knuth

I often say professionally that I did a compsci major (though can never claim it officially) yonks ago but decided against becoming a programmer. That’s not a decision I regret mostly, though it must be said I continue to have strong leanings that direction. Scarily, it’s been over 25 years since those compsci days. Still, I learnt good stuff.

I recall in the second half of first year compsci, we had an older lecturer at the time who was actually a maths lecturer who seemed to have come across into computers. I can say “older” as I’ve just found this bio which sums up very briefly a rather fascinating career. He may even have been one of my favourite lecturers as he liked to play with new ideas and introduced stuff he knew about from maths into computing. I was a very rare beast in compsci in that I was enrolled under BA and not directly in Compsci and I did no math. I had done first year math but it wasn’t quite my bag. Doherty was very big on mathematical ideas and assessing efficiencies of algorithms.

I recall him talking some weird algorithm for encrypting data and he worked through the basic idea in a lecture, I think it was based on some sort of fractional encoding model. At the end of the lecture, he said the next assignment would be to implement it. I found the idea of it fascinating. The next assignment came out and sure enough it was on encryption so I implemented the algorithm in Pascal that he’d talked about based on my lecture notes. The idea was you’d write code to encrypt a paragraph of text, and code to decrypt the text. I was mostly successful but because it relied on decimal conversion of larger numbers, it rapidly lost accuracy on the 8 bit macs we were using at the time. Out of a sentence of 10 words, it started losing letters by the end of the first word.

Turns out, I should have read the back page of the assignment. Doherty had decided that the technique was a little too experimental for first year compsci and had instead instructed everyone to use a hashing technique. I handed my assignment in and discussed with the class tutor what I’d done. He wasn’t familiar with the algorithm at all but was impressed that it worked and understood why it failed where it did. I got full marks and first year compsci was one of my few high distinctions at uni.

mini computers on top of computer books.Anyway, Doherty would often quote Knuth as the foundation of modern computing. Knuth was all about the development of algorithms and understanding their efficiencies. Algorithms are really important as they represent techniques for solving particular sorts of problems eg what is the best way to sort a random string of numbers? The answer varies depending on how many numbers are in the string, or even whether you can know the number of numbers. For very small sets, a bubble sort is sufficient, and from there you move on to binary searches, binary trees, and so on. I wasn’t always across the math but really appreciated the underlying thinking around assessing approaches to problem solving. Plus Doherty was a fab lecturer with a bit of character.

So Knuth. He is best known for his series, The Art of Computer Programming, which has gone through a few editions and I wonder if it will ever be actually finished; the fourth volume is actually labeled 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms Part 1. Volume 4 is eventually expected to cover 4 volumes: 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D. 4B has been partially released across several fascicles of which 6 have been released. Volume 3 seems to be the most relevant for where I’m at today and where I’m looking to play; #3 is around 750 pages devoted specifically to sorting and searching. So much of what we do online is reliant on being able to find stuff and to find stuff well, it helps if the data has been ordered.

Knuth has this been this name in my head though my life has gone in other directions. A few years ago, I did a google and found that not only were his books on Amazon, there was even a box set of Volumes 1-4A. I bit the bullet about 3 years ago and bought the set, cost around US$180 at the time and looks really, bloody good on the shelf. I haven’t read a great deal yet but dipped in a few times and planning to get into volume 3 properly at some point. I’ve recently being moving stuff around at home and don’t have a lot of space for books next to where my computer gear is these days. However, it turns out, the mac mini sits nicely on top of the set, and my newest computer, the VivoMini sits nicely on top of the mac. I sorta like the idea of these small computers sitting on Knuth’s foundation.

random mutterings

Following a tweet this morning:

I’ve fallen down something of a rabbit hole. I made references in my response to that tweet to usenet and newsgroup creation groups. Of course, I popped into google groups and found usenet posts of my own from the early 1990s in aus.net.news and aus.sf, some of which are a wee bit cringeworthy. Oh well, it’s all about the learning…I tell myself.

Tonight, I revisited one of my earlier blogs, 2002 this time, and found an entry that I could turn into a tweet:

as sure enough, it’s still running and is in its 23rd year. I am saddened, but unsurprised at how many links no longer work. Yet shocked to discover that my link to mutt, an unix based email program, not only works but is still being updated in 2017. The link still works for pine, another email program, but development ceased in 2008. Even slrn still exists (last update in 2016) and can be grabbed in linux via apt-get.

a shipping crane by the waterSpeaking of apt-get, a tool for installing software on linux, I am liking having linux running as its own machine. Been a long time since I’ve had it on a dedicated device. I’ve set up my new box as dual mode with windows but I’m barely touching the windows side and I’m already musing on wiping it altogether. Running it in a virtualbox always had an edge of frustration, it was slower, a little clunky, and some things just never worked as you were dealing with linux and virtualbox. Now it’s just linux and stuff mostly works; muscle memory in my fingers seems to guide me through.

In other news, I am conscious I should blog more on whisky stuff. I’ve been learning lots in the last year and have a good sense of what I like. The most important lesson however is to keep trying new things and being open to things that you might otherwise expect not to like. I’m very fond of whisky matured in sherry casks, but port casks not so much. Yet I am currently sipping a delicious drop from McHenry’s in Tasmania, matured in ex bourbon barrels and finished in a port cask. So utterly delish. Also I think I need to dedicate a post to Highland Park as I’ve had so many of their releases, yet know there’s so many I haven’t had. Have also been enjoying their new 10 year old Viking Scars which is a relatively cheap whisky at $75.

Here’s my blog entry from October 2003 that I suspect includes my first mention of eating seahorse. I had a busy month in December 2003 with much to think about including the dreaded digital divide and longevity of URLs ironically. A year later, my final post noted that of the then top 100 movies screened in Australia (by box office takings), I’d seen 92. I know now that it’s not 93 as I have definitely not seen Ghost. Whereas December 2004 is full of thoughts regarding my first NLS, and my first attempts at live blogging. I think I live blogged using a psion 5mx (which I still have) connected via infrared to my mobile phone which in turn handled a dial up connection to my ISP. Also thoughts regarding how to set up some sort of group blogging thang for the following NLS though I think we ended up using ALIA’s forum for discussion in the end. December 2004 was also when I finally registered my own domain that now points here.

I continue to enjoy browsing the casualness of my blogging in those early days; blogging was about random bits and pieces, content in response to links I stumbled upon. A sentence here, a paragraph there; mutterings on this and that. Was fun. Is still fun.

#blogjune 2017 recap

Done and dusted for another year. Here we are 4 days later and this is my first post since June finished. Stats are a funny old thing, the only ones I have to count are for folk who specifically visit my page. I have no idea how many other people are reading my posts via feed readers such as feedly. It’s possible to make a rough estimate as feedly does show a subscriber count for each of its feeds but I’m unclear as to its accuracy, having read conflicting accounts. All in all, it sounds like work is required to get accurate figures and my care factor is a little too low for that :-)

blog statistics

Looking at the graph above, direct access seems to have dropped off a little in 2017 but has been mostly stead for the last few years. With that said, the 2017 figure is based on the year so far ie the first six months. That suggests, even I can manage to keep blogging, that 2017 is shaping up to be my best year since at least 2014, and potentially since 2012. I think 2012 was the first year that wordpress broke down the difference between views and visitors, as noted by the darker shading in the column.

In terms of my #blogjune blogging, I managed to just scrape in:

  • 30 posts
  • 10,700 words, averaging 357 words per post

3 posts less but 700 words more than my 2016 effort. I think I managed to blog about most things I thought I would though I never got round to blogging properly about whisky, though I had a few ideas in draft. My top 5 posts were:

which seems a mix of interesting and pedestrian, so here’s the next 5 as well:

which is a more interesting list of titles :-)

techie librarian; meatier than a seahorse

 

Tag lines…whatever do you use for your tagline: the subheading of your identity, the punchline by which people establish a connection. Mostly I pay them lip service, smiling occasionally at a clever one. My own tend to refer to variations of: techie, librarian and eclectic, sometimes all 3 at once.

In a rather wayward conversation, spinning down a rabbit hole of curiousity, as things are wont to do when Matt Finch is involved, a recent conversation turned from roasting penguins to eating seahorses.

I participated in a workshop as part of NLS8 and the first activity was for everyone to sketch a scene, in 90 seconds, on a piece of A4 using at least one of three figures on a screen: 2 humans (or human-like) and a penguin. As is my wont, I immediately gave into the dark side and sketched the two humans roasting the penguin. The second half of the activity was for each table to construct a cohesive story using those scenes as panel. They were two quick activities that worked really well as an icebreaker and got you thinking at how easy it was to come up with ideas under pressure.

The seahorses came later…or rather many years earlier:

to which I responded with my “meatier than seahorse” remark and commented elsewhere that while I have never eaten penguin, I have actually eaten seahorse.

Many years ago, 2003 I think (really must upload those photos to flickr), I spent a few weeks on an Intrepid trip in China with friends. We started in Beijing and went to the Beijing night markets, a place where you can eat just about anything including silk worms and even scorpions on a stick. Scorpions were a wee a but scary but we figured had to be ok as noone was dropping dead. As far as we can figure, they’re bred without their stinger.

While trying to order something else, there was a language issue, and I ended up with seahorse on a stick. I think the scorpions were about 20 cents for five whereas the seahorse was a few Oz dollars for one. Our tour guide tried to talk our way out of it but the shopowner insisted. So I paid for it and ate it. There wasn’t much flavour as it was primarily shell with perhaps a tiny morsel of meat.

Matt suggested “meatier than a seahorse” as a bio and it immediately rang the right sort of bells, both physically and metaphorically. I am now using it for all my taglines :-)

money, money, money

This was given to me by old friends many years ago…I think it was a Kris Kringle present but my memory is a wee bit hazy. Quite simply, this is a moneybox snail as well as being one of my brighter snails. I smile a little every time I look at it. It used to sit on the bookcases in my old loungeroom but these days resides with the larger snail collection.

moneybox snail

a puppet snail

This was given to me many years ago, and is one of my older snails. A family I used to hang out with in my church days, spotted it and had to buy it for me. In the early days I used to wear it as a puppet to entertain their kids. These days it sits in a bowl, looking out on the world.

puppet snail