Monthly Archives: August 2012

Python book recommendations

People sometimes ask me to recommend a book for learning to program or a book on Python. If you want both in one book, i.e. to learn Python as a first programming language, take a look at Allen Downey’s new

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Posted in Python

Reluctant experts

Douglas Crockford is probably the most visible critic and advocate of JavaScript. His criticism gives his advocacy credibility, and vice versa. A few weeks ago, at the end of a presentation he explains how he became “the JavaScript guy.” I

Posted in Uncategorized

Flying to Mars in three days

Richard Campbell brought up an interesting idea in his recent Mars geek out show. Suppose you could travel to Mars accelerating at 1 g for the first half the trip, then decelerating at 1 g for the final half of

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Posted in Science

Super-competence

Here’s another gem from The Peter Principle. The book coins the term “hierarchical exfoliation” to describe how organizations rid themselves of both the least competent and the most competent people. … in most hierarchies, super-competence is more objectionable than incompetence.

Posted in Business

Hard analysis, soft analysis

“Hard analysis” and “soft analysis” are technical terms. They don’t necessarily mean “difficult” and “easy.” Soft analysis often asks qualitative questions where hard analysis asks more quantitative questions. For example, soft analysis might ask whether a series converges, when hard

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Posted in Math

Evaluate people by input or output?

According to The Peter Principle, people in hierarchical organizations tend to be promoted until they reach a position at which they are incompetent. The way managers manage depends on whether they have achieved incompetence or are still on the path

Posted in Business

Work or rest

According a recent biography of Henri Poincaré, Poincaré … worked regularly from 10 to 12 in the morning and from 5 till 7 in the late afternoon. He found that working longer seldom achieved anything … Poincaré made tremendous contributions

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Posted in Creativity

Pushing an idea

From The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking: Calculus may hold a world’s record for how far an idea can be pushed. Leibniz published the first article on calculus in 1684, an essay that was a mere 6 pages long. Newton

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Posted in Creativity, Math

Hiring complementary talent

In their new book, Ed Burger and Mike Starbird relate the following incident from a symposium in honor of Albert Einstein. One of the speakers told a story about being a young assistant to Einstein. He said that during the

Posted in Business

Hunt down bad error messages

My printer is unable to clean 51. It won’t work, and all it says is “Unable to Clean 51.” Here’s my suggestion for finding such useless error messages in a code review: Write a script to extract all string literals

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Posted in Software development

PowerShell for Developers

PowerShell was written first and foremost for Windows system administrators, and the benefits to this community are clear. It’s not as clear what developers should make of PowerShell. Administrators can learn PowerShell as a shell first, and gradually transition from

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Posted in PowerShell

Tolkien podcast

If you’re a Tolkien fan, check out Corey Olsen’s web site The Tolkien Professor and his podcast by the same name. Thanks to Dave Kale for telling me about it.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Sociable numbers

A number is called perfect if it is the sum of its proper divisors, i.e. all divisors less than itself. For example, 28 is perfect because 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28. Amicable numbers are

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Design for outcomes

Designing a device to save lives is not enough. People may not use it, or may not use it correctly. Or be unable to maintain it. Or … Link to video. (If you know why the embedded video doesn’t appear

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Posted in Creativity

Understanding recursion II

People often joke that in order to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion. This is funny as far as it goes, but it illustrates a common misunderstanding. (I’m not saying the people who make the joke don’t understand what

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Posted in Software development