Archive for January, 2010

Sweet Sixteen Down Under

15:04 31 Jan 2010. Updated: 01:24 01 Feb 2010

Roger Federer put more space between first and second place in men’s tennis history by collecting his (record) 16th Grand Slam victory, 6–3, 6–4, 7–6 (11) over Andy Murray last night. Pete Sampras has 14 Grand Slams, and now it seems as if Federer will be looking to match the all-time greats in women’s tennis—Margaret Court has 24.

I thought it would take Federer four sets to overcome Murray, and maybe five. Instead, Federer again underscored the disparity between his game and everyone else’s.

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It’s a Big Universe

13:01 29 Jan 2010

Some evidence for that assertion:

There’s also this interactive Flash piece.

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Federer GS SF Streak: 23 and Counting

12:28 28 Jan 2010

Absolutely one of the most amazing achievements in sports history, and terribly underappreciated. The last time Roger Federer hasn’t reached at least the semifinal stage of a Grand Slam: the 2004 French Open. Almost six years ago! In addition, the only people he’s lost to in that span were the eventual champions. This on grass, clay, different varieties of hardcourt, in quite varied conditions—it hasn’t mattered. He’s always gotten at least to the semifinals, i.e. to the sixth round.

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Against Grad School

15:20 26 Jan 2010

I’ve posted about reasons not to go to grad school before, but I missed a classic post: “Straight Talk about Grad School”.

My own feelings about my postgrad degrees are largely positive, but I think there’s a big difference between shorter postgrad courses (like mine) and doctoral programs.

The MetaFilter discussion about this post includes a comment quoting this classic:

The At-Home PhD Simulator

  1. Give a $30,000 donation to the university of your choice, on your credit card.
  2. Go to the library and write. Write pages and pages. Every time you reach 50 pages, burn all of them. Repeat for several years.
  3. Take out an ad in Craiglist for someone to pretend to be your advisor. Set up periodic meetings with them where they read your drafts and give you the exact opposite of the advice they gave you three months ago.
  4. Adjunct a course at your local college. Give lots of written work. Submit everything you get to one of the online plagiarism detectors. Despair for humanity.
  5. After ten years, throw a dart at a map. Move where ever it lands for the rest of your life.

All that being said, I’m not sure I’d actually argue against doing a PhD.; I know plenty of people who seem relatively happy to have them. (Although most of those people seem to have done them outside the United States, a factor which may or may not be meaningful.)

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Australian Open 2010 Midpoint Notes

15:02 25 Jan 2010. Updated: 11:44 30 May 2010

On the men’s side, for the most part the top seeds have been rolling along. Six of the top eight are in the quarterfinals, the most notable absence being that of Juan Martin Del Potro, who was taken out in a tough five-setter by #14 Marin Cilic, who now faces #7 Andy Roddick. #8 Robin Söderling went out in the first round, and the quarterfinalists are rounded out by #10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

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Operation: Squared Birthday a Success

12:36 24 Jan 2010

One of my goals for 2010 was to celebrate my birthday. Yesterday I did just that, and had a great time. Thanks to everyone who came out! To those who couldn’t make it, I missed you and I’m sorry I gave you such short notice! Next year’s birthday goal will be to celebrate it and give people more reasonable warning…

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“Leadership by Wimps”

18:48 22 Jan 2010

I was loving this article from The Economist until the final paragraph, and specifically the final line.

The article reports on a series of psychological experiments which strongly support the idea that power corrupts. The interesting wrinkle is that some people are corrupted less—and these are apparently the people who don’t feel deserving of their powerful position.

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jQuery Project

23:36 21 Jan 2010

I’ve been a big fan of jQuery more or less since it came out, and I’m happy to see the launch of The jQuery Project. I’ve used jQueryUI a couple of times and find it fairly useful; I haven’t tried Sizzle yet but it looks great for situations where you’re really concerned about keeping file sizes low but need decent CSS selector support; and I wish QUnit had been around when I was writing a lot of client-side code.

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Cards Versus Cash

14:54 19 Jan 2010

I found this New York Times article on “The Damage of Card Rewards” to be rather interesting. Basically, to pay for reward programs aimed at getting the better-off to spend more, credit card companies charge merchants more, and merchants reflect these costs in their prices—but everyone pays the same prices, while only the users of reward programs get offsetting benefits.

The article essentially concludes that there is no solution to this problem—and, unless I missed something, doesn’t address regulation. I’m not necessarily advocating regulation here—it’s likely the banks would simply use it to enrich themselves further somehow, although that’s a practical political problem rather than a theoretical economic one—but I do think it’s odd to set up a problem like this, that seems like it could obviously be tackled using an approach of tweaking market rules, while barely mentioning that approach at all.

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Rape and “Compulsive Heterosexuality”

21:26 18 Jan 2010. Updated: 14:14 25 Jan 2010

This post at Yes Means Yes! is an excellent overview of how the profoundly unhealthy culture of American high schools socializes boys to have negative and domineering attitudes towards women. The post is a review of Dude, You’re a Fag, an academic study of student ethnography and behavior at a Northern California high school. While the degree to which the behavior in the school is typical can be debated, it certainly seems to me that it’s certainly not a total aberration. I think a key paragraph is this one:

[Male sexual aggression in this context] has little to do with sexual orientation or desire and everything to do with a gender performance that positions the boys in relation to other boys.

I don’t think this is all that controversial, but I do think it’s important.

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Better Word Count in Vim

23:40 17 Jan 2010

I’m currently trying out Vim (again), and have made more progress this time, mainly due to Seth’s help. The key things that have made it better:

  • :set hidden. Absolutely critical, this. Stops Vim from complaining when you try to switch buffers and your current buffer has unsaved changes.
  • bufexplorer. Makes switching buffers a lot easier.
  • A better Python syntax file. I didn’t like the defaults.
  • My own indentation and syntax files for reStructuredText.

Really, though, the key first one was :set hidden. Before that I felt that I had completely misunderstood Vim’s file management model.

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Code Katas

17:26 15 Jan 2010

I really like this idea from Dave Thomas: code katas, small pieces of programming practice involving some repetition. I came by it via Katacasts, a collection of screencasts of people doing the katas. I particularly recommend Gary Bernardt’s String Calculator in Python and Vim. (Which has inspired me to try once again to get past the vim file management issues I have.)

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The Architecture of Die Hard

12:04 14 Jan 2010

I found this architectural/sociological (sociospatial? psychospatial?) analysis of modern urban warfare, Die Hard, and cinematic portrayals of urban movement to be entirely fascinating. Tactics, psychology, Jason Bourne, parkour, and late-capitalist nonplaces—how can you go wrong with that?

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NFL Passer Rating

12:22 12 Jan 2010

In 1973 the NFL adopted a new way of measuring statistical passer performance. The passer rating system attempts to combine various aspects of the passing game into one metric.

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Cardinals 51, Packers 45

11:43 11 Jan 2010

I don’t write about football that often, but wow, that was some game.

96 total points, an NFL postseason record. 62 total first downs, an NFL postseason record. 1024 combined yards, tied for third in NFL postseason history.

Kurt Warner’s line: 29 of 33 passes, 379 yards passing, 11.5 yards per pass, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 154.1 passer rating.

Aaron Rodgers’ line: 28 of 42 passes, 422 yards passing, 10.0 yards per pass, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception, 121.3 passer rating.

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WordPress 2.9 Upgrade

15:56 10 Jan 2010

I upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.9 today, and it appeared to go entirely smoothly. Please let me know if you notice any breakage.

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Python Coding Exercise: Nested Dictionaries

23:54 08 Jan 2010. Updated: 15:26 18 Jan 2011

I’ve been looking at a bunch of coding exercises recently, including the demo for Codility, and recalled an exercise that I came up with as an interview question. It’s not incredibly difficult, but strikes me as a good “real-world” exercise—it’s based on a task I had to perform while working on the discuss functionality for freebase.com.

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Another Reason I Can’t Stand Dianne Feinstein

23:07 07 Jan 2010

Her response to the recent attempted underwear bombing:

Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said a "very comprehensive no-fly list" would be "the greatest protection our country has." In an interview, she said the definition of who can be included should be expanded to include anyone about whom there is "a reasonable suspicion."

“The greatest protection our country has” is to be able to stop people from flying arbitrarily, even though a major problem with the current system is a lack of accountability around how one gets on the list. Also, of course, Abdulmutallab was on the FBI’s “Terrorist Screening Database” and it was some kind of bureaucratic error that prevented his name being added to the no-fly list—not any legal concerns over reasonable suspicion; it is concerns of this sort that Feinstein is attempting eliminate entirely.

This isn’t surprising; Feinstein has a history of voting to increase state power. Like many others, she seeks to use more or less any circumstance to justify some expansion of state reach[*].

[*] One could accuse me of a similar but oppositely-directed bias. However, I don’t hide my views on the subject, whereas Feinstein doesn’t acknowledge her political views as being authoritarian and/or fascistic; in addition, I generally propose limitations on state power on the basis of principles and long-term benefits—not claiming that their abrupt removal will magically solve some current dilemma instantly.

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Python Optimization Tips

06:34 05 Jan 2010. Updated: 09:41 14 Jan 2010

I came across these on Hacker News recently, and think they’re worth calling out: Python Speed Performance Tips.

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Soothsaying by IOZ

08:21 04 Jan 2010

Another classic from Who is IOZ?, kicking off with:

If you think that the passing decade saw America at its full, retarded apotheosis, then I say you’ve got another thing coming.

—IOZ. “Future Hocks”. Who is IOZ?, 28 December 2009.

As to its accuracy, who can say? But it seems as likely to be right as any other predictions I’ve seen, while having the benefit of being rather more entertaining. And I suspect it’s not far off in its depiction of how things stand right now.

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Comments on GMing After a 15-Year Hiatus

09:10 03 Jan 2010

Last Wednesday, I ran a roleplaying game for the first time since late 1994 or early 1995. It was a one-shot, using the same broad setting and rules system hybrid that I’m planning to use for a campaign later this year.

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2010 Goals

08:53 01 Jan 2010

Happy New Year!

Once again, my goals for the coming year.

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