## Thanks for the memories, Softpro Books

Before moving to Denver 17 years ago from Silicon Valley, I used to spend hours every weekend at the Computer Literacy bookstore in San Jose.  I was a student and this store embodied a world of possibilities.  I’d thumb through, and often buy, books about what was then still unselfconsciously called AI; or books about numerical methods, graph theory, UNIX, C, Smalltalk, or Perl.  Before blogs, Google, Stackoverflow and eBooks, books were an important part of learning.  At least, they were for me.

Computer Literacy was on the (very short) list of things I knew I’d miss about the Valley.  Imagine my joy at discovering Softpro Books within a week of moving to Denver.

I feel like we grew up together, Softpro and I.  I bought dozens of books there every year, even when I couldn’t really afford it.  It was an investment in my craft.  At first it was C++ and more UNIX, then the Web started eating the world and there was HTML, ASP, PHP, MySQL, Python and Java.  And there were always the books from the “esoteric” section, my favorite section at Softpro.  These were books on genetic programming, neural nets, data mining, and machine learning.  I don’t think I finished many of them, but as a favorite professor of mine used to say, you can get a damn fine education by reading the first few chapters of a lot of books.

When I ran out of space in my office, I gave away books to make room for more.  Out with you, Oracle Performance Tuning and XSLT!  Make room for Lucene and R.

Computer Literacy closed in 2001.  Next week, Softpro will be closing its doors.  There will still be an online presence at softpro.com, but this is the end of the browse-and-buy era.  The last 17 years have seen amazing changes in how we use and program computers, and in where we get information and learn.  I feel just a little bit old, but I also feel very lucky to be in this business and hungry to keep learning.  I’m sad I’ll have to do that without Softpro.

Jim and Eric – you’ll be missed; thanks for being there all of these years.

## Running is like Roomba for your brain

Roomba roams around your space, apparently aimless, picking up old or new detritus from hard-to-reach places under the furniture.  Often when I’m running, my brain roams around the space of my work, life, and relationships to bring back long-forgotten memories, things that fell off my todo list, or even brand new ideas (formed from bits of stuff that were hiding under the furniture of my brain).

“Seven Roombas in the dark” by ibroomba

Many people experience some kind of meditative state while exercising. It doesn’t happen to me every time I run. It happens more often on longer runs. It never happens when I’m not moving. Learning how to meditate has been on my list for ages, but I’ve never managed to create time or space for it.  I just can’t relax.

I’m terrible at those biofeedback video games where you arrange stones in a Zen garden by calming your breath or something. My mind starts to race, the stones fly off in all directions instead of settling into a neat stack, and pretty soon I’m tearing the biofeedback sensors off my fingers and flinging them across the room.

The roomba effect is the closest I get to meditation. With my body and breath doing their rhythmic running thing, my brain somehow disconnects from my immediate physical reality and starts to roam freely in search of loose ends, until my battery runs out.

## 8.6 Kilowatts, Baby!

We’ve gone solar.

The system covers 100% of our usage on average year-round.  We’re leasing it from Sunrun, which services 10 states.  It was installed by REC Solar, whom I’d highly recommend.  Excited to get off the coal train.

## Born under the second law of thermodynamics

Originally posted on Rod Carvalho:

[ source ]

Neil Armstrong once portrayed himself as follows [1, 2]:

I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer—born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow. As an engineer, I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.

Neil “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and “trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space” [3]. He died yesterday [4, 5].

__________

Sources

[1] Neil A. Armstrong, Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century (transcript of speech), National Press Club, February 22, 2000.

[2] Neil A. Armstrong, Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century (audio of speech – Neil’s address starts at approximately 5:30), National Press Club, February 22, 2000.

[3] John Gillespie Magee, Jr., High Flight, England, 1941.

[4] John Noble Wilford, Neil Armstrong, first man…

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## iWeb to WordPress.com in 45 minutes

Apple sent out another round of emails today about iWeb and MobileMe shutting down on June 30th.  That’s slightly annoying, but good for Apple to recognize that this stuff is not core for them, and for communicating well about the approaching sunset.

My sister has a site on iWeb for her portfolio of drawings.  I decided to help her move it to WordPress.com.  The whole thing took about 45 minutes, including downloading and then uploading images, picking a theme (Linen FTW) and adding some image galleries (which use the beautiful new carousel feature).

Here is her new site on WordPress.com, what do you think?

Less isn’t always more when it comes to code and readability, but shrinking code is a fun sport and in this case, less is definitely cooler. Nicely done. Clojure FTW.

Originally posted on Maurits thinks aloud:

Recently I stumbled upon a white paper by Roger Sessions called “The Mathematics of IT Simplification”. In this paper he describes an approach called synergistic partitioning, which is based on the mathematics of sets, equivalence relations, and partitions. One of the topics that comes up in this article is how many ways there are to partition N elements. The answer to this is well-known and called the Nth Bell number.

The 52 partitions of a set with 5 elements

The Wikipedia page that explains the Bell number also shows two implementations on how to calculate them, one in Ruby and the other one in Python. The Ruby version needs 17 lines of code, the Python version 12 lines. I have the peculiar habit of intriguing/annoying my colleagues at work with the statement that using Clojure the solution to any programming problem fits into one single tweet. In other…

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http://memo.martinremy.com/2012/05/23/653/

## In Defense of Teaching Creative Writing

“… you can help them recognize authenticity in themselves and others. This is what fiction does”.

Originally posted on :

Two weeks ago we showed you an opinion piece in the New York Times by Claire Needell Hollander, who says children should be reading more great literature in school. Claire was kind enough to write the following piece for us, arguing the flipside: that children should be taught to write creatively. – Eds.

——-

Years ago in a creative writing class I was a teaching, a student of mine, a fourteen year old eighth grader—we’ll call him J—wrote a narrative about playing in the snow in Central Park with his mother, his stepfather, and his natural father, all of whom were dead. “Itʼs not really Central Park,” he told me. “Itʼs more like heaven.”

The next week, in the same class, all hell broke loose at Jʼs table. J had apparently been muttering disturbing things under his breath. The student next to him finally erupted. “Ms. Hollander, J is talking…

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## Fiction Advocate of the Day

Interesting stuff. Standardized tests are no substitute for vision and commitment (that includes funding).
PS: Note to self, reread Catcher.

Originally posted on :

Claire Needell Hollander, a reading enrichment teacher in the New York City Public Schools, did some serious fiction advocacy in the New York Times yesterday. For the last seven years, Hollander has worked with sixth through eight graders who wouldn’t normally be exposed to classic works of fiction.

Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, A Raisin in the Sun, Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

And while the kids were totally wrong about Catcher (“Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage.”), they had some interesting reactions to other works:

Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read The Grapes of Wrath and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other,…

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## Tweaking the UI

Who wrote this?

… with enough money … I’ll tell you what I would do.  In the first place, I would change the general appearance of the site and make seven wide columns where we now have nine narrow ones.  Then I would have the font spaced more, and these two changes would give the site a much cleaner appearance.  Secondly, it would be well to make the site as far as possible original, to clip only some leading sites … [we] must also increase our number of advertisements [even] if we have to lower rates to do it … images are a detail, though a very important one … images attract the eye and stimulate the imagination … all these changes [should] be made not by degrees but at once so that the improvement will be very marked and noticeable and attract universal attention and comment.

Perhaps the antiquated language at the end gave it away.  This is not an email from an online publisher to her investors in 2005.  I just replaced paper with site, type with font, and illustration with image in an excerpt of a letter William Randolph Hearst wrote to his father in 1885, listing changes he would make to the San Francisco Examiner if his father would just let him run that paper.  Hearst did take over the paper and, after making a number of changes like these, made the Examiner the most popular paper on the west coast.

Source: The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst by Kenneth Whyte (a great read).

## Newton’s method using rational arithmetic

Originally posted on Rod Carvalho:

The floating-point number system puts further restraints on what can be expected. We can at best hope to keep the relative error under control, and we cannot expect to find zeros far from the origin with great absolute accuracy.

I am somewhat disenchanted with floating-point arithmetic. We all have implemented numerical methods using floating-point numbers. But, how many of us have implemented numerical methods using rational numbers of arbitrary precision? I certainly have not. Hence, let us give it a try. In this post I will implement Newton’s method [1] (also known as the Newton-Raphson method) in Haskell using arbitrary-precision rational numbers.

Given a continuous (real) function $latex f : \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R}$ and $latex x_0$, an initial approximation of the zero of function $latex f$, we then obtain the next approximation using the following recurrence relation

$latex x_{k+1} = x_k – \displaystyle\frac{f (x_k)}{f’ (x_k)}$

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