Archive for 2008

December 28, 2008

My recent programming projects, including one (currently) not otherwise released, are available on BitBucket. While most things were already Javascript, which is pretty much necessarily open source (obfuscation aside), you can now clone my Mercurial repositories, and submit back patches, if you like.

Putting My Code Where My Mouth Is

Not that I talk about copyrights much, but I am sympathetic to the causes calling for a reduction of the current insane periods.

A belated holiday present: I’m releasing all my old software – probably written somewhere between 1985 and 1994 – into the public domain. I’ve dredged up most of the source code, but no promises – I don’t have any of the compilers these were written on (and if even if I’ve got install disks packed away somewhere, I don’t have the operating systems in working order)

There are even a few things I hadn’t previously released before.

December 27, 2008

A belated holiday present: I’m releasing all my old software – probably written somewhere between 1985 and 1994 – into the public domain. I’ve dredged up most of the source code, but no promises – I don’t have any of the compilers these were written on (and if even if I’ve got install disks packed away somewhere, I don’t have the operating systems in working order)

There are even a few things I hadn’t previously released before.

Professor Freeman’s Miniature Cranes

I was at Shaun and Jen’s wedding over the weekend. Cornell College professor Jim Freeman was also there, so I thought this might be of some interest to those who knew him.

I saw him fiddling with something tiny in the church, but didn’t really pay much attention. Later we found out that he was folding tiny paper cranes. He fills lamps with them, and is giving away three for Christmas this year. At about 1600 a piece, these are understandably reserved for close relatives and other very special people.

It certainly beats twiddling your thumbs.

He also talked about how to duplicate a sphere by rotating it. I could actually follow the basic concept, but I won’t try to reproduce it ;^)

Brain dump: personal and social value

My reflection exercise took an interesting turn over the weekend. I’d like to work this into a proper essay at some point, but as I don’t know when or if I’ll take the time, and if the exercise would improve it enough to be worthwhile, I’m posting the notes for anyone who is sufficiently board and curious.

In the broader sense, what is essential?
Flow experiences. Personal value and social value.

Is flow personal or social?
Personal. The experience itself is usually of value to the person. Socially, it depends on the value placed on the work performed by society.

What are the arguments for social value?
According to Robert? Pirsig, social order is a higher form of quality than a conscious individual. ‘Good’ is frequently defined as benefiting someone else (society) – as defined by society.

What are the arguments for personal value?
Flow is a state of optimal operation. A person operating within his natural gifts can accomplish more than one operating outside them. Production tends to be strongly correlated with personal value.

Is producing more necessarily of value?
Of value to who? Benefit is amount * valuation. For society it is possibly that low valuation of an efficiently produced product could make it less valuable than an inefficiently produced product of high value. 10 * 1 is less than 5 * 3, but the same as 1 * 10.

Does personal value have any benefit to society in cases of low societal value?
A person operating in low value may be less happy/more stressed. He might be a less complete person, have a shorter life, and therefore be of lower value to society. In part it depends on the social value of happy and effective people.

Does societal value have any benefit to a person in cases of low personal value?
Humans are social creatures. It depends on how much the person values societal approval.

This is getting complicated…
Personal benefit = amount * personal value + amount * societal value * personal value of societal approval?
Societal benefit = amount * societal value + amount * personal value * societal value of personal happiness?

N could be factored out. That is probably too simple.
PB = PV(N) + SA(SV(N))
SB = SV(N) + PH(PV(N))

Of course N depends on personal value/ability…

pb: x -> v
let n = pv x C
return pv x n + pv SA (sv x n)

sb: x -> v
let n = pv x C
return sv x n + sv PH (pv x n)

pv: x -> n -> v
sv: x -> n -> v
match x; A = n, B = log n, C = n^2, etc.

Set up to remove recursion, but they probably are fully recursive; i.e the societal valuation is itself a function of the amount, which is a function of personal value, which is in part a function of societal value…

Can valuations be negative?
Consider the societal valuation of prostitution, drugs, gambling, and selfishness which is an effective deterrent _for those who value society_. The personal valuation of drudgery and sacrifice, which is often an effective deterrent _for societies that value personal happiness_

If pv SA >> sv PH…
Society is rigid and the people repressed.

If sv PH >> pv SA
Anarchy and hedonism rule.

The current state of affairs?
America has tradition of freedom (PH), but a momentum towards SA > PH. The use of slaves back at the dawn of the freedom age is a bit of an issue. The founding fathers appear to have been concerned with their own happiness but not that of others.

The model doesn’t fit. A large number of people are oppressed under a society that values happiness?
If PH>SA is a state of anarchy, people are free to do as they please – including enslave other people. SA is in part the concern with what other people think; both outsiders and those enslaved.

Personal benefit/happiness is maximized when personal value correlates with societal value. Yet the betterment of society/others requires allocation of resources to them, perhaps at one’s own expense. Production increases in proportion to pv; the more one has the more likely one has enough, and therefore has enough to give.

Yet Thomas Jefferson had slaves. He had a lot of things, but in large part because he had slaves. For all that he did, his means were not entirely his own; he wasn’t self sufficient enough to have the surplus required to free his slaves as unnecessary.

Societal benefit is maximized when societal value correlates with personal value. (both terms large positive) Additionally, n ~ pv. Yet an over-concern with pb leads to selfishness…
Only in a state of of scarcity. If people are operating in an optimal state with the approval of society, there should be a no scarcity.

What of theft, people seeking to maximize their own benefit at the expense of others?
Clearly high pv and low sv. The crux here is that theft is taking, not making. Moving, not creating. The pv/sv cancel each other out.

This relates to the best argument I’ve heard against communism – it’s a system of wealth distribution, not wealth creation.

Jefferson’s slaves created value, he took it. TJ created our government, but that doesn’t pay well; his basic needs were covered by taking, giving him the leisure to participate in, at the time, a low sv activity.

What of help and giving?
Creation of value, with a higher sv than pv. In a sense it is also moving, but for the sake of sv (or pv SA) It also often involves creation for the sake of giving, whereas only slavery is creation for the sake of taking.


“He said that when people haven’t been buried right, their ghosts come back to haunt people”

-Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Nina 1 2 called very late Friday. I had been asleep, so I it let it stay a message. She says she is in Texas and feeling sorry about what happened.

The best circumstantial evidence available takes a very dim view of this. Still, I’m considering talking (and only talking) for the sake of closure – burying the dead.

Three Things (and a Boot to the Head)

A somewhat meandering essay on the limits of parallel pursuits, namely about three. Containing examples of how this applies, how it doesn’t apply why three may be quite wrong. Woven in with a long overdue account of recent events, which have some small bearing on the topic at hand, and why I’ve been preoccupied and silent for a rather long time

Idea put down 2008-02-22 and slightly expanded 2008-07-06; most writing from 2008-09-20 and 21.

I have a theory of sorts, that a person can really only do three things at a time with any degree of quality. (You might have seen an indirect reference earlier.) This was based on simple empirical observation. In college, programming got replaced with game playing. Afterwards, working and martial arts pushed out game playing and then game making. The harp didn’t long outlast getting more involved in the Condo association.

In spite of this, I was trying to do four again; five if you count general reading and education.

During the winter I had a pretty good run at CGD. However, despite the fact that I enjoy the programming, it seemed like I was always running a little behind on everything else. Now, the CGD project was a deliberate attempt to do more programming and less of everything else, so I can’t complain too much, but it does point to the limits of multiple pursuits.

Furthermore, that backlog made things almost, well, stressful. I’ve begun to theorize maybe it really is four things, but the fourth is leisure, which everybody needs a little bit of to stay sane.

The CGD project actually got put on hold for a while. Up until late August I was in the shadow of martial arts testing again. Since then I’ve been alternately recovering, catching up, or simply out of the habit of writing and several other things. I did attempt to learn from the last testing eclipse two years ago, by starting to work on a bit of new curriculum, the Kwon Bup – a set of 57 specific defense techniques derived from Kenpo. I successfully wrapped my head around it in a couple of months, using a few minutes each day, which did have benefits, in terms of being able to teach the material. When it was decided to make our 5th form a combination of the Kwon Bup (making for a huge form) my preparation also laid the foundation for putting the pieces together in a fit of inspiration into the optimal processes – a combination of cards to record the results and computer programming to calculate the future.

That brings us up to November 2007. This was about the time I started getting serious about programming. With the immediate task of the Kwon Bup out of the way, I mostly didn’t think about the martial arts stuff too much. Finally, earlier this year (you might notice that a lot of these essays were conceived around February, and are still getting written) I started looking at the latest version of test curriculum and realized that one of the changes was huge – 34 Kenpo techniques – and probably wouldn’t be covered in class. I did start working, on my own time, early. There was a bit of a lull at work at the time, and I did wrangle the particular beast that concerned me. However, the test was still ‘six months away’, so I continued with my original plan of making a great tour of all the material I knew.

Then my paid employment got busy, amidst the rest of the summer onslaught. By the time the next lull came along, the test was immanent and I hadn’t yet gotten to the specific material I was due to be tested on. One of my lessons from this experience is to do the essential stuff first. In any case the other ‘things’ started getting pushed out, and by the last month I was pretty solidly in 2-thing mode.

The test itself went fairly well, with only a few small slip ups; many of my weakest areas never showed up. The preparation was the real killer. I don’t plan on testing again for some time after this; it just takes too much time. The funny thing is I do kind of like to focus in on things, but there is no balance to take up the slack – there are classes almost every week now, and some weekends.

Despite enjoying focus, I must have some tendency towards being a jack-of-all-trades, because I picked up the harp again after the test was over. Music is something kind of foreign to me; I think one of the main attractions may be that I don’t like having a hole in my understanding. However, it puts me up to six things, without counting leisure.

I’m not a very good jack though – I usually find myself caught up short in conversation because the few topics on which I’m fluent in aren’t of general interest. I’ve considered that perhaps I ought to find a like minded social network, but of course that would make seven. It also runs against my homebody tendency; South Elgin doesn’t exactly evidence being a hotspot for programmer types, and something has always bothered me about traveling for companionship.

Am I contravening my own law-of-three? We’ll I’m cheating a little bit. Leisure is still a bit up in the air. I’ve gone to a 4-day work work, and I’m contemplating 3. Some things, like the condo association, come in short bursts, and others, like reading, are highly elastic; things like programming and harping are elastic in a pinch.

It’s interesting to draw a distinction between the things that are (or feel) hard, and those that are elastic. The hard ones I barely dare touch involve other people – employment and martial arts. Employment also touches on another sort of virtual thing, which, like leisure, is so pervasive that it hardly counts. Survival. Eating, sleeping, showering, finding shelter and food.

The elastic, or soft, ones only ‘matter’ to me. If I stop, I don’t die (unless we give an awful lot of weight to stress or depression) and the only reproach I fear is my own. Still, they matter, to me, and since I’m the one one making my decisions, I’m attempting to arrange my affairs so that I can pursue them.

There is a deep conflict here, or at least I feel one, between the things society values – the products of my labor which I’m paid for, and teaching at the martial arts school, which taught me and forms, unfortunately, my only real community, on one hand, and things only I value on the other hand.

Nothing’s that simple of course – the general reading has indirect feedback effects on my job for instance, but in it’s broadest sweep, you have the things I do of my own volition, and the things I do for money or peer pressure. This is a pretty deep topic, and I think it deserves it’s own essay – I suppose writing is another ‘thing’, which I’ll have to fit in somewhere.

More distractions

After hearing about the benefits of more/larger monitors a few times (probably most often from Jeff Atwood) I finally decided that it was worth putting to the test.

second monitor

I took the picture with the laptop, but you’ve got my old pc’s ~14″ for scale.

I might have been better off going with a 22″ for half the price – and then if necessary getting a second monitor and a DualHead2Go display splitter – the laptop has only one port and I can’t go adding video cards.

I’m currently trying out the portrait mode to save scrolling around. This is absolutely fabulous for PDFs and such, though I haven’t had the opportunity to do any development yet. After a week or two I’ll probably try a wide arrangement, with two windows side by side.

The monitor (Samsung 2693hm) has been working pretty well so far. It’s a bit bright at night, however, and while the macbook will adjust it’s built in screen for the lighting conditions, it won’t adjust the external screen. Fortunately, the monitor has a set of presets (one of which is custom) It’s still a bit bright at ‘brightness 0′, but we’ll see if turning down the contrast helps.

Unfortunately, switching between settings involves the adjustment buttons, which are solid-state touch sensitive zones on the frame, so there is no tactile feedback. (I read about this in reviews, but didn’t think I’d be using them on daily basis.) The printing is also impossible to see in darkness or artificial light. I’ll probably resort to some sort labeling.


A while ago one of the people from my old board game designers group got interested in the facebook phenomenon. He sent out invitations, and curiosity got the better of me a few weeks go.

Probably the most fascinating thing has been how many casual acquaintances from high school have been friending me out of blue. I recognize names, but often little else. Cornell, on the other hand, seems to have a much lower representation, although msphat seems to have found me at just about the same time I found her, and oddly almost the same time I’m getting around to writing about it.

I’m still rather wary of ‘applications’ Mostly they look like big time sinks, and I’m somewhat paranoid about getting involved in another ‘thing’ – I’ll have more to say about that (hopefully) shortly.


Anyone going to Cornell homecoming? I’m planning on going down Thursday night to see if any CS classes are eligible for the alumni visits on Friday, for old times sake. The 10-year is probably one of the better chances to be much of anything. I’ve also been of the mind to check in with the CS professors, given is my main interest right now and I’ve been kind of pausing to check my direction in life.