Monthly Archives: December 2010

Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy

From Magic School Bus: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. Magic School Bus is an educational television show for children. The quote above is often repeated by the main character of the show, Ms. Frizzle. Too many programs that

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Posted in Creativity

How much does typing speed matter?

How important is it to be able to type quickly? Jeff Atwood has said numerous times that programmer must be a good typist. For example, a few weeks ago he said I can’t take slow typists seriously as programmers. When

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Posted in Software development

Computing days of the week in your head

Years ago I taught a “math for poets” class. (I don’t remember the actual name of the course. Everyone called it “math for poets” because it was the one math class humanities majors had to take.) I taught the students

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Posted in Math

Typesetting chemistry in LaTeX

Yesterday I gave the following tip on TeXtip: Set chemical formulas with math Roman. Example: sulfate is $mathrm{SO_4^{2-}}$ TorbjoernT and scmbradley let me know there’s a better way: use Martin Hansel’s package mhchem. The package is simpler to use and

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Posted in Typography

Maybe you only need it because you have it

Some cities need traffic lights because they have traffic lights. If one traffic light goes out, it causes a traffic jam. But sometimes when all traffic lights go out, say due to a storm, traffic flows better than before. Some

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Posted in Creativity

How to test a random number generator

Last year I wrote a chapter for O’Reilly’s book Beautiful Testing. The publisher gave each of us permission to post our chapters electronically, and so here is Chapter 10: How to test a random number generator.

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Posted in Software development, Statistics

Military intelligence from serial numbers

During World War II, America and her allies needed to estimate the number of Panzer V tanks Germany had produced. The solution was simple: Look at the serial numbers of the captured tanks. If you assume the tanks had been

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Posted in Statistics, Uncategorized

Weekend miscellany

Software development Languages used by top programmers in Google contest Why do we need database joins? Hammock-driven development Math Notation and thinking Serpinski hiding in the Sistine Chapel Mathematics of foam Carnival of Mathematics #72 Science How hard is space travel,

Posted in Uncategorized

You can be a hero with a simple idea

Yesterday I mentioned someone who published a scholarly paper in 1994 for a technique commonly taught in freshman calculus. There’s been a lot of discussion of this (the paper, not my blog post) on the web. The general take has

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Posted in Creativity

NASA did not find arsenic-based life

Headlines are saying today that NASA found microbes that use arsenic the way all other known life uses phosphorous. The NASA web site says NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical. Some other headlines include “NASA finds ‘alien life’

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Posted in Science

Three surprises with the trapezoid rule

The trapezoid rule is a very simple method for estimating integrals. The idea is to approximate the area under a curve by a bunch of thin trapezoids and add up the areas of the trapezoids as suggested in the image

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Posted in Math

Static versus dynamic typing

Static versus typing is a Ford-Chevy argument among programmers. Here’s the best comment on the subject I’ve seen lately. Very briefly put, the Haskell [strongly, statically typed] perspective emphasizes safety, while the dynamic outlook favors flexibility. If someone had already

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Posted in Software development