How to Find the Motivation to do Big Things

A little over a month ago I released an iPhone application called Raconteur. And while it may not be especially groundbreaking, it was a hugely important for me because it’s one of the few things I’ve ever finished. On my own, with no external requirements, and no one driving me, I finished it. Oh, I start things. I have 58 unpublished blog drafts (probably a dozen more on paper) and scores of projects in my version control repositories.

Perfectionism: The Engineer's Bane

I’ve tried blogging many times, but my forays into online writing always grind to a halt. The explanation for this is partly psychological and partly technological: I latch onto minor dislikes I have with blogging tools/platforms and I can’t overcome them because of my perfectionist nature. I’d rather leave the blogging ‘problem’ unsolved than to solve it imperfectly. I have serious difficulties with accepting 90% solutions to problems. I suspect this is a shared engineer trait.

iOS: Yay, In-Application Preferences

There are lots of nice resources (both printed and online) regarding the use of the Settings.bundle to store the user’s preferences on the iPhone, but there seems to be a severe lack of resources about not using it. Settings.bundle is admittedly pretty cool. With a single .plist file you can create a settings management page in your application that covers a number of common requirements. But besides the obvious UI concern of storing your application’s preferences in a location many of your users will never check, the bigger problem is one of limitations; if the Settings.

Bernanke's "Principles"

“There are no atheists in foxholes and no ideologues in financial crises.” — Ben S. Benanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve (source) No, Mr. Bernanke, you are wrong on both counts: there are plenty of atheists in foxholes and many of us “ideologues” actually believe in our ideals. That’s what makes them ideals. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

So…the stock markets are soaring today on news that the government has banned naked short selling. Add this to the jumble of other awkward, piecemeal “solutions” they’ve vomited out and what it leads to is disaster. Banning naked short selling is not a solution, it’s a bandage. No, it’s worse than that; it’s a faustian bargain. Yes, shorting creates bearish pressure, but it’s not the reason we got into this mess, and those reasons seem to have been forgotten behind the backdrop of exciting new pain-avoidance strategies.

My Favorite Internet Resources for Learning Japanese

Sacha Chua posted a nice list of resources for learning the Japanese language on her blog (I’ve been reading her blog for a while and didn’t even know she studied Japanese), which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post about a new Japanese (and other foreign language learning) site that I’m completely hooked on: Lang-8 is a language exchange social networking site. This means that all of the members of the site are working toward the common goal of learning a foreign language.

Humans: Pattern Matching Machines?

I have a personal maxim (or apothegm, to use a word I just learned) which states, “two isn’t a pattern, and three barely is”. My purpose for reminding myself of this message is the quell the natural human tendency to assume there is an underlying pattern to something when there really isn’t enough evidence to assume so. Consider an event with two possible outcomes (formally known as a ‘Bernoulli trial’), for instance: will the weather tomorrow be hot or cold?

Mr., Ms., and Mrs.

I think that if I were a woman, married or unmarried, I would choose to call myself Ms.. Consider the fact that a woman’s title—a part of her name—is expected to change when she gets married. A person’s name is an integral part of her/his identity; essentially our culture tells us that a woman’s identity changes when she gets married. Contrast this with the fact that men are called Mr. regardless of marital status.

Samsung SyncMaster 931BF Flickering Issues

I have a Samsung SyncMaster 931BF monitor that has had flickering issues since a couple weeks after I bought it. I tried everything I could think of to fix it, to no avail, and for a while I wondered if it was a configuration issue. I’m not too knowledgeable about monitors, so I thought perhaps the refresh rate could be incorrect or something of that nature. Unfortunately, since Linux users don’t get any real driver support from most hardware vendors, I remained unsure about if it was an actual hardware issue or just software misconfiguration.

Database Connection Handling in Common Lisp Web Apps

I’ve spent most of this evening hacking my blogging software, but sadly not to add new features. I’ve clearly spent too much time doing web programming in PHP, because I neglected to even consider some major threading issues that arise when doing web programming from a persistent environment. In PHP the entire script is loaded (into a fresh thread) everytime the page is requested. This has a few interesting implications. One is that we can in many ways be wasteful about tracking resources when doing web programming in PHP because the whole running instance will be trashed soon enough anyway.