January 26, 2006

Lucky to be alive

My friend and coworker, Steve Wallace, recently started a blog documenting his recent and very serious head-on collision. He posted photos of his truck that leave you shaking your head in wonder.

The Orange Button, er, Link

Mark Nottingham updated his "RSS" buttons to say "feed." I agreed with his earlier argument that "XML" was the wrong label, and I also agree that styled text is better than a graphic. Fortunately, you can have both. On our current project, we've gone to styled HTML that includes the Firefox feed icon, like this:

The HTML looks like this:

<a class="subscribeLink" href="/index.xml">Subscribe</a>

The CSS looks like this:

    color: #f76900;
    font-weight: bold;
    padding-left: 18px;
    margin-right: 5px;
    background-image: url(/images/feed-icon16x16.png);
    background-position:left center; 

January 21, 2006

Fair & Balanced? I'll take Accurate, thanks.

NPR logo Some friends and coworkers of mine prefer to get their news from Fox News. Me? I'd rather listen to NPR, with Morning Edition and All Things Considered being the typical soundtrack for my drive to and from work.

Well, I found out today (although the study is a couple years old) that, although it may have the feeling of "truthiness", Fox viewers are [PDF 311kb] demonstrably ill-informed on important issues. How well-informed are NPR listeners? Read the study and find out.

Naked Singles

The Naked Single is just one of many sudoku-solving techniques. (What did you think I was referring to?) Other cleverly-named techniques include X-Wing and Swordfish.

Jen bought me a book of sudoku puzzles back when our friends, Kim and Tim, were visiting. (It was a very quiet visit!) After solving a couple puzzles using pencil and paper, I felt compelled to write some code (JavaScript).

At first, I attempted to solve the puzzles strictly by logic, but ran out of patience before I could solve all of the "fiendish" level puzzles. I finally punted and added a final, brute-force, try-all-candidates recursive function.

There are a lot of sudoku solving programmers out there, and a wide array of approaches, from the obfuscated, four-line Perl solver to the JavaScript-based Sudoku Solver by Logic, that gives you a nice blow-by-blow description of how to solve the puzzle.

I wonder what the process of creating sudoku puzzles is like. Do the puzzle masters have methods of intentionally designing a puzzle for a particular skill level, or do they start with random solutions and then sort them by difficulty level?


January 15, 2006

Lexxe (alpha)

A search engine that answers short questions, based on content it has indexed in web pages. It's certainly a more useful experience than Ask Jeeves has ever been.


I guess this game is what passes for fun science education for the Intelligent Design crowd. It teaches kids that good scientists should shoot their critics -- but after distorting their arguments, of course. Oh, and the Discovery Institute's critics are evil giant pandas from outer space.


January 9, 2006

Best. Christmas present. Ever.

Jen, Jorge, and John all chipped in and gave me the Boe-Bot kit, based on the BASIC Stamp II microprocessor. I put it together in a short afternoon and, following the tutorial, had it programmed to follow a flashlight beam, hide in shadows, turn a series of 90° angles, etc. It was too much fun!

What I appreciate most about it -- over the more expensive VEX kit -- is that you learn a lot about the electronic circuitry in the process of building it, and you can immediately start programming it to navigate autonomously. Plugging LEDs, capacitors, and resistors into the breadboard took me back to my teen years when I used to desolder old radios and try, TRY, to build stuff with the parts.

Of course, my audience was a tough one to please.

Madeleine: "Daddy, can you build us a baby sister?"

Carter: "Dad, let's make a flying robot!

Patience, kids. Daddy has to learn how to make a cockroach robot first.


January 6, 2006

A Bright Loser

That's me!

Well, if Charlie's a loser too, then I'm in good company. :-)