Posted in Random thoughts at 3:55 pm by ducky

Drat. This study says that vitamin D is not as good as the previous study I mentioned showed. Vitamin D does help against colon cancer, it says, but nothing else.



seeking story source

Posted in Hacking at 12:29 pm by ducky

I heard a story once, but don’t have any idea where it came from. It’s too good a story to let die, so do any of you know where this story came from?

A computer science department had a programming competition of some sort. The winner would be the team that computed the result fastest. The contestants could enter as many times as they wanted without penalty.

One team entered a (slow) program that calculated the value, wrote it to a file, submitted it, and quit. They then entered a second program which read the value from that file and submitted it. They were way, way faster than any of the other teams.

The computer science department was split. About a third didn’t care. A third thought that the team were cheaters and should be completely disqualified and scorn heaped upon them. A third thought that the team was brilliant and should get the top prize and high praises.

The way I remember the story, the department was ripped apart by this issue. It laid bare some fundamental differences in value priorities such that the faculty was unable to work together.

Is this apocryphal? Urban legend? True? Help me out here….


consonant clusters

Posted in Random thoughts at 3:38 pm by ducky

A few people and I were sitting at breakfast talking about consonant clusters. Some languages — like Maori — are syllable-oriented: their words are pretty much consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel.

English, on the other hand, frequently has consonant sounds with no vowels in between, like school (S.K.oo.l) or desk (d.eh.S.K). I’m talking about sounds here, not letters, so taxi has a consonant cluster (t.aa.K.S.ee) in one letter, while phase has two letters but no consonant cluster (F.ay.z).

We got to wondering what the biggest sequence of consonant phonemes we could come up with in English was. The talented Bryan Theissen came up with sixth street (s.ih.K.S.TH.S.T.R.ee.t), which has six in a row. (Yes, yes, it’s two words, but I’m looking at spoken language, and there are no pauses between words.)

I did some searching on the Web and found that some Slavic languages have six consonants in a row (and they seem to mean spoken consonants, not just written), but I couldn’t find anything about seven (spoken) consonants in a row in any language. I wonder, is six consonantal phonemes the most that humans’ vocal production systems can handle?


Why don't women go into Computer Science?

Posted in Random thoughts, Technology trends at 4:56 pm by ducky

UBC CS Prof. Rachel Pottinger‘s door has an article asking Why Women Become Veterinarians but Not Engineers. Fifty years ago, both were highly male-dominated fields. Today, women get about 3/4 of Vet Med degrees, while only about 1/5 of CS degrees. Maines doesn’t have an answer, but she does a good job of making the question interesting.

Right after I read Maines’ article, I read an article titled Is There Anything Good About Men by Roy F. Baumeister. It probably would have been better titled, “What are Men Good For?” The answer in the picture he paints is “taking risks.” He acknowledges that at the top end of the society, men dominate. To a very good first approximation, men are in charge. Presidents, CEOs, generals, Nobel Prize winners are usually men.

However, he points out that men are overrepresented at the both ends of society. He says that prisoners, the homeless. and people killed on the job (including soldiers) are also usually men. Interestingly, both the Nobel prize winners and the mentally retarded are more often male than female.

He goes on to develop his thesis more, but the basic idea is that men and women might have the same average ability at something, but that the distribution is usually much “fatter” for men than women. There are more men taking risks than women. Sometimes they succeed wildly; sometimes they fail wildly. Women hold down the middle ground, neither failing nor succeeding spectacularly.

Now go back to CS vs. Vet Med. I contend that CS has a much higher risk associated with it than Vet Med. If you don’t keep right on top of emerging computing technologies, it is really easy to get obsoleted in CS. The whole industry has changed several times in the past twenty years. Meanwhile, the architecture of the dog has not changed much in the past 200 years.

Even if you stay current with computing technologies, you aren’t guaranteed safe harbour during the high-tech world’s booms and busts. There is always the threat that someone else will release a product that will put you out of business, in part because the cost of distributing the product is so low. It is hard to imagine, however, how Microsoft could release a new product that would eliminate the need for someone to put antiseptic on Fido’s cut. The “distribution cost” of applying a bandage is very high.

The high-tech world is also more sensitive to fluctuations in consumer tastes and consumer confidence. While someone might delay buying an iPhone because they were nervous about their job getting cut, very few people euthanize their cat because money is tight.

It might be, then, that one way to make CS more attractive to women would be to make it less risky. Unfortunately, even though I have a pretty good imagination, I can’t think of how to make the high-tech world less risky.


Elaine's cookies

Posted in Random thoughts at 3:35 pm by ducky

Elaine’s Cookies

If I recall correctly, the “Elaine” is Elaine Donotov, who lived down the street from us when I was just a wee child. She probably doesn’t remember me, and might not even remember my mom… but these are the best cookies in the whole world. This recipe makes a ton of really really dangerous cookies.

P.S. Apologies for the American measurement units. It’s how I got the recipe…

Melt together:

  • 1 pound butter or margarine
  • 1 pound brown sugar (which I have listed as about 2 1/3 cups brown sugar, but that doesn’t “feel” right to me)

Let the butter-stuff cool for a bit. While it is cooling, beat together

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla

Get the dry-stuff measured out into a very big bowl and mix it all up.

  • 6 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1 cup milk powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda

By the time you mix the egg-stuff together and then mix the dry-stuff together (not with each other!), the butter-stuff should have cooled down at least a little.

Mix the egg-stuff with the butter-stuff. NOTE! If you put the egg-stuff in too-hot butter-stuff, the eggs will curdle. (I found on the web that eggs curdle at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit.) You need to either let the butter-stuff cool way down or mix the butter-stuff slowly into the egg-stuff. Take a very small quantity of butter-stuff and drizzle it into the egg-stuff, stirring madly. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the egg-stuff is very diluted with the butter-stuff. At some point when you get bored, you can decide it’s diluted enough, and dump this mixture into the butter-stuff and mix it in.

Dump all the egg-butter-stuff into the dry-stuff. Toss the egg-butter-stuff pot into the sink, you’re done with it.

Wash your hands, they are about to get dirty.

Go mix the egg-butter-stuff with the dry-stuff. It will feel like it’s more liquid and sticky than it ought to be. Don’t panic. Mix it all up as best you can, a little more, and then go wash your hands again. Get all the egg-butter-stuff off of your hands.

Now, magically, when you stick your hands in the batter again, the batter won’t stick to your hands nearly as badly. I’m not quite sure how this magic happens, but it does.  (Maybe because the butter-stuff has cooled down?  Maybe because the dry-stuff absorbed some butter-stuff?) Oh sure, you can make the batter stick to your hands, but it’s not nearly as bad as you feared about five minutes ago.

At this point, you could put walnut-sized drops of dough on a cookie sheet and bake them. However, this recipe makes a lot of cookies, and if you eat all those yourself today, you will need to buy new trousers. And if you bake them all, you will eat a good fraction of them. So instead, wash your hands again and tear out about ten pieces of wax paper about 20-30 cm wide.

Roll “logs” of cookie dough between your hands. I like to make the logs about 2-3 cm in diameter, and slightly shorter than the wax paper. You might need to make two half-logs and join them together. That’s okay, they will live.

When they are all snug in the wax paper, toss them in the freezer and take out as needed.

Cut the logs into slices about .5 cm thick, pop them onto cookie sheets, and cook them at some temperature until they are done.

I hear you complaining that that isn’t very precise. It isn’t, sorry. I don’t have written down what to use, and the oven that we just cooked them in is kind of flakey… so I’m not sure. Just try something and pay close attention the first time. I think I cooked these at something around 325 degrees Fahrenheit for around twenty minutes, but I’m not completely sure about that.

Good luck sayings

Posted in Random thoughts at 3:34 pm by ducky

Different subcultures have different sayings.  Among performing artists, you say, “Break a leg!” to wish them luck.  Among pilots, you say, “Blue skies!”

We were eating with one of our dormmates who happens to also be a pilot.  She finished and stood up to go, groaning that she needed to go work on writing up her thesis.  So I wished her, “Blue screens!”

For some reason, she didn’t appreciate the thought.  🙂