Waiting to Compile

It’s crunch time down on de software plan-tay-shon, so I’m often spending time waiting for the computer to compile the latest build of the app we’re building. Might as well get a little blogging done…

The Library of Babel

…by Jorge Luis Borges. The world is an infinitely large library with an infinite number of books. In an infinity of books, you’d be able to find anything:

…the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite): Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

It’s one of my favourite short stories.

The One True Brace Style Isn’t
Warning: moderate geek content!

Last night, my co-workers John and Mohamed were debating the merits of brace styles. The argument is old enough and widespread enough to have its own entry in the Jargon File. Johnny’s a firm believer in the so-called “One True Brace Style” (a.k.a. “kernel style” or “K&R style” after Kernighan and Ritchie, the guys behind C and UNIX), but then again, he inhaled a lot of paint thinner, glue and no-stick Pam in his youth and exacerbated the situation by learning Perl. Mohamed and the rest of us follow the “Allman style” (a.k.a. “BSD style” since he wrote a lot of BSD utilities), a more readable style that makes it easier to ensure that brace pairs match. Don’t be fooled by self-proclaimed self-deluded arbiters of style. There are also two other styles — GNU and Whitesmiths — that are used by the maladjusted and unbathed.

Gestures around the world

In case you didn’t know:

There are two well-known insulting gestures in the United States. Both are recognized in all parts of America. They are:

Why fights always happen at the KFC in Lebanon:

If you lick your little finger and then brush it across your eyebrow, you are signaling that someone is a homosexual.

“Autralian Etiquette” — the biggest oxymoron since “Happily Married”:

When drinking in some Australian pubs, you can signal that you can win a fight with anyone in the bar simply by finishing your drink, turning the glass upside down and placing the glass squarely on the bar.

Want to know more? Check out Foreign Fingers and the Gestures pages on Web of Culture.

And one more thing…



Your Thursday Roughage

My John Ashcroft Conspiracy Theory

In 1992, John Ashcroft’s nephew was caught growing 60 cannabis plants. Normally, growing this many plants would be tried in federal court and Ashcroft’s nephew would most likely have served a prison term, especially in light of then-governor Ashcroft’s “tough on drugs” stance. However, Ashcroft’s nephew was tried in a state court and got put on probation.

Today, Ashcroft is now the U.S. attorney general and it has recently been discovered that he has a great brownie recipe. That’s right, brownies. The recipe is so slacker-simple because the main ingredient is brownie mix. So simple that you could follow it could follow it even while high.

Coincidence? I think not.

KPMG again

The KPMG linking controversy continues in Wired News’ story, Big Stink Over a Simple Link. They have an interview with one of the KPMG spokedroids who has this to say:

George Ledwith, a KPMG spokesman, insisted the company wasn’t trying to harass anyone, and was just “protecting its brand.”

Asked if he was aware of the weblog backlash, he answered: “What we are aware of is that individuals and others link to our site without an agreement, and we have a Web policy clearly outlined.”

The policy he refers to — posted on the company’s website — states, “KPMG is obligated to protect its reputation and trademarks and KPMG reserves the right to request removal of any link to our website.”

He said that this was not a new policy, nor was it unusual. “We easily sent hundreds of these letters over the past year,” he said. Indeed, he wondered why this was considered newsworthy at all, as “many organizations do this.”

Our Vision of Global Strategy

Oh, dear sweet Baal, this is the worst easy-listening dreck I have heard in a very long time.

I’m referring to the KPMG corporate anthem, Our Vision of Global Strategy. The lyrics are standard PR boilerplate…


We’re strong as can be

A dream of power and energy

We go for the goal

Together we hold

On to our vision of global strategy

…and the music is has 80’s easy listening ballad-with-a-cause written all over it, right down to the cliched electric piano. My guess is that it was meant to be used with a corporate video (“I can see a helicopter shot with rolling green vistas,” said Mike Skeet, my co-worker, tech writer supreme, author, movie reviewer for the CBC and all-around Renaissance Man).

If your curiosity’s been piqued, you can listen to the MP3 and experience the evil for yourself.

That does it — I have to do an accordion version.


Browsers, as user interfaces, suck

Unfortunately, a lot of programmers I know seem to disagree. “Everyone knows how to use a browser,” they say.

I thought I’d bring up a couple of counter-points in the hopes of enlightening my otherwise-often-right friends.

Alan Cooper: Lose the Browser!

Here’s what Alan Cooper (a.k.a. “The Father of Visual Basic”) had to say about browsers in InfoWorld:

“My advice to Microsoft is to abandon the browser. The browser is a red herring; it’s a dead end. The idea of having batched processing inside a very stupid program that’s controlled remotely is a software architecture that was invented about 25 years ago by IBM, and was abandoned about 20 years ago because it’s a bad architecture. We’ve gone tremendously retrograde by bringing in Web browsers… We have stepped backward in terms of user interface, capability, and the breadth of our thinking about what we could do as a civilization. The browser is a very weak and stupid program because it was written as essentially a master’s thesis inside a university and as an experiment….”

He’s right, you know…

Recommended Reading

Beyond the Browser A piece by Bruce Tognazzini on how the browser has been crippling the software industry as far as human-computer interaction goes.

First Principles by Bruce Tognazzini. If you’re designing user interfaces, make sure you know all about the terms and ideas listed in this piece.


Lesson of the Day: Stay on message!

Mario - I fucking hate you. You said you had to work, then whys your car HERE at HER place? You're a fucking LIAR I hate you I fucking hate you - Amber. P.S. Page me later

That’s what P.R. companies tell you to do when being interviewed by the press. That’s probably what the writer of this letter should’ve done too. She had him dead to rights until the last line of her note.


Hump Day Grab Bag

Thinking of You
Or: A Virus Warning

There’s a new worm, Goner, that’s been making the rounds. If you get e-mail that looks like this:

When I saw this screen saver, I immediately thought about you. I am in a harry, I promise you will love it!

…don’t run the enclosed program. Delete the message immiediately. It’s not a screen saver, but a program (written in Visual Basic, no less) that uses Outlook, ICQ and mIRC to propagate itself. You’d think that people would have learned after the Love, Anna Kournikova, SirCam and “To have your advice” attacks, but noooooo…


KPMG seem to be under the opinion that people need their permission to link to them. For the record: Wrong!

For the background story, check out Chris Raettig’s weblog. Raettig has a website featuring corporate anthems — yup, just like national anthems, except for corporations. Perhaps KPMG is a little miffed that he not only made an MP3 recording of their anthem but also gave it a less-than-stellar review:

— it’s that team of power and energy at kpmg with their spectacular straight-to-the-top now finally slightly back down aspirational anthem our vision of global strategy. i sense a conspiracy; have you ever seen peat marwick and geoffrey, the giraffe from toys’r’us in the same room together? either way this is destined to become a modern classic. an audiable warning of what companies can do when they take themselves too seriously.

this from a kpmg insider… “In summary: it is awful, awful, awful and we are very (very) embarassed to be associated with it. keep up the good work.”

I encourage everyone to link to KPMG. It’s not really sticking it to The Man, but it’s still fun!

Recommended Reading

Oops…I Did It Again. A good article about social engineering and its relationship to malicious programs propagated by e-mail by those security-minded people at SANS.

Some of the culprits responsible for this meance to society we call linking: Vannevar Bush, Douglas Englebart, Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andreesen. Also to blame are those evil people behind the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books.

Proof the hyperlinking is evil and should be outlawed and made punishable by death: Brad, The Game. A choose-your-own-adventure Web game where all the characters will end up on the Maury Povich Show someday. In one ending, I scored 69 times in an elevator with a woman who tunred out to be a man. Evil!

The fine print for the KPMG site. We really should’ve listened to Shakespeare when he advised us to kill all the lawyers. We ought to take a few suits down while we’re at it.

In case you were curious, here are guidelines for links for a couple of other companies: 3Com and Gateway.

Opinions about the legal issues of linking.

A Nice Beat, But Can You Dance to It? A Fast Company story on corporate anthems.


Babbo! Babbo! Babbo!

For my friend George’s birthday, I flew down to New York and took him and his wife Leesh out for dinner at Babbo. This was one of those damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead nights where I decided that we should try the traditional tasting menu, complete with the wines to match each dish. Birthdays are sacred after all, and George is a man who enjoys the finer things in life (for example, he eats only fromt he $1.29 menu at Taco Bell and buys only premium pork rinds).

The courses, in order, were:

  • Braised beef tongue

  • Very fresh tagliatelle in a very nice herb sauce

  • Pork shoulder in creamy polenta

  • Guinea hen in an amazing pepper sauce (this was George’s and my favourite)

  • Goat cheese in a fig compote

  • Turrone

  • Cakes — Leesh had a pumpkin pastry, George had the apple crumble and I had a flourless chocolate cake. Each one was covered in a matching sauce.

George and Leesh

Me and my guinea hen

Recommended Reading

Some profiles of Babbo’s chef, Mario Batali. The man is a freakin’ genius.

Some reviews of Babbo. You must go sometime.

Susur’s. Not in New York, not Italian, but it’s an amazing Toronto restaurant with a world-renowned chef, Susur Lee. Another must-go place.

What I’m having for dinner tonight. Can’t eat at expensive restaurants all the time. At least not on my salary.


Odd Stuff

“Good old rock. It always wins”. A sex parlour in Fukuoka, Japan will give you a major discount — from about 5,000 yen to a mere 100 yen — if you can win three consecutive games of jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors). The article is interesting for the bits about how to improve your chances of winning, rather than the sex shop aspect. Really. I swear.

Dissed by a five-year-old. One more reason to not have kids.