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Blog » 2005 » March

29 Mar 2005

Sunset from the mountain

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 12:56 am

Another cold front passed over today, with another brief shower. But by the time I was cycling home it had all cleared up, and the air was the clearest I’ve seen in a long time. Obviously, the thing to do was watch the sunset from the mountains.

Mike, Holly and myself took a trip up Lake Avenue, and went a fair way up the trail. There was definitely a bite in the air, and quite a breeze. But oh so refreshing — I don’t normally like the cold, but this was just right for the end of the first day of the new semester.

The sunset was pretty good, and we had a great view of Pasadena without haze or smog. In retrospect, though, it really was the airborne refreshment of the wind that won the evening.

And, of course, we rounded it out with $2 Burger Continental burgers.

28 Mar 2005

The Côte d’Ivoire conundrum

Filed under: Africa — paulcook @ 1:15 am

What does a country do when it’s soldiers are the only thing stopping another country collapsing into civil war, but the country concerned doesn’t really want them there? And in contrast to what you might be thinking, the civil war is domestic in origin, and oil isn’t part of the picture.

A little history

Côte d’Ivoire (or the Ivory Coast) was until recently one of the richest West African nations, exporting a substantial part of world’s cocoa, coffee, pineapples, and various other crops. The country gained independence from France in 1960, under the leadership of Félix Houphouët-Boigny (who had previously been the first African cabinet minister in France). Market-friendly economic policies and French assitance led to rapid growth until the 1980’s, when collapsing world crop prices and increasing government waste led to recession.

27 Mar 2005

The joys of rapid application prototyping

Filed under: Digital revolution — paulcook @ 1:49 am

The steps of rapid web application prototyping, as examplified by my experiences of the last day or two:

  1. Realise that some things that your application does could be useful elsewhere in the application, and in fact are ideally suited for being turned into a class of encapsulated code.
  2. On the basis of one or two potential uses, design the class.
  3. Code the class, with excellent style: develop a very robust yet simple external interface; use extensive internal caching to improve efficiency, without polluting the global variable namespace; extensively document both the interface and internals of the class; do extensive error and sanity checking on input and variables.
  4. Feel proud of the above achievement — you have a class that does exactly what it is designed to do.
  5. Begin incorporating it into the rest of your application. Realise almost immediately that what you need does not equal what you designed.
  6. Suffer depression. Sleep on.
  7. By changing the goals of the application, redefine what you need such that it equals what you designed.
  8. Start the next design iteration.

So, in summary: I have no idea what the eventual application will do.

Maybe I shouldn’t have skipped those boring computer science classes on project engineering…

24 Mar 2005

Google Technology

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 12:35 pm

Finally, a detailed look into the technology behind Google: Google Technology. Yes, it’s all about lots of pigeons pecking at linseed and flax (lin/ax) kernels.

Blog of the Week: Ted Brenner’s blog

Filed under: Blogosphere gems — paulcook @ 11:55 am

Another friend’s blog to add to my list: Ted Brenner’s blog. For a change, Ted is actually a real person, with a real job — that is, not a Caltech student.

The blog is a good mix of posts and references to interesting articles on subjects ranging from economics and politics, to sports and even beer brewing. Also make sure to check out the just-formed blog covering The Los Angeles Angels baseball team — when you get those free tickets, Ted, remember who did some advertising!

Oh, and make sure to ask Ted for some good stories next time you see him — he’s got quite a few!

23 Mar 2005

Price elasticity of oil

Filed under: Economics — paulcook @ 12:49 pm

A post on blogwaffe has reminded me of some of the economic implications of oil depletion, in areas like production of plastics.

As rightly pointed out there, many uses of oil have alternatives that could be pursued, such as plant-based synthesis for plastic. But many areas of oil use, particularly agriculture and some types of transport, would require huge societal shifts to move to alternatives. Unfortunately, however, the economics of oil depletion are not going to help that shift.

22 Mar 2005

My brain scan

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 9:16 pm

I had a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scan on Monday. Good news is, they found one. Despite what you might think.

So I wasn’t actually there for a medical reason, but as a research subject. A graduate student is doing research on brain function while doing punishment/reward exercises. So I had to spend an hour inside the tunnel of the MRI machine, with my head immobilised, choosing between shapes that flashed up on a pair of goggles I was wearing. Depending (allegedly) on the shape that I chose, I would sometimes win or lose a dollar. In fact, I’m not sure how much influence my choices had on the results, but it’s hard to really know.

Anyway, I came out of the exercise with $42. Plus, of course, a free brainscan. Quite a productive Monday, methinks!

19 Mar 2005

StatTraq WordPress plugin tweak: Ignore certain users

Filed under: WordPress — paulcook @ 3:19 pm

I’ve made what I think is a useful addition to Randy Peterman’s StatTraq plugin for tracking usage statistics in WordPress. StatTraq tracks how many times, and by who, each post is read. My modification allows one to specify a comma seperated list of user names (logins). Statistics for these users will NOT be collected. I have put my own user name in the list, so now when I view and edit my posts, I’m not being counted as a reader — all visits are indeed from real readers.

The version of StatTraq that I use is a development branch compatible with WordPress 1.5. It’s available here. Hopefully this modification will be incorporated into the main development branch there, because I’m not going to be able to keep it up to date.

Two files have been modified: stattraq.php and options.php. The modifications I’ve made are all preceeded by the string PAULCOOK, so they are easy to see and incorporate into other versions.

Instructions for installation:

  • Make sure you are running the version of StatTraq available from here; using another version will yield unpredictable results.
  • Download the files below (they will download as text files), and save them to the paths indicated next to the download link (these paths are relative to the root of your WordPress installation). You should be overwriting existing files; if you are not, you’re doing something wrong. If you decide to cut and paste the files, make sure that you don’t leave any spaces or blank lines after the last ?> tag in each file.
  • Go to the StatTraq options page, and at the bottom is a textbox in which you can enter usernames (logins) for users to ignore when tracking statistics.

Download:
stattraq.php: /wp-content/plugins/stattraq.php
options.php: /wp-stattraq/reporter/options.php

We’re hunter-gatherers, socially

Filed under: Politics and philosophy — paulcook @ 1:59 pm

A car trip today left me thinking that socially and psychologically, human beings have really not adapted to capitalism and huge numbers of people — we’re really just hunter-gatherers in how we approach such things.

Economists like to use the approximation that humans are all “rational agents” — that we are acting to maximise our own well-being at all times. There’s been some doubt thrown on that opinion recently, by “Nobel prize” in economics winners nonetheless (quotes because apparently the economics one is not really a Nobel prize).

18 Mar 2005

Website changes

Filed under: This website — paulcook @ 7:21 pm

Two small changes to this website: Firstly, the seperation of the blog into four main categories is a little more developed. When you view an individual post, you can now use the links just below the post to view the next or previous post within each of the main categories. There is also a description of the categories here.

Secondly, on the homepage (click the “Home” link above), I have added a “Pun of the Day” section, entitled PUNishment. I don’t want to punt it too hard, but it would be a shame if you were to miss your daily ray of punshine.

Submissions of other puns to be added to the list are welcome, either as comments below, or by email.