The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Archive for December 2007

Interface

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I thought I had this somewhere, but I can’t find it…

The Anti-Mac Interface: CACM Aug 1996 paper by Don Gentner and Jakob Nielsen.

Don Norman: UI Breakthrough — Command Line Interfaces

Gina on LH: The command line comeback

Google search, Gmail, Google calendar (wow)….

Written by S

Sat, 2007-12-29 at 17:44:17 +05:30

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Feeling loved

with 2 comments

I’ve been getting dozens of “Happy New Year” emails every day.

From spammers.

Written by S

Fri, 2007-12-28 at 14:40:35 +05:30

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TED talk: Dangerous things you should let your children do

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Here.

The talk itself isn’t very compelling, but since I wholeheartedly agree with the idea already…
(Although I haven’t thrown a spear)

watch it.

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-27 at 22:02:19 +05:30

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Scent of a Woman

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I just saw Scent of a Woman. What a bizarre movie.

  • Yeah yeah Al Pacino is a great actor and all.
  • I’m sick of Thomas Newman. I’ve seen American Beauty and Road to Perdition, and I don’t want your stupid piano notes when I’m expecting silence or low music. A music score is bad when it draws attention to itself. (To be fair, he made this before he made those two and The Shawshank Redemption.)
  • I don’t understand the perverse American culture where it’s dishonourable to tell the truth.
  • Or where it’s expected to be rude to family.
  • I thought “the guy playing George is trying too hard to ACT”, and sure enough, after watching the movie I find out it’s Philip S Hoffman, actor extraordinaire.

Sigh…

I did enjoy the movie though.

Update: I also saw Cinderella Man, and Thomas Newman wasn’t annoying at all. (Why does the Irish music in the credits have his feel to it? :-)) I remember Shawshank Redemption sounded great too. So he’s got better?

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-27 at 02:41:48 +05:30

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“What I need…

with 3 comments

… is a movie that is an hour and a half of River Tam beating up dinosaurs.”

Randall Munroe at Google:

Look at 21:30: What’s Knuth doing at Google?!

Update [thanks Arpith]: An account of Randall Munroe’s visit to Google by Ellen Spertus who invited him, and whom Knuth mentions in his question.

Written by S

Fri, 2007-12-21 at 03:13:57 +05:30

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Laptops attract ants?

with 4 comments

Or am I crazy?

Update: Ironic: less than an hour after posting this, I’m the top Google result for this query. You can’t appeal to authority very well when Google says there is no higher authority.

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-20 at 19:23:25 +05:30

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Delayed learning

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A quote from Ralph P. Boas:

…by a phenomenon that everybody who teaches mathematics has observed: the students always have to be taught what they should have learned in the preceding course. (We, the teachers, were of course exceptions; it is consequently hard for us to understand the deficiencies of our students.) The average student does not really learn to add fractions in an arithmetic class; but by the time he has survived a course in algebra he can add numerical fractions. He does not learn algebra in the algebra course; he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it. He does not learn calculus in a calculus class either; but if he goes on to differential equations he may have a pretty good grasp of elementary calculus when he gets through. And so on throughout the hierarchy of courses; the most advanced course, naturally, is learned only by teaching it. This is not just because each previous teacher did such a rotten job. It is because there is not time for enough practice on each new topic; and even it there were, it would be insufferably dull.

It is an important lesson — and one that I have been finding hard to absorb — that it’s usually fruitful to move on when one has enough of an understanding of something to be able to read further; that there is nothing to be gained by reading the same thing over and over, just because one feels that there might be something that one has missed. I am not making an argument for shoddy work; I’m only remarking that there is often nothing to be gained from being paranoid/obsessed/fixated with an idea. I wonder if I just need to learn to be more confident.

The quote seems to be open to interpretation: this post (which is where I first saw it) uses it to observe that teachers should be judged on how their students perform at the next level of education.

The other lesson, explicit in

he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it

is that one learns by doing. This may be a cliché, but that is exactly why is too easy to forget its meaning. One learns when one is forced to do
I have observed this in my picking up of programming languages etc., where I’m usually trying less hard to “learn it perfectly”, and therefore (surprsingly?) have better results. It’s time to apply this insight to academic learning, I guess.

Update[2009-12-10]: The quote is from an article by Boas in the American Mathematical Monthly, April 1957; if you don’t have JSTOR access it’s reproduced here (scroll down).

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-20 at 06:28:20 +05:30

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Who Can Name the Bigger Number?

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Written by S

Tue, 2007-12-18 at 19:11:23 +05:30

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When is a WTF not a WTF?

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The Daily WTF often posts lame stories, but it occasionally has true WTFs… and sometimes, truly awe-inspiring stories.

ITAPPMONROBOT: A really clever really dirty hack to fix an ugly problem. I’m full of admiration.

Written by S

Tue, 2007-12-18 at 19:06:24 +05:30

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“Next up: habeas corpus for the CD rack”

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It is heartening to see mainstream media sources understand (a bit of) the issues concerning copyright and DRM that we have been discussing for so long. It gives one hope that sanity will eventually spread to the US and A, and some day perhaps even to Fox News.

For now, though, there is The Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, reporting on the “Canadian DMCA” which, thanks to a public outcry, has been put off for now.

To quote:

[...]As anyone who has bought music from Apple has learned the hard way, companies are in the business of putting technological locks on their content. The classic example is songs bought on iTunes, which have built-in limits on where they can be played (iPods only!) and how they can be copied (hardly at all). The happy euphemism for this technique is Digital Rights Management, or DRM.[...]

[...]After all, not every act of copying is necessarily a copyright violation.[...]

[...]Surprise, surprise: The thought of making casual criminals of people who prod a piece of media in the wrong manner did not go down well. The thought that the contents of your personal video recorder might have certain unalienable rights is discomfiting, all right. Next up: habeas corpus for the CD rack.[...]

[...]While neither the law nor the lawsuits have managed to end music piracy by creating a climate of fear, they have succeeded quite nicely at creating a climate of resentment. The music industry displayed an uncanny knack for choosing media-friendly targets for lawsuits – grandmothers, little children, puppies – and have crafted for themselves a very public image as cigar-chomping, out-of-touch corporate bullies.[...]

[...]Copyright law matters. We’re lucky that, when the time came, the ground was so well prepared for the revolt that followed.[...]

Hooray for anti-Americanism :D

Written by S

Mon, 2007-12-17 at 03:34:27 +05:30

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Prepositions

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Prepositions are one of the toughest areas of English for non-native speakers to learn correctly. (In my experience, mistakes involving prepositions are among the most common from Indian learners who have learnt to use articles :-))

The Language Log wonders today about prepositions, starting with In or on? Experience the power of splash screens by Mark Liberman, At that second, on that day, in that year by Geoffrey Pullum, an anecdote Preposition day at Language Log by Roger Shuy, a more detailed look In the car, on the bus by Geoffrey Pullum, and finally an attempt at a “logical” explanation, Dimensions, metaphors, and prepositions by John Lawler.

English is hard :)

Written by S

Mon, 2007-12-17 at 01:43:53 +05:30

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More annoying than dubbing

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I have always preferred watching subtitled movies to those @$%@$! dubbed ones, but there exists a practice so incredibly infuriating that it makes one weakly plead for even dubbing instead: a “reading” by a voice actor. That’s a voice actor; a single man doing all the voices.

See this NYTimes article.

You have to see it to believe it, and then desperately try to forget it to remain sane.

See also Wikipedia article, which has a sample from the Matrix. Yes, that’s right, you hear both soundtracks, for extra authenticity. Nothing like watching a German film with Polish reading (with the German still audible) and English subtitles.

To quote from this blog:

One feature of Polish television that I keep forgetting about and which throws me back into my childhood every single time I travel there, is the “Lector voice over”. This one is really great. It is like being 5, sitting with your older brother in front of the television. He really wants to go out on with his friends, so he hates having to be there with you. But father grounded him, so now this really angry older brother has to read all the subtitles to you. All of them. He becomes the angry voice of every single character in the movie. And he hates it. So there might be a woman on screen, screaming and throwing dishes at this strange looking American guy, while your brother sadly proclaims “I hate you, and I am going back to my mother.”
It seems to be always the same voice, always the same sad, sad voice. Absolutely no other emotion than sadness. A voice just loud enough to make it impossible to hear the original language if you actually understand it. It is a very unique experience. Kojak comes to my mind now, but I remember Dynasty as well, and yes, ALL of the characters in Dynasty had the same sad voice, of the same sad man. A lector. Oh, when the credits appear on screen, he just reveals his name. Same voice.

[Also:

"These foreign films were translated into Russian by means of a lektor. Used throughout Eastern Europe, a lektor is a single person, almost always a man, who narrates the entire film. It’s cheaper than proper dubbing, or even subtitles. (Sometimes the newsreader cadence of the lektor sounds ridiculously out of place. I once watched a cheesy horror film lektored into Polish, during which a mad slasher pursued a lingerie-clad woman down a dim corridor to her gory doom. No explanation was needed, but the lektor cheerfully rendered the dialog: “No. No. Help. No. Help me. No. Stop. No. Don’t do it. Please. No. Help. No. No."

]

Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-16 at 16:37:49 +05:30

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Commandline MPlayer on OS X

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The OS X build of Mplayer (from the official site) does have good old mplayer buried in it; it’s at

"/Applications/MPlayer OSX.app/Contents/Resources/External_Binaries/mplayer_intel.app/Contents/MacOS/mplayer"

It may also be at

/Applications/MPlayer OS X 2.app/Contents/Resources/mplayer.app/Contents/MacOS/mplayer

on other builds.

Found it thanks to this blog.

Also, the OSD (subtitles, fonts) by default doesn’t “just work” on OS X; you have to symlink a ttf file into ~/.mplayer/subfont.ttf
There are some TTF fonts in /Library/Fonts/; you can try locate .ttf to find more. (Or download, of course.)

Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-16 at 16:11:57 +05:30

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A pair of compasses

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BBC educational programme: “Be sure to set your calculator to maths”. Complete with pictures of cats.

This is the first part of an excellent BBC series called Look Around You. Thants!

Meanwhile, Essiness, AKA Slim Dorky, AKA Dr. Stephen Sawin at Fairfield University, raps the Bolzano-Weierstrass theorem. He even ends with a traditional “I’ll leave you with this exercise: to prove it in Rn” :)

He’s back with Perelman’s proof of the Poincare conjecture:

More on his page.

Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-16 at 03:41:23 +05:30

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Gibbon v/s Tiger

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Not Ubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon” v/s Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, but a real gibbon v/s real tigers:

Written by S

Fri, 2007-12-14 at 04:35:46 +05:30

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Form > content

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David Mccandless (?) has an excellent set of parodies of websites, from Porn for Girls by Girls (awesome!), Crackbook (click), Amasszone, Schmapple, Good News, and all the rest.

We do not realise the extent of our association of the content with its “form”, I think. The Porn… site, for example, is distinctly a porn site. It is helped by the words of course, but take the words away, and still something remains… is it simply a matter of image sizes and colours?

Written by S

Thu, 2007-12-13 at 20:06:28 +05:30

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Yahoo Answers

with one comment

There’s an article on Slate about Yahoo Answers. It hits Slashdot, and soon people dig up SomethingAwful’s three-part series, sample questions, and remarks about the model and the name (as well as random stuff).

Slashdot rots your brain.
Yahoo Answers will kill you.

Written by S

Tue, 2007-12-11 at 23:01:07 +05:30

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Leia does a Nigerian 419

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From here:

FROM:PRNCSS. L ORGANA
DEAR friend.
I AM PRINCESS LEIA ORGANA ONLY SURVIVOR
OF THE ROYALFAMILY OF ALDERAN (ALDRN).
I AM MOVED TO WRITE YOU THIS LETTER,
THIS WAS IN CONFIDENCE CONSIDERING MY
PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCE AND SITUATION.

Read the rest there.

Written by S

Tue, 2007-12-11 at 20:57:34 +05:30

Posted in funny

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How many roads must a man walk down?

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Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-09 at 16:59:09 +05:30

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Murray Gell-mann

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Talks. See TED video.

Notice him pronouncing Coulomb, Yang, and even Einstein.

Update: Some context: A NYT article.

Even Murray Gell-Mann’s credentials — a director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, adviser to the Pentagon on arms control, collector of prehistoric Southwest American pottery, amateur ornithologist, to name a few — can’t prepare a visitor for the full extent of his erudition. He pronounces “Chagas” as it is heard in Brazil. He has been known to correct the Ukrainian pronunciation of native Ukrainians and disparage the Swahili of Kenyans.

Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-09 at 08:27:46 +05:30

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