Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Forbin 66

Sunday, November 15th, 2020

I’ve been bingeing on Endeavour, the great British TV prequel to the Inspector Morse stories. Last night, during Season 4, Episode 1, somebody made a reference to the programming language “Forbin 66”.

On one level, this was clearly a reference Fortran 66 — the first industry-standard version of the Fortran programming language. This fictional episode is taking place in 1968, and it would be reasonable for a computer of that time to be programmed in Fortran 66. But there never was a programming language called “Forbin 66”.

As it happens, the plot of the episode features a kind of “man versus machine” story — in particular, a chess playing computer that promises to dethrone the best current human grandmaster, who happened to be Russian (this was all taking place during the Cold War). But when I heard “Forbin 66”, I knew it was an Easter Egg pointing to another story from that era.

Colossus: The Forbin Project was a great 1970 SciFi movie (one of my favorites) that was also decidedly “man versus machine”. Charles Forbin is a genius who designs a secret computer defense system guaranteed to protect the U.S. from those pesky Russians.

But the Russians have built their own secret computer defense system. The two rival computer systems end up reaching out to each other and deciding they know how to run things better than humans do. Things do not turn out well for the humans.

This makes me wonder — how many other Easter Eggs do writers put into these TV shows just for fun? I suspect there might be an awful lot of them out there,


Saturday, November 14th, 2020

are limerick blog posts legit?
i do think about this a bit
  they bring us some levity
  and much-needed brevity
(it’s the soul, let’s remember, of wit)


Friday, November 13th, 2020

Democracy can be sublime
Though delaying it’s sort of a crime
  It was Trumped for a while
  But recovered in style
Turns out it was Biden its time

Virtual assistants

Thursday, November 12th, 2020

I wonder whether, after VR and AR really take off as part of everyday life, we will have virtual assistants. I have my doubts, because virtual assistants have failed spectacularly in the past.

Some of us remember Microsoft’s “Clippy”, introduced in Windows 97. Clippy was a cute little animated paper clip that would pop up from time to time to offer helpful advice. Most people found it annoying, and Microsoft removed the feature a few years later.

There are indeed invisible assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Samsung’s Bixby. But they are voice only — you never see them.

So I am somehow doubtful that visible assistants will gain a lot of traction in a forthcoming virtual and mixed reality world. Somehow I think the issue is not so much about technology, but rather about human nature.

Rules and tools

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

Rule based systems on computers have an interesting connection with the tools you might find in a machine shop. Superficially they look different, but they have a lot in common.

A router, lathe, planer, saw, grinder and milling machine each serves a particular purpose. And each is an evolution of years or even centuries of invention and refinement.

The same is true of a rule in a computer software system. Whether the rule is to align two objects, detect similarities or differences, enforce symmetries, or combine properties in new ways, each tool has been refined and made easy to use over many iterations.

More importantly, the individual tools are meant to work together with each other. You wouldn’t have a rule system that did nothing but align two objects, any more than you would have a machine shop that contained nothing but a milling machine. It is the ability to go back and forth between different tools that gives the system its power.

I suspect there is a semantics of tools — and sets of tools — that transcends the question of what problem domain you are working in.

Eviction notice

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

after four years of being afflicted
we threw the bum out as predicted
  which is great even though
  the fool will not go
let us hope he is quickly evicted


Monday, November 9th, 2020

A psychologist I know pointed out to me the ill effects of long term contact with someone with a borderline personality disorder (BPD). People with a BPD tend to destabilize others by fostering a mood of crisis and anger wherever they go.

We are just now coming out of four years in which millions of people have been bombarded by messages from an individual with BPD. This might not have been so bad if everyone else were completely stable to begin with.

Alas, we live in a society in which many people suffer the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). People who were often beaten or otherwise mistreated in childhood often grow up with unresolved feelings of rage that can easily be triggered.

To an individual with ACE, a call to expression of hatred, violence or xenophobia can feel pleasurable. Hopping in a truck and looking for violent encounters with people they don’t agree with can be a form of self-administered therapy.

Add the veneer of authority to the dysfunctional person who is making that call to violence, and things can quickly veer out of control. People can and will get hurt.

In the long term, we need to reduce ACE by systematically combatting childhood abuse. Meanwhile, we’ve already gone a long way toward solving the short term problem by voting the disturbed BPD individual out of power.

Future Zoom

Sunday, November 8th, 2020

In the early days of movies, a “movie” was a silent movie. Over the course of several decades, elaborate protocols were developed around silent movies.

Actors used pantomime to communicate meaning. Dialog was mainly in the form of intertitle cards.

Audiences came to accept these limitations, and pretty much to take them for granted. Cinema was a visual medium without sound, and that was that.

All of that changed in the late 1920s. As soon as talkies came upon the scene, silent film started to die a rapid death. In a few short years, all films were talkies.

I wonder whether something similar will happen with the evolution of tools like Zoom, Google Meet, etc. They all have serious limitations that we simply take for granted — such as the inability to maintain proper eye contact with different people in a meeting.

Yet as soon as those limitations go away, we may look back on these early versions of the medium the way we now look back on silent movies. There may be a fond appreciation for the early pioneers who helped pave the way, but I suspect that very few people will want to turn back the clock to the way things are now.

My new favorite number

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

There were 13 original colonies that got together to form the United States. And nowadays, if you are at least 21 years old you can vote in those United States.

As of today, my new favorite number is the product of 13 and 21. Another great thing about this number is that it is greater than or equal to 270.

On the other hand, today I would like any number greater than or equal to 270. :-)


Friday, November 6th, 2020


Just yay (exhales).