I’ll preface this by saying I’ve never gotten a parking ticket before. I’ve also never broken a bone before (though I did sprain a finger once). By any measure (or at least those two) I’ve led a sheltered life.
I didn’t break any bones today, but this morning I did get a parking ticket. Here’s how it happened:
I stopped at the post office in downtown Takoma Park, Maryland on the way into the office. It’s street parking only, and this morning there was only one space. I pulled in. Since I just needed to run in for a moment and there was no line (I could see through the window) I figured a nickel would do for the meter. I pocketed a nickel from my dash holder, go out, reflexively locked my door. Only to find that this meter, unlike any other on the block (where I have parked many times), only took quarters. Now at this point you’re thinking I just decided to scr*w it and pop on into the PO. Nope. I walked back around to the other side of my car, unlocked the door, and reached in to replace the nickel and get a quarter from the dash holder (even though such an expenditure seemed excessive). Just then a woman two spaces ahead got into her car and pulled away from the curb, vacating the spot (which I could see had the regular meter). So, I started ‘er up, pulled out of my spot and into the new one, got out, reflexively locked the door, and walked over to the meter—only to find I had forgotten I had already replaced the nickel in my pocket with a quarter, and was thus faced with the prospect of either feeding a quarter into the meter (when I knew a nickel would suffice) or walking back around to the other side of my car, unlocking the door, reaching in, and getting the nickel back. This was when I decided to scr*w it. I ducked inside, concluded my business at the counter, and re-emerged—not three minutes later—only to find a crisp pink slip under the wiper.
And this, my friends, is why airplanes crash, at least in many cases: a chain of unlikely and improbable events, all combining to produce a catastrophic outcome that would have been avoided had statistical normalcy intervened at any point to break the chain and restore equilibrium.
Does anyone know the significance of this sentence in the history of computing?
(You’re on your honor not to Google for it.)
The Magnetic Disk Heritage Center. Excellent collection of images, video, retrospectives, and other archival matter pertaining to the history of disk storage.
Geoff Rockwell mentioned this series of electronic books in his response to my earlier programming and pedagogy posting, but I thought they deserved their own separate entry: How To Think Like A Computer Scientist, with versions available for Python, C++, and Java.
At a glance, I really like them: the prose seems to assume a reader motivated by intellectual curiosity as much as deadlines (the “I just have to finish this project by Friday” crowd catered to by the various majority of commercial instructional texts). Chapter one, for example, includes a discussion of formal languages and natural languages.
My guess . . . is that the large majority of universities will opt to maintain access at lower tuition rates and that, as a consequence, quality will decline. In the access-vs.-quality equation, access will eventually win the day, because policymakers can understand it and measure it, whereas quality remains an abstract idea that can be ignored until it is too late to save it. This leads to what I call the “graceful decline model,” and we find ourselves at the beginning of it today.
No easy answers here, but some strong suggestions and an excellent historical overview of the life cycles of funding models for public higher education in the US.
Now available: Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature, an electronic pamphlet by Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Published by the Electronic Literature Organization on behalf of its ongoing Preservation/Archiving/Dissemination project (PAD). From the document:
If special efforts aren’t made now, students, professors, authors, and readers won’t be able to access many important works of electronic literature in the future. For electronic literature to contribute to our culture, it’s important to have works that readers can return to later, literature people can recommend to others with some assurance that the work will still be available in readable form. Preserving e-lit, and creating e-lit that will remain available, is essential to the very concept of electronic literature, the basic idea that the computer can be a place for new literary works that make use of its capabilities.
I took programming courses in both high school and college, at least three or four all told (Basic and Pascal—I’m dating myself). I couldn’t have been less interested. The pedagogical approach was entirely vocational. Just as my French and Spanish courses revolved around hypothetical trips to Paris or Madrid (like I was going to get there any time soon), my programming courses were filled with unlikely scenarios that read like a cross between an inter-office memo and a GRE logic problem: “You own a small hardware store in Schenectady. Write a program that will display items in your inventory sorted in such and such a way, but not screwdrivers on Tuesdays when the moon is full.” That sort of thing. I can see in retrospect that lots of fundamentals were being taught here: variables, arrays, conditionals, control structures, sorts, loops, etc.—but there was nothing to engage my imagination, nothing to suggest why formal logic was a unique and powerful lens through which to view the world. Lately I’ve become interested in the pedagogy of programming, and I’m going to collect some initial links here. In no particular order:
To be continued . . . suggestions welcome. As the above suggests, I’m interested in a pretty wide range of materials, from IDEs and other environments to games and conceptual tools. Special thanks to GrandTextAuto, where I first picked up several of these links.
Update 11/14/04: A number of excellent links, via Dirk Scheuring in the comments at GrandTextAuto:
First up, new toys. Matching his and hers. Mine’s set to play “Ode to Joy” when K. calls. I know, I know: how original is that? Approximately 62,918 other people also have their ringer set to play “Ode to Joy” when their sweetie calls. ‘Course Lev Manovich would say that the most original option is simply to leave the ringer set to its factory default.
Speaking of Silver Spring, if you’re local check out Silver Sprung.
Could be because Kari and I are both shopping new laptops (whee!) but we came up with the following this morning:
What Kind of System Are You?
How would you profile yourself in terms of RAM? Storage? Display (hi-res people are more image-conscious)? GUI or command line (do you multitask)? Laptop, desktop, or handheld (creature of habit or footloose and fancy free)? Dial-up, ethernet, or wireless (are you always on)? And the ultimate measure of self-knowledge: Mac or PC?
Come on now, be honest . . .
Me, I think I’ve got fair RAM and a lot of storage. Call it 256 MB/80 GB by current standards. Resoultion 800 x 640. Ethernet (when I’m on, I’m on). Desktop (definitely a desktop, though I have aspirations to become a laptop). GUI (I multitask well). And, yes, deep down I know the awful truth: I’m a PC.
If I had more time/ambition I might work up one of those wonky Web quizzes (which in fact I hate). But something like the above might actually make a fun ice-breaker on the first day of an appropriately themed class.
On the evening of June 5th, 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower drafted the following text:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
A glimpse through the keyhole of an alternative history that thankfully never was.
Thanks to Marc Ruppel for turning me on to these:
William Basinski’s four-disk epic, The Disintegration Loops, was created out of tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops held some personal significance to Basinski, a significance he only touches on in the liner notes and we can only guess at. Originally, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. However, once he started the transfer, he discovered something: the tapes were old and they were disintegrating as they played and as he recorded. As he notes in the liner notes, “The music was dying.” But he kept recording, documenting the death of these loops.
. . . William Basinski lives in Brooklyn, less than a nautical mile from the World Trade Centers. On September 11, 2001, as he was completing The Disintegration Loops, he watched these towers disintegrate. He and his friends went on the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching the slow death of one New York and the slow rise of another, all the while listening to the death of one music and the creation of another. . . .