A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: June 2005

Bush's Iraq Speech: Long On Assertion, Short On Facts

Generally sound post-speech analysis: Bush’s Iraq Speech: Long On Assertion, Short On Facts

Fun powers of 10

Freakonomics error?

I’m pretty sure that this Freakonomics article is in error. Previously, Steven Levitt estimated that the odds are about 10,000 to 1 against being arrested for soliciting in Chicago. But here he marvels at an unlucky patron who was arrested twice in the span of about a week. It was Marilyn vos Savant who pointed out that, although flipping a coin ten times and getting ten heads was as likely as any other permutation, if you did see ten heads in a row, you should be suspicous of the coin. Similarly, I suspect what happened here is that the odds are stacked against those whom the Chicago police target for solicitation: if you look at the pictures, they seem prima facie to more likely be people of color or less well-to-do than average; I suspect the real bad luck in this case was to be born black, poor and female (or transgendered).

Tiger burning bright

I’ve just installed Tiger — Mac OS 10.4.1. Things seem pretty stable right now. I really like Spotlight, the full text search feature, although I would really appreciate it if Apple would document the search syntax. The Dashboard doesn’t thrill me, although I am posting this to my weblog through a Dashboard widget.

By the way, I will continue posting only ever so often; my father is ill and has taken a turn for the worse.

ILC 2005

I attended the 2005 International Lisp Conference at Stanford, and presented a paper (abstract; the whole thing) on our work at NASA on using Lisp as the substrate of our autonomy software, Apex. I was surprised that the conference lasted for four days. But it made more sense once I arrived: I think people who like Lisp feel somewhat embattled, and this conference is an opportunity to lick wounds and recuperate and not feel the need to justify the use of a nearly 50-year old language. Speaking as an amateur sociologist, I noticed the following groups:

  • The Old Guard and Pioneers. The premiere pioneer was John McCarthy himself, the inventor of Lisp. But there were a number of people who have used Lisp for decades.
  • The Ex-Lispers. These are people who are use to use Lisp, maybe even love Lisp, but don’t use it anymore. For some reason, several of these folks were plenary speakers. The premier example here is Richard Gabriel.
  • The Young Turks. There is definitely a new generation of younger programmers who love Lisp, and want to see it succeed. Some of them use Lisp on the job; some don’t. Many have weblogs. I could be wrong, but not many of these folks were giving papers. Good example: Peter Seibel, author of a new Lisp book, Practical Common Lisp.
  • The Corporate Reps. Franz Inc. was well-represented at the conference; there was only on LispWorks employee attending. In the talks I attended, Franz’s Allegro Common Lisp was the most frequently used implementation.
  • The Wispers. These are folks who like Lisp, but really don’t do much with it, but generally wish they could. ILC 2005 was basically a vacation for them.
  • The Academes. These are people who are using Lisp to create software in academic and research settings; or who are Lisp theorists. Some of these are Old Guard, of course. Will Clinger, who talked about Common Larceny, comes to mind. And yours truly, of course. Plus several Europeans.
  • The Yeomen. These were people who use Lisp to write large-scale projects used by thousands or even millions of people, or that have a significant, or even huge, impact on the world. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone weren’t many like this.

The other sociological observation: not counting Franz employees, there was only one woman attendee.

AERCam lives!

Michael Hannemann sent me a pointer to a New Scientist article about the newest version of the AERCam, a spherical space camera for inspection tasks.

Speaking of ex-co-workers, here’s a photo of John Wiseman and me at the International Lisp Conference (ILC2005). John is the cool looking guy with the ‘burns. I’m the nose on the right.

Bird Flu Drug Rendered Useless

Bird Flu Drug Rendered Useless (writes the Washington Post) because farmers used an antiviral meant for humans on chickens. Aargh!

Adults can be retrained to learn second languages more easily, says UCL scientist

Adults can be retrained to learn second languages more easily, says UCL scientist (via Mirabilis.ca). This looks encouraging; still, it’s a small study–the study showed that a study of 63 Japanese ESL students were able to increase their perception of the r/l distinction in English by 18% after 10 sessions. Still, the r/l distinction is notoriously difficult (even native speakers of English end up going for ‘speech therapy’ to learn how to produce the r/l distinction). The researchers were trying to show plasticity in the brain’s ability in speech perception; of course, learning a second language is much, much more than sound production and recognition.

Conversing with Computers

I just ran across this NASA article about the software I helped develop for them at a previous employer: CONVERSING WITH COMPUTERS.

Kimber Shoop

Here’s a picture of Kimber Shoop, who played the child who grew up to be William Hurt’s character in Broadcast News.

But, honest. What are you supposed to say when they keep talking about your looks? I don’t even know what they mean — “Beat them off with a stick.”