Archive for April, 2002

Like SimCity, only boring

Monday, April 29th, 2002

From the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation comes Virtual University, a computer game that lets you practice being a University president.

C programming is good for you

Sunday, April 28th, 2002

From Embedded Systems Magazine: Instruction Set Simulation in C.

I’ve given an assignment like this several times in compiler design and computer architecture courses, and always thought that it helped fix some basic concepts in students’ minds. I also thought it was a lot of fun, but I may be the only one.

Don’t use me as a guide to “fun” — I once wrote an assembler in Perl.

When students complained about the assignment, I would tell them I once read that Bill Gates wrote the first version of Microsoft BASIC with an 8080 simulator on a PDP-10. The CS department at CSUF being a Microsoft shop, this went over well.

From a pedagogical standpoint, the assignment forced students to finally confront the difference between a binary 0 and the ASCII character ‘0′, an apparently subtle distinction that had, to this point, eluded many.

We’re talking Juniors and Seniors in Computer Science who hadn’t yet caught on to a fairly fundamental bit of computer knowledge. I like to think of this part of my career as having performed a public service.

One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me

Friday, April 26th, 2002

Rael Dornfest describes this site as wonderful tomfoolery.

Why I may start reading more Science Fiction, or What the RIAA Doesn’t Understand

Saturday, April 20th, 2002

Having been the victim of entirely too much bad science fiction in my life, I find myself hesitant to read new authors. Every time I go to the bookstore I wander through the SF aisle and look, but rarely find anything compelling enough to pick up.

Don’t get me wrong, some SF is real literature. If you don’t believe me, try Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy. (Don’t stop at the first book, read the whole original trilogy, but feel free to skip the rest of the franchise.) And Orson Scott Card is worth reading because when he’s good, he’s really good. (He’s also really bad from time to time.)

I suspect all that’s going to change, due to the Baen Free Library. Author Eric Flint gets it. Quoting from his introduction to the Library,

Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

…We expect this Baen Free Library to make us money by selling books.

This is what the RIAA doesn’t get about services like Gnutella and the old Napster. While it may be true that college students are stealing music, the rest of us are buying more. Personally, the only thing I hate more than bad SF is buying a CD because I liked a single that I heard on the radio, only to find out that I really don’t like the rest of the album.

Generally what happens is:

  1. I hear a song on the radio that I like
  2. I download that song and a couple of other tracks by the same artist from Gnutella
  3. If I like the music, I pick up a couple of the artist’s CDs the next time I go to Borders or Tower Records.

And the best part is that I end up buying albums that never would have occurred to me otherwise. In the last year, I’ve bought CDs by Portishead, Beth Orton, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Weezer, Moby, and Alice in Chains, every single one of them after listening to MP3s.

And I’m not the only one. I’ve observed this behavior in most of my friends. If the RIAA are too dense/narrow-minded/stupid/greedy to figure this out, eventually they’ll be replaced by a sensible business model.

Eric Flint is right. I’m going to read one of his books on my Palm, and if I like it I’m going to go buy some.

An Exercise in Inadequacy

Sunday, April 14th, 2002

Feeling smug? Check out Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age to see what you could have accomplished if you hadn’t been reading weblogs.

A tip for Google API experimenters

Friday, April 12th, 2002

Check out Jython and use the Java API docs. Not only is Python a nicer language, but you can leave out the “get” and “set”. Place googleapi.jar in your jre/lib/ext directory and try the following:

engine =
engine.key = '00000000000000000000000'
engine.queryString = 'google api'
answer = engine.doSearch()
for result in answer.resultElements:
    print result.URL

(Replace 000… with your key)

Much nicer.

Google API

Friday, April 12th, 2002

Get ready, here comes some amazing stuff: Google has released an API for their search engine, so that you can write programs that make queries without pretending to be a web browser and screen-scraping the results.

Dave Winer and others are already hard at work on brand new applications. Rael Dornfest has already written an article with a demo.

More practically, this means that I’ll probably be working on my own “Google toolbar” for Linux.