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David Kramer's high-entropy blog

Nominate A Robot For The Robot Hall Of Fame

The Robot Hall Of Fame is a Carnegie Mellon University project.

The School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University established the Robot Hall of Fame to honor landmark achievements in robotics technology and the increasing contributions of robots to human endeavors.  Two categories of robots are honored in the Robot Hall of Fame: Robots from Science and Robots from Science Fiction

They are currently accepting nominations for new inductee robots.  At the head of the pack right now is my personal favorite, Bender Bending Rodriguez from Futurama (yes, I voted for him.  Bite my shiny mettal a**.)  However, I found this entry quite intriguing.  This is an actual mechanical robot automaton from the 18th century that looks like a man, but can draw several complicated drawings and reproduce a few poems.  All mechanically.  Fascinating!  The website at The Franklin Institute has videos of it working and its output, as well as its complex history.

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A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages

Honestly, I lost where I got this link from.  Maybe Slashdot.  But it’s brilliant in its snarkiness and honesty at the same time.  From James Iry’s blog, One Div Zero, I bring you A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages.

A few of my favorite entries on his list to tempt you:

  • 1842 – Ada Lovelace writes the first program. She is hampered in her efforts by the minor inconvenience that she doesn’t have any actual computers to run her code. Enterprise architects will later relearn her techniques in order to program in UML.
  • 1970 – Niklaus Wirth creates Pascal, a procedural language. Critics immediately denounce Pascal because it uses “x := x + y” syntax instead of the more familiar C-like “x = x + y”. This criticism happens in spite of the fact that C has not yet been invented.
  • 1972 – Dennis Ritchie invents a powerful gun that shoots both forward and backward simultaneously. Not satisfied with the number of deaths and permanent maimings from that invention he invents C and Unix.

If you’re more interested in actual facts (that’s crazy talk!), there’s The Programming Languages Genealogy Project, and The History Of Programming Languages.

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Reducing Your Web Page Load Time With CSS Sprites

I knew about this technique in a general way but found an article through Digg that really explained it well.  This article not only does a great overview, it also links to several other great articles on the subject, like this one.

CSS Sprites is a technique borrowed from video games.  If you’ve got several small images you want to appear in the same spot and change based on some JavaScript event (hover, onclick, or really any other event), instead of using several separate .GIF files, put all the images into one file in a grid pattern, and using CSS’s background-position attribute to move the visible portion of the image around from one virtual image to the other.

The result is a dramatic decrease in the number of HTTP requests required to display the page.  And the combined image takes up less space than the sum of the individual images, due to header and color map information.

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Boston College Police Think Using Linux Is Suspicious Behavior

From Slashdot: This article tells of how a search warrant was granted simply because this student was running some alternate operating system they didn’t understand.  They suspected an email was sent from his computer which defamed a fellow student.  But instead of handling it as a disciplinary matter, they’re getting all Brazil on his a**.

“The Boston College Campus Police have seized the electronics of a computer science student for allegedly sending an email outing another student. The probable cause? The search warrant application states that he is ‘a computer science major’ and he uses ‘two different operating systems for hiding his illegal activity. One is the regular B.C. operating system and the other is a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on.’ The EFF is currently representing him.”

I saw a report on this on the news, which said they took every electronic device he owns, including is ipod (an infamous hacking tool, donchaknow.), his computer, and his cell phone.  He’s a Computer Sicence major, so he now has no way of completing his schoolwork.  And he lost his job at the computer lab.

This is a great combination of “Fear of the unknown” and “Shoot first, ask questions later”. Book burning at its finest.  If I were him, I would sue the school for the entire year’s tuition which will now go to waste, missed salary from his job at the lab, the replacement costs for all they took, and a big dollop for mental anguish from having his name dirtied with no evidence.

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Eating Your Own Semantic Web Dog Food

I was heavily involved in semantic web, ontologies, and natural language processing in my last company.  I was supposed to work on that in my current company. In other words, I’ve been following this stuff for a while.  The realization I came to is that, while it would be cool if everyone added all this metadata to their content on the Internet, and the cylons could take care of complex tasks for us automatically, like “Book me a room in a hotel near the Hynes Convention Center next Friday through Sunday with one queen size bed, bill it to my Visa card, and send the confirmation email to my Blackberry”, it’s not going to happen.  The simple truth is it’s a lot more work than most content creators think is worthwhile, and adding metadata to existing content is nigh impossible.  Just to save some businessman about an hour poking around the Internet for hotel recommendations and booking a room. Read on…

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Networking Topology Of The Day

Driving to work today, I passed this one-floor house that was pretty wide.  I saw an ethernet cable running out the window at the end of one side of the house, tacked along the wall, going up over the front door, then all the way into a window on the other end of the house.

I needed the chuckle.  I’ll try to get a picture.

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