Archive for 2009

Word for the day: Stigmergy

Stimulation of workers by the performance they have achieved, e.g., in ant colonies.

One of those cases where a word you’ve never noticed before shows up twice in one day:

Background research starting here:

and expanded version, page 12

My Creed

A few months ago, someone asked me to write a mission statement of sorts. Since I often take some time for reflection every few months, it was a good excuse to put it off. This is what I came up with. (Like, over a week ago; I’ve been a bit preoccupied.)

To tease order from disorder. To make right what is wrong and make a visible difference in the lives of people I care about. To apply my analytical talents where they have maximum effect, addressing the root cause to resolve each situation once and forever.

The first thing will probably do is show me up as a hypocrite. It also subsumes or omits a lot of detail.

- Analytical carries the fact that programming is the most joyful and productive activity I’ve found.
- My interest in learning could be seen as part of the quest for the best solution.
- My fascination with big ideas may be explicable by viewing them as tools that can bring order to large amounts of disjoint information.
- I prefer honesty because lies create multiple conflicting versions of events and sow confusion, preventing an appreciation of the true order.
- I have an independent aspect; compulsion creates additional concerns for the person compelled, and creates a dissonance between what one wants to do (i.e., as stated above) and has to do.
- It doesn’t cover rapid feedback, and doesn’t seem as though it could be easily added.

Relations with Time, Creation and Iteration

The essay project seems to be somewhat of a failure. This one has been over a year in the making: 2008-02-22, 2008-10-26, 2009-03-10.

Creating your own clock changes your relationship with time a little bit. The process of creating it changes things in yet more ways.

Once upon a time, I declared the The timeless world. That held for a while, in a sort of partially effective way that didn’t change too much since the first report. Then I invented my own clock. Suddenly it wasn’t dead numbers or confusing interpolation. Reading time was almost fun.

Of course part of being different enough to be fun is being, well, different. I very often don’t know what ‘time’ it is. I know it’s a little past dawn, almost lunch, or a couple hours to bed time. The things I actually use time for, without having to translate it to numbers in between. Occasionally I need to work with the outside world, at which point I do have to go through all that bothersome conversion; usually I find the position on the clock and switch back to visual mode from there on. One of these day’s I’d like to get some kind of event integration so I don’t have to do the conversion myself ;^)

A few months ago, I switched every clock I can to 24-hour time. A comment playing off the ambiguity of a time I had mentioned caught me in a problem solving mood, and I didn’t see any point in having such pointless ambiguity. It probably won’t be quite natural for some time, but at least I’ve started getting more accustomed.

The process of working with representations of time has finally explained something of the traditional system, and given me a little better understanding of what it all means. I suspect the standard 12 hour clock harkens back to the sundials. The top of the clock corresponds nicely to noon, and allowing a little fudge that changes throughout the year, 6-to-6 will cover the track of the sun, and most of the useful day, pretty well. On the other end of the day, 12 midnight is an anti-peak, operating in sort of a nighttime parallel image.

Another interesting feature of Disk Clock’s daylight view is that it has a sort of nice physical correspondence to the earth. One can imagine the clock as the earth, viewed down on the south pole, an image helped, by chance, by the green and blue color schemes in the default view. If you then imagine yourself in an non-copernican world where the sun moves around you, it can make for a somewhat nice intuition for the relation between times and places. I’ve thought about making some provision to mark out other time zones of interest, which would allow for a very nice way of seeing about what time of day it is somewhere else – assuming that somewhere else was at about the same latitude. ;^) There is also the very non trivial problem that timezones, while loosely based on nature, are political fabrications, and can change quite arbitrarily – dealing with only one zone has allowed me to outsource this problem to Apple and other Javascript systems.

The Act Of Creation

There’s something about diving into a problem and forging into new (to you) territory. I often emerge with my own private language, superbly intuitive to me and utterly obtuse to everyone else. As a case in point, Disk Clock’s default 24/4/60/15 arrangement can’t hold a candle to the dominant 12/60/60.

Another interesting case was the dragon form in martial arts. As our school worked through the creation of our own forms, the yet to be created dragon form got remade as a sequencing of certain (large) set of multi-step techniques. During a break, I got stung with an idea for how to do this and put together the last 3/4 or so of the form on my own. During the course of the project. I had to fine tune and re-examine all the involved techniques in order to put them together smoothly. I actually came to the conclusion that the process – in part the act of creation – was as much or more valuable than the resulting form.

My instructor thought that form creation was something for very advanced martial artists, however. Funny thing is, as time went on and we worked with the process of transmitting this large, complicated form to the students, it was decided that it wasn’t working out very well. The replacement? Students design their own unrelated form from scratch, rather than in the semi-structured format I worked with.


When I began Disk Clock, I started working on it every chance I got. After a little while, this settled into a pattern of working on the weekends, packing up the two days work and making a release at the end of the weekend. I tried to get all the ‘other stuff’ done during the week. This actually worked out quite well for several months, despite occasional short iterations due to a martial arts seminar or other event.

But I’m actually writing this from a much later time. The martial arts test eventually blotted everything out – it didn’t matter what the schedule was, because I wasn’t working on anything. By the time it settled down again, I was post-1.0 and didn’t have an obvious successor project; certainly nothing amenable to short complete iterations. The result was somewhat wandering attention.

I tried to keep up the weekend schedule for the most part, but a string interruptions often caused me to try and ‘trade time’, programming on into the week. Of course, this cut into the amount of other stuff I got done during the week, and often ended up impacting the next weekend, causing the cycle to start over again.

One nice thing about this pattern is that little programming in the morning was a nice kickstart to the day. It was also nice to do something joyful before going to bed, rather than depressing things until I got so down I went to bed, depressed. So, I’ve swapped. I’m currently experimenting with a little coding every day, and dealing with other stuff during the day.

Ups and downs, of course. I miss being able to really pound on a problem. But I don’t miss getting stuck on a problem for long periods. I’m never stuck for a single long time, and often times the break gives me a new idea, or allows me to get comfortable with the concept of some drastic re-factoring instead of reluctantly staring at the code searching for a better way. Meanwhile, I need to try and maintain focus on other stuff for long periods of time, which isn’t always easy.

Interactive Art

So, years ago (if I recall and it’s been a while) someone posted a comment on my journal. The person had some interesting ideas, so I started following rinku. A while ago he entered a valentine’s game design competition, and posted the result. While I couldn’t try most of the entries (windows) none of the the ones I did try really seemed to… say anything about love. Rinku equated the properties of a particle simulation to aspects of human relations.

But maybe I have a slight soft spot for this kind of simulation because I’ve done something technically similar (albeit with a total lack of profundity.)


So in all the madness and messiness of punching a hole in my wall, I forgot that the day we worked on it, February 21, is almost exactly ten years after I bought the house (discounting the mortgage) on February 22. Funny how a signing a bunch of papers sticks with you.

My father came back to finish up today. Aligning the cabinet, painting the trim, and thankfully not making nearly as big of a mess.

Now there is just the matter of the cabinet we borrowed from above the fridge to put above the sink/window. (It was shorter) I could leave it open and set stuff on the fridge, but wouldn’t have any dust protection. I could look for a replacement cabinet. I’ve pondered that perhaps a deeper cabinet (sticking out over the fridge) with a lazy suzan might be a lot easier to get to. Or maybe I could just set something similar on top the fridge.

A while back I had the vent pipe from the bathroom extended up so it hopefully wouldn’t spew it’s humid air into the attic space. When we were up in the attic Saturday, we discovered that the people who installed the vent pipe put it in place with duct tape which has since slid down.

We reattached it a little more properly, but in the process discovered that it had a bend which was full of condensed steam. While we discovered this before straightening it out, the process of getting the pipe propped up in the right place still dumped a bunch of water into the bathroom.

I Have a New Kitchen Window

I have a very big mess.

My father actually did most of the work; he’s like me (or I’m like him): when something needs to be done, he just does it without waiting for anybody else.

Pitty I don’t have company any more these days.

How Not To Make Cheese Popcorn

Do not place cheese and popping corn in pan. Corn will not pop. Or rather, it will try, and fail due to interference from the cheese. Do not wait too long for popping sounds that will never come. Do not ignore smoke.