The Lumber Room

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Archive for November 2006

Writing for Computer Science

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There is a book with that title. Other good related resources are the links here, and (more general) here. Also, maybe at this course home page.

Written by S

Mon, 2006-11-27 at 13:08:03 +05:30

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Too much choice?

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Originally from Joel Spolsky’s article about the Shutdown menu, to a Slashdot article, and then these links:
Sheena Iyengar studies choice. This paper was suggested (by the poster) as a good place to start. Barry Schwartz has done some work too, and also written articles like this. A short article is here.
Update: There is a video here.
Some people (sensibly) disagree.

(BTW, Joel has also written about it before. And later?)

Written by S

Mon, 2006-11-27 at 12:51:05 +05:30

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Is it just American high schools?

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Linked-to from a post on this Slashdot article, is an article called The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher. This ties in with what I read in Paul Graham’s essay (some reactions).
Although it is nowhere as bad as that here, they’re still interesting to read. I doubt there is any actual conspiracy going on, but those are probably the “lessons learned”, intended or not.

Written by S

Wed, 2006-11-22 at 14:07:21 +05:30

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String Theory

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Between this and this and my reading of Feynman’s Rainbow today, I must say that my opinion of String Theory isn’t really‚Ķ :-)
Update: Also (noting it down because I’m too busy/lazy to read the entire thing now): A Slashdot review of Smolin’s book mentioned above.
Another update: A reply by Joe Polchinski

PHD comics on astrophysics, largely the same.

And until I file this away in the proper place (along with Murphy’s laws, etc.), here is Tumbling toast, Murphy’s Law and the fundamental constants (not available), and the misanthropic principle.

Written by S

Wed, 2006-11-22 at 13:46:10 +05:30

BSNL DataOne’s DNS

with 6 comments

The manual I got asked me to use 61.1.96.69 and 61.1.96.71 as the domain-name servers, but it appears that this is not really optimal. I found other sources, and confirmed by looking at one particular DataOne manual.
Here are the first few lines of my /etc/resolv.conf now:

nameserver 218.248.255.145 #BSNL, primary for South, secondary for North
nameserver 218.248.255.193 #BSNL, primary for North, secondary for South
nameserver 61.1.96.69      #BSNL, primary for East
nameserver 61.1.96.71      #BSNL, secondary for West
nameserver 218.248.255.177 #BSNL, primary for West, secondary for East
nameserver 208.67.222.222  #OpenDNS
nameserver 208.67.220.220  #OpenDNS

The first one is really faster slightly (about 63 ms instead of 79 ms, or so), but I doubt if it matters…

[Update, asked in the comments: use this on Windows.]

Written by S

Mon, 2006-11-13 at 16:41:46 +05:30

Posted in compknow

You just can’t kill some people, apparently

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From a fortune quote:

The Least Successful Executions
        History has furnished us with two executioners worthy of attention.
The first performed in Sydney in Australia.  In 1803 three attempts were
made to hang a Mr. Joseph Samuels.  On the first two of these the rope
snapped, while on the third Mr. Samuels just hung there peacefully until he
and everyone else got bored.  Since he had proved unsusceptible to capital
punishment, he was reprieved.
        The most important British executioner was Mr. James Berry who
tried three times in 1885 to hang Mr. John Lee at Exeter Jail, but on each
occasion failed to get the trap door open.
        In recognition of this achievement, the Home Secretary commuted
Lee's sentence to "life" imprisonment.  He was released in 1917, emigrated
to America and lived until 1933.
                -- Stephen Pile, "The Book of Heroic Failures"

I looked for, and found references to Joseph Samuels here.
The latter, John Lee, seems to have inspired even more curiosity: there is an account here, he gets a chapter of a book here, and the BBC had a programme about him, based on the work of someone who has done an incredible amount of research on the case, and even written a book! Quite interesting.

Written by S

Tue, 2006-11-07 at 21:42:16 +05:30

Posted in funny

Emacs, keyboard, mouse, lies, statistics

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There is a Woodnotes Guide to Emacs for Writers, also available as a PDF file. It’s an introductory thing; maybe I’ll skim over it someday to see if there’s something useful. There’s also Bram Moolenaar’s Seven habits of effective text editing, which I must read sometime. I’m sure the advice is just as valid for Emacs (or any worthy text editor) as it is for Vim.

There is Steve Yegge’s Effective Emacs, which is possibly an attempt to come close to the “7 habits” above, but most of the tips are either things I already know or relatively irrelevant. The “other things” list and the end, and some of the comments, are quite useful, though. Anyway, it appears that it ruffled some feathers, of someone claiming that using the mouse is always faster than the keyboard, referring to a study described on “Ask TOG” in Parts One, Two, and Three. The study claims that keyboard users forget the 2 seconds of cognitive effort they spend trying to remember which keys to use, and therefore it only feels faster, even though it isn’t. It is possibly true, but I doubt I really spend 2 seconds thinking about the keystrokes to use (for common tasks, at least). The number of times I hit C-x C-s when using something like gedit would certainly be an insignificant fraction of its current value if I spent even half a second thinking about it, I think. Besides, the study mentions the task they used to test:

Using Microsoft Word on a Macintosh, I typed in a paragraph of text, then replaced every instance of an “e” with a vertical bar (|). The test subject’s task was to replace every | with an “e.”

and says that

The average time for the cursor keys was 99.43 seconds, for the mouse, 50.22 seconds.

This task is something I can do in at most 4 seconds in Emacs with the keyboard (M-x replace-regexp, which I’ve bound to a single keystroke), and even in MS-Word with the mouse, in about 10 seconds, probably. (Navigate to the Search/Replace menu, type | and e, click Replace All.) If you make a study under artificial conditions, surely you’ll get artificial results?

Written by S

Mon, 2006-11-06 at 15:00:29 +05:30

Posted in Uncategorized

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