Archive for April, 2010

Profiling Political Leanings by Browsing History

12:44 30 Apr 2010

Slate has put together a tool that gives a very rough indication of a user’s political tendencies by checking which sites on a list the user has visited; each of the sites has a score based on readership by people with declared political affiliations.

It doesn’t actually read your browser history per se, instead just checking to see if you’ve visited the home pages of the sites on its list.

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Improving a Python Word Counting Function

13:33 29 Apr 2010

This post could be summarized as “regular expressions are a lot faster than naive for loops”.

I’ve been working on improving the script I use for live wordcount in Vim, partly for performance and partly so that I can package it up as a plugin and share it with other people. Along the way I’ve improved the speed of the script rather significantly, and will go through the key part of that change here.

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Alien Prequel

14:25 27 Apr 2010

I really hope that Ridley Scott does a good job on the prequel he’s making. Answering the questions about the background of Alien could be absolutely fantastic.

The problem with answering questions like that, though, is that plenty of viewers have created their own backstories, not in the fan-fiction sense but less consciously, assembling a structure that for them makes sense around the plot presented. Any prequel (or other expansion) runs into the issue of creating a larger milieu that fits around not just the original but also some reasonable number of the viewers’ imagined extrapolations.

Here’s hoping that Scott can do better than a certain other influential 1970s science fiction director…

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Mario and the Many-Worlds Intepretation

23:52 26 Apr 2010. Updated: 01:30 27 Apr 2010
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Chris Ware and Fortune

21:29 25 Apr 2010

I’m not sure what Fortune magazine expected when they asked Chris Ware to come up with a cover for their May Fortune 500 issue, but my guess is that they didn’t do as much research as they should have.

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The History of Debt

13:34 23 Apr 2010

“Debt: The first five thousand years” is a fascinating long-term overview of how debt has evolved and been managed through its history. The perspective granted by the long view is quite different from how I’d been looking at recent debt-related events, in particular regarding the “virtual versus real” money debate.

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Anthrax Persecution

15:39 22 Apr 2010

You may remember the antrax mailings of late 2001. From 2002 to 2006, the FBI seems to have spent much of its time focusing on Steven Hatfill, who was later dropped as a suspect. However, while investigating Hatfill, they also apparently waged a campaign of harassment against him, as detailed in “The Wrong Man”.

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Market Efficiency in Action

17:18 20 Apr 2010

It should be clear that having better access to information than others will make it pretty easy to make money in market trading. And:

While markets are supposed to ensure transparency by showing orders to everyone simultaneously, a loophole in regulations allows marketplaces like Nasdaq to show traders some orders ahead of everyone else in exchange for a fee.

That seems like quite the loophole.

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Choose Your Own 2fortTube

16:14 19 Apr 2010
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“Wandering Mind”

23:57 18 Apr 2010. Updated: 01:14 19 Apr 2010

The mind wanders around and around. It might be in a maze, for often the spaces look eerily familiar. The paths seem different, the distinction between path and destination murky.

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How to Solve It and Project Euler

20:35 16 Apr 2010
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The Office Model of the Office

13:29 15 Apr 2010

I haven’t watched much of either the British or American versions of the show, but am nevertheless going to recommend three posts by Venkatesh Rao which use the American version to illuminate interesting aspects of office life:

Long, but definitely worth it.

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Exclusive Neighborhood

13:57 13 Apr 2010

Exclusive Neighborhood

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The Sewer that Ate Birmingham

09:10 12 Apr 2010

Actually, it was the banks that ate Birmingham, Alabama, as documented by Matt Taibbi in “Looting Main Street: How the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece”.

Essentially, Birmingham decided it needed an expensive new sewer system, and its officials completely screwed the city by making awful financing deals with major Wall Street banks. The approach used by the banks is apparently one they’ve been using in many places, so the article might end up being informative about the troubles of a district near you.

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Shark Versus Octopus

14:33 11 Apr 2010. Updated: 11:29 12 Apr 2010

The voiceover is terrible, but even so, I can’t resist posting this footage of a shark and an octopus fighting.

Update: the embed code was showing the wrong video; this is the link to the right one: Giant Octopus Battles Shark.

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Python Flatten/Concatenate Comparisons

23:31 09 Apr 2010. Updated: 15:28 18 Jan 2011

I’m going to compare seven different ways in Python to make one list out of several lists containing different numbers of elements, something that strikes me as a common but not necessarily everyday operation.

The philosophy of Python is that generally there should be one obvious and reasonable way to do things. I really like this philosophy—except when the Python way isn’t the way I prefer, of course.

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A Misanthropic Essay on Stupidity

15:01 08 Apr 2010

While I don’t really believe in stupidity as an intrinsic characteristic, and while I’m skeptical of analyses of the world that place blame for ills on non-systemic causes, I still found Carlo M. Cipolla’s “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” amusing and worth reading.

In summary, the five laws are:

  • Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  • The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  • A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  • Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  • A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
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Public Projects, Finishing Things, and bitbucket

11:46 06 Apr 2010

I’ve been writing Python fairly steadily for the past couple of years, and a significant amount of that has been for my own projects; Python is what I tend to use to scratch workflow-related itches. That’s great, but many of these projects reach a point short of “finished” when I stop working on them.

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Refactoring, Geeky Enjoyment, and Readability

12:16 05 Apr 2010

Refactoring is rewriting source code while preserving the functionality of that code. I’m currently refactoring my Python script for Subversion status, because I want to experiment with sharing code on bitbucket and it seemed like a reasonable first project to put up there.

Some people hate refactoring, but I often enjoy it. I get a kick out of figuring out how to make code “better”, although that’s often a subjective judgment. In this case, when I opened up the script to have a look at it, I immediately saw a function that I knew I wanted to refactor. I’m amused by the enjoyment I derived from making the fairly simple change.

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Easter Sunday and the Death of the Easter Bunny

15:26 04 Apr 2010

Easter is not an occasion that’s ever had any real meaning for me, although I liked the candy when I was a kid. It’s still a good reminder to appreciate the insight of George Carlin.

But for some people, Easter was a more significant experience.

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Clearing Growl Notifications

14:43 02 Apr 2010

I use a notification system for OS X called Growl, which provides a single channel for various applications to use when they have something to tell me. I mainly use it for IM and email. I’m fairly happy with it, but one issue that irked me was dealing with clearing a bunch of the notifications off the screen.

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11:56 01 Apr 2010

At the beginning of March I kicked off a roleplaying campaign, the first I’ve run since early 1995. The setting is essentially the one I laid out last year in my fantasy world sketch, which now as the name “Q’Rith”.

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