Monday, April 4, 2016

Style guide style guide

After looking over Google's style guide for shell scripting, I feel like I need to write up what should be obvious: the style guide for style guides. It's a common failing of coder culture that we think it's best to try to write style guide documentation as if it were code, being as explicit as possible and catching exceptional conditions where possible.

Unfortunately, the audience is not a computer, it's a programmer, and programmers do many things that computers don't:

  • Ignore large sections of prose
  • Discard the parts they disagree with
  • Become defensive
So, to avoid these problems, here are some simple guidelines along with examples from the Google document.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Choosing a Unicode PIN

PINs (not "PIN number," please) are often chosen poorly. Among the most common PINs are "0000" and "1234"... in fact over 10% of PINs are 1234, seriously?! Your pin doesn't have to be weapons-grade-cryptography ready (it can't be, anyway) but it should be less guessable than Mel Brooks' luggage combination.

To that end, I present you with a most helpful resource: the Unicode PIN mappings. These are characters from the international Unicode set (the way computers store characters from nearly every language on Earth) that have a four-number representation that you can use in a PIN code. Since many Unicdoe characters either aren't actually characters (things like an umlaut that only have meaning when combined with another character, or "non-printing" characters like a non-breaking space which are used in formatting) I've pared the list down to just the ones that have some basic visual representation. Also, the codes for Unicode characters are most often (and here) represented by what's called "hexadecimal" notation, so I've removed all of the ones that contain letters in that representation.

What you're left with is pure gold for selecting and remembering a non-obvious PIN. If you ever forget your PIN, then a quick Google search for the name of the symbol plus "unicode" will turn it up in no time. A few examples from the big list:

☁ (CLOUD)  2601
☂ (UMBRELLA)  2602
✡ (STAR OF DAVID)  2721

Friday, November 27, 2015

Predicting the future

It's been a common pastime since the first iron was smelted and the first wheel was crafted: human beings like to predict the future of technology.

But how can we predict what will come next? There are actually some pretty simple tools that we can use, and they're not terribly inaccurate. First, stop wishing. Most predictions of the future are based on wishful thinking. Everyone will have a jet pack, we'll all live on clouds and peace will reign... or not.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Some thoughts on TotalBiscuit's cancer

John Bain AKA TotalBiscuit
It's strange that YouTube, as impersonal as it is seems to be, creates what ends up feeling like an intimate relationship with the hosts whose channels I watch. I feel as if I am a part of a family and that these family members come over and hang out with me while I watch TV... only it's them on the TV.

That's what makes today's announcement so hard. John Bain, who is known to the PC video gaming world as reviewer and commentator, TotalBiscuit, developed cancer a while back and it took the wind out of his sails for a while, but he went into remission. Today, we learned that it's back and the form of cancer he has now has a 2-3 year life expectancy and is inoperable.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Eggs ala Ed Bushell

My grandfather, Ed Bushell, used to make eggs for me in the morning. He had an impressive repertoire of recipes, but the one I remember dearly and have attempted to replicate and improve on is probably the simplest as well. It's simply poached eggs on toast, but I find that surprisingly few people know how to make a good poached egg. So here's what I do. You can put one egg on toast or two (I find that two eggs on one piece of toast is the perfect breakfast).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Understanding sleep sort: for everyone!

This is an experiment, and I invite everyone to participate, no matter whether you are a programmer or think computers are only useful for reading email. This article is about sorting. In computer science, sorting is not really all that different from every day life. You get some collection of things and you want to put them in order. There must be a way of comparing any two things and understanding what order they belong in. So, if you want to sort grapefruits by size, you can compare any two grapefruits and determine that one is bigger, smaller or the same size as another. Everything else falls out of this, and every time a computer sorts your mail or the messages on Facebook or anything else, it's comparing two items at a time.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dear Father, a response regarding Freemasonry and the Catholic Church

In a recent article on The St. Louis Review, Msgr. Matthew Mitas wrote a "Dear Father" column that responded to a question about Freemasonry for Catholics. While I certainly grant that it is his and his Church's right to view Freemasonry however they like, and to set the rules for their membership, I do feel that some of the article is just absurdly wrong about Freemasonry, and needs to be challenged on that basis.