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Ned Batchelder
May 2002
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J.S.G. Boggs

Tuesday 28 May 2002 (¤)

A conversation over lunch today turned to J.S.G. Boggs: he's an artist who draws money, not to deceive people, but to make them think. His art is all about what money means, and why it means it, and how it works.

Here's what he does: he makes a drawing of a piece of money, then trades it for goods or services (for example, a meal in a restaurant). The drawings are very good, but they are obviously not actual money (for one thing, it is orange, for another, it is blank on one side, for another, he says, "This is a drawing; it isn't money"). He presents the drawing to, for example, a waitress, and asks to use it in lieu of money to buy a meal. Sometimes they go for it, sometimes they don't. If they do, what did it mean? Why is money worth something? How is the drawing different from money? Is he counterfeiting?

To answer that last question, the Federal Government has decided that he is, and is prosecuting him. Your tax dollars at work.

J.S.G.Boggs' orange fun-dollar bill

Read more about him:



Tuesday 28 May 2002 (¤)

I'm addicted to screen magnifiers, because they let me see tiny details that make a huge difference in the appearance of stuff on-screen. My latest favorite is ColorPic, from Iconico (which is an interesting, artsy site in its own right). It has a customizable magnifier, and shows the RGB components of the current pixel, and lets you grab colors (which I don't usually need to do, but it is cool). And: it's free.


Tales of Mere Existence

Thursday 23 May 2002 (¤)

Tales of Mere Existence are very well done cartoons about a cartoonist's observations of his ordinary life. I think they are hilarious and insightful. Be forewarned: some are rated X.


(via: Boing Boing)

Luc Devroye's Font Pages

Sunday 19 May 2002 (¤)

If you're looking for a comprehensive font portal, look no further than Luc Devroye's Font Pages. There must be thousands of links here, and with patience, you will find anything your typopgrapher's heart desires. The weakness of the pages is that they don't always separate the wheat from the chaff. And no, I don't know why the title of the page is "On snot and fonts".



Thursday 16 May 2002 (¤)

I have always been fascinated by stellations (even before I understood them). For example, the image in the upper-left corner of this page is the third stellation of a regular dodecahedron.

Vladimir Bulatov has written a great Java application for exploring stellations of a wide variety of regular polyhedra. I've never gotten the applet to launch properly from the web page, but after downloading it, it worked great. And: the source is available to tempt me to fiddle with it (must resist, must resist..).

Here's an example of a stellation of the truncated cuboctahedron:

a stellation of the truncated cuboctahedron

If you don't know what a stellation is, just poke around anyway. It's cool.


Jamie Kellner: Clueless Dinosaur

Wednesday 15 May 2002 (¤)

Continuing our informal series of highlighting clueless business-people: Jamie Kellner (CEO of Turner Broadcasting) believes that skipping commercials is theft. I won't go into lots of details here, because I couldn't do it better than LawMeme did in their dissection of the issues.

Here's my take on it: advertising is a risky business. There are hundreds of reasons why advertising might fail. Skipping the commercials with a TiVo is just one of them. Mr. Kellner and the rest of Hollywood should study business, and especially capitalism, a little more. Businesses come and businesses go. I don't think anything will make broadcast TV go away, even TiVo. A business is built on assumptions about the environment it runs in. If the understanding of the environment is wrong (think CueCat), the business will fail. If the understanding of the environment is right, the business will succeed. But success doesn't guarantee future success.

Broadcast TV (along with any other advertising-supported business) is built on a slightly convoluted and risky business model:

  1. Viewers will watch commercials,
  2. Viewers will be compelled by the commercials to buy products,
  3. Sponsors will see increased profits,
  4. Sponsors will buy more advertising time.

Look at these four steps. It is easy to think of a dozen reasons why any of the steps might fail. And any one failing makes the whole plan fail.

If inexpensive technology changes the first assumption in the business model ("viewers will watch commercials"), the business may fail. Does this make the viewers criminals? Don't be ridiculous. There never was a "contract" with the viewer. There was only the broadcaster's assumption in their business model. They were counting on people behaving a certain way. People did behave that way. Now people are not behaving that way (or at least, the industry is afraid people are not behaving that way).

So what we have here is not criminal activity. We have a business in a tight spot because its business model is failing, through no fault of its own. That's business for you. Grow up and deal with it. If broadcast TV has to morph because ad revenues fall, so be it. That's the market at work. When men stopped wearing hats in the '50s, did the hat-makers lobby congress to require men to wear hats? No. Did hat-makers go out of business? Yes. Was it a tragedy? I suppose for some hat-makers it was, but the world continued to spin, and the hat-makers found other things to do.

One final ironic twist: the full original interview with Mr. Kellner is only available after paying real money up front, probably because discovered they couldn't make a go of it with ad revenues.


(via: LawMeme)

Programming With Kids

Wednesday 15 May 2002 (¤)

Dustyscript is a programming language with a good goal: be good for an 8-year-old to write programs in.

Unfortunately, I think they've missed the mark. In my experience, what matters when writing programs with kids is not the complexity of the syntax. No matter how you design the language, there will be syntax, and that syntax will seem artificial to a kid (as it would to anyone first starting to program). There's going to be a certain amount of, "that's just the way you do it". Simplifying syntax is a good thing, but it isn't the main thing.

The main thing is the power of the language, and by that, I don't mean object orientation, or inheritance, or introspection, or infinite precision integers. When dealing with kids, the power of a language boils down to one thing: Can I make colorful things move around on the screen? The Logo folks understood that. I've used python and pygame to engage my son in programming, with moderate success.

The fact is that kids these days know what computers are for: they are game machines that can do awesome things. When you sit down with them to entice them into writing programs, they are going to expect those programs to do awesome things. The more directly they can express their intentions to the computer ("Can we make the aliens shoot the guy, and the guy blows up?"), the more success you will have with them.


(via: The Doc Searls Weblog)

I've started posting code

Tuesday 14 May 2002 (¤)

I've started a new section of this site, for code. It is small now, but will grow (as with all web sites).



Monday 13 May 2002 (¤)

The Yale Law School is running a weblog called LawMeme to cover news at the intersection of technology and law. It is very good. A recent feature poked holes in Hollywood's laments about the need for technological fixes to piracy.

For example: how will modifying PCs and consumer electronics help piracy if it all starts with a guy holding a video camera in a movie theater? The camera will still record the movie, and the resulting MPEG won't be marked as copyrighted content, so even draconian technology will allow it to be copied freely. Nothing is solved, at great cost.

LawMeme - A weblog about technology law at the Yale School of Law.


Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies

Thursday 9 May 2002 (¤)

Stephen's Guide is a fascinating taxonomy of the different styles of distorting the truth. Useful for honing your skills either at misleading others, or at identifying such behavior in others. He also provides the more cerebral Categorical Converter, which I don't exactly understand, but can at least appreciate for its egg-headed splendor.

This site is an old one (the most recent date I found was 1998), and links to other pages by Stephen are uniformly broken. I hope this site won't be going any time soon.


Drew Olbrich

Tuesday 7 May 2002 (¤)

I don't know Drew Olbrich, but I think I would enjoy knowing him. His personal site is chock-a-block with quirky artistic knowledgable projects. I'm tempted to link to pages within the site, but I think I'd end up linking to most of them.


(via: The Geometry Junkyard)

Patrick Batchelder Photography

Tuesday 7 May 2002 (¤)

My brother Patrick is a freelance photographer, and some of his pictures are up on a fledgling artists' site, foliospace. He's a good guy and a good photographer. If you need some pix, give him a look.

Tokyo, by Patrick Batchelder


Fun Silly Stuff

Saturday 4 May 2002 (¤)

I just love the web. One of the things I love about it is that you can find just plain silly stuff that someone hacked together for the fun of it.

The Mini-Mizer allows you to re-create yourself as a Lego mini-fig.

Celebrity Soundboards puts a wide range of phrases (spoken by Homer Simpson or Samuel L. Jackson, for example) at your fingertips.


(via: Blogatelle)

What does NED mean?

Friday 3 May 2002 (¤)

My name is Ned (actually, officially, it is Edward, but no one but cold-calling sleazeball telemarketers call me Ed or Eddie: it's a dead give-away).

Now, thanks to the Acronym Finder, we can find out what NED really means. My personal favorites are No Evidence of Disease and Noble Engineering and Development, although for sheer geek points, the NASA Extragalactic Database can't be beat (plus the home page includes the text, "If your research benefits from the use of NED, ..." Maybe I can use that in a resume?).



Wednesday 1 May 2002 (¤)

As a software engineer, tools mean a lot to me. One I've been watching with interest is subversion, a new version control system.

For starters, it has a great pragmatic goal: "to be a compelling replacement for CVS". Everybody in the world uses CVS, and it is great, but it is also a little flaky and a little too low-tech. Subversion is explicitly trying to keep all the good things, and fix the worst of the bad things (atomicity, scriptability, modularity, and tracking more than just the contents of files, for example).

The developers seem to be making impressive progress towards shipping subversion: their news page reads like a model of meeting deadlines. They've been self-hosted (they store their own code in subversion itself) since September.

Their code is some of the most-commented code I have seen, which I think indicates a deliberateness that bodes well for the product. (On the down side in the code: they have chosen the least-defensible brace style possible. Don't get me started!) (Update: it turns out it is the brace style recommended in the GNU C coding standards. Blechh.)

Lastly, they have a sense of humor. The name itself is a pun on version control systems in general, with a whiff of anarchistic open source thrown in. And their replacement for the "cvs annotate" command is going to be called "svn blame".

I'm looking forward to trying it.