Thursday, January 23, 2014

Problems? Where's Professor Harold Hill when you need him?

Problems, my friend - I say we've got problems. Big, big problems. Right here. With a capital P that rhymes with C that stands for Computers.

So, knowing the "Little Red Hen" Principle as I do - that if one needs something done, one should do it one's self - I announce this fascinating new series, "Case Studies in Computer Science." After all, I know the author, and someone with a doctorate in computer science who's worked in the field for over 30 years ought to be able to explain what problem-solving is all about!

The first volume is called The Problem with "Problem-Solving Skills" - and it ought not take Professor Harold Hill to give one of his mile-a-minute lectures to explain that! Yes, that famous Music Man gets to play a brief passage in the work, along with a huge cast of characters, not all of whom are ASCII characters, hee hee: Winthrop Paroo, Aquinas, Henry of Langenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Hugh of St. Victor, Boethius, Milo (from The Phantom Tollbooth), Gauss, Jaki, Babbage, Captain (ahem, Admiral) Grace Hopper, Seymour Cray, Danny Dunn, Rovol of Norlamin, the Abominable Snow Monster of the North - and eight Russian dolls...

Very tech, very bizarre, and a pleasantly curious selection of strange problems and even stranger solutions. Insifde you will learn some of the things you can add to your own toolbox of "problem-solving skills" even if you aren't a computer scientist.

See here for details, or

I've heard that a future volume is going to explain how the author has obtained all the primes up to 14 trillion, and has managed to store all of them in just under half a terabyte; apparently the files aren't Lempel-Ziv compressed, either. (Treeks? I guess so.) Apparently that's not the only cool thing, but I'd rather know about those recursive dolls on the front cover.

All right, one more hint. Supposedly he's going to reveal the answer to a problem confounding mathematicians for centuries: Since "number theory" is the Queen of Mathematics, what is the Led Zepplin of Mathematios? Hmm...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Medieval Man, hence always a century or more in advance of things

I have been dealing with Chesterton's writing in exquisite detail (down to the smallest part of a letter as it says in Holy Writ) and he never ceases to stun me with his amazing insights, fruitful analogies, and wise guidance, even in the most technical of matters - like about how the binomial theorem proclaims the glory of God, the importance of three-sidedness to triangles, or the role of Charles Babbage in Western culture - but even in the popular sense of technology. He was the first to have his own Blogg, as I have been proclaiming for some years (since this blogg was founded, in fact), and he gave all bloggdom that very penetrating justification for existence:
This paper exists to insist on the rights of man; on possessions that are of much more political importance than the principle of one man one vote. I am in favour of one man one house, one man one field; nay I have even advanced the paradox of one man one wife. But I am almost tempted to add the more ideal fancy of one man one magazine ... to say that every citizen ought to have a weekly paper of this sort to splash about in ... this kind of scrap book to keep him quiet.
[from G.K.'s Weekly April 4, 1925 quoted in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 497]
There is also this, which ought to be inscribed on every cell phone of the cosmos:
I have often thanked God for the telephone.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:112]
But today... ah, today! I was hunting for a quote for a dear friend, and found this utterly remarkable commentary on - ah - I believe the term is "Photoshopping" - that is, altering photograph(s) for the sake of commentary, humor, or malevolence. But read it for yourself.
...I am not ignorant of the advantages of our legal forms, and that I do not entertain a vulgar prejudice that lawyers are leeches, I think that most sensible men must have been coming of late to feel that the routine and method of our Law Courts needs a great deal of revision. There has been much discussion in the papers about the case of Miss Gertie Millar, who brought an action upon the ground that no one had a right to sell a realistic and apparently homogeneous photograph in which the head belonged to one person and the body to another. And the Court decided, it appears, that people have got a right to sell a realistic and apparently homogeneous photograph of which the head belongs to one person and the body to another. The decision certainly sounds very queer. Sketches, drawings, coloured pictures, would not, of course, come into the question; they are obviously fictitious, and therefore cannot be anything more than insults. But a photograph can be made to look as if it were the complete representation of an actual person who at some time stood as though before the camera. That is the whole point of a photograph; it is the only reason that anybody wants a photograph. And it certainly seems alarming to say that this thing which professes to be realistic can be made up lawfully of any combination of heads and arms and legs. There is nothing to prevent my drawing a picture of Dr. Clifford with a devil's tail, or Mr. Blatchford with donkey's ears, or the late Sir Wilfrid Lawson as a crawling serpent, after the simple manner of the more popular valentines - that is, there is nothing to prevent me, except my own feelings of respect for all those three persons. But is it also true that I can exhibit in my shop-window a row of ordinary photographs of ordinary bishops, putting among them a convincing photograph of Dr. Clifford in full Roman canonicals and inscribed with the words, "The Growth of Ritual among Nonconformists"? Can I really exhibit a photograph headed in large letters "The Conversion of a Sceptic, " and exhibiting a fine view of the interior of Westminster Abbey, with a figure kneeling with clasped hands, upon which figure I have arbitrarily placed the head of Mr. Blatchford? Should I have been within my rights if in the lifetime of Sir Wilfrid Lawson I had exhibited a photograph of him sprawling across the bar of a pot-house and drinking the health of the barmaid in hot Scotch? In all these cases it seems to me that a photograph would come under something of the nature of libel, because a photograph, by its own photographic nature, claims to be a real scene.
[GKC ILN Feb 23, 1907 CW27:402-4]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About a different sort of memory...

Yes, I was in my lab 12 years ago, and saw it on dozens of TV screens.

Here is a slightly fictional recounting of what it was like.

As Father Brown said, "I am never surprised at any work of Hell."

Monday, September 09, 2013

Recurring to a Great Memory...

In between other chores and writing duties, I have been playing with the non-recursive traversal of a binary tree - oh yes it can be done - and other oddities as I proceed in my new NON-fiction series Case Studies in Computer Science. Those topics will be part of the introductory volume, The Problem with "Problem-Solving Skills".

In future volumes you'll hear about:
(1) rRNA sequence analysis and strings with WILDCARDS, being a retelling of my doctoral work with some interesting new stuff;
(2) the tech side of local ad insertion, the philosophy of which is discussed in my Subsidiarity;
(3) and a very curious and difficult problem I faced in 1978... which sometimes reveals more than one is expecting.

Meanwhile, since we crossed from August into September, I felt I ought to repost this interesting little document again. Yes, I firsdt posted it in 2005, in memory of a great thing now vanished into history, and many good friends.

Do stay tuned - the release of the long-awaited novel about Joe Outis and his job in the Control Room of AC&TG is approaching!

The Legend of Lance the Bird

In memory of the species
Lancenidifactor retefrangens
- the net-breaking big-dish nest-builder -
that built a nest in our satellite dish...

The legend lives on
From the field-techs on down
Of the place owned by Harold Fitzgerald.
The inserters they say
Will make the spots play
While the cue-tones remain unimperilled.

In a corporate park
In the light or the dark
In the farmlands just east of West Chester
There's a small high-tech firm
Nothing more than a worm
To a bird that they call "big-dish-nester."

This place you will find
An unusual kind
Doesn't make DNA or steel girders,
The commercials you see
On your cable TV
Are played back on their own ad-inserters.

To do this they send
To each cable headend
The commercials wove in MPEG flannel,
A scheduling list
By which they insist
On the spot and the time and the channel.

A signal they get
Makes ads play on your set
The cue-tones that start things in motion -
All sent with a swish
By a satellite dish
Out in back of their place in East Goshen.

The signal comes then
And the ads play (it's ever so thrilling)
Then there's just one more bump
The logs go back through PUMP
And the whole thing is ready for billing.

And spots they will make
To sell wood or cake,
Take photos of cars and of houses,
The time in a box,
Crawling weather and stocks,
Birthdays wishes for friends or for spouses.

By night and by day,
Close attention they pay
If something goes wrong or is needed:
When red comes they dialed
Thus "who watches the watcher?" is heeded!

So they sell Land Rovers
At the CHESes and DOVErs
And the plaque-on-the-wall-singing-fishes;
And things were quite well
Till the day I must tell
When that bird came to nest in their dishes!

This bird was a pest -
Just building a nest
At the transmitter dish's main focus:
No one could foresee
That this fowl thing would be
The straw in the blockage that broke us!

They saw it fly past,
Now slower, now fast,
Carrying straw that's so meager
It piled sticks and twine
On the satellite line...
Soon the signal began to get weaker.

CNN missed a cue,
Then Headline missed too
Then Ferry and Pump stopped their sending -
The control room guy said,
"Hey - the whole field is red!"
(Could it be all the systems were ending?)

Nextels tore the air:
"Beep-beep: hey, Pete, you there?"
Joe P. Ann and Scott were alerted...
They hung up some owls,
Brought in cats with their howls,
But the bird still remained undiverted.

Then "Control-room-guy Joe"
Interrupted: "I know!
'Hey bird, come out of your bower -
That dish is your tomb!'"
To the transmitter room
He ran - and he turned up the power!

So the whole gang did feast,
(No, no, not on roast beast)
But on microwave-turkey-like dinner;
All the field-techs and ops
Said, "Hey Joe, you're the tops -
Of the dish-game you sure are the winner!"

Now Traffic with CAM
Builds a schedule in RAM
Stargate puts it on HOME then for sending.
Starburst follows Pump's wish
Through Gilat to the dish
Ferry takes to the engines unending.

Tapes piled high in lots
Are converted to spots
(When VidLib is down it's impeded.)
Then Pump will extend
A multicast send
So the spots will get out where they're needed.

And Cue 2 and Cue 1
Also add to the fun
UDP (tripled to avoid botching)
And the engines send back
(Through HOME runs the track)
UDP also makes lights for watching.

But those ads must be bought:
Logs to Stargate are brought...
With billing comes payday and resting;
And no one will doubt
That our signal goes out
If the dish is still kept free from nesting.

The legend lives on
From the field-techs on down
Of the place owned by Harold Fitzgerald.
All birds, stay away!
'Cause the cook's in today...
Thus the cue-tones remain unimperilled...

Nov/Dec 2000

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to search for something when you don't know what it is

One of the reasons why a computer scientist like me finds such a great delight in the works of G. K. Chesterton is the continual appearances of hilarious truths, almost like the subtleties of Alice in Wonderland or the Gospels. It's the grand mystical revelation in a statement like this:
"Perhaps the weapon was too big to be noticed," said the priest, with an odd little giggle.
[GKC "The Three Tools of Death" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
The curious truth I am trying to express today is the challenging idea about which I wrote my doctoral dissertation: the idea of finding a string (a series of letters or characters) of some desired uniqueness within a given collection of information. That problem arose in a very curious need of molecular biologists - a puzzle a bit too elaborate to explain here and now, and about which I am developing a book. However, the method wsa summarized in the old cartoon version of Geisel's The Cat in the Hat in the method he called "Calculatus Eliminatus": the principle that to find something lost you find out where it isn't. Very Chestertonian.
I defer the fascinating technical commentary to my planned book - but I think you would be amazed to hear what happens when one applies the tools of DNA sequence analysis to the works of GKC. Among other things you can find out what is the longest sequence of words which appears in (for example) both his Orthodoxy and his The Everlasting Man. And here is the answer:
But the repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, and I began to see an idea.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:263, emphasis added]

They began to betray to the world the fact that they were walking in a circle and saying the same thing over and over again. Philosophy began to be a joke; it also began to be a bore. That unnatural simplification of everything into one system or another, which we have noted as the fault of the philosopher, revealed at once its finality and its futility.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:292-3, emphasis added]
So if you think you are happy with your "search engines" see if you can find such curiosities for yourself - but don't hold your breath. One needs to know a bit more automata theory if one wants to aid molecular biologists - or curious Chestertonians.

And if you think you know how to accomplish such things, you might try finding the longest repeated series of words between his St. Francis of Assisi and his St. Thomas Aquinas. (I'd ask you to find the longest repeated series in The Everlasting Man but I think I have already posted that answer.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Saga (in tactile form)

Just in case you were wondering what the Saga De Bellis Stellarum looks like in its printed (or tactile) form, here is a photo:

And if you are interested in more, or how to order, see here.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Et In Luna Pax, or, How the Pope Went to the Moon

The 13th installment of the great Saga De Bellis Stellarum, titled Et In Luna Pax, is now available!

Its subtitle is "How the Pope Went to the Moon"...