Monthly Archives: July 2010

Weekend miscellany

Science First experimental validation of relativity fudged Programming Tim Bray on the state of Perl Jason Adams’ Ruby gem for random number generation Education 10 ways my thinking has changed Math class needs a makeover: Dan Meyer at TED Dumbing

Posted in Uncategorized

Houston secrets

The Engines of our Ingenuity episode Secret City discusses little-known city features. I was particularly interested in the Houston locations the show mentioned. I’ve been through the downtown tunnels John Leinhard mentions, but I was not familiar with the 1940

Posted in Uncategorized

Later than you expected, but sooner than you think

The title of this post is the last line of a 60-Second Science podcast. The podcast announces a recent study that says we tend to over-estimate our abilities before we start something new, but under-estimate our abilities once we get

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

Rosenbrock’s banana function

Rosenbrock’s banana function is a famous test case for optimization software. It’s called the banana function because of its curved contours. The definition of the function is The function has a global minimum at (1, 1). If an optimization method

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Math

Miscellaneous Emacs adventures

I recently found out there’s an Emacs command M-x woman that’s a pun on “w/o man”, i.e. a way to read online help without using the usual man command. *** I tried to edit a 1.2 GB text file with

Tagged with:
Posted in Computing

Remapping Caps Lock

I remap the Caps Lock key to be a control key on every computer that I use regularly. Here’s why. Caps Lock is a nearly worthless key taking up valuable real estate. I’m more likely to use Caps Lock accidentally

Posted in Computing

Sine approximation for small angles

For small angles, sin(θ) is approximately θ. This post takes a close look at this familiar approximation. I was confused when I first heard that sin(θ) ≈ θ for small θ. My thought was “Of course they’re approximately equal. All

Tagged with:
Posted in Math

Woodpeckers

From The Dip: A woodpecker can peck twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can peck twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

Weekend miscellany

Every weekend I post a list of miscellaneous links. Sometimes these links fall into categories, as they did on June 26. Other times, like this week, they’re just an eclectic assortment of links. Free software for opening hundreds of file

Posted in Uncategorized

Windows XP and Ubuntu start-up music

I just realized that the start-up music for Ubuntu is a variation on the start-up music for Windows XP. (You can hear the Ubuntu theme in this video at around 0:10. The Windows XP theme is in this video at

Tagged with:
Posted in Music

What does this code do?

At the SciPy 2010 conference, a speaker showed several short code samples and asked us what each sample did. The samples were clearly written, but we had no comments to provide context. This was the last sample. def what( x,

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Python, Software development

e-book formats

ManyBooks.net has nearly 28,000 free e-books available for download. Each book is available in 23 different formats. I wondered what software they used to create so many formats and how popular each format is. The site answers both these questions.

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

Stupidity scales

I’m fed up with conversations that end something like this. Yes, that would be the smart thing to do, but it won’t scale. The stupid approach is better because it scales. We can’t use common sense because it doesn’t fit

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Covariance and contravariance in math and CS

I heard the terms “covariance” and “contravariance” used in math long before I heard them used in object oriented programming.  I was curious whether there was any connection between the two. To my surprise, they’re very similar. In fact, you

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Math, Software development

Origin of Mythical Man-Month

The August 2010 issue of Wired has an interview with Fred Brooks. The interviewer, Kevin Kelly, asks Brooks why he wrote his popular book The Mythical Man-Month. Here’s Brooks’ response. As I was leaving IBM, Thomas Watson, Jr. asked me,

Posted in Business, Software development