Japanese Addresses: ways of thinking

Recently I was rereading Joel Spolsky’s introduction to distributed version control, Hg Init. (To be precise, it’s an introduction to Mercurial, but it also functions fairly well as an introduction to git or to distributed version control in general.) Of course, Joel is writing about this partly because he built a product around it, so he has something to sell, but Hg Init isn’t commercial.

Anyway, Joel’s tutorial begins with some reeducation for people used to other forms of version control, notably Subversion (svn). To illustrate different ways of thinking, different ways of looking at the same problem, he uses the example of Japanese and American addresses. The same problem — uniquely identifying buildings — is solved in notably different ways in Japan and the US. In the west, we think in terms of streets; Japan thinks in terms of blocks. A different conceptual model.



Vi Hart, Spongebob, Fibonacci numbers, lack of bilateral symmetry in pineapples, and climbing snails


Vi Hart announced that pineapples have Fibbonacci spirals, not bilateral symmetry, and therefore the pineapple house in Spongebob Squarepants is inaccurate.

And so the series designer, Kenny P., decided to redesign the set. Cool, huh?

Meanwhile, the snail which had appeared as a supporting character in Vi Hart’s Spongebob videos went on to a staring role:

And it only gets more epic from there:

(Even CGP Grey says it’s epic, in the comments.)

Meanwhile, back on the subject of Fibbonacci numbers (and Lucas numbers):

Simple rules: complex consequences. It’s wonderful.


TLS why; just, why?

So there’s this handy service called TLS check, which will scan a site for various security vulnerabilities. A useful tool. TLS is “transport layer security”, and is the protocol which underlies a lot of the secure stuff on the Internet. TLS check scans for security on both the web and e-mail services.

Here’s their logo.

TLS check logo: shows the text "TLS check" and a silhouette of a sexily posed woman


Why? Just, why? Was that really necessary?


Semantic Markup with Markdown

Appearance should be built on semantics. See that text at the top of the page? It doesn’t matter that it’s big; it matters that it’s a header. Whether that’s conveyed to you by larger type or a different voice tone or some other means, whatever is accessible to you, is beside the point: it’s a header.

And yet the tools we use to compose often distract from that. (I use the visual editor in WordPress myself, most of the time.) The Editorially blog here waxes lyrical on the use of Markdown, which they suggest encorages the use of semantic markup by making it easy to use. I’m not sure I entirely agree that non-technical users would be at home with Markdown, but it’s still an interesting read.


Google Glass: Privacy, Surveillance, Technology, Data

Google’s new product, Glass, will enable secret video recording.

Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.

Recorded video will be stored not on users’ own computers, but in Google’s data-centres. With Google’s excellent technology, indexing such videos using face recognition and voice transcription many not be too far behind. And who will have access to that data?

This is, of course, one of those things that, in general, matters far more to the margenilised  (who are often poor) than it does to the early adopters (who, in the case of this expensive product, must be rich). And so, as ever, the concerns of the margenalised are not heard in the public debate.

Someone in Seattle has been deliberately annoying people by videoing them in an intrusive fashion. His actual purpose is unknown (he’s anonymous), but it seems he’s trying to make a point:

In most cases, people become agitated and tell him to stop. That’s when the cameraman makes his point: Cameras are everywhere already. This one just happens to be held by a person instead of mounted on a wall or traffic light.

That said, surveillance cameras are often not reviewed, and the footage is usually deleted unless there’s a crime to investigate. What will happen with Google Glass footage is anyone’s guess: it probably won’t follow existing proven solutions.

One possiblitity, of course, is strong social shaming of people who use such technology. Physical assault is probably going a bit too far, though it has been attempted.

I mentioned recently that I am mystified by right-wingers. One of our many points of difference is that they’re more scared of powerful government, and I’m more scared of powerful corporations. Governments are scary too, but at least we get a chance to vote on them. Monopolies, less so.

And monopolies really are a problem. Putting all surveillance into the hands of the “authorities” (be they the police, transport authorities, or simply business owners) isn’t safe either. Citizen recording of police action has helped out in more than one incident of violent assault by police officers, and CCTV footage does have a tendency to go missing when it shows police in a bad light. Steve Mann refers to this citizen check on authorities’ actions as sousveillance, and he does have a point. So where does, and where should, the power ballance lie?


Python trademark attacked

Python is an interesting programming language which I’m interested in learning. (It has some awesome features.) It has a long history in programming terms, having been first released to the world in 1991. It is released under a GPL-compatible Open Source and Free Software license.

And now it’s under attack:

There is a company in the UK that is trying to trademark the use of the term “Python” for all software, services, servers… pretty much anything having to do with a computer.

If you work for an EU company which uses Python, you can help. Please do.


Writing Signs (in Unicode)

Here’s a little article I wrote a while ago about signed languages, and the various efforts that have been used to make them writable. Sutton SignWriting is probably the most interesting. I have learned it a little (a very little). There is an interesting project to get Sutton SignWriting encoded into the Unicode specification, but nothing’s happened yet. The Unicode roadmap has left room for SignWriting, but the specific project Binary SignWriting has not yet been accepted. Trying to represent a complex script like Sutton SignWriting in Unicode is actually quite difficult.

Here’s an example of two Haikus translated into British Sign Language, with annotation. And here’s David Frost explaining why Sutton SignWriting is important.