proven by Dimitre.

XQuery doesn’t. It should, because people are now using it for more than short queries. People are writing programs in it. -m

P. S. Comment please.

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: the classics, part 1

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

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Thursday, September 11th, 2008

What I’m Reading

Going away for a week (so possibly minimal posting here). What am I bringing to read?

Check some of these out. What do you like to read when travelling? -m

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Breaking news: Jerry Seinfeld still unfunny

And Microsoft still unhip. I’m not even bothering to click through the second ad… -m

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: English is funny, part 1

Has there ever been a case of mitigated gall?

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Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It’s the Data, Stupid: Evernote wins

My quest for a backup brain is (almost) at an end. Evernote flat out rocks. It runs as a great Mac app (on that other OS too, in case through some disaster I ever need it). It has a nice web interface, including a web clipper. It’s on the iPhone. Anything I put in there is immediately at my fingertips.

It only needs one more thing, one of several actually: ability to sync notes to the filesystem OR an API (which is reportedly on the way). Even a way to backup all notes would be a good start.

Check it out. -m

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Mead Judge Certification Program

Where do I sign up? Link. -m

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: complexity

chromatic: O(n^3) isn’t so bad when n=1 or 2.

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Saturday, September 6th, 2008

MoreFlavor mead update

Some of you were at my Aug 2 Meade Classe at MoreFlavor in Los Altos. Here’s the latest: I racked it to a very full 3 gallon fermenter today. The gravity measured at 1.004, a drop of 142 (!) points, which puts it at just a hair under 19% ABV. It’s potent stuff. Good fruit character and some whisky-like heat. It will calm down substantially over the next 5-10 years. :-) -m

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: calculation

Google is a much better search engine for everyday calculations in the search bar, like say

[439600 light years / 200 km/sec]

(compare Y!,, er,, er,

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Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Mark Logic is hiring

The company is in great need of talented XML professionals, including sales engineers, consultants, support, and technical writing. Let me know if you (or someone you know) is up for the challenge. -m

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Do you Yahoo on iPhone?

I prefer the Yahoo! Search iPhone interface. Search Assist and SearchMonkey goodness abound, and make a concrete improvement to the experience.

But why can’t I get Yahoo! Go for iPhone? I’m gobsmacked that such a strategic app isn’t available this far into the game. Yahoo! Go was first announced in 2006. Then 2007. Then 2008. Maybe 2009 will be the year. -m

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Geek Thoughts: ballad

Blackberry singing in the dead of night

Take these calendars, and do invite

All your life

You are only waiting for this email to arrive

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P.S. Got a better one? Post it. -m