link salad

Or, Five Things Make a Post.

The beginning of the year was fairly quiet, but things are starting to get busier again. Paradoxically, this may mean the frequency of posts here will increase, since I'm actually doing things so I have them to talk about. Or I might get hosed and disappear completely. We'll see.

I've been accumulating links I think other people might be interested in for a week or two. Here's what I've got:

Marian Churchland, who's apparently a comics artist of some note — and does demonstrably create excellent art — here describes The Crossing, an imaginary MMO she designed. It's a neat exercise in concept art, world-building and game design in six (seven?) short parts.

A sweet and beautiful three-page comic by one Emily Carroll which begins "The goddess Anu-Anulan was in love with the bright, silvery hair of Yir's daughter."

…which I found via someone else, but was then amused to discover linked off Robin Sloan's blog after finishing his novella Annabel Scheme, which I read in the Kindle edition on my phone on a couple long T rides, via a friend's recommendation. (You might remember Mr. Sloan as the author of "Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store", which I highly recommend.) Scheme is what happens when you cross Snow Crash with The Dresden Files, and though I was hoping for something a bit closer to the former I was still happy with what I got.

And now for something completely different, my friend Ed has an interesting blog post up on checked exceptions and proof obligations. I can't count the number of times where I've written some Java code like:

try {
catch (PrimeNumberException e) {
  throw new RuntimeException("the number is hard-coded non-prime; this code should never be reached", e);

Passing the PrimeNumberException to my caller is stupid — my caller likely doesn't care about my implementation details — but the RuntimeException is only useful when I screw up and change the 4 to a 5, and it's all boilerplate code anyway. It would even be tempting to just drop the exception on the floor — not throw a RuntimeException at all — and thereby miss the case where I change the 4 to 5. There should be a better way to express this constraint. I'd love to see Ed propose a syntax for dependent exceptions in Java. (Or I could just go finally learn Haskell. Copious spare time, &c.)

I'll leave you with this other thing I just now saw linked off Robin Sloan's blog, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which Sloan's linked Snarkmarket blog post describes as

The Lost Books of the Odyssey manages a pretty impossible mix; somehow, it’s both mathematically precise and completely wacky. Like, you start reading it and, especially if you know its reputation (a combinatorial exploration/explosion of the classic myth, written by a computer scientist, etc.) you expect this cold, hard Borgesian puzzle-box. And the book does, in face, tickle your brain in that way, and with no word wasted in the process… but then it also surprises you with warmth, and real sadness, and a terrific storyteller’s voice all throughout. It’s one of my absolute favorites of the past few years.

I think I know what I'm reading next. 🙂

2010 in links

Apparently I got bored, because I put together the 2010-in-bookmarks post after all.

Turns out I bookmarked 734 things this year. Once I weeded out all the vim tips and Firefox plugins, I was surprised to discover that the single largest category of link was posts which I loosely group as being about thinking-about-thinking. Apparently cognitive biases and where they come from were a lot on my mind this year, for some reason. The next biggest category, less surprisingly, was links about writing and media (the Internet loves nothing more than talking about itself). I also present several reviews I consulted in preparing my review of The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, which book was apparently a bit of a thorn in my psyche. After that we're well into the weeds, category-wise, but that's frankly where a lot of the interesting stuff is, so here you go.


Thinking about Thinking


Cloud computing

Writing, media, publishing

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Read this

five things

My blogging inspiration is low tonight, and I should be in bed anyway. Here are the last few things I’ve bookmarked:

  • I was away on business this weekend and was thankful that American had WiFi on the plane I was flying on, so I could actually get some work done that day instead of losing it entirely to travel. Talking about this with a co-worker after I got back, she pointed me at a blog post about the routing challenges involved in offering WiFi on planes. I haven’t read it all yet, but it looks like fun stuff.
  • My default search process for any physical good these days, especially books, starts at Unfortunately I have a Sony PRS-505 ebook reader, which takes epub-format books, and Amazon obviously only sells Kindle format books. Luckily I found a Greasemonkey script which was trivially editable to allow me to add a link to Borders’ ebook store to an Amazon product page.
  • Coming from having worked on software for high-frequency financial trading, this article on building a working poker bot looks interesting. (Another link I haven’t read yet.)
  • A friend mentioned playing with Pikwik, an open-source answer to Google Analytics which looks interesting. I’ve been frustrated by some of Google Analytics’s longstanding UI issues, and generally not being able to use it to answer questions I think are pretty reasonable, so I want to play around with it some.
  • Reading this Wired article on how to calibrate your bullshit filter lead me to the extremely exhaustive Wikipedia list of cognitive biases, which is just fascinating, and I discovered a few things there that I hadn’t known about before. (In my bookmarks the link’s description is, in its entirety, “Remember.”) The heuristics used by plains apes living in tribes of 50-150 individuals a few million years ago just Do Not Scale to a globally-networked world of 7 billion people. (A point also driven home by Accelerando, which felt like the right first book to read on my new(-to-me) ereader, the aforementioned Sony.)
  • You get a bonus sixth link, which I just discovered via Wikipedia as I was writing this — the Accelerando Technical Companion, because boy was I wishing for a footnoted version the first time Stross pulled out Matrioshka brain

So I haven’t entirely been marinating in futureshock this past week, but it’s been close. What have you been doing?