Why Racket, Why Lisp #

The itch to try a new programming language is there again. Racket seems a good choice, which may explore using the Pollen publishing system that is written in Racket:

At the core of Pollen is an argument:

  • First, that digital books should be the best books we’ve ever had. So far, they’re not even close.
  • Second, that because digital books are software, an author shouldn’t think of a book as merely data. The book is a program.
  • Third, that the way we make digital books better than their predecessors is by exploiting this programmability.

That’s what Pollen is for.

Subtle Racism #

Your children are watching. See also: Silent Technical Privilege.

The 1,000 Hour Rule #

Great advice from Philip Guo. See also, The Function of Education by J. Krishnamurti.

On the Shortness of Life #

The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live. Nor is it merely the common herd and the unthinking crowd that bemoan what is, as men deem it, an universal ill; the same feeling has called forth complaint also from men who were famous. It was this that made the greatest of physicians exclaim that “life is short, art is long;” it was this that led Aristotle, while expostulating with Nature, to enter an indictment most unbecoming to a wise man—that, in point of age, she has shown such favour to animals that they drag out five or ten lifetimes, but that a much shorter limit is fixed for man, though he is born for so many and such great achievements. It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.

Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet #

Whatever service you use to communicate non-ephemerally on the internet, an email address is needed to do it.

This is not the first time I mention the work of Eric Sachs of Google’s Identity team:

Then during the early 90s, a “hack” was found that created the foundation of most user account systems on the web. That “hack” was the idea of logging into a website with your email address, and proving you were the owner of that email address by having the site send you an SMTP message with a hyperlink back to the site which contained a long code. For the few of us who considered ourselves identity geeks at the time, this did not seem like an approach that would last a long time. Even SMTP seemed like a fad when we already had high end systems like Lotus Notes relying on things like PKI, digital certifications, signing, encryption, etc.

However twenty years later, that “hack” is still the most powerful technique that we rely on to build user account systems. From a purist perspective, emails have some downsides as identifiers. Much of this guide will discuss those downsides, and how to handle them. However nothing else, even phone numbers or social network IDs, has come even close to being as powerful an identifier.

People Simply Empty Out #

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Robustness Principle #

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

Real Conversation #

Carol Gilligan:

I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.

Interactive Visualization of 950+ Planets Discovered by NASA's Kepler Mission #

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered more than 950 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. Planets with a known size and orbit are shown below, including Kepler 186f, an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone.

Great visualization work by Jonathan Corum in the New York Times’s Space & Cosmos section. See more of Jonathan’s work here.

Rosetta Spacecraft Hours From Historic Rendezvous With Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko #

Exciting times to be alive. I look forward to comets in Elite: Dangerous! Update: BBC article with images of the comet released by the European Space Agency, a detailed New York Times article with details of the Rosetta’s mission, including the fact that it has spent 10 years flying to get to this point, and more information on the Rosetta blog.

67p

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 3 August 2014 — front. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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The Web is Agreement, The URI is The Thing

Two drawings by Paul Downey which summarize good (and bad) software development practices when making things for the World Wide Web. That is, use REST and open source software. Avoid SOAP and proprietary software.

  1. The Web is Agreement - High quality scan
  2. The URI is the Thing - High quality scan

I was reminded of these recently by my friend, Gallant Dutchman Erik van Ingen — thanks, Erik!

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John Cleese on Creativity: Transcript #

On Rap Genius, which is now just called ‘Genius’.

Here’s the video.

Signal: Free, Worldwide, Encrypted Phone Calls for iPhone #

Made by Open WhisperSystems.

Minecraft #

We’re in a new century now, and its hallmark is humans doing things together, mostly on screens, at scales unimaginable in earlier times.

Is the Universe a Simulation? #

But there is one area of human endeavor that comes close to exemplifying the maxim “manuscripts don’t burn.” That area is mathematics. If Pythagoras had not lived, or if his work had been destroyed, someone else eventually would have discovered the same Pythagorean theorem.

Police Aggression and Coercion When Photographing by the Colosseum in Rome #

I am disappointed with some elements of Rome’s Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile. Not only did their officer assault me, they then illegally confiscated my camera and lied about what happened. Please get in touch if you have footage from the events by the Colosseum on Sunday, 27 July 2014.

Executions Should Be by Firing Squad, Federal Appeals Court Judge Says #

Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments,” U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in a dissent in the Arizona death penalty case of Joseph Rudolph Wood III.

But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

Yes. Via John Gruber.

Miro Video Converter #

Convert videos to MP4, WebM (vp8), Ogg Theora, etc. Free and open source. Donations encouraged. I just used it to convert this video into WebM and MP4 formats.

Doom Versus Windows, Hierarchy #

Michael Abrash:

Gabe tells it this way. When he was at Microsoft in the early 90’s, he commissioned a survey of what was actually installed on users’ PCs. The second most widely installed software was Windows.

Number one was Id’s Doom.

The idea that a 10-person company of 20-somethings in Mesquite, Texas, could get its software on more computers than the largest software company in the world told him that something fundamental had changed about the nature of productivity. When he looked into the history of the organization, he found that hierarchical management had been invented for military purposes, where it was perfectly suited to getting 1,000 men to march over a hill to get shot at. When the Industrial Revolution came along, hierarchical management was again a good fit, since the objective was to treat each person as a component, doing exactly the same thing over and over.

Consequently, Valve has no formal management or hierarchy at all.

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Fix for Aching Wrist When Developing With a Mac

When developing websites I use keyboard shortcuts such as Command-Tab to switch applications, Command-R to refresh the browser window and Ctrl-R in the Terminal to search for and execute previous commands.

I’ve come to realize that doing the above continuously is hurting my wrist and have found the following solution:

  1. Either remap Command-Tab to another key or concentrate on using a different technique such as Mission Control to switch applications, or concentrate on pressing the Command key on the right-hand side of the keyboard with your right hand.
  2. Install the ReloadEvery Firefox plugin and restart your browser. You can now right click in any webpage and select, for example, Reload Every > Reload Every 5 Seconds to have the current browser tab automatically refreshed every 5 seconds. No more Command-R!
  3. Either Remap the Control key to Caps-Lock, or concentrate on pressing the Ctrl key on the right-hand side of the keyboard with your right hand.
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Elite: Dangerous Education

In 1984 David Braben and Ian Bell managed to fit a simulated galaxy into 22 Kilobytes — a computer programming feat that inspired the creation of the first internet newsgroup as well as a generation of programmers.

Now, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Braben is bringing the classic Elite computer simulation1 to a new generation, and this time it simulates what we know about our existing galaxy, with procedural programming techniques based on real-world data filling in what we don’t.

Beagle 2 Landing

Approaching Beagle 2 Landing space station orbiting the Asellus A moon, which orbits the planet Asellus. The station is named after Colin Pillinger and his Beagle 2 spacecraft. Click the image to see a large version.

Elite: Dangerous provides a testing platform for future space exploration ideas from engineering to everything else, and a holistic education about the cosmos which the human species are still a living part of, although barely.

My first reaction to the Elite: Dangerous title was that it was a bit unfortunate, but after thinking of its portrayal of the immensity of our cosmos as a dangerous idea to the human status-quo of nationalism and organized religion, I now like it (these human themes are also present in the simulation — when we stop fighting over lines on maps here on Earth, we may well begin fighting over them in space).

‘SteveWilds’ in the comments of The New Yorker’s article:2

You can also explore this reconstructed galaxy in David Braben’s game. In fact the first and biggest player group in the game will be the First Great Expedition, whose goal is to travel as far into the simulation as possible, mapping and recording their discoveries as they go, as virtual scientific endeavour.

No other computer game has given people the opportunity to do this, let alone in a theoretically accurate simulation of this scale.

The work of Braben and his team at the aptly-named Frontier Developments is art fused with science and engineering in the spirit of the Renaissance, exploring human themes of curiousity, communication and commerce, loneliness, fear and love, through our greatest medium of communication so far.

Elite brings me joy because like the internet it shows that humans are capable of creating beauty during and despite of our continuing mass-stupidity.

I will write more about the experience of flying in a spaceship next. For now, I leave you with Kurt Vonnegut:3

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

And Carl Sagan:

For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring..

An education about our cosmos is needed now, more than ever.

Many thanks to David Braben and his team at Frontier for making this, and to all the Kickstarter backers!


  1. The word ‘videogame’ is still often scorned by people who don’t play, so I avoid it. 

  2. I can’t seem to find the original comment any longer. Was it actually on Reddit? If you find it, please let me know

  3. I wonder if Kurt would have enjoyed Elite: Dangerous

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George Orwell: Politics and the English Language #

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

Turbulence #

To understand turbulence we need the intuitive perspective of art.

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Violence

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

—Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom From the Known, Chapter 6.

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Sandstorm: Personal Cloud Sandbox #

Because you should own your data. The project is led by ex-Google-engineer Kenton Varda and is currently crowdfunding.

GitHub for Academics #

Though originally developed as a way to share and merge software code, any types of files can be part of a GitHub repository, making it a great collaborative tool for academics, finds Kris Shaffer. Since any open-licensed project can be hosted on GitHub for free, it can function as a publishing platform, a peer-review system, a learning management tool, and a locus for intra- and inter-institutional collaboration.

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Dillinger Markdown Editor

Dillinger is yet another free, open source option for text editing happiness. This one’s good. Uses Marked which makes it fast. And even has support for Markdown tables syntax!

I have it running at write.hypertexthero.com after doing the following:

  1. Install Node.
  2. Setup a website, domain and application.
  3. Install Dillinger from the GitHub repository
  4. Install forever so it keeps running.
  5. Edit ~/home/<myusername>/webapps/write/dillinger/app.js and make sure my assigned port number from step 2 above is entered in the following line:

    app.set('port', process.env.PORT || #####); //  port assigned by webfaction app
    
  6. Started the application with:

    forever start -a /home/hth/webapps/write/dillinger/app.js
    

It should ideally be:

forever start -a -l forever.log -o /home/hth/logs/user/out.log -e /home/hth/logs/user/logs/err.log --minUptime=5000 --spinSleepTime=2000 /home/hth/webapps/write/dillinger/app.js

…but this fails for some reason — looking into it.

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Markx: Markdown Editor for Scientific Writing #

Another option for text editing happiness.

Noto: Typeface for All Languages #

Like Gentium.

Albert Einstein Institution #

Advancing freedom through nonviolent action.