Aug 022009

Someone wrote to me about inkblots. Apparently, the topic has become hot, in response to the decision by Wikipedia editors to make the Rorschach blots available online. Attempts by some to suppress this information using, among other things, questionable copyright claims, are of a distinctively Scientologist flavor (made all the more curious by Scientology’s rejection of conventional psychoanalysis.) They do have a point, though… the validity of the test could be undermined if test subjects were familiar with the inkblots and evaluation methods. On the other hand, one cannot help but wonder why such an outdated test is still being used in daily practice. It certainly gives credence to those who consider psychoanalysis a pseudoscience.

I am also wondering… suppose I build a sophisticated software system with optical pattern recognition, associative memory, and a learning algorithm. Suppose the software is buggy, and I wish to test it. Would I be testing it by running the recognition program on meaningless symmetric patterns? The behavior of the system would be random, but perhaps not completely so; it may be a case of ordered chaos with a well defined attractor. Would running the recognition program on a few select images reveal anything about that attractor? Would it reveal enough information to determine reliably if the attractor differs from whatever would be considered “normal”?

More importantly, do practitioners of the Rorschach test know about chaos dynamics and do they have the correct (mathematical, computer) tools to analyze their findings?

I am also wondering how such a test could be conceivably normalized to account for differences in life experience (or, to use my software system example, for differences in the training of the learning algorithm) but I better shut up now before my thoughts turn into opinionated rantings about a subject that I know precious little about.

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Jun 252009

A few days ago, I upgraded to Skype 4.

I use Skype for overseas telephone calls a lot. I also call a few people occasionally using Skype-to-Skype. And, every once in a while, I use it to chat with people.

I have heard bad things about Skype 4 so I was not in a hurry to upgrade. But when, the other day, the software notified me that a major upgrade is available, I decided to give it a try.

Wish I didn’t.

The installation completed successfully, and Skype worked fine, but… well, it’s best if I just quote a few sentences from Skype’s own Web site where the new version was announced:

  • Skype 4.0 should certainly participate in the worst software redesign conquest.
  • Worst interface ever created for Skype and i’ve been using it ever since the 1st beta. Please dump this garbage
  • Skype 4.0 has an extreme ugly layout.
  • The UI of version 4 is a terrible disappointment. No matter how I tweak, it still consumes more screen real-estate than version 3 did.
  • Who are you people and what were you thinking when you released this kludge.
  • Skype 4.0.x is PAINFUL and FRUSTRATING TO USE.
  • I think this is the ‘vista’ of skype releases.
  • What where you thinking. Did you guys outsource? This version has all the hallmarks of a design by committee.
  • I truly do not like the new 4.0 version! I’ve tried it for a week, hoping to get used to it, and i’m just left cursing. I am reverting because…

I share these sentiments. This morning, I gave up and downgraded to the 3.8 version. Which is working fine, as always.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm
May 312009

I’ve been learning a lot about Web development these days: Dojo and Ajax, in particular. It’s incredible what you can do in Javascript nowadays, sophisticated desktop applications running inside a Web browser. I am spending a lot of time building a complex prototype application that has many features associated with desktop programs, including graphics, pop-up dialogs, menus, and more.

I’ve also been learning a lot about the intricacies Brans-Dicke gravity and about the parameterized post-Newtonian (PPN) formalism. Brans-Dicke theory is perhaps the simplest modified gravity theory that there is, and I have to explain to someone why the gravity theory that I spend time working on doesn’t quite behave like Brans-Dicke theory. In the process, I find out things about Brans-Dicke theory that I never knew.

And, I’ve also been doing a fair bit of SCPI programming this month. SCPI is a standardized way for computers to talk to measurement instrumentation, and an old program I wrote used to use a non-standard way… not anymore.

Meanwhile, in all the spare time that I’ve left, I’ve been learning Brook+, a supercomputer programming language based on C… that is because my new test machine is a supercomputer, sort of, with its graphics card that doubles as a numeric vector processor capable in theory of up to a trillion single precision floating point instructions per second… and nearly as many in practice, in the test programs that I threw at it.

I’m also learning a little more about the infamous cosmological constant problem (why is the cosmological constant at least over 50 orders magnitude too small but not exactly zero?) and about quantum gravity.

As I said in the subject… busy days. Much more fun though than following the news. Still, I did catch in the news that Susan Boyle lost in Britains Got Talent… only because an amazing dance group won:

 Posted by at 3:07 am
Jan 272009

Long before blogs, long before the Web even, there was an Internet and people communicated via public forums (fora?), Usenet foremost among them.

Yet I stopped using Usenet about a decade ago. Here is a good example as to why. Excerpts from an exchange:

You will have more success on Usenet if you learn and follow the normal Usenet posting conventions.

About posting conventions: where did I stray from them? I do indeed want to respect the list rules.

Have a look at <>

Got it: thanks.

You failed to appropriately quote the message that you are responding to. See the FAQ and the more detailed explanation of posting style that it links to. Then, if the explanation provided is not sufficiently clear, ask for clarification.

I am afraid that you have not yet ‘got it’. You have gone from not quoting the message you are responding to, to top-posting and failing to appropriately trim the material that you are quoting.

If you had been told what you did wrong, that would, hopefully, eliminate one class of error from your future posts. You were told where to read about conventions, which *should* eliminate *all* of the well-known errors.

You are forgiven if you thought that the thread from which I excerpted these snotty remarks was about Usenet’s “netiquette”. But it wasn’t. It was all in response to a very polite and sensible question about ways to implement a destructor in JavaScript.

I guess my views are rather clear on the question as to which people harm Usenet more: those who stray from flawless “netiquette”, or those who feel obliged to lecture them. I have yet to understand why it is proper “netiquette” to flood a topic with such lectures¬† instead of limiting responses to the topic at hand, and responding only when one actually knows the answer. I guess that would be too helpful, and helping other people without scolding them is not proper “netiquette”?

 Posted by at 1:31 pm