Satoshi Kon, 1963-2010

Saturday 28 August 2010, 22:00

I was saddened to hear that my favourite anime director, Satoshi Kon, died last week. The link is to a goodbye letter he left behind.

The battle hymn of the Royal Dwarven Kilted Axemen

Wednesday 25 August 2010, 19:56

I got sick over the weekend, probably from all the stress, so for the past few days I've been working from home, and not working very hard. I've also been playing a lot of Dwarf Fortress. This has involved a steady stream of exclamations along the lines of "Goddammit what kind of mother carries her baby into the extremely dangerous aquifer layer?" and "Caution. Siege engine practice area." After one fort got wiped out by goblins (the goblins only killed a few dwarfs, but then the others were so upset they flipped out and started killing each other) I decided that the next one would have a proper military, and that turned out to involve a unit called the "Royal Dwarven Kilted Axemen." So, naturally, I had to share the below.


Wednesday 18 August 2010, 19:58

I've reached agreement in principle with people at the University of Manitoba for me to go there as a postdoctoral researcher. Details are still to be worked out, but it looks like that'll be my next career step. At least until I learn enough Japanese to pass the entrance exams for TouDai, thereby fulfilling a childhood promise.

Disabling the "same directory as current tab" brain damage of KDE's konsole terminal emulator

Monday 2 August 2010, 20:06

So, you have a new laptop computer. You install the latest and greatest Slackware Linux on it, and it naturally comes with a newer version of KDE than what's on your desktop machine. You open the "konsole" terminal emulator as usual, work for a while, and then when you're ears-deep in /etc/acpi/events or somewhere, you open another tab and Whoa! you aren't in your home directory as you expected, your new tab is ears-deep in /etc/acpi/events or some such Godforsaken place.

Well, the first time you figure you just made a weird mistake and typed cd /etc/acpi/events/or/some/such/Godforsaken/place without realizing it (and then, fnord-like, didn't see the command in the terminal window), and you automatically type cd again to go where you meant to be and you carry on. But then it happens again.

So you resolve to lay off the crack pipe for a few days, grit your teeth and type "cd" again, and so it is only on the third time it happens that you finally decide maybe it's not just you, and you make appropriate experiments and discover the horrible truth: the KDE developers inflicted this on you as a deliberate feature! When you open a new tab it will pry into your bash process, figure out where you are, and put the new tab there to prevent your escape. Heaven help you if you weren't using bash.

That ought to be the end of the story, since they at least had the decency to put a check box for it on the "Edit profile" configuration dialog. Below the fold, what happens if you uncheck that box...

A note on similarity search

Monday 19 July 2010, 19:26

Hi! I'm a scientific researcher. I have a PhD in computer science. My doctoral dissertation is mostly about the mathematical background of "similarity search." That means looking at things to find other things they are similar to. I've travelled the world to present my work on similarity search at scientific conferences - and some very smart people with very limited funds chose to use those funds to pay for me to do that.

Argument from authority has its limitations, but I would like to make very clear: I am an expert in the specific area of how computers can answer questions of the form "Which thing does this thing most resemble?" Gee, why would I mention this right now?

Back in business

Sunday 18 July 2010, 11:25

I just got back from a week in Sweden at ACL 2010. It went pretty well. I presented my paper, which you can read online as a PDF; I didn't get a lot of response or questions right at the presentation, but I said what I wanted to say and at least they didn't throw things, and I'm told there was a lot of interest in it offline. In one of the workshops I actually found several people who wanted to talk to me about my dissertation research, and it'd be really cool if I could somehow redeem some of the years of work I put into that, so that's good. I took photos and some may end up posted here eventually.

Judging covers by the book

Friday 9 July 2010, 09:32

Here are the covers of two different editions of the book Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon. One of them is horribly offensive - "like the ugly, stupid, festering toad that you just can't squash no matter how many times you hit it with a shovel" - and the Web logger on whose site I found the pictures and quote thinks it's obvious which one that is.

On the marshmallow test

Wednesday 30 June 2010, 09:46

Show a four-year-old child some marshmallows and a bell. Tell them that you're going to leave the room for a while (fifteen or twenty minutes). Say that if they ring the bell, you'll come back and give them a marshmallow. However, say that if they don't ring the bell, but wait until you come back without ringing it, then you will give them two marshmallows. Record what happens.

Ten years later, assess the child's personality and general success in life by means of a questionnaire sent to their parents. What you discover is that the ones who rang the bell, or who rang it earlier, score relatively poorly on questions that measure social adjustment, "emotional intelligence," and so on. The ones who didn't ring the bell, or rang it later, score much better on those measures, and also score better on the SAT. Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26(6) [PDF]

The part I think is really interesting is what the authors of that paper don't say about the experimental protocol.

An index for all reasons

Sunday 27 June 2010, 16:52

There are probably as many reasons to save money as there are savers. One of mine is as follows: I don't want to be forced to change my lifestyle. In particular, after I'm retired and living on the savings I create today, I don't want to find myself in a situation where, because of changes in the world beyond my control that affect prices, the money I put aside to buy goods for myself during retirement is no longer enough to cover the kind of lifestyle I intended for myself, and so I'm forced to cut back. I want someone else, not me, to be accountable for cutting back to make sure I don't have to, and I'm willing to pay money up front in order to remove belt-tightening from the list of things I have to take responsibility for.

Gerard Kennedy on copyright, other issues

Thursday 24 June 2010, 10:42

Last night I attended a meeting called the "Community Council on Federal Issues," hosted by Gerard Kennedy, Liberal Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park and my Federal elected representative. I didn't vote for him; never mind whether I would have, I was living in a different city at the time of the last election. Apparently he holds these meetings periodically as a way of keeping in touch with constituents; this one in particular was advertised as having a focus issue of "Locked out? New Federal copyright laws and you," which was what drew my interest. I didn't take notes and don't plan to report on the entire meeting, but will cover a few points of interest to me.