Tao of the Machine

Programming, Python, my projects, card games, books, music, Zoids, bettas, manga, cool stuff, and whatever comes to mind.


My new weblog can be found here.

Posted by Hans "gentlemen, update your links" Nowak on 2004-06-10 14:17:56   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general


This weblog will be on hiatus for a while. I'll be back... eventually.

(I'm not going anywhere, I just won't update the weblog for a while, among other things. I can still be reached at the usual address.)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-04-10 12:56:38   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general


YourDictionary.com: The 100 most mispronounced words.

Some comments. (Disclaimer: I am not a native English speaker, so I can only go by what I've picked up around here. "Around here" is Florida. YPMV.)

  • clothes: I haven't heard anybody here actually pronounce the [th]. People seem to say [close]. This is Florida, not Britain. :-)

  • duck tape: Note that there's actually a brand called Duck Tape.

  • February: Again, I haven't heard anybody pronounce the first [r]. It's "feb-yoo-ary".

  • herb: Apparently, if it's a name you pronounce the [h], otherwise you don't.

  • mischievous: This word isn't used often, but I've heard it pronounced "mischievious". (Yes, with the extra i.)

  • pernickety: According to dictionary.com, persnickety is valid as well.

  • snuck: Yes, according to dictionary.com again, this *is* a word. [snuck]

  • spitting image: This is valid as well.

Some more reactions to this list.

Then there's the issue of how to pronounce Nevada...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-22 23:33:38   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Yesterday's technology tomorrow

Via Language Log: Yesterday's technology tomorrow.

"Tomorrow's technology today. [...] And I suddenly realized that is the exact opposite of what I want. I don't want tomorrow's technology today. I want yesterday's technology tomorrow. I want old things that have stood the test of time and are designed to last so that I will still be able to use them tomorrow. I don't want tomorrow's untested and bug-ridden ideas for fancy new junk made available today because although they're not ready for prime time the company has to hustle them out because it's been six months since the last big new product announcement. Call me old-fashioned, but I want stuff that works."

The blog post goes on with a few examples: WordPerfect, Adobe Acrobat Reader, etc. Yes, I agree, it does appear that for a lot of commercial software, every upgrade is really a downgrade... it adds a lot of features you don't need, often removes features you did need, and takes more memory and hard disk space.

Acrobat Reader 6 is a good example. A few months ago, my version 5 somehow broke, so I went to the Adobe site for the latest version, which was 6. Turns out it's quite a bit slower than its predecessor, especially when starting, when it loads all this stuff that I don't need. It also changed the "find" feature, and changed some keys around, apparently arbitrarily (e.g. Ctrl+N, to go to a page number, is now Shift+Ctrl+N).

Operating systems are another, very obvious, example. Upgrading from Windows 2000 to XP gives you a few useful features and a lot of bloat, some of which is eye candy that slows the computer down. Since I got my first PC in 1991, I've needed a new one every two years, because by then it would be too slow, incapable of running the latest software, lacking in memory and hard disk space, etc. Back in the day, a new computer at least got you some real improvements: better graphics (CGA -> EGA -> VGA -> SVGA), better sound (PC speaker -> Sound Blaster), memory above the 640K limit. These days, what are the improvements? Sure, a faster processor and more memory/disk space is always nice, but aside from that it will just be the same old stuff. 3D cards? I don't need or like them, and think it's ridiculous that anno 2004 you need one to play an adventure game.

It is developments like these that sometimes make me highly dissatisfied and make me want a Mac, an SGI or an Amiga. emoticon:smile Or make me want to go back to the time of the command line.

On the other hand, there are some benefits as well. Interpreted languages like Python have become valid tools for mainstream programming projects. That wouldn't have been possible on memory-starving, slow machines. And ironically, I can play Broken Sword 1 on the GBA emulator, because modern PCs are powerful enough to support such a thing. Bloated software wants more memory and faster processors, but has the unintended side effect of paving the way for dynamic programming languages, emulators and other niceties.

So I guess I'll just install the older versions of some software (while they still work) and enjoy some of the positive side effects of bloated software without actually using it. emoticon:wink

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-19 18:14:56   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general


Via News You Can Bruise: Twisty Little Passages. I want this book. *drool*

Writing an adventure is on my to-do list, but then again, so are 100 other things...


Some people think the Python logging module is difficult to use. I haven't used it myself, but it certainly doesn't look too easy, especially considering that in most cases it's enough to just open a file and write to it.

It's not surprising though... I already had the impression that some Python modules/packages were designed to be complete, or to be compatible with the Java original, rather than to be Pythonic. The xml and unittest packages come to mind. Not to slight the authors of these packages, but people still write and use their own testing frameworks and XML parsers, which is a strong indicator that something's missing.


Sobe has a bunch of new drinks out. Black and Blue Berry. Sobe Synergy. Pomegranate Cranberry Elixir. Sobe Courage (cherry flavor). Sobe Fuerte (mango/passion fruit). Sobe Zen Tea. I haven't seen these around here... then again, Florida always gets things last.

No, I am not sponsored by Sobe. emoticon:smile

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-11 00:55:22   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: Python, books, general

This is what happens...

if a cat moves when you're taking a picture of it...

Posted by Hans "no weblog should be without" Nowak on 2004-03-08 23:38:42   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Haiku Circus

Haiku Circus, a webcomic using haikus.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-07 22:28:42   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general, linkstuffs

Revolution OS

I just saw this movie, that describes the open source/free software movement, and some of the people who play an important role in it. It is basically a collection of short interviews and snippets, glued together to tell the story of (mostly) Linux.

The movie is interesting, but doesn't really tell anything new. I'm not sure who the target audience is; open source developers probably already know all this, and I doubt this material will be very interesting to non-programmers. That leaves closed-source programmers. Hmm.

It's also worth noting that the visionaries of the movement seem also to be the most annoying flamboyant. They do what we have come to expect from them... ESR stomps on Microsoft and communism. RMS rides his GNU/Linux hobbyhorse, still sounding like that irritating kid in school that corrects the teacher. emoticon:smile Linus is refreshingly "normal" in comparison. Most of the other guys also seem more down to earth and (IMHO) much more sympathetic.

The movie is worth a look, if only to see and hear these people (rather than just read about them). Aside from that, it does not seem to have much lasting value, especially not to those who are already open source developers.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-06 16:42:07   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general, programming

Fun with SSNs

(Some days there's really nothing to write about... To get those old blog juices flowing again, here's a boring story about SSNs.)

A couple of years ago I was assigned a social security number. Even though I am not an American, it should have the same status as anybody else's SSN. As such, it can be used without problems for employment, tax, banks, etc.

However, for some reason it seems to be rejected by certain stores. Nowadays you can get a credit card through these stores, offering additional discounts etc. We tried this a few times; as many times, I was refused on the spot because of my SSN *only*. The last time we tried it, the Target sales guy said that the system would not let him enter SSNs starting with the number 7.

Is there something special about that number? Yes and no. The first three digits of the SSN indicate where the number was applied for. There's a nice list of these "area codes". At first I thought that the 7 might be for non-US citizens, but that does not seem to be the case. It's just that the 700 block is relatively new. (Older lists state that the 729-799 block is "for future use".) My number is perfectly valid and has nothing to do with my status as a permanent resident or my nationality.

So, next time this happens at a store, it's probably safe to tell them that their software might need to be updated to accept contemporary social security numbers. emoticon:smile

Further reading:

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-05 22:06:05   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

God hates shrimp

(via Pug's Place) God hates shrimp. Bad news for Red Lobster...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-02 22:34:45   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general


One of my resolutions for 2004 was to start writing a book. An ambitious project, and before I begin, I better make solid preparations.

Some things to ponder:

  • What will the book be about? Obviously I want to write about Python. I don't want to write yet another tutorial or language reference though; others have done that before, and probably did a better job at it than I can.

    I'm considering to write a Wax book, which would be useful, but Wax isn't really mature enough yet.

    It's very well possible that it's too early for me to write a book. We'll see.

  • What format do people use to write books (or long documents)? Do they use a "simple" format like REST? DocBook XML? TeX? Straight HTML? Their own XML format? Plain ASCII, even? Something else? I have no clue. 'Twould be useful if the chosen format could easily be converted to HTML, PDF, etc.

    I will probably not use Firedrop for it; it does not seem up to the task. For one thing, its editor is very simple (just a TextBox instance, after all), probably *too* simple to write long reams of text.

[Update #1] I just read the comments. Let's get a few misunderstandings out of the way:

  • The book will not be about wxPython. I simply don't know enough about it. (To write a toolkit like Wax, you don't need to be a wxPython guru... anybody can make it.) I understand that there might be significant demand for such a book, but I am not the person to write it.

  • *If* the book will be about Wax (which I am still considering), it will be about building GUI apps with "pure Wax". Of course I would mention wxPython here and there, since Wax is based on it, but I will not focus on building apps with wxPython.

  • This will be an online book, kind of like Dive Into Python when it first started. At this moment, I don't even want to consider the possibility of a paper version.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-17 23:15:08   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

More links and stuff

More on the NADD thing: In defense of NADD. Also, here are some links that are cruel traps to those afflicted:

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-15 23:28:57   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general, linkstuffs

The Butterfly effect

A strange movie. (Short description here) Impressive, but I found it very disturbing in several ways.

First of all, I'm not exactly a fan of gratuitous violence, and this movie has lots of it. It has lots of everything that makes a movie R-rated... multiple beatings, sex, drugs, animal abuse, pedophilia, and more. I don't really care to see all that stuff.

Second, it paints a very ugly picture of humanity. The world is populated by dumb kids, nihilistic stoners, bullying frat boys, ultra-violent misfits, pedophiles, hardcore criminals, etc. I saw many more unsympathetic characters than sympathetic ones.

On top of violence and ugly stuff comes the actual plot. At first it's a bit like a horror movie... you move on to the next part and wonder what horrible thing is going to happen now. Later on, the idea of being trapped in an alternate world (or maybe in your own mind) seemed oddly familiar, and discomforting.

A nice touch is that events that seem inexplicable in the early movie, like Evan's blackouts and what he does during those, become clear later on. In an early scene, you see Evan (as a kid) standing with a knife, and at that point you might think he will be some kind of homicidal maniac, or maybe that he's possessed. But it's nothing like that: a future version of him was simply trying to destroy a piece of dynamite that was used, or going to be used, in a prank gone bad.

I won't be watching a movie like this again anytime soon, though. Along came Polly is starting to look better and better... emoticon:wink2

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-13 00:16:31   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

The disorder of a new generation

(via Mark Pilgrim's b-links feed)

Well, it seems I finally got my own disorder now... NADD

Let's see. At this moment, I have 14 tasks in my taskbar, not counting the 11 icons in my "tray". 3M Post-It Notes, a folder, WinCVS, Pegasus Mail, Mozilla Firebird, a 4NT console, Excel, SQL Server Enterprise Manager, SQL Server Query Analyzer, a vim session, two Yahoo Messenger windows, and two Firedrop windows.

Granted, there is some overlap here, Yahoo Messenger also takes up a tray icon, and some icons just display my Internet connection. Still...

Also, in my browser, there are currently 9 tabs. (Not that much, sometimes there are 20 or so. :-)

But I think what really qualifies me is that I stopped halfway through the article to write this blog post. emoticon:smile

I think that having TV, radio, etc, on at the same time, is more of an AD(H)D thing, though. Myself, I cannot stand annoying external stimuli like noise, movements, etc, when I'm trying to concentrate. And in real life, I don't feel like I have to do something different every 2 seconds.

But when working with computers, everything changes. I happily jump from task to task, opening windows and browser tabs in the process, making notes, checking mail and web site updates, etc. 1) I can easily handle vast amounts of information, and am (usually) not fazed by new mail every 5 minutes, juggling 20 open windows, etc. As long as the arrival of new information is not intrusive. (I absolutely loathe Yahoo Messenger for this reason.)

I consider this normal, but "normal" people apparently don't. What can I say... I have many trains of thoughts going on, and I hate to lose them.

I don't really understand why a quality like this is called a disorder, but that's a discussion for another day.

1) If you have a sudden thought, idea or inspiration, then it's really easy nowadays to look things up on the Net, in a few seconds. In past ages, this was not so easy... the information simply wasn't there, or was harder to obtain (books). This may have contributed to the emergence of this "disorder".

Posted by Hans "maybe Information Deficit would be a better name?" Nowak on 2004-02-10 10:47:44   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Changing the world

(via Ted Leung) Clay Shirky: Exiting Deanspace. I'm not really interested in the article itself, since it's about American politics. My ideas don't really match the American political spectrum, and besides, I'm not allowed to vote. :-) No, what stands out is a quote, or rather a nested quote:

Margaret Mead once said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Generations of zealots have tacked these words up on various walls, never noticing that the two systems that run the modern world – markets and democracies — are working right precisely when they defeat these attempted hijackings by small groups.

It's funny -- I think of the Margaret Mead quote as something *positive*. I consider it good and desirable that small groups of committed people, or even individuals, can still change the world. Indeed, who else would?

Maybe in this post-9/11 era, people immediately associate quotes like these with terrorists, fringe groups, sects, and whatnot. Indeed, the author talks about "zealots" and "hijacking". Thoughtful, committed people are not automatically zealots. In fact, I don't consider zealots very thoughtful at all. It's true that with this quote, you can go both ways... people can change the world to make it better or worse.

Fortunately, there are plenty of examples when "thoughtful, committed people" changed the world for the better, and we don't even have to go far back in history. To stay in the programming world: Linus Torvalds would be one of those people. Richard Stallman would be another. It's not so difficult to name people from other areas, like politics, but I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

"Generations of zealots have tacked these words up on various walls, never noticing that the two systems that run the modern world – markets and democracies — are working right precisely when they defeat these attempted hijackings by small groups." Indeed, democracy is the dictatorship of the majority. Markets, democracies and similar systems drown out the voice of individuals and smaller groups. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation and on how you look at it. But let's not pretend it's solely something good.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-09 10:23:31   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Justified and ancient

As seen on Slashdot... this quote in a thread about Latin:

I also feel there may, in some sense, be an added benefit, which manifests in a variety of ways, some obvious and some far more subtle, to be gained from the study of a language, even a language which is no longer current, vernacular or in any sense idiomatic, from which not only are a great many of the present day languages of Europe clear derivatives, but which was also the nearest thing to a universal language for many centuries, in which it would be, were that language to be more widely used today, considered entirely reasonable to construct sentences of great structural complexity, far beyond that displayed in current English, containing a range of subsidiary clauses, embedded phrases, hypothetical diversions and clearly structured formations such as the dreaded Ablative Absolute, with the consequent benefit of a remarkable precision in the expression of far more complex constructs in a single structural unit than might be possible in a language tending towards a shorter, more atomic, style of construction.

This sentence is probably funny to anyone who had Latin in school, because this is exactly what translations looked like... really long run-on sentences. Sentences in Latin texts often get really long (although they don't look that long, since Latin tends to be shorter than modern European languages), and produce translations like the text above. What was worse is that we pretty much had to learn those translations by heart for the exams. emoticon:bonk

Translated Greek tended to be somewhat shorter, if I recall correctly. It's been a while...

Back then, it didn't seem very useful to learn Latin and ancient Greek, since they are dead languages. Looking back, I think the usefulness is not in using the languages themselves, but in the "side effects" of learning them.

First of all, after having studied those grammars, modern languages like French, English, Spanish and German are a piece of cake. (OK, maybe not German... :-) I took a year of Spanish in college; it was really simple after 5 years of Latin. Not only because many words look alike, but also because many things are just simpler in Spanish. For example, adjectives in Spanish can take 4 possible forms (male singular, female singular, male plural, female plural). In Latin, they can potentially take 36 different forms (3 declensions * 3 genders * 6 cases). 1) Even taking into account that some forms look alike, there are still quite a few variants.

Second, translating Greek or Latin is not easy. It forces you to carefully read the sentence (which is probably long and likely has a number of sub-sentences), look up unfamiliar words, grok the specific meaning of those words (often based on word ending), analyze what the overall sentence means, and come up with an accurate translation in Dutch (English, etc). All this while taking into account other factors like dialects, people's peculiar usage of words, expressions, styles... People unfamiliar with this might laugh at the fact that during a Latin class, we often only completed a handful of sentences... but that illustrates how difficult it is.

This seemingly pointless exercise (taking great pains to translate 2000+ year old texts in a dead language) teaches you to *think* differently. It cultivates an analytical and carefully reasoning mind, which is useful in lots of other areas. I don't think it's bad for a programmer either. :-)

A good introductory text is Wheelock's Latin.

1) Note that I am not familiar with the English words for some of these terms, so I may have them wrong... in Dutch, it's declinatie, geslacht, naamval. And yes, there are technically more than 3 declensions, but let's keep it simple, eh? :-)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-08 22:55:13   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

My RSS does not validate

...again. (Apparently people actually press that button. :-) Culprits are HTML entities like ° and ü and such. I'm pretty sure this post will only add to the problem.

RSS aggregators don't seem to have a problem with it, but the feed validator does. Dumb questions:

1. Why aren't characters like ° allowed? (The answer would probably be something like, "Because an RSS file is XML and not HTML, you moron." Or maybe, "Use something better than RSS 0.91, you doofus.")

2. What would be a good way to deal with these? Should I convert them to something? If so, to what? Update: I wrapped CDATA around the descriptions, that seems to solve it. At least the validator is happy now. ^_^

In related news, I also plan to add an Atom feed to Firedrop. When I have time. I'm currently a bit busy. (Doing what? Hacking Python code, studying Groovy and Swing, trying to make uncooperative Java software work, compiling Python extensions with MinGW, writing SWIG files, etc. All this is work, not personal projects, otherwise the list would include hacking on Firedrop.)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-01 11:17:18   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Lekker weertje

Not much of a winter here... 77°F today (25°C), when it's freezing in most of the US (and Europe -- hmm, snow in Greece and Turkey?).

Of course, that could change overnight. And probably will... for example, the forecast for Wednesday is 54° during the day and 24° at night. Brrr...

Posted by Hans "better get my eiderdown out again" Nowak on 2004-01-26 17:52:49   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general


"STFU! I was ROTFL when I saw the NZ link on /. was totally FUBAR. I couldn't even RTFA!" (as seen on Slashdot)

My obligatory and short ROTK review... Yesterday we went to see the movie. (Yes, everybody else probably saw it weeks ago, but I was on holiday, or something like that.)

IMHO, the movie is good, but doesn't reach the heights of the previous two. With The Cat in the Hat, I was waiting for it to become funny, and with ROTK, I was waiting for that one moment that would be especially touching, or amazing, or surprising, or impressive. Such a moment didn't come. Sure, there is plenty of good stuff, but nothing to get my adrenaline pumping. Possibly because we've seen it all in the first two episodes.

Nice special effects and CGI: Minas Tirith, the mûmakil, dragons, eagles. And Shelob of course, although I had imagined her to be blacker, darker. Gollum is cool too, but we've seen him in part 2 already.

Like with the first two parts, ROTK-the-movie doesn't follow the book very well. A bad case of artist's impression, I guess. People already pointed out the omission of the Scouring of the Shire, with Saruman. For other discrepancies, see the summary of the book.

All in all, a good movie, but not as impressive as I thought it would be. emoticon:michel

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-07 19:58:46   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general

Back (3)

Being back in the Netherlands was quite a culture shock. All houses close together. Narrow little roads with lots of traffic. Weird traffic rules, and lots of constructs to pester car owners. Stores close at night and on Sundays (and holidays). ...All very different from my current situation in the US.

I'm not saying all these things are bad -- a 24-hour economy is nice for consumers, for example (bored at 3 AM? go to Wal-Mart or Denny's) but not so nice for people who are forced to work nightshifts at minimum wages. The obnoxious traffic rules protect pedestrians and people riding bikes. And so on. The point is, that the US (or at least this part of it) is a *very* different society from the Netherlands, and it comes with different rules, and different ideas about what is acceptable.

I really missed Dutch food. But as my luck would have it, I got sick, and lost my appetite, causing me to eat tiny bits of things and be full. Maybe next time I can sample more food and have a frikandel, or a kroket, gehaktbal and so on. Soda has a different taste too, probably because over there it isn't loaded with potassium and sodium benzoate. And chocolate, and drop, and borrelnoten... emoticon:kwijl

The trip itself was terrible. A 2 hour drive to Orlando, wait for several hours at the airport, 7h40 hour flight (and 9h45 back), 2.5 hour car drive from Schiphol... and then a nice jet lag. For some strange reason, security wasn't very strict when going from Orlando to Amsterdam, but it was when coming back. (To the point of being ridiculous... what's the point of checking your carry-on luggage three separate times? And why do you have to go through a metal detector when you come *out* of the plane in Orlando?)

The difference in temperature was, uh, interesting too... in the Netherlands it was freezing, sometimes snowing... but when we got back in Orlando, it was around 80°F. Hmm, maybe I won't need that sweater and thick coat anytime soon...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-06 18:11:10   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: general, Nederland

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