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Saturday, January 8 2011

The King's Speech - a film

I found out about this film via Talk of the Nation on NPR this week.

I haven't seen it yet, as there does not seem to be a theatre showing it in Evansville. (That could be because the film is six weeks old) But I do want to write a few words about the premise, and about the interviews that were part of Talk of the Nation on Tuesday.

In the film, King George VI (Colin Firth) is in middle age, trying to overcome a stutter from which he had suffered throughout his life. At some point, the King finds a psychologist, Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush) who is able to assist after "traditional" doctors were unable to provide relief.

The thing is, even after several decades and much research, the science of the stutter has not progressed all that much. As the guests on TOTN suggest, Logue (who was a real person) became somewhat of a pioneer in the area. Vocal exercises and rather generic psychological techniques remain the primary tools in combating a stutter, although other high profile stutterers have found success with other methods.

One of the things I found interesting is the age at which Kristen Chmela (one of the guests in TOTN) sought help. She said she was in college. The other is that the cause of stuttering is unknown. And finally, I've heard people tease that it is cruel to put an "ess" sound in the name of another speech condition, the lisp. Well, it seems similarly cruel to put so many repeated sounds in the term for one who stutters, a "stutterer."

Wednesday, December 22 2010

Heaps and Trees

xkcd #835 (from xkcd of course)

The only missing item is a non-binary tree.

Monday, December 13 2010

Two Anniversaries

Three years ago, I was a little wrapped up in one event to recognize another important anniversary.

On December 13, 2007, Richard Strauss was getting airplay via a Flash ad at phpBB.com. For it was on December the 13th that phpBB 3 was finally released.

I don't remember exactly how I spent the day, but I know a fair chunk of it was devoted to phpBB-ing. So much so that I ignored the other major event of the day, locally at least. The 30 year anniversary of the worst aviation disaster (link to Bill Merkel's blog) to ever happen locally.

Since that date three years ago, I've come to understand far more deeply the impact which that event had on the local area. Bill's blog post links to an inter view that Mike Blake gave at the 30th anniversary.

Blake:

I come back from covering a game at [Roberts] stadium, and as soon as I come in the back door, ... and my boss, the man who ran the station, a man named Conrad Kagel, looks at me and he says 'the Aces.' And when those words were said, everything changed.

It changed the city of Evansville for decades. Everyone I've spoken to who was living in Evansville at the time remembers the event. There was a service in memoriam to that 30th anniversary at 12 noon on December 13, 2007. I remember walking past the crowd gathered on the Memorial Plaza centered on campus. There were several hundred people present, even though the event being remembered took place so long ago.

Thursday, December 9 2010

Benchmarking to Performance

This happens to be the title of the article I wrote for publication in PHP|Architect magazine this month.

I mentioned one of the dirty words of computer science, "Benchmarking." So far I haven't received any explicit feedback, but I tried not to fall into the traps :)

Producer - Talent confidentiality

Bob Lamey, longtime radio broadcaster for the Indianapolis Colts has been roundly criticized this week for some comments he made off the air last Sunday as the Colts entered their first three-game losing streak in years.

Kent Sterling's Opinions
What he said

I don't have any personal connection to Bob Lamey. Never spoken to him personally or anything. I've also never personally spoken to Kent Sterling, but I disagree with him soundly.

Let's say I'm the producer in question, and let's say that I'm not recording the game. But I do listen to the feed from the stadium during the commercial breaks, and I hear Lamey say that Manning ought to be benched, in favor of Curtis Painter, who looked laughably bad in the pre-season. It seems to me that Kent Sterling would instruct me to bottle that up and never tell anyone about it.

My journalistic senses tell me this story is far too juicy to pass up. I'm hearing the Colts #1 homer tell me that Manning should be benched. I'm pretty likely to at least tell some of my co-workers, my girlfriend, the guys at BW3's what he said.

Of course, in the absence of a recording, the name talent could deny, deny, deny and probably never face consequences. But I don't feel there should be implicit confidentiality just because two guys work together and one of them is famous. There might be some level of understanding if the talent is friendly but gaffe-prone (and in my opinion, Lamey is gaffe-prone even when he's on the air). There might be some level of understanding if the sporting team being broadcast is truly awful. But I can find no reason why Lamey has a legitimate complaint with the team, nor can I see a reason why his comments should have been kept private.

Now, the staff at 1070 the Fan in Indy might need to face some music, because, while I don't necessarily feel that the talent's ramblings should be kept confidential, they probably didn't need to make one of their fellow hosts (the Colts air on 1070) look stupid.

Sunday, December 5 2010

Advent

A thought hit me this week. It arose from a complaint a musician had about the lack of credible advent music. It was enhanced when I read the Wikipedia article on Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The wiki article lead gives the dates when the Oratorio is traditionally performed:

The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year's Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany) the adoration of the Magi.

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 2 2010

Random Resistance

The following is taken from Example 7.17, pg 259 of "Mathematical Statistics with Applications" by John E. Freund, 7th edition.

Suppose the resistance in a simple circuit varies randomly in response to environmental conditions. To determine the effect of this variation on the current flowing through the circuit an experiment was performed in which the resistance (R) was varied at random on the interval 0 < R <= A and the ensuing voltage (E) was measured. Find the distribution of the random variable I, the current flowing through the circuit.

All I can say, is that I hope never to run into such a circuit!

Sunday, November 28 2010

Shopping for Open Source

Frequent visitors to phpBB.com may note that I have retired from the phpBB teams after three years. Retirement feels good!

I'll be looking around at other open source projects, outside of the bulletin board space. This blog software, the PHP language, maybe even something in Ruby for the fun of it. This is my version of Christmas shopping!

An Early Checkup on College Basketball

At the beginning of the season, I was told that Butler and Purdue would combine for more wins than the other D1 men's basketball programs put together. Here's a look at the status after most teams have played five or six games. (Notably, this post comes on the heels of both Butler and Purdue getting upset on Saturday)

Continue reading...

Monday, November 15 2010

Commentary on Rails

"You know, object oriented stuff is kinda nice"
"You know, Rails is object oriented"
"Rails isn't Object Oriented. It's shit-oriented"

... comments from an anonymous, frustrated programmer (not me, yet)

Wednesday, November 10 2010

phpBB appears in "Map of Online Communities"

I sat looking at the 2007 edition of "Map of Online Communities" from XKCD tonight, and I realized I hadn't written about this yet.

phpBB has made an appearance in the 2010 edition of that map. Some might argue four times, but I'll only claim three occurrence. See the map

In the "forums" inset at the bottom-right, you'll find just to the west of CruiseCritic, and across a bay from BodyBuilding.com and something called Forocoches, you find Bokt.nl. Bokt is most likely the largest phpBB3 forum on the Internet, and certainly the largest phpBB3 site listed on big-boards.com. It is also the longest running phpBB board in the world.

Other phpBB boards appearing on the map include JLA Forum (apparently using phpBB2!), and Rus-Chat, neither of which I personally know much about.

The fourth board that some people might claim is Gaia, but I don't believe they are using phpBB any longer. The same also appears to be true of Jogos, which is listed on big-boards.com as using phpBB.

Tuesday, November 9 2010

The Switch

It seems like a reasonable time to update to Ubuntu 10.10. And actually use it this time. Right now, the ISO is downloading and I am running off of Ubuntu on a RAM disk. I've had an Ubuntu install on my system for years, but I've never really used it. But I've been living with Ubuntu evangelists for a long time. I'm giving in tonight.

Sunday, November 7 2010

phpArch Article

In the last week, I had an article published in the October edition of phpArch magazine.

The title of the article is "Greasing Development with GitHub" is the title, and it takes a look at how phpBB's development has changed with the migration to Git. I think its a pretty interesting topic, especially in the open-source context.

Thanks to Keith Casey for the suggestion and recommendation, and to everyone who agreed to be "interviewed", especially Igor Wiedler.

Wednesday, November 3 2010

Adding a test suite to existing code

... is a pain. I wasn't at ZendCon this past week, but I read a lot of tweets about it, and a lot of comments on joind.in.

One of the sessions was by Stefan Priebsch and Sebastian Bergman, "Taming the Untestable Beast". They used a little bit of code written specifically for the purpose. One thing you'll notice about this code is that it is hardly a beast. The small physical size of this program makes it an interesting case study.

Stefan and Sebastian had a three hour window to work on this code and make it less of an "untestable beast." My understanding is that they were successful. But I'd like to consider the point that the beast they were working to tame looks pretty good at first glance. The largest component of the beast is the UserController. The whole file is 44 lines, and the code is contained in a nice class. They even have a nice test suite for it.

I don't want to recreate the session, but it can be instructive to sit down for 20 minutes and list deficiencies in the beast. Once the problems are spotted, solving them becomes considerably easier.

Monday, October 25 2010

Rails Routes and REST

There was a discussion about how this worked earlier today, and I thought I would take the liberty to explain.

Rails respects REST. That is, distinctions are made between GET, POST, HEAD, PUT, and DELETE requests. More Details.

Rails maintains a routing table to keep track of what's what. This is accessible with rake routes. The following output is only partial.

       accounts_login GET    /accounts/login(.:format)        {:controller=>"accounts", :action=>"login"}
     accounts_private GET    /accounts/private(.:format)      {:controller=>"accounts", :action=>"private"}
accounts_authenticate        /accounts/authenticate(.:format) {:controller=>"accounts", :action=>"authenticate"}
      accounts_logout        /accounts/logout(.:format)       {:controller=>"accounts", :action=>"logout"}
         competitions GET    /competitions(.:format)          {:action=>"index", :controller=>"competitions"}
         competitions POST   /competitions(.:format)          {:action=>"create", :controller=>"competitions"}
      new_competition GET    /competitions/new(.:format)      {:action=>"new", :controller=>"competitions"}
     edit_competition GET    /competitions/:id/edit(.:format) {:action=>"edit", :controller=>"competitions"}
          competition GET    /competitions/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"show", :controller=>"competitions"}
          competition PUT    /competitions/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"update", :controller=>"competitions"}
          competition DELETE /competitions/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"destroy", :controller=>"competitions"}
             accounts GET    /accounts(.:format)              {:action=>"index", :controller=>"accounts"}
             accounts POST   /accounts(.:format)              {:action=>"create", :controller=>"accounts"}
          new_account GET    /accounts/new(.:format)          {:action=>"new", :controller=>"accounts"}
         edit_account GET    /accounts/:id/edit(.:format)     {:action=>"edit", :controller=>"accounts"}
              account GET    /accounts/:id(.:format)          {:action=>"show", :controller=>"accounts"}
              account PUT    /accounts/:id(.:format)          {:action=>"update", :controller=>"accounts"}
              account DELETE /accounts/:id(.:format)          {:action=>"destroy ", :controller=>"accounts"}

When Rails sees an HTTP GET request to /accounts/new, it will run the "new" method in the "accounts" controller. If it sees an HTTP POST request to /competitions/, it runs the "create" method in the "competitions" controller and so forth.

This is how the HTML forms get connected up. The form has a submit action of /competitions. I extracted that tidbit from this line:

<form accept-charset="UTF-8" action="/competitions" class="new_competition" id="new_competition" method="post">

When the "Create Competition" button is pressed, the web browser makes an HTTP POST request (as defined in the form's method parameter) to /competitions. Rails looks at that and compares it to its routing table.

Hope that's a reasonable explanation.

Sunday, October 24 2010

Opining on Public Media

I've been reading lots of people trashing NPR over its firing of Juan Williams the last few days. I'd like to join in, but make it a little more local.

Here in Evansville, I have access to WNIN-FM, and Western Kentucky Public Radio. The transmission sites are about ten miles apart. And the programming is mostly duplicative.

Here is a listing of programs that are identical between the two stations during the workweek midnight-4am: Classical Music (different classical music programming, but still classical music)
4am-9am: NPR Morning Edition
1pm-3pm: NPR Talk of the Nation
3pm-6pm: NPR All Things Considered
8pm-midnight: Classical Music (different classical music programs, but still classical music)
Further, both stations run "WHYY Fresh Air" at 11am and Noon, respectively.

To put it another way, during the 120 hours which comprise the typical work week, 60 hours are completely identical, word-for-word, and 100 hours are similarly themed (the 40 hours per week when both are running classical music plus the 60 identical hours).

I've always been bothered slightly by this, but I realized that there are almost no NPR stations which do not carry Morning Edition or ATC. When WNIN added Talk of the Nation for ten hours every week, I became a little more frustrated with the situation. After all, I can sit in my office with a portable radio and switch between the two services at will. I liked the ability to choose between TATN and classical music with Daniel Moore every day.

This sour grapes moment brought to you by Juan Williams.

Monday, October 18 2010

An Election Trend

One thing I've noticed this year is that no candidates are mentioning their own political party in their advertisements. I was watching the news after Sunday Night Football, and every ad during the last three commercial breaks was a political ad. Not one of them said I'm (name), a (party) running for (office) In fact, the only political party that was named was the Democratic party in a PAC spot that said "my Democratic opponent voted for a budget which would have bankrupted the state" (the opponent went unnamed).

Also, the tone of the ads was overwhelmingly negative.

The trend is not limited to television, though. I received pamphlets on my doorstep from candidates for local offices, and none of them mentioned a party. (All Republicans.) There are yard signs on my block, all of which give the candidate's name and the office which he or she is seeking -- but not their political party. Why? Do the consultants think that the labels Republican and Democrat are both damaged? If so, why is nobody running as a third party? The only race with a third party candidate is the Senate race, where the Libertarians have fielded Rebbecca Sink-Burris against Brad Ellsworth and Dan Coats.

And no, not even that spotlight race mentions party in its materials.

And by the way, what the hell is an "Aqua Buddha?" Does anybody else think Paul Conway's campaign manager was high when he approved that? And when was the last time a Democrat trashed a Republican on religion?

Harry Pickens Trio

The Harry Pickens trio performed a concert earlier today. They're a jazz trio from Louisville, consisting of Pickens leading with the piano, Chris Fitzgerald taking the bass, and drums played by Jason Tiemann.

To put it mildly, it was brilliant. They played everything from "Back Home Again in Indiana" (one of my favorites), where Pickens showed his influence from Oscar Peterson, to Sting's hit "Fragile", Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why" and Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

There were two fantastic things about this performance:

Improvisation

Nobody had any music in front of them. At first, I thought that meant they had practiced so much that the whole set was memorized. As the concert went on, I realized that there wasn't even a set list. Pickens began each tune by playing through it, and then his triomates began to play with him, and it sounded really great. After the intermission, he said that there were no arrangements used by the band, and that every performance was a little different. That leads me to the other thing:

Joy

Pickens's seven-foot frame was sitting at a Steinway grand piano, grinning like Jerry Lewis in characature. Jerry Lewis MDA TelethonThis grin flashed whenever the drummer or the bassist hit a really tasty series of notes. Not only that, but he was jovial with the crowd, even taking requests at the end. (This was a great idea and had very good response from the attendees.)

If you'd like to experience some of the trio, they do have a couple of CDs available. I've not reviewed the recordings, but the live performance was so good that I probably will do so tomorrow.

Monday, October 11 2010

New York Times writes on EverCookie; HTML5

(via Tony Beavers)

Sunday's New York Times did a piece on how HTML5 allows more information storage on your machine, profiling the EverCookie javascript that was created to stash data about you on your machine in ten different places.

The Times overview of EverCookie and HTML5 storage left out one important detail: standard HTTP cookies, and older, non-HTML5 technologies, can do much of the same thing. The only difference is that Amazon.com would no longer need to store your buying preferences on their servers, but they could opt to store them on your machine.

Because the HTTP cookie is already identifying you personally as a specific Amazon customer, the type of information that can be stored is the same. And because the information is stored on the Amazon servers, there is no way you could ever delete it.

One thing I do like about the article is its reference to browser security settings which are outdated in an HTML5 environment. Does "InPrivate" browsing in IE9 stop storage of cookies? Does it also stop the storage of HTML5 SQLite databases? How about read operations from such a database? Perhaps the better question is, does IE support this newfangled HTML5 at all? (I don't think so.)

The Times would be right about this, if the state of affairs that they were warning about was not already the established state.

Reference

Thursday, October 7 2010

This is Twitter's Purpose:

Spreading good books that everyone needs to know about.

http://amzn.to/bSinSM

I had suspicion that those were really just colorful bathrobes.

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