Sound advice - altblog

Tales from the homeworld

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Fri, 2006-Feb-10

QuickBraille

Dear ,

If word recognition is based around seeing the first and last letters of a word, then the random jumble of letters in-between, couldn't braile reading be made faster by placing the first and last letters of each word at known locations (under specific fingers) while the rest are scanned by different fingers (perhaps on another hand)?

How do work, anyway?

Sincerely, Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Aug-20

1 Crest Avenue

It looks like Michael Ellerman has been visiting the town where I grew up. I lived in Nowra until I was about thirteen just here, right on the corner of that avenue. I'm fairly suspicious that isn't the house I grew up in. I recall a tin roof, which was flat. My family used to climb up there to watch the fireworks of the Norwa Show. The park I used to play in is just directly to the north, then further north across the road is my primary school. Still on my block and this time at the far western edge is the church my family attended, the Norwa church of christ. Because of its proximity to the school we had after-school care and outreach in the building for some time during the year.

Further south is the bushland I played in as a child. You can see the southern fork of Crest Avenue turn into a bit of a goat's track, then a path leading back west. I'm not sure (it might have been a little further north and not visible on this shot) but I suspect that is the path my siblings and I mostly kept to. There was a stream running across it at one point, quite a nice place to hang out when you're ten. One time I even found a path the headed further south and landed me on the golf course.

Within the school grounds is a marker for the highest point in the district. We were well clear of the floods that tended to cause a boat of some historical significance to float away from time to time. It was tied down near the swimming pool across the bridge.

I spent one year (year 7) at the local high school before my family headed north. Being in an agricultral area the school had a great little farm just to the north-east where we got to see lambs being castrated and grow our own vegitables. It was also involved in a state grants program and was on of the early "Technology" high schools. It seems they've since dropped the T from NTHS. It didn't mean too much, but every subject pretty much had to have some computing element to it. I remember for a school project I built a 3/4 scale model of my home PC out of cardboard and labelled all of the mock chips and isa cards. Unfortunately the thing never booted.

Here is the other pool in the area. This one was used by my primary school. The other was used by my high school. This is where I put my head underwater for the first time, somewhat of a trauma because I had previously had grommets in both ears and was most definately not permitted to do so when the other children learned such things. The field and building to the south were used for a carnival once, as I recall.

Nowra/Bommederry was and I believe still is the end of the train line from Sydney and through Wollongong. I may be wrong, but I think this is the train station. My recollection isn't quite strong enough to be certain but I'm about 80% sure I'm right based on following the roads and what I think is the train line itself. This was the way in and the way out, so there were lots of exciting trips launched and returned from. Anyway, as you can see I'm a bit of a country boy at heart so long as that country is well within reach of a computer. I miss the bush and the family atmosphere even now.

Benjamin

Mon, 2005-Jul-11

Internet esoterica

I really feel part of the internet now that my blog has gotten a hit from a page that had been translated to talk like a pirate yarr.

Benjamin

Thu, 2005-Jul-07

I can see my house from here

While google maps don't yet have street maps for Australia, they do have satellite imagery.

Benjamin

Sun, 2005-Jun-26

del.icio.us

I started to use del.icio.us a few weeks back to store my bookmarks. Most of what I bookmark is technical, and I don't feel any need to keep it secret. In fact, I have the vague hope that it be useful to people who read my blog.

At first I was put off by the pretty basic user interface. The worst UI crime, I think, was a page that I can't find now. It was a several-screen-length piece of prose presented to me as my registration completed that offered at least three apparently-equivalent methods for posting new links as well as going into far too much detail about what the site was about and how it should be run. I just wanted to store my bookmarks in there and I didn't need the aggravation.

That said, I've been quite happy with the effects of del.icio.us so far. Yesterday on IRC someone raised the question of whether you could do GUI programming with python. It was trivial to be able to point them at my PyGTK links. It's also easier to make sure that the bookmarks I have at home are available at work and vice versa.

The main joy for me is that once you're over the initial hump you don't have to deal with the actual web pages too much. The post link is a bit of javascript that jumps you from a page you're looking at to the delcious post with all field except the tags filled out for you. Tags themselves are easy to select from your own list of tags, or the list of suggested tags for the page. I've been struggling a little bit with the other side of things, though, the bookmark lookup.

That changed with the wonders of rss and mozilla. Here's the procedure:

  1. Open your del.icio.us page for a particular tag
  2. Notice the rss button in the lower-right-hand corner of your firefox window
  3. Select "Subscribe to 'RSS feed of ... boookmarks'" (not to tags). This opens a dialogue box.
  4. Cut the name down to something appropriate, say just the tag name
  5. Create in "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder"

Hey, presto you have your bookmarks back in your bookmark folder again. You can even use mozilla's "open in tabs" feature to get to your favourite reference material.

Woot

Benjamin

Sat, 2005-Jun-18

The Nature of Conscious Thought

Philosphers have wondered for millenia about the meaning and nature of conciousness, or specifically of concious thought. As a software developer with no practical experience in congnative science, I thought I'd scratch my own theory together.

The brain seems to be divided into regions that basically each have their own purpose. These regions are connected to each other through a variety of interesting busses and interconntects. Science has followed on the heels of philosophy, searching for the home of consciousness and coming up empty. No particual region of the brain seems to be the home of consciousness. The brain keeps on working just about no matter which parts you knock of out of commission.

There is a fundamental assumption, I think, in the approaches taken so far. They asssume that consciousness is a unit. One that serves the function of thinking, of reasoning. The bit of the brain that really represents "me". I take a different view. It aligns more closely with the idea of conciousness as an emergent phenomenom, but I think is a fair middle road between the two.

I see conscious thought as something we experience. Everything else we experience is a sense, so my reasoning leads me to see conscious thought not as a whole process of rational thought. Instead, I see it as a passive sensory input (for as much as sensory input is passive). I see consciousness as "the sense of what my brain is doing", or "my perception of what I'm thinking".

The sense has its tendrils everywhere. It seems to be connected to everything. Perhaps the connections are made directly, or perhaps it is emergent from the interactions of system busses and interconnects. If I were to guess, I would say that this sense is centralised in the frontal lobe. That's the part of the brain we traditionally associate with inhibition, but perhaps another way of thinking about it is to say that it is the home of the sense that tells our brain it is behaving badly.

When we are drunk, we become disinhibited. We get fuzzy. We become easily confused because we don't know what's going on in our brain. This can become so advanced that we end up with no memory of the night. I see this not as a loss of memory, but primarily as a loss of the sense that would be recorded into memory. We assume we're still conscious because we're still moving around. We're still carrying on conversation, and perhaps sophisticated physical activities. My theory is that the brain doesn't need consciousness to perform those activitites. Consciousness is what closes the loop and lets the brain understand itself, but it is still a passive process. The real thinking and reasoning and acting is an entirely unconscious activity.

We have long been aware of some kind of "sub-conscious". It is most obvious in the reptillian brain that controls our breathing and circulation. We're not aware of the processes. They aren't part of conscious processes. It is harder to define when it comes to sub-conscious thought. We see theories that essentially tell us we have two brains. One does a lot of hard work in the background. The other is the "us". One we train, the other is what does the training. We are arrogant to think that of the two "us"s that we are the thinking and reasoning part. In fact, if we are to divide ourselves into two it is the subconscious that more "us". It is the thinking and active part of our brain. What we have traditionally thought of as consciousness is the combination of our consciousness sense, and the parts of the rest of us that we have sensory "wires" into.

I think that we can have some influence over the connections that are made between the consciousness sense and the reasoning engine of our brain. I think that inhibition is the classic example. We can stop ourselves reasoning in certain ways, if we understand the evil of those ways. We can exercise self-restraint, up to self-censorship. I think that there are some connections we have little control over, though. To examine my own mental processes, I am completely unaware of most vocal processes until the words pop out of my mouth. I'm more of a visual thinker. I'm aware of the reasoning processes that go into the formation of thoughts for speech, but the formation of words I find disturbingly hard to observe of myself. That is not to say they aren't what I mean. Those parts of my brain are well trained, and I don't often find myself saying things I don't mean. I do, however, find myself up in front of a group of people waiting for the words to come. I can't think ahead about what I'm saying, even to the end of my current sentance.

Benjamin

Thu, 2004-Aug-26

A little technical editing...

I haven't gotten much done lately on my little hobby project. I'm in the process of writing up a bit of documentation about what I want to achieve to some level of detail. I'm used to having (ancient versions of) visio and word to develop this kind of documentation with, and it has been a bit of a rude shock trying to get openoffice and relevent diagramming tools to come along to the party. Really. Is it that hard to get a few basic tables and styles functions to work in ways that don't annoy the user population?

The thing that was really holding me up for at least two weekends has been my foray into technical editing. I have reviewed the last few chapters of a book on sqlite for the friendly people at SAMS Publishing. If all goes well and their accouting department can work out how to pay an Australian citizen I should even see a little money for it.

The workload hasn't been too significant. Most of the book (I'm lead to beleive) was already reviewed by Dan Kennedy, a former co-worker of mine who has gone onto fulltime development of sqlite with its principal author D. Richard Hipp. I dipped into perl and python while reviewing the chapters associated with various language interfaces. I even got to review the chapter talking about what changes have taken place in sqlite version three. Fun and interesting stuff. If you read the book and find any technical errors I'll be sure to claim they were in Dan's part ;)

I actually don't know the title of the book, but apparently I'll receive a copy in due course. I hope it isn't too long before printing because the focus is really on sqlite 2.x and 3.x is going to emerge from beta pretty soon methinks. A lot of software that uses sqlite has already made the switch.

Oh well, even if they can't work out how to pay me I like the idea of having a somewhat tangential kind of experience to put on my resume. It's nice to be able to do something different for a while. After all: Those who can't do, teach... and those who can't teach write books... and those who can't write books become book critics... so I'm only two steps away from making an impact on society!

Benjamin

Fri, 2004-Jun-18

Nickelback

I just had to link to this.

Sun, 2004-May-09

A first post

I'm actually a blogger from way back. It's been a long time. I used to do it all the time at uni, about five years ago. I've been inspired by the creation of planet humbug to start putting up a few entries again. Perhaps an old listener or two will tune in again.

I'm not very good at completing things, particularly at the moment. I've been working fairly intensively on work-related things for the past few years, and haven't used the weekends for much but recouperation. This should be understood as a backdrop to anything I say in the next few paragraphs:

I would like to write an accounting package. I've had a passing interest in personal accounting for quite some time and have records stretching back to about 2001. The records I've kept have used Quicken, and old version I picked up in I think 1999. As an open-source zealot who only runs linux on my PC's these days it would be remiss of me not to look at the free alternatives out there.

The current alternatives with the most promise are probably gnucash and kmymoney2. Both have many good points, but don't match some requirements I have for the software and neither appears particularly well-suited from an architectural perspective to adapt to something new.

My requirements are these:

  1. For practical adoption purposes, the software must run under modern Microsoft Windows variants
  2. For idealogical purposes, the software must run on a free software stack. This stack must match a definition of free that permits inclusion into the debian linux distribution
  3. The software must cater to multiple financial jurisdictions, and be built in a modular fashion that allows me to say "I live in Australia" and have it understand my tax system and gaap
  4. The software must provide excellent reporting functionality. It must surpass Quicken and other commercial products
  5. The software must be as easy to use as ms money but as easy to tune as gnucash.
  6. The software must strongly geared towards a future where an application such as itself will be able to contact local banking or financial organisations online to perform online reconciles of bank accounts and to lodge, modify and manage, scheduled (future-dated) transactions to be undertaken on the user's behalf by the institution.

I've started to draw up diagrams of how I want various interfaces to work, and I've begun to settle on a broad architecture and software framework. I think I'll be using c#, targeting the mono/gtk# platform. I figure that will give me the best combination of free platform capability and running sufficiently well under windows. I'd actually like to see this kind of thing as a way for free software to penetrate the consciousness of windows users.