Archive for the 'Random' Category

Wonder Boy in Monster Land; or, How The Hobbit Should have Ended


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Within ten years, GPGPUs and general processing will converge to the point where you can boot Linux on a graphics card.

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Conversation I just had at work:

Me: “If they held a convention for fans and makers of Rubik’s Cube-related puzzles, would they call it Rubicon?”

Him: “I’d be cross if they didn’t.”


Anyway, here are two cube-related items of interest that I’ve come across in the last 24 hours.

Item the first:

Item the second:

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Can’t sleep

Was trying to get to sleep, got mentally worked up about something, and now I can’t. Sleep, that is. So here are some random thoughts about nothing.

The phrase “I don’t know” can be used in two completely different ways that are almost diametrically opposed in terms of what the speaker is implying. Observe:

  1. “I don’t know why the sky is blue.”
  2. “I don’t know why people like Britney Spears.”

There should be different words for these.

I’ve been messing around with a kd-tree to find nearest neighbours in a vaguely secret thing I’ve been working on (not very secret, or even interesting enough to justify calling it secret, which I’ve now done three times, so it’ll be really anti-climactic when I link to it, which I will as soon as it’s public). Wikipedia says this about the performance improvement for nearest-neighbour search:

These asymptotic behaviors only apply when N is much greater than the number of dimensions. In very high dimensional spaces, the curse of dimensionality causes the algorithm to need to visit many more branches than in lower dimensional spaces. In particular, when the number of points is only slightly higher than the number of dimensions, the algorithm is only slightly better than a linear search of all of the points.

I’m starting to suspect that this statement is way too weak. My rough back-of-the-mental-envelope conclusion is that the performance boost only happens when the number of points is much higher than two to the power of the number of dimensions. I’m not confident enough in this statement to edit the Wikipedia article, but I’d be interested if anyone can explain why I’m wrong.

Mentioned Richard Buckland, lecturer extraordinaire, in an earlier post. Last week I took a few hours off work one afternoon to wander into one of his first-year uni lectures. It turned out to be one of the few lectures from this year that’s made it onto YouTube. (They’re all supposed to go up at some point, but anyone who’s ever dealt with video files knows that they have a kind of inertia or built-in procrastination field or something.)

After the lecture (actually, after the extension lecture that comes after this), I chatted to him for a while about some stuff, which has been mulling over in my head since then, and which I’m not going to say much about right now (what the hell kind of an introverted blog post is this)… um… yeah. More on this soon, maybe.

Finally started watching Firefly earlier tonight. I feel like I’m getting my geek credentials back in order.

Picked up a cheap-ish tablet laptop in an online auction a few weeks ago. It’s ex-lease or something. Not the ThinkPad that I really wanted, but a good starting point considering that I’m not entirely sure why I wanted it at all (at least, now that my career as a webcomic artist has been definitively shut away in the Closet of Things that are Unlikely to Happen). Anyway, it is really, really cool.

I installed Xubuntu on it. Xubuntu has come a long way. I’m not entirely converted away from mainline Ubuntu yet, but for a lower-performance machine – and in a scenario where screen real estate is particularly valuable and can be conserved with a panel that behaves well on the side of the screen, which is an act Gnome hasn’t quite gotten together yet – it behaves very nicely indeed.

We did a Magic 2010 draft at Mr Shellshear’s place last Friday. For me, it really captured the feel of old-school Magic. I’ve enjoyed Alara block, but one thing that bugged me about it is that mono- or even dual-colour decks were a non-option. I’ve always thought that one of the big appeals of the Magic mana system is the ability to choose between the breadth of a multi-colour deck and the smooth focus of a mono deck. In fact, I think one of the crucial moments in many a beginning casual player’s Magic education is when he (or she… but let’s face it, it’s probably he – apologies to Michelle and Kat) manages to corral enough cards of the same colour to make up a deck.

For me, many years ago, it was a green deck. Its theme was the somewhat high-concept “every green card and forest I own” and not much beyond that, but the payoff of freedom from mana problems is an experience I’ve never forgotten.

Alara block’s three-colour theme was an interesting design area, and would seem to have been a popular one, but it turned mana fixing from optional to mandatory. It changed the game from one where multi-lands and whatnot were one of the ways of getting your spells out reliably – the other being to focus on one colour, which is an interesting, flavourful, and personality-reflecting decision – to one where they were the only way. That took something away from the game in my mind, and I’m happy to be back on solid monocolour ground again.

Okay, I think I’m out of random thoughts, and am starting to get vaguely sleepy. G’night all.


A gift for the geek who has everything

An $18000 antique d20.

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You’ll regret reading this post

Many people I know who have answering machines or voicemail (myself included) have them set up to answer fairly quickly after it starts ringing. This means that often, even when the person is actually there, they don’t manage to answer the phone before the recording answers it automatically. Often, though, I don’t want to leave a message, either because it’s not important enough, or because I need to ask them a question and there’s no point asking a machine.

My solution to this is to call them twice. I call the first time, wait a few seconds, then hang up. This gives them time to get to the phone. After a brief wait, I call again. If they’re available, they’ll answer immediately, because they’re alert and right next to the phone. If it rings for more than a few seconds, then it’s almost certainly going to voicemail, so I hang up. I can tell by how long it takes to answer whether I’ll be talking to a human or a machine.

I call this the Two-ring Test.


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Trivial trivia

I recently turned 27, and I’m about to indulge in a curmudgeony “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!” moment.

The topic of the day is exercise books. Now, I’m more comfortable than most people with using a computer as a primary medium for reading and writing. Some people have to print out a document to be able to read it comfortably; I usually only do that if I’m going to make lots of annotations, or if I’m going to take it somewhere I won’t have a computer. But it’s also handy to have a book on hand in case I want to record something while I’m out, or if I’ve got a particular project mulling around in my mind and want to keep all the notes on it in one place. (Generally this doesn’t work, but that’s getting off-topic.)

Exercise books often have random collections of information on the back that someone thought would be a good reference for school students. Multiplication tables, imperial-to-metric conversions, that sort of thing. Cool. I remember that from my school days.

But quite a few exercise books I’ve seen lately have something that concerns me slightly.

Addition tables.

What… is the point of an addition table?

Multiplication is tricky. Most people learn their times tables, up to twelve, by rote, because it’s just a lot easier than working it out from scratch. To this day there’s a very sharp dropoff in my ability to multiply by numbers greater than or equal to thirteen. A multiplication table on the back of an exercise book is a good idea.

But I have no recollection of addition of numbers up to twelve being hard enough to need a table. Maybe I was too young to remember, or maybe I’m just being elitist, but I don’t remember a time when the easiest way to add two numbers together was to look them up in a table. For one thing, counting fingers is faster than flipping over an exercise book and finding a place in a table. And when the sum gets bigger than ten, you sort of learn to mentally carry the one.

Don’t you?

There’s an exercise book in front of me at the moment, and here’s what it has on the back:

Exercise book

Look how much space the addition table takes up. I have mixed feelings about the “Commonly Used Computer Terms”… I can see how someone has made the argument that “in this day and age” this sort of information is relevant, and I can sooooort of agree (I am a software engineer, after all), but… it seems like it made the cut over a lot of things that could have been more useful. (And the definition of DOS is a bit weird.)

So what would have been a better use of this space? Hmm. Keep the multiplication table, that’s useful. Here’s a random list of things off the top of my head that I’d like to see on the back of an exercise book:

  • Written and spoken English pitfalls. “they’re = they are; their = belonging to them; there = referring to a place”. “its = belonging to it; it’s = it is”. Different tenses of “is” and “has”. Apostrophe use for possesion and not for plural construction. Stuff like that.
  • A map of the world, with as many countries labeled as space permits. Or, a list of countries and their capital cities. Or a list of time zones.
  • I’m sure I used to have exercise books that listed a few basic formulæ – area of a triangle/circle/whatever; the quadratic formula; equations of motion; that sort of thing.
  • A timeline of major world events, on the scale of the last century, or the last 500 years, or 2000, or 10,000 (just to annoy the creationists). Obviously anything too recent has the potential to get out of date, but exercise books don’t last all that long anyway (if they’re in active use).

What else? Thoughts? Anyone?

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Shamus Young goes off the deep end

Well, it’s finally happened. Shamus Young (of DM of the Rings and Wavatars notoriety) has started making the most absurd ranting claims and threats I’ve ever seen:

I am proud to announce that I have proven via a scientific study that reading Twenty-Sided encourages safe, effective weight loss after only a few visits. This is due to secret, proprietary methods of designing site layout that stimulates neuron… activators in the upper… lumbar that… enhances your Circadian Rhythm and optimizes your metabolism via your browser cache. It’s embedded in the CSS. It’s all very scientific and complicated but trust me, this site will allow you to safely lose 10-20 unwanted pounds after just a few readings, as well as helping you to regrow lost hair. And make you more attractive to the opposite sex. Or the same sex, if you prefer. Pretty much whatever you’re into, really.

As if that isn’t bad enough, he goes on:

Furthermore, I demand that all websites stop linking to this post, as you are infringing on my right to not be made fun of when making an ass of myself. It is forbidden to link to this post and if you do so I will be forced to take legal action within 48 hours of my lawyer sobering up after I bail him out of the drunk tank. Again.

Well I’m not afraid of you, Shamus. Your father smells of elderberries. Do your worst.


Shakespeare’s Who’s On First

This is six kinds of awesome. The video quality drops at the end, but the audio is what you’re interested in.

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Conversation I just had

Me: “I’ve never seen that before.”

Him: “Really? It’s one of the basic demonstrations of… that.”

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