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24 August 2008

Absence due to Measured Exorcise

Having not recently posted here, TO is pleased now to return. In part, this absence has a seasonally-related cause. TO tends to find early weekend mornings perhaps the most blog-congenial time within a week; in warm weather, however, these slots collide with opportunities for cool outdoor activity. While not generally athletic in nature, TO enjoys bicycling, typically propelling wheels at a rate that passes some trail participants and is passed by others in approximately equal measure. In addition to offering health benefits, this also affords the opportunity to exorcise the cares and concerns of the day while narrowing one's focus to passing the next mailbox, bridge, or other landmark enroute to an outing's end. There's a satisfaction to successful physical activity, which at least TO finds is complemented by the ability to quantify it. The knowledge that one is 75% of the way to a destination, at a known speed, is somehow comforting and motivating. Earlier this year, TO's cycle odometer failed, leaving a curious sense of loss even on familiar routes. Upon battery replacement, the numeric brain was satisfied again, being able to savor descriptive digits to complement the legs' pedaling cadence. TO would prefer to consider this as an example of synergistic mind/body integration than as notably indicative of geekiness, but perhaps both are true. It's good to achieve something measurable and to be able to measure it.

24 May 2008

Excuse me, your supporting layer is showing

TO had a recent air travel experience. Most of this passed as per usual, but for a curious twist. On a couple of occasions, the seatback video system was restarted. TO observed and laughed at the appearance of a Linux penguin on the upper left corner of each seat's screen, with a boot sequence scrolling below it. TO's seatmate commented that TO was perhaps the flight's only passenger to find the occurrence of such a display amusing, even though it had presumably not been presented to the captive audience with this intent. Perhaps so.

17 May 2008

Semantically Qualified Owls

The technologies of the Semantic Web offer significant technical promise, but have so far found selective rather than pervasive application. TO was interested to see what commentators might have written about the uptake of the W3C's Web Ontology Language (OWL, by way of transposed acronym), and asked a Prominent Search Engine about "OWL adoption". A comprehensive set of hits concerning topics such as wildlife rescue and rehabilitative care for members of the order Strigiformes was received; while informative, these did not appear closely salient to the intended question. They did serve, however, as a concise and ironic example of the value of semantic qualification in information searches.

23 March 2008

Homage to Computus

For those observing per the Gregorian calendar, today is Easter Sunday. The method (Computus) used to determine that fact is complex, and has been cited as a primary motivation for keeping arithmetic alive through the Western Middle Ages. In acknowledgment of the importance of arithmetic's persistence today, and given the convenient availability of an algorithmic description, TO chose to undertake the simple programming exercise of implementing the method, and attaches the C code as a comment.

16 March 2008

When Models Diverge

TO is interested in weather. Like time, another topic already encountered here, weather represents an example of something pervasive and ever-changing in our environment, and is something that people have long sought to measure and interpret quantitatively. It differs, though, in the level of interest and effort that's applied to predict its future. Occasional insertion of leap seconds into the calendar doesn't affect as many daily lives. Extensive computer models (as at Model Analyses and Forecasts) have been developed to project atmospheric trends based on observed data. At least today, however, they haven't replaced the need for human judgment. The problem arises when the models predict different results. Then, forecasters draw on experience to decide which choice (or hybrid) appears most likely to be accurate in the physical world (or, in the field, "to verify"). In the US, these judgments are often visible to interested readers in regional Technical Forecast Discussion pages, such as this example. Will models continue to improve, to the point where it will be vanishingly rare for human experts to need to arbitrate among conflicts? Or, will different algorithmic processes necessarily continue to yield different results in some cases, to be resolved above an algorithmic level as with discussions among a group of specialists in a topic? TO (though only an interested layperson in the field) suspects that the divergences will become rarer over time, but won't soon disappear.

01 March 2008

Context for Special Rats

TO recalled observing a motel sign that announced a "Special Weekly Rat", an unusual offer to be presented as part of an accommodation package. Had it been a pet store's sign, it might have been advertising an intentional and recurrent rodent promotion. In context, however, it was perhaps more likely to have been a missing terminal "E".

26 February 2008

Time, Satirized

Even with the breadth of items on today's web, one may still encounter and savor combinations of bits whose very existence has the power to surprise. TO believes that WWV-The Tick, cited under the unexpected Satire heading within Wikipedia's article on the U.S. standard time station, parodying what might occur if commercial interests overtook the National Institute of Standards and Technology's time signal broadcasts, clearly appears to qualify.

25 February 2008

Constitutional Edge Cases

There's interesting commentary at today's, under the heading "Homework for the Legal Beagles". TO hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will not be called upon to make a contentious interpretation relative to these factors following the upcoming election.

23 February 2008

Open Source: The Prospect of Self-Driven Control

This post is being written using open source software. Why is this? There are a number of technical arguments, but they aren't the focus of this post. TO observes a subjective factor that makes OSS attractive: the ability to reach "under the covers" to adjust, configure, customize, or add to it. The title and theme of the excellent Freedom To Tinker blog, though not primarily oriented to OSS, captures this motivation well. If our lives evolve to balance precariously on top of more and more pieces of technology that we can neither understand nor influence, we lose control over these aspects of our environments and become alienated from them. Even if rarely or ever exercised for reasons such as available time, complexity, or lack of functional need, the potential ability to change their behavior allows a potential avenue of self-driven control. Today, many of us have only infrequent occasion to build fire from available woodland materials, but can nonetheless be facile in building or installing kernel updates. We may not be involved in building our houses, but can take satisfaction in how we shelter and arrange data. TO appreciates the satisfaction of "making things work" and enjoys amenable opportunities to do so, though can sometimes be less appreciative if a machine elects to dictate the circumstances when diagnostic assistance is demanded.

19 February 2008

Doubled LeTTers, Sometimes SOOthing, Sometimes MiSSing

While paTTing a puRRing cat, TO's Significant Other (TOSO) wondered whether other words bearing adjacent doubled leTTers were more likely than most to have sOOthing characteristics. This led TO to ponder how much of the alphabet could be speLLed with English words that doubled particular leTTers in question. Representatives for the foLLowing sixtEEn leTTers came to mind in fairly short order, some sOOthing and others not: AArdvark, eBB, aCCuse, eDDy, bEE, eFFort, eGG, teLL, coMMit, coNNect, pOOl, oPPosite, eRR, leSS, aTTend, and buZZ. (Besides Q, the gaps are concentrated: H-K and U-Y. Coincidence?) If you identify candidates for the miSSing leTTers, please coMMent. TO may also consider further or check other references, but doing so beforehand sEEmed to spoil the puZZle's chaLLenge.

18 February 2008

Observing The International Neighborhood

Having encamped on Blogspot, TO set out to survey the neighborhood with a series of clicks on the "Next Blog" link, and was interested there to encounter a number of families (particularly with young children), several photographers, and a store or two, and to observe the diverse range of languages in use. TO recalls from childhood the thrill of tuning a shortwave receiver and listening to a broadcast from a near-antipodal source, then a rare achievement. The implications of geographic distance have narrowed dramatically in the interim, and it's fascinating to be able to see shared slices of worldwide life offered at a click. Not so many years ago, it was a mark of recognized distinction to be "known internationally", which now seems archaic. TO appreciates the fact that communities can now develop based on interests rather than physical borders.

Setting Clocks Less

TO once stayed in a European hotel during the night when Summer Time shifted back to Standard Time, departing on an early flight the following morning. At that time, TO had a new watch, or at least one whose behavior TO had not previously observed across such a transition. Should TO reset the watch, or would the watch note the date and reset itself? If the latter, TO wouldn't wish to double the effect and arrive at the airport uncharacteristically late. A possible problem created by new technology (the potential of a self-setting watch) demanded and received an obvious solution created by new technology (finding the watch's instructions on the web). As it turned out, the watch didn't set itself, but the prospect that it might created new uncertainty and consumed more time than it would have taken to set it manually. Alternatively, if it became common and general knowledge that electronic watches always set themselves on time zone changes, and they did, that would also be fine. Warning of the impending time change, the hotel thoughtfully posted signs inviting guests to "set your clocks less" that night. TO interpreted their intended meaning as one of reducing their indicated hour by one, but self-setting clocks would also achieve the stated goal. It would be good to know ahead of time if you were carrying one, though.

Inscribing Web-Facing Parchment

On registering this blog, TO was interested to be able to select a template format that appeared (at least in its background) subtly reminiscent not only of the pre-web era, but perhaps even of the pre-paper era. Evocative of tradition, but neither bound nor chained to a library table. No need for electronic quill pens for inscription, either; a browser serves well. TO appreciates these contrasts and is pleased to post among them, but does not anticipate recourse to archaic fonts or engagement of manuscript illuminators to compound their effect.

Observing On The Edge

An opening post, in which This Observer presents a brief introduction for this blog's esteemed readers, if, when, and as they emerge. If a keyword query for "on the edge" brought you here in search of informed insider commentary on skydiving or other risk-seeking physical pursuits, you'll probably be disappointed. Instead, TO is more likely to comment on "edge cases" in and around the contemporary world and life within it, items that don't seem to behave in the ways that TO might expect, that juxtapose oddly with their surroundings, or that are simply amusing. TO is intrigued by these (whether in appreciation, dismay, or both), and hopes that readers will share these interests.