Monthly Archives: April 2012

Conforming for tenure

From AnnMaria De Mars’ most recent blog post: Recently, a young person told me that I could hold to my principles about the importance of my family, honesty and equality — and any of a hundred other things because I

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Open source and pride

Liz Quilty explains how becoming an expert in open source software changed her life. [I was a] high school dropout, I had no education, I was nobody. I’d made some poor choices, and I think at this point suddenly I

Posted in Computing

A tip on using a French press

When I first bought a French press, the instructions said to pour hot but not boiling water over the coffee. They were emphatic about what the temperature should not be, but vague about what it should be. (Boiling water extracts

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How variable are percentiles?

Suppose you’re trying to study the distribution of something by simulation. The average of your simulation values gives you an estimate of the mean value of the thing you’re simulating. Next you want to have an idea how much the

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Posted in Statistics

Simmer reading list

One of my friends mentioned his “simmer reading” yesterday. It was a typo — he meant to say “summer” — but a simmer reading list is interesting. Simmer reading makes me think of a book that stays on your nightstand

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The cult of average

Shawn Achor comments on “the cult of the average” in science. So one of the very first things we teach people in economics and statistics and business and psychology is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the

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Posted in Creativity

Chaotic versus random

From John D. Barrow’s chapter in Design and Disorder: The standard folklore about chaotic systems is that they are unpredictable. They lead to out-of-control dinosaur parks and out-of-work meteorologists. … Classical … chaotic systems are not in any sense intrinsically

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100x better approach to software?

Alan Kay speculates in this talk that 99% or even 99.9% of the effort that goes into creating a large software system is not productive. Even if the ratio of overhead and redundancy to productive code is not as high

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Posted in Software development

Random is as random does

What is randomness? Nobody knows, or at least there’s no consensus. Everybody has some vague ideas what randomness is, but when you dig into it deeply enough you find all kinds of philosophical quandaries. If you’d like a taste of

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Posted in Statistics

Just what do you mean by "number"?

Tom Christiansen gave an awesome answer to the question of how to match a number with a regular expression. He begins by clarifying what the reader means by “number”, then gives answers for each. Is −0 a number? How do

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Eat, drink, and be merry

Almost every bit of health advice I’ve heard has been contradicted. Should you eat more carbs or fewer carbs? More fat or less fat? Take vitamin supplements or not? It reminds me of this clip from Sleeper in which Woody

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Posted in Science

Read history and fly an airplane

The “About the Author” page at the end of Programming in Emacs Lisp says Robert J. Chassell … has an abiding interest in social and economic history and flies his own airplane. I love the child-like element of that bio.

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No Silver Bullet

Mike Swaim gave a presentation today entitled No Silver Bullet, an allusion to Fred Brook’s classic essay by the same title. You can download the slides here. Mike discusses the pros and cons of the following software development techniques: High

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Posted in Software development

Superheroes of the Round Table

The other day I was browsing the Rice library and ran across a little book called “Superheroes of the Round Table: Comics Connections to Medieval and Renaissance Literature.” It’s about how literature has influenced comic books, and how comic books

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Random number sequence overlap

Mike Croucher asked the following question on his blog. Suppose you draw M sequences of random numbers of length N from a random number generator. What is the probability that they will overlap? Assumes your random number generator is a

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Posted in Computing