Archive for March 2005

However, everyone knows if you’re a plagiarist

A comedy writer named Nate Kushner received an IM from a college student, who commissioned him to write her a paper on Hinduism. Because it’s on Hinduism, Kushner could refer to such things as the “Shudahelupta class,” without necessarily alerting the student that she was turning in a patently absurd piece. The funniest thing is actually their exchange of IMs on how to prove that she would pay him (he asked for PayPal, she offered to take a cameraphone image of a check… something like that).

He posted the essay, their IM log, and her real name to his blog. Oh, Laura K. Prahl, you might want to consider changing your name…

P.S. The famous Peter Steiner cartoon appeared in the July 5, 1993 (wow!) episode of The New Yorker. The irony that this blog post is a nail in the coffin for Ms. Prahl’s Googlism but itself could be construed as being beyond-the-pale of “fair use” is not lost on me. And yet, the image is not hosted by me…I do nothing but provide an <img> link to Google’s #1 return for the caption… O Brave New World of Intellectual Property Rights!

casey chesnut (genius) converts ink to svg

Converting Journal Notes to XML, SVG, and OneNote via [brains-N-brawn.com]

This is the kind of ruthless competence that gives a bad name to the rest of us writers.

Swimming with Dolphins

Yesterday, the ocean was flat as a pancake, so I called pau hana at 2 and Tina and I went down to 2-Step. As soon as we got there, we could see a big pod of dolphins in close to the reef edge. Better still, we had our best freediving gear with us — full wetsuits with weights and longblade fins. That meant that we could go out, drop down to any depth with a minimum of movement, and just hang out. Usually, the way to see dolphins is stay in one place and move as little as possible. Once they’ve seen you six or seven times and you just move vertically, they realize you’re not going to chase them and start to use you as a turning point in their cruising (and so they swim by you every five or ten minutes).

Well, yesterday, the dolphins weren’t into that. For some reason, they were approaching all sorts of snorkelers much, much closer than they normally do. I actually swam out to where I normally see them and after fifteen minutes I swam back in to where the other people were because the dolphins were being so amazingly not-just-tolerant but downright interactive. The dolphins were jumping and spinning five feet away from people who were splashing around and screaming and shouting. It was very unusual.

After awhile, Tina and I realized that the dolphins were playing with mango leaves in the water — dragging them along with their pectoral, dorsal, and caudal fins. We spotted a couple leaves floating and snagged them ourselves, hooking them with our fingers and swimming along with them. Well, holy cow… the dolphins were totally into it. The game was: you’d swim down, drop the mango leaf between 20′ and 40′ down and surface for a breath of air. Then, as you swam down to get the mango leaf again, the dolphins would suddenly appear and steal the leaf away.

Once I looked down and Tina was surfacing from about 20′. A bunch of dolphins swam up and she stopped her ascent, just hanging out. They circled her once and then one of them — VOOM! — straight to the surface and did a triple spin. Unbelievable.

There was a noticeable thermocline in the water and there were a bunch of rainbow runners and a big school of Crocodile Needlefish. Two nights before the first full moon of Spring? I dunno’ what it was, but it was incredible. Two hours of swimming with dolphins.

WTF: The Responsible Guy

The Daily WTF is always great, but this Perl script is priceless. I’ve got to come up with something like this to send to my editors when I blow a deadline. (The original post accidentally left the guilty party’s real email in the listing. I obfuscated it below.): 

….Their company runs a fairly important batch process very late at night that this particular coder was responsible for. As it turns out, "responsible" may not have been the appropriate word …

--[Begin late.pl]-------------  
@titles = ("Up late...",  
  "Still watching stuff run", 
  "Just letting you know...", 
  "So you know...", 
  "Still online", 
  "Working late", 
  "up early this morning"); 
@bodies = ("Hey guys, just letting you know that we are still up with the emailreports so I won't be early this morning.", 
  "Just letting you know that we are watching the emails now, so we will be in the office a little later.", 
  "Steve, I just finished watching the emails go out, and will be in the office as soon as I can this morning.", 
  "Hey, just letting you know that the emails just went out, so I will not be there as scheduled in the morning.", 
  "Steve, I know that you like to know when we are up later watching stuff, so just letting you know that we are.", 
  "Up late watching stuff run, will be in as soon as possible in the morning."); 
sendMail('steve@xxxxxxxxx.com', 'john@xxxxxxxx.com',  
  @titles[rand($#titles)],   
  @bodies[rand($#bodies)]."\n\nThanks,\nJohn\n\n", 'Steve', 'John'); 
--[End   late.pl]-------------  

Scoble Collapses Under Weight of 1,500 Blogs

Spending “three to eight hours per day” on his link blog has overwhelmed Scoble. It’s a little unclear how blogging is incorporated into the Microsoft workday; it appears that while Microsoft has a commendable “blogging is good” attitude, I think it’s supposed to be done on your own time (I suppose I could, you know, actually call someone and find out, but this whole blogging “make up assumptions and then rant about them” thing is easier).

Scoble’s been an interesting canary in the coalmine. He’s always been the most visible outlier in terms of trying to keep a handle on the blogosphere as it relates to his particular interest and he’s been, I would say, largely successful at tracking popular reaction to Microsoft in realtime — a solidly challenging topic. (As opposed to say, Divester, which tracks SCUBA blogs and news and consists mainly of “Oh, and here’s some pretty photos on this guy’s site.“)

So, it looks like even the largest corporation can track and spin online reaction in realtime, if they’re willing to make it part of someone’s job description. Given the obvious benefits, it’s a no-brainer that “chief blogger” is going to become a part of the marketing / PR function. The smallest companies will put it on their most enthusiastic writer, medium-sized companies will outsource it (probably stealthily) to PR firms, and large companies will give it to internal marketing.

Farewell, Scoble’s Link Blog! We shan’t see your likes again!

IronPython Reloaded: Jim Hugunin Not Dead Yet!

IronPython 0.7 has been released and placed into a GotDotNet workspace. I spoke with Jim Hugunin yesterday about the release. He says that it is essentially a minor upgrade to IronPython 0.6; the real news is that he is going to become more active in the project. He says that he hopes to provide another update in just a few weeks and that he hopes that IronPython 1.0 will be available by the end of the year.

IronPython 0.7 is not compatible with .NET Framework 1.1! You must use the beta or CTP of 2.0 to compile and run it. Neither is it compatible with .NET Compact Framework, so no Python on Smartphone. Hugunin said (and I agree) that .NET CF support is more important than 1.1 support. Of course, we’ll have to see what the community says.

IronPython is released under a “BSD-style” license.

Books

Infected by Brad Wilson

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
The idea is you memorize a book and repeat it over and over again until your grandchildren run from the room whenever you open your mouth and start quoting, ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins,’ or whatever…” Oh, okay. Ummm…Although “Green Eggs and Ham“ was the first thing that sprang to mind, I’ll say “Origin of Species.“ If that’s taken, I’ll go with the insanely important Adaptation in Natural and Artifical Systems by John Holland, which established the mathematics of adaptation and thus demolishes the “evolution is an untested theory“ nonsense.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Robert Heinlein’s female characters were always brilliant, ruthlessly competent tom-boys who ended up melting for the brilliant, ruthlessly competent nerd-hero. So 1950s. But what can you do?

The last book you bought was:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The last book you read was?
Trawler by Redmond O’Hanlon. Just finished it yesterday. Although still funny, the melancholy vein that began to appear in No Mercy makes another appearance. The most original O’Hanlon book remains Into the Heart of Borneo with In Trouble Again perhaps being slightly funnier.

What are you currently reading?
Diving The Seamount, by Tom Rapko

Five books you’d take to a deserted island?

You know, I just moved to an island six months ago. After decimating my library, I still brought eight boxes of books. Sheesh.

The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian (21 volumes, but essentially one work). The best modern fiction worth rereading.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The best writing in English.

Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. If I had the rest of my life to be at leisure, I’d be tackling P != NP. I have what I consider a promising attack, but it depends on the idea that there’s a limit to the speed at which information can propagate. I think with stronger math, I could say something definite about that.

Complexity Entropy and the Physics of Information. These are conference proceedings, but I think the idea of a deep relationship between physics and information is going to produce a whole slew of Nobels.

US Army Survival Manual FM 2176. I’ve watched Survivor enough to know that getting enough food to survive on is much harder than it seems.

Who will you pass this stick (3 persons) on to, and why?
They get to self-select. :)

A Challenge For Amazon’s Customer Service

So last night I signed up for “Amazon Prime,” which provides “all you can eat” express shipping for a year for $79. This is a great deal for me now that I live in Hawaii, since media mail to Hawaii can take weeks.

So I dropped a couple books in my cart and started the order process, expecting to see a sign-up for the service during checkout. That doesn’t exist. You have to go out to the main page, sign in, buy the service, and then turn on “One-Click” ordering. So I did all that, using the Tablet Input Panel, went back to my “cart” and checked “Buy all with one-click.”

This morning, I found the Amazon confirmation email in my inbox telling me I was being charged $20 in shipping and handling. I fired off an email to customer service (”Wha…?”). Then, I did my morning clear of my “Junk Mail” folder to find a “Your credit card was declined for a prime membership” message from Amazon. Presumably, there was a recognition or typing mistake when I was using my Tablet to sign up, then my Bayesian filter said “Phish on!,” and then I got charged $20 for delivery of the paperback version of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.”

How will this play out? Will Amazon act like an old-fashioned organization and say “your problem, not ours,” or will they say “no one was really wrong here, but we’ll refund the shipping charge.”

Stay tuned…

Update: Amazon promptly contacted me and refunded the shipping charge. They also told me that Prime Membership shipping does not extend to Alaska and Hawaii. But if they can put up “People who bought ‘Curious Incident’ also bought ‘Jonathan Norrell’” on my entrance page, how come for the past month I’ve been getting a full-page ad for something for which I’m not eligible? I give them a B-. Excellent customer service, but it was only necessary because they didn’t apply themselves to the technology on either the ad or the sign-up procedure.

WW2 Japanese Submarine Aircraft Discovered

University of Hawaii researchers have discovered the wreck of a giant (400 feet long!) Japanese submarine aircraft carrier in 2,500 feet of water off Oahu. Captured at war’s end, the I-400 and I-401 carried three float-plane bombers intended to strike targets such as the Panama Canal, San Francisco, and even New York (the subs had a range of 37,500 miles!). Unwilling to share such advanced technology with the Russians in accord with WW2 treaties, the US scuttled the subs off Oahu.

Man, am I bummed that they’re so deep. What an incredible dive those wrecks would be!

Microsoft’s Rules Engine

I was talking with Microsoftian Scott Woodgate yesterday and he let me know of a lacuna in my toolbox: BizTalk 2004 has a forward-chaining RETE-based rules engine. I’ve never heard of anyone using this technology (BizTalk’s implementation, I mean — I’ve used (and written) rules engines before). Dang. Not enough hours in the day to check this stuff out, but I’ve got to make time…

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