FoundAround 2008-22

May 31, 2008

Some miscellanea encountered this week:

  • Reductio ad grammarium. D. C. Simpson’s Ozy and Millie has been on my reading list for several years now. In Wednesday’s installment, Grammar Nazi, Avery uses the overworn substitution of an X Nazi for someone who takes a dictatorial attitude towards X. Millie recasts this by taking the word Nazi in a literal, historical sense and transferring it to a world of grammar: Grammar Nazis can invade places like Grammar Czechoslovakia and Grammar Poland. So, when we dispose of prescriptivist attitudes and a priori theoretical commitments in linguistics, have we moved to Grammar Switzerland?
  • Attitude. Over at Language Log, the post Evervate, disconnect, revolt by (the apparently pseudonymous) Melvyn Quince bemoans the injection of “business-school jargon” in inappropriate places. Quince’s annoyance is directed at the three-word admonition “• innovate • connect • achieve” inflicted on him as a slogan for a linguistics conference he attended. As things go, however, it’s relatively innocuous. I have a mug in my kitchen that says, simply:
    Attitude
    is everything

    (Yes, with the maroon on black and a cursive typeface to visually convey “attitude”.) Also innocuous. Except, of course, when given as a “bonus” to a demoralized team of software developers on a 100-hour-per-week death-march project. The resounding response—perhaps not surprisingly?—was best expressed by one of the developers as “Yeah, attitude is everything… and mine sucks!

  • Just “a little differently”. Internet Explorer has been the source of frustration for many web developers. It is absolutely notorious for its broken behavior when rendering web pages. (An IRS auditor would have a field day with a tax return that was as compliant with tax laws as IE is with web standards.) The language that’s usually used when talking candidly about how to get IE to behave itself… well, I wouldn’t repeat it around my 4-year-old. And then, in the wordpress.com forums, boblets presented me with one of the single best examples of understatement I have ever seen. It seems that “IE tend[s] to …erm…. translate code a little diffrently than the others.” Hee…

Copyright © 2008 Michael L. McCliment.

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FoundAround 2008-21

May 24, 2008

Some miscellanea encountered this week:

  • Personal Digital Mathematics Assistant. John Armstrong posted an image of an “ACME integrating pistol” over at The Unapologetic Mathematician, calling it the “perfect math gadget”. But maybe we could improve on it, have it do more than just integration? Just imagine how much better results we would see on the standardized tests if students could come in with an ACME MathZapper™. It might even let us “fix” the “all children held behind” mess (to borrow a phrase from Keith Devlin). “Here you go, Johnny. It’s your first government-issued Personal Digital Mathematics Assistant, complete with a preinstalled symbolic math package.” Who needs another browser war when we can have a winner-take-all brawl among Magma, Maple, Mathcad, and Mathematica?
  • Blog brains. In a thread on the WordPress.com forums, I exchanged a series of posts with Jim Sizemore of Doodlemeister’s Weblog. After a brief foray into the world of HTML and CSS, he introduced the absolutely wonderful expression “blog brains” to refer to the technologies in question. I doubt I’ll ever look at tag soup in quite the same way again.
  • Floating pennies (redux). Last month, I wrote about the perils of floating-point representations of currencies. Now there’s a related bit of discussion of sums in Excel over at Walking Randomly, based on a post at Office Watch. The main example uses—yep, you guessed it—the same two-place decimal representations that make floating point numbers not work well for currencies. It gets more interesting when one of the commenters implies that people using Excel for financial purposes shouldn’t have to worry about rounding errors. This just isn’t true, since accountants multiply by non-integer rates and they split money among multiple parties all the time—both of which introduce rounding error when getting back to pennies. Just try to divide a dollar evenly among three people. I’m sympathetic to the general sentiment, but neither rational representations nor packed decimal representations solve the currency problems (and weak data typing really just exacerbates the issues). *Sniff* *Sniff* Do I smell another Perspectives post baking?

Copyright © 2008 Michael L. McCliment.


FoundAround 2008-20

May 17, 2008

Some miscellanea encountered this week:

  • Finite infinite cardinality. There’s a somewhat odd thread over on the XKCD forums about the cardinality of infinite sets. The original poster has an intuitive problem with the fact that an infinite set X may have the same cardinality as a proper subset of X—which is one way of defining what it means for a set to be infinite in the first place. The thread attempts to correct the counterintuitive result by proposing that we take A \subset B \Rightarrow \left|A\right| < \left|B\right| as an axiom. I guess we should just ignore those infinte sets after all?
  • Projectile nonsense. Over at Language Log, a commenter suggested that projectile nonsense may be a subfield of abstract nonsense. I don’t have any good idea what additional axioms we would add to category theory in order to get to this new theory. I have even less of an idea how the chair of a Presidential campaign would go about turning it into “something approaching the sublime”.

Copyright © 2008 Michael L. McCliment.