Chad Perrin: SOB

18 February 2007

launching t3h

Filed under: Cognition,Geek — apotheon @ 01:43

I’m announcing the pre-project launch of t3h, a community designed to support autodidactism for computer geeks. The theory is that the synergistic learning environment of an online distributed study group will help motivate more effective and enjoyable learning.

The term t3h is an abbreviation of “The Three Hacks”, and refers to the three traditional passions of the hacker: Language, Platform, and System. Following is the beginning of the text on the website’s About t3h page.

Welcome to The Three Hacks.

This website is designed to foster autodidactism, and to bring hackish minds together to promote a synergistic, community-based learning experience related to the three main areas of traditional hacker passion: language, platform, and system — or mind, body, and soul, via the technological metaphor.

Now that all the hokey pseudo-philosophical nonsense is out of the way, I’ll try to explain things in practical, concrete terms.

I’ve been putting together a small group of people interested in participating in the first project, but I figured I’d make it known more publicly here. Those who are interested are welcome to inquire. Registration at the website is mandatory for direct participation in the Main Project track, but not for reading about it and pursuing similar ends on your own with access to the resources we provide on the site, of course. For those interested in helping shape the schedule for the first Main Project, it is recommended you join the main mailing list, a link to which is located at the top of the main page of the t3h website. During the actual project schedule, Main Project participation will mostly be accomplished through mailing list activity, so even if you don’t want to be a part of the planning phase (which you should), you’ll at least need to be on a mailing list by then.

The first Main Project will be for beginning Ruby programming. More information will be posted on the website as we approach a usable schedule for the first Main Project. Registration on both the website and the t3h mailing list, at this time, requires approval by a moderator (i.e. me). Suggestions and questions are welcome. Those of you who have already been invited to participate and expressed a desire to do so, get over there and register at the site and on the mailing list. Now.

16 February 2007

Links measuring Microsoft success, plus Spam Catch of the Day

Filed under: Geek,Humor,Metalog — apotheon @ 02:04

I stumbled across a couple of interesting stock performance graphs. First, a corporation that has recently done very well in the stock market: Apple Inc.. As you’ll see on the graph if you follow the link, the last two years have shown runaway stock value growth.

Second, a corporation that has had some problems in the stock market: Microsoft Corporation. This is by far the most interesting to me. The Apple stock shows fairly predictable use, considering the booming market for iPods, iTunes, and all things related, as well as the growing confidence among IT professionals in the MacOS X operating system (a huge improvement over MacOS “classic” in terms of technical quality, thanks to the re-engineering of the OS from the ground up). Not as many people would have been able to guess at the performance over time of Microsoft, however.

What I see on the Microsoft graph is the following:

  1. accelerating growth from the release of Windows 98, with sharp climbs around the releases of 98SE and 2000 — the former of which was huge with home users and the latter of which bombed with them (because it was “too complicated” and had some early hardware support issues), but did exceedingly well in business environments
  2. a precipitous drop around the release of ME — which enjoyed early sales success with home users (less secure, and thus less “complicated”, interface) but never made headway in business use, and severely tarnished Microsoft’s image because it was such an unmitigated failure in the public relations arena thanks to its technically abominable design
  3. a series of peaks and valleys, well below the level of Microsoft’s halcyon days of 98SE and 2k but at least not plummeting as it did during the ME fiasco, that gradually averaged and evened out, marking the introduction and lengthy tenure of Windows XP (and not even Windows Server 2003 really churned the sea a little)
  4. a shake-up — a notable, if not huge, valley in the previously calm waters of Microsoft stock, in fact — in mid-2006, around the time everyone started really believing that a new Microsoft OS was on the horizon, which would coincide with a stock trader’s likely belief that an impending next version would hurt sales of the current version for a while
  5. modest growth up through January 2007, at the end of which Vista would be released, in anticipation of the much-hyped rise in Microsoft sales the corporation was predicting with the new OS release
  6. a small, but marked, drop in value coinciding with the final days of Vista anticipation and the dismal early public reception to Vista in February thus far

I think what I’m seeing with that last bit is the result of a number of things. For instance, IT industry pundits and consumer reporting sources are beginning at last to judge new Windows releases according to how they stack up against other OSes, which leads to harsher, less fanboyish reviews. While Microsoft still easily holds the high ground in the battle for market share in its niche, by a stunningly wide margin, it is losing mind share like — well, like some people are throwing away their Microsoft stock. Another example of what I think is creating the current trend is the simple fact that Microsoft has become old hat, and is having a lot of trouble exciting people these days, in large part because Microsoft is doing the same things over and over again.

Compare the marketing propaganda offered by Microsoft for Vista with that for XP: most convenient OS ever, most secure OS ever, most stable OS ever, most technically advanced OS ever. Also compare the truths behind that propaganda: XP suffered a slew of new vulnerabilities immediately after release, and Microsoft’s record (especially in light of its supposed commitment to security in recent years) only leads people to expect the same from Vista; far from being stable and bug-free, both XP and Vista were announced within days of release to have service packs on the way to solve problems; Vista is the result of throwing away basically all of the exciting features of the Longhorn project while XP was the result of a hurry-up job to get something out the door, to arrest the failures of ME.

The major difference in the way the propaganda contrasted with reality is that XP really was one of the easiest and most convenient Microsoft OSes for the end user until the release of SP2 and the subsequent WGA disaster — while Vista is quickly being shown to be a problem child, with driver support and software support issues (repeating the mistakes surrounding the release of 2k), impending doom related to the pervasive and accusatory DRM behavior, widespread installation problems, and a rapacious resource-devouring new eye-candy UI that makes high-end game machines perform like dogs on a blazing hot afternoon.

I fully expect that Microsoft will fix enough of this stuff sufficiently to achieve roughly the same technical effect as XP in the long run, but it’s in for some rocky times for a while until that gets settled. Public perceptions and stock market performance, however, may never really recover. Only time will tell.

As for the Spam Catch of the Day, I got this joke in my comment spam at SOB today (with no editing):

A man and a woman were sitting beside each other in the first class section of an airplane. The woman sneezed, took out a tissue, gently wiped her nose, then visibly shuddered for ten to fifteen seconds.

The man went back to his reading. A few minutes later, the woman sneezed again, took a tissue, wiped her nose, then shuddered violently once more. Assuming that the woman might have a cold, the man was still curious about the shuddering. A few more minutes passed when the woman sneezed yet again. As before she took a tissue, wiped her nose, her body shaking even more than before. Unable to restrain his curiosity, the man turned to the woman and said, “I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve sneezed three times, wiped your nose and then shuddered violently. Are you ok?”

“I am sorry if I disturbed you, I have a very rare medical condition; whenever I sneeze I have an orgasm.”

The man, more than a bit embarrassed, was still curious. “I have never heard of that condition before” he said. “Are you taking anything for it?”

The woman nodded, ” yes….. Pepper.”

:):):):):)

An even better piece of spam, however, was this one:

Service Agencies

At one time in my life, I thought I understood the meaning of the word “service.”

The act of doing things for other people.

Then I heard the terms: Internal Revenue Service Postal Service Civil Service Service Stations Customer Service City/County Public Service

And I became confused about the word “service.” This is not what I thought “service” meant.

Then one day, I overheard two farmers talking, and one of them mentioned that he was having a bull service a few of his cows.

WHAM!! It all came into perspective! Now I understand what all those “service” agencies are doing to us.

It’s tough to argue with logic like that. I guess that must have come from an SEO service. In fact, their service is so thorough and complete that I got three copies of that message. (I also got three copies of one about soap, panties, and toilet paper, but it’s really not worth recounting here.)

15 February 2007

syntax vs. semantics: the other way around

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Metalog — apotheon @ 06:38

I recently (measured in hours) commented on a disagreement over syntax and semantics. I’ve come to a realization:

The people who disagreed with me may not have been completely out in left field in their disagreement with my characterization of each. That’s not to say I was wrong — just that they were possibly looking at it from an alternate viewpoint. Unfortunately, that’s not all there is to it, so we can’t all just go home happy that we’ve agreed to disagree about the angle of our view on the matter.

I referred to semantics as the more “superficial” of the two aspects of language design, because its effect on the way we program is more superficial. By contrast, then, syntax has a “deeper” effect on how we program than semantics. That’s my perspective.

I don’t know if this is their perspective or not, but it occurs to me that it’s a possibility:

Syntax refers to the most visible aspects of language design — in what order you arrange things, what elements are necessary to compose a complete (and correct) statement, and so on. Semantics, meanwhile, refers to the meaning of things — such as whether your return statement returns the value of something or a reference to it.

Both, of course, can have a significant effect on how we program when using a given language. It really may even be arguable which has the greater effect, and (despite its rancorous phrasing) reddit user akkartik‘s comments in a new reddit discussion begin to make some interesting points to the effect that semantics have a more significant effect on how we think about programming than syntax, even though I think he’s achieving some of that via (perhaps accidental) exaggeration. There’s a potential nugget of wisdom buried there, however, and it’s worth considering, even if the guy strikes me as a first impression as a bit of a wanker. update: It’s becoming pretty clear he’s not actually a “wanker”. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Ultimately, the implication that most interests me is that there are aspects of programming language design that could, from a perspective other than the one with which I started, be assigned to semantics rather than syntax — though I would have assigned them to syntax. After some thought, I think some of these characteristics actually fall into a gray area between the two, where syntax and semantics overlap. These, in fact, may be among the most influential characteristics of a language’s design in determining how the language really shapes effective programming practice using that language. For instance, the Lisp notion that everything is a list is made feasible, even in theory, only by considering specific syntactic and semantic considerations that necessarily blend a bit in the middle. Considering that “everything is a list” is kinda the central defining characteristic of Lisp (popular gushing about macros, and incredible power granted by code == data, aside), that makes a pretty good case to me for the integration of syntax and semantics at the point where the interesting stuff happens.

I’m still not entirely convinced, but it’ll take some thought or, if someone actually manages to pull it together enough to offer one, a cogent argument.

That’s where the new problem arises: Even if the other participants in the earlier discussion were simply looking at things from a different perspective, they were absolutely incapable of expressing a salient point. The (nominal) counterpoints to my statements were nothing but unsupported, mindless naysaying. In the new discussion, pjdelport even ends up falling back on an argument from authority fallacy to show how stupid I must be. (S)he even assigns pejorative meaning to my use of the term “ignorance” in the process, where it wasn’t really intended — after all, everybody’s ignorant about a great many things, even me. (It’s the term “displays” that carried pejorative meaning in that sentence.)

Of course, akkartik made the same mistake when (s)he said:

apotheon’s wrong regardless [. . .] in mistaking humility and politeness for ignorance.

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