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I was browsing some of my old mail and was amused by some of the items contained therein.

On Hallowe'en Wishes

Your dread postcard has found my box
and brought me sudden goulish shocks.
With eerie tinglings in my bones
I hear the dead, unearthly moans
of ghouls, and demons-- ogres too--
I think they're coming after you!
The monsters, fiends, and devils hear
you scramble there in panicked fear.
Your time is up. Unholy foes
won't wait for you to decompose.
The clock runs short. Your mortal coil
will shuffle off and later spoil
in catacombs (our fate to see
if man, woman, or raven be.)
This ghastly dirge of doom I scream
to wish you a frightful Halloween.

The Shannon Capacity Law and Zeno's Paradox

> I didn't even know that Shannon *had* a capacity theorem.

I don't have a capacity theorem, I have a Capacity Law: An individual always has enough capacity to eat a spoonful of smooth ice cream. This Law (of which there is a clever and simple proof (which, unfortunately, does not fit into the margin of this email)) has a corollary: An individual has an infinite capacity for smooth ice cream.

A like proof for chunky types of ice cream has been eluding dieticians for many years now. This proof would probably hinge on the proving or disproving of Fermat's Penultimate Theorem, otherwise known as the Zeno's Ever-Decreasing Chocolate. This conjecture (although Theorem is in its name, it isn't proven) relates to the physics of tasty complex carbohydrates in an eroding environment.

A bar of chocolate is placed on a table with a room-full of party goers. Typically, after some interval, the bar is half its size. After the same interval, it is half its size again, and so on. This type of decrease is termed by dieticians as an "Inverse Rudeness Reduction." The question dieticians around the world are trying to solves is, How many party-goers can get a piece of the chocolate before it is gone?

Fermat's conjecture is that for prime numbers of party-goers, half of them don't get any chocolate. This has been disproved for all prime numbers up to 11, but no general proof yet exists.

What was Zeno's contibution? Well, he said that given any size bar of chocolate, an infinite number of party goers could be sated. His theory disproved 20 minutes after being conceived, Zeno went nowhere.


P.S. Despite Zeno, I'll be seeing you all soon!

On Finding Things on the Web

> How on earth did you come across this?
A series of coincidences which couldn't have been fully coincidental. An ineffable presence directing my movements. A strange tongue being spoken in my sleep. The smell of coppery blood. An apparition of a old man with a laurel wreath wearing a lambskin apron. A head in a bag.

On Speed-Hikers

Maybe he and Hanky should go speed bowling or power chug a bottle of fine wine.

On Language Purity

Do you think that Microsoft's addition of IDL syntax to C++ will cause an onslaught of naysayers saying that they're trying to "fragment" or "balkanize" the language?

On Writing Good Code

>I tend to think that people who write "(a = b) = c" should be shot.

I'll be the one in the bell tower with the high-power rifle. Just thinking about this made me go wash my hands. Grounds for immediate dismissal. Blacklisted from the industry. You get the idea.

(Unless, of course, there's some way to use that in a macro to cheat the compiler...)

I just had to go wash my hands again.

On Playing Games With Infants

I can see it now: Anais sitting on the right hand of Martin Gardner in Game Theory Land after finishing her thesis on "Impractical Ramifications of Quasi-Infinite-Sum Games to Compressed Psychohistory and Relational Politidynamics." She will say "You take 4d8 of damage, Dad," before "Can I have a Ballerina Barbie?" She will win arguments with "Oooo, I guess you failed your saving throw there..."

On Not Having Mt. Dew

It is a wondrous fluid with miraculous properties. An elixir of power. A fountain of energy. I sag and wilt without its snappy yet somehow undefinable flavor. I weep without its fluorescent greenness. I mourn as I sip my Simply Cola.

On The Digital Revolution

Blessed are the Geeks, for they shall inherit digital television.

On Kids These Days

[...] In this example, we have these things which CANNOT be instantiated (interfaces). And now we're passing them around, effectively by value, as if they're full fledged objects. I don't like it. Not one bit. Kids these days just go too far. Next thing you know they'll be piercing their copy constructors.

On The Essence of Programming

> Born to Code
> Bury me in code
> I'm not alive unless I'm dereferencing pointers
> Food, art, affection -- it's all irrelevant
> compared to the value returned from this function.
> Validating parameters, returning error codes --
> that's life, buddy,
> if it ain't on my screen
> It'll just have to wait.
> Copyright 1996 by Frank Brown.
> So is this what it's like?  Is this what I get if I learn something more
> substantial than Perl?
> -Puck

That is terrible poetry.

As to the topic of what programming is like, I don't think that the above accurately expresses it. For me, at least, it's not parameter validation, or error codes, or sitting in the glow of a CRT. Those things are means to an end. (Much like getting lead poisoning was the end due to the means for many painters.)

Programming is devising a world with a certain set of rules and fitting pieces into this world. If you need to bend a rule to make a piece fit, then your framework was inadequate. This is an especially interesting quest because programming is usually done in formal, logical systems., and Godel showed that these systems can never be perfect.

Let's see, how about some imagery, since this started with a poem.

Programming is:

  • A crossword puzzle with no black boxes
  • A dictionary and magic marker
  • A self-induced hallucination
  • A designed religion
  • A novel you can't put down

And the ever-present, obligatory Haiku:

The mind as pencil
Ruling and circumscribing
And now erasing


P.S. Poetry in programming is elegance.

P.P.S. Programming is a tweeting bird in a red-black tree?

P.P.P.S. Incidentally, "Godel" was spellchecked into "Godless." Hmmm.

On Hype

>MapInfo-Based Application Awarded Editors' Choice Award
>From Call Center Magazine Stratasoft's Stratadial 4.0
>Predictive Dialer
> [...] The application is being used by various fund raising
> organizations making calls to get commitments for donations.
> Organizations attempting to solicit donations use the application to
> rapidly call prospective donors. Callers typically contact 700-1000
> individuals a day, arranging over 100 pickups per driver. The
> application plots the addresses of the donors on a map which is then
> distributed to the drivers to guide them in their pick up routes.
> [...]

TROY, NY -- MapInfo Corp. (Nasdaq: MAPS), having not shipped a significantly different product in over two years, announced today that it will be taking donations to keep it afloat. "We have no plans to advance our current technology base," assured CEO John Cavalier. "We need these donations to continue our best-of-breed marketing efforts." Analysts find this tactic to be a bold move. If MapInfo does well, they think the idea of directly soliciting the public for money to be taken up by other beleaguered companies such as Apple and Wired Magazine.

MapInfo will use its own software to track down and irritate prospective donors at dinnertime. "The sudden, unexpected, and completely unprecedented use of our own products in-house has shown us that our software is already perfect," claimed CTO John Haller. "In fact, we're cutting back on further code re-purposing efforts." Haller could neither confirm or deny the rumor of layoffs in the R&D organization.

About MapInfo

MapInfo Corporation, the donation discovery company, is the worldwide leader in last decade's mapping solutions and a preeminent supplier of externally developed and poorly integrated spatial technologies. Its data visualization products are shotgun deployed on the desktop, on enterprise servers, on the Internet, as embeddable mapping objects somehow not on the desktop, and anywhere else they think they can stick a map. Headquartered just outside of Troy, NY because it's not strategically advantageous to help the local economy, MapInfo Corporation is on the World Wide Web at http://www.mapinfo.com.

On Component Registration

May the entries of a thousand useless ActiveX controls invade your registry.

On Writing Fast Code

The fastest code is the code that is never executed.

On The Rensselaer Cabal

> Yes, the guy is still obsessed with the phrase "kangaroo 
> court."  This particular piece, thankfully, does not footnote 
> any words or phrases.  I admit that I only made it about 2/3 
> of the way before my eyes glazed over, but at least read the 
> part about Pipes.
> enjoi,
> rv

OK, so the guy used "cabal" and its variations a total of 7 times in that piece (excluding the title "Contra [0] Cabal" which appears a few more time). I assumed that I have misunderstood [1] that term, and I've been confused by his use of it up until now. So, I finally looked it up. Merriam Webster says that cabal means:

Cabal: the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united to bring about an overturn or usurpation especially in public affairs; also : a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues

What I'm confused about is that this guy is terming the current controlling faction [2] as a cabal, which seems contradictory [3] to me. Have I been misunderstanding [1] this guy all along, or is he a purely a putsch [4] -predicting putz [5]?


  1. A member of a guerrilla group opposed to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. "The putz fled in panic as the Contras came up the Approach."
  2. To fail to understand or interpret incorrectly. "The putz misunderstood that he lost all credibility when he called The Weasel an 'antisemite Semitic'."
  3. A party or group (as within a government) that is often contentious or self-seeking. "The putz was ridiculed by the opposing faction."
  4. A proposition so related to another that if either of the two is true the other is false and if either is false the other must be true, or the rhetorical speeches given by the Contras. "The putz was inflamed by the rebel's contradictory during Meet The Press."
  5. A secretly plotted and suddenly executed plot to overthrow a government. "The putz fantasized that he was in on the Cabal's putsch."
  6. An annoyingly stupid or foolish person. "The putz continued to speak even as his audience crammed turnips into their ears."

Thanks to Merriam-Webster: get your definitions at http://www.m-w.com

On Beer

[...] To be honest, I will drink most beers if they are fizzy. I would choose an ale (brown or yellow) of some kind if profferred.

>We'll be more amusing if you have good beer.  Trust me.

What rv meant to say was "We'll be more _drunk_ if you have good beer." 9 out of 10 drunk people surveyed said that drunk people are more amusing than getting hit by a car. 3 of them added, "Besides, I'm too sexy for my shirt," for reasons we don't care to explain.

On Slogans and T-Shirts

After my project was cancelled (and I left MapInfo), management made a bunch of T-shirts to rally the troops. They had the slogan "Incremental Improvement, Not Postponed Perfection" emblazoned on them. In response, a few ex-MapInfo-ers had some thoughts on those T-shirts.

Before you read them, though, remember that they are bitter words from bitter people who had left pretty cozy jobs because they thought they were in a world of shit. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. MapInfo is a different place now than it was then. It's working on new things, it has a somewhat shifted direction, and has delivered (as it wanted to) a not-insignifcant upgrade to their flagship product.

Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket.

  • "I lead a project so hated that they made shirts against it. Not everybody can claim that!"
  • "Incremental Income, not Promised Profits"
  • "Ignore Innovation, Promote Paralysis"
  • "Safe slogans, not brave action"
  • "Stick with mediocrity -- look where it's gotten me"
  • "MapInfo: 100% Innovation Free"
  • News that stockholders should hear:

    Company distributes morale boosting T-shirts to entire development staff. Ceremonial book burning is held on the lovely banks of Lake George at sunset. First on the fire is McCarthy's "Dynamics of Software Development" followed by a backup tape of the Bermuda Notes Databases and a pair of red sneakers.[...]

  • [...] The part that (still) hurts is that they killed the project-- even though it was going to do what they wanted and then some. Postponed Pefection is exactly what it was. The most ironic part of the t shirt thing was that it was perfectly accurate. That's what they wanted, that's why we left. The tragedy is that they think that developers will be excited about incremental improvement. [...]

See also: What the shirts really say.

On Loneliness

[B]eing lonely is watching Star Trek: Voyager in the dark, alone at 11:30 while eating a bowl of Raisin Bran.

On Confusion

On Friday, September 26, 1997 4:13 PM, Batman, all-knowing king of polka (Curt Krone), wrote:

>Today's Russion comment of the day:
>// This reloaded operation are executed from destructor. It serves
>// to support to control of the nonsunction invoking delete operator
>// So, object can't be deleted desctructor can't be executed
>// correctly if it is transactional oriented
>         void                    operator delete (void *) ;
>    Oh, it's all clear to me now...

Be careful. This is only true when the constructor has been non-intrinsically called from another class scope. You can't infer a base class' prototype sunction or nonsunction without an formal declaration of virtual base synthesis. If the trancendental is derived, all bets are off. Section 12.4.3 of the ANSI C++ Draft Standard covers this, but it's confusing.

On Beer Again

We must be rigorous in our enjoyment of beer.

On Babylon 5

I'll be upset if Garibaldi becomes a direct replacement for Judas; his character deserves so much more. Don't get me wrong, Judas is a complicated and interesting person. But, hey, I've already seen Jesus Christ Superstar.

On Speech Recognition


Well comma actually comma you need to say what this sentence says for the punctuation to come out period It really isn't that intrusive open-paren but you feel a bit like Victor Borge close-paren period

On Jargon

[...] What you're doing is absolutely no different than using pointers and making sure that they aren't NULL after the allocation-- except in the semantic implications given via the reference syntax.


P.S. Jeesh, what a geek: "semantic implications given via the reference syntax." Next thing you know I'll be talking about "thin clients leveraging an enterprise-wide data warehousing and mining server." Too much time in front of the computer and not enough in front of a swimming pool, I guess.

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