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October, 2010 | Chasing Men Who Stare at Arrays

Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Michael, Asperger’s and me

In 1983, with my hanky tied up on a stick and  my white cat perched on my shoulder,  I left Swarthmore, Pennsylvania to venture into the world.   My first stop was Hampshire College located in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.

Camp Hamp, as we fondly and irreverently call it.  

That’s where I met Michael John Carley.  At the time, everyone in my motley crew knew that Michael was destined to do great things.  For one thing, he’s a bad ass poker player; and through the hazy eyes of 18 year olds, that’s a sure fire sign of success. Little did we know that he would eventually found an extremely successful peer support group for adults on the Autism spectrum.  More to the point, we had no idea that he was on the Autism Spectrum.   Not a freaking clue.  And that’s the theme that keeps coming up in our side project.  No one knew.

What side project? One of my sneaky plans is to get to know Michael again after all these years, so I volunteered my video production skills and we’re collaborating on a video for GRASP.  For the last couple of days, I’ve been looking at the testimonials of the brave folks who stepped up to participate in our little production.  It’s a treat and a privilege.  It totally rocks.  A great evil plan.

I encourage you to read Michael’s book: Asperger’s from the Inside Out.


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Evil plans ARE best

My Cohort, Godzilla has been hatching a plan for novel and upbeat ways  to finance this array of covert operations here in cyberspace.

After our weekly tête à tête amoureux, We concluded this Social Networking Experiment is a monstrous success.  And, Godzilla needs a new tie…  …so, viola:  We’re pushing this baby to a higher level!

After market testing some ideas…  (We discovered that taking wagers for pranks on prominent community members could  potentially be perceived as  mean spirited.  Though, with some help from our network of spies, We did mastermind some excellent pranks… Like asking X why Y’s logo looks like a guy’s ‘thing’ on camera)  …We settled on a something different And exciting.

The next step, of course, is to sell the idea; Godzilla tasked me with creating a Pitch. 

What the heck is a pitch?

Turns out I have no idea.  I started with an outline.  Some of my friends said it was a good start, while others:  What the hell are you talking about? Things slid downhill; Godzilla looked very concerned.

We decided to pitch the Pitch, and to draw It instead!

With really cool results. Stay tuned.

BTW – I cribbed ‘Evil Plans are Best’ from artist Hugh McLeod, please subscribe to his newsletter because he rocks.  And for the record, I did not get paid for saying this.



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hyper-accurate estimation, classification, and quantification of unstructured data

Despite my initial trepidation, I participated in Fast Company’s The Influence Project.  These group contests aren’t very sophisticated in that they rely on the cult of personality as well as popularity to drive participation; which, to me feels…. well, like SPAM. My feeling or perhaps my hope, is that we will evolve as humans in this area and come up with smarter games.

Having said this, after locating and seeing my photo among the 32,955 others, I felt differently.  I saw myself as a small part of the world’s biggest team.  Awesome. That’s the power of visualization; an image can change how you think and feel about something.

Anyway, if you care to read between the lines, the following article has a little something for everyone interested in interpreting and visualizing data…

Unlike Crimson Hexagon, most social media monitoring companies rely on two common solutions: keywords and semantics.  Both, says Centurino, only offer non-specific positive or negative portraits of public opinion and are severely limited. Keywords analysis depends upon an expansive library of definitions (“It’s like Cirque du Soleil contortionism” he says); and a semantic approach (that is, the analysis of phrases and expressions) requires a language model that recognizes sarcasm, snark, abbreviations, and an endless amount of Web slang.

Harvard-Developed Tool Measures Real-Time Public Opinion on Social Media


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Gitte, Biology & Sharp APL (IPSA)

Gitte with Bob Smith (Sept 2009)

Some of you might think that I think this is just about the men. Though, I’m fairly certain that anyone who has actually met me in person is not fooled. But then again, my little inner voice just said:  Hey, Princess, you have a lot of readers now who have never met you face to face.

Anyway, to set the record straight:  it’s not just about the guys.  That’s a sarcastic little joke that someone very special helped me come up with and it makes me smile every day.

So, it’s not just about the guys.  This week we have the pleasure of Gitte Christensen and Morten Kromberg holding court in Toronto; I thought I’d celebrate by putting the few final touches on this short piece I made last year with Gitte where I ask her some personal questions.  Not only is Gitte as smart as a whip, she has fun and is willing to play along.

The truth is that Gitte and Morten have been very sportsperson like, and let me test out all sorts of ideas on them.  There are no words to describe how much this level of trust means to me and my endeavours.

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Just like a rock star!

There is nothing on this planet that transports me more quickly to the early APL days than the sound of Jim Brown’s voice.  I think I can speak for more than myself when I say, as children, we loved Jim! I think I have picture of a pack of us as wild-eyed munchkins assaulting the poor man in some lake, most probably in the state of New York.

So when I found this little clip on the APL97 video tapes, I couldn’t resist sharing. Enjoy. A minute and a half is all there was…


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Ken’s fingers and Bernard on Passion

Ok – I was warned.

When Rick gave me the tapes from the 1997 APL conference here in Toronto, he did mention that it was just a couple of regular folks holding the camera, not.. hem… filmmakers or videographers...

And not to complain, but what am I going to do with… well… Ken’s fingers?  They’re not even his fingers themselves, just the shadows.

The shadow of Ken’s fingers.

Well.  It’s poetic.

The truth is I’m feeling ten steps behind this week.  I was really looking forward to meeting Benoit Mandelbrot.  Damn.  Damn!

Time feels like water slipping through my fingers.

Since it’s too late to phone any of my friends, I flip through Sheila Curran Bernard’s Documentary Storytelling for Film and Video, to page 32, Passion and Curiosity:

‘Do you care deeply about your subject?’ – well, yes.

Passion is going to be your best weapon against discouragement, boredom, frustration, and confusion. Passion is not the unwavering conviction that you are right and the whole world must be made to agree with you.  Instead, it is the commitment to the notion that this idea is exciting, relevant, and meaningful, and perhaps more importantly, that it’s something you can look forward to exploring in the months or even years to come.

Years to come.  I should be running like crazy in the other direction.  Damn.  And I won’t back down.

My sincere condolences to the Mandelbrot and Halle families. The world has lost a great man.


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Where there’s light…

One of my most beloved programming mentors, who is very shy and might just kill me if I put his name here, once told me a parable about a drunk man looking for his lost key under a streetlight.  The punch line, of course, is that the drunk lost his key in a dark alley, however, he’s looking for it under this particular street light because this is where he can see.

The moral of the story is that we all naturally tend to look where we can see.  Therefore, if you want to find your key, you need to be fearless in dark alleys and you must carry a very strong light saber in your back pocket.  And it certainly helps to travel in packs (or prides).

Next week is a big one for all of us:  Gitte and Morten are in North America, Minnowbrook kicks off another season, and winter is easing into Canada…  This morning I’ve been rewriting history a little, correcting typos and removing the names of potential collaborators announced too soon.  And so, this project moves along.

The ironic thing is that these days, when I feel more lost than ever in this endeavor,  Barry, my Executive Producer, assures me everything is really starting to come together.  Thank goodness, someone has vision.

And what never ceases to amaze me is the growing number of views for The Origins of APL – 1974.  The current count is 4,134!  And the excerpts from Ken Iverson’s memorial in Toronto is at 575 views!

That’s more than enough to keep me going.

For those of you invited to Minnowbrook this week, a toast:  May the force be with you.


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York, MCM70 & the angst of being there first


Since April, Uncle Bob has been prodding me to venture north, to York University to meet a true blue APL scholar, Zbigniew Stachniak.  So, on Tuesday, I finally did.

It turns out York has a lot of reasons to be interested in APL.  They wrote one, for starters.

Stachniak’s research includes a careful analysis of the successes and ultimate failure of MCM, a Canadian company who came out with the first personal computer in the 1970’s which happened to run APL.  As Stachniak demonstrates, being first, especially when it comes to innovation in technology, is hard and MCM went bankrupt in the 1980’s.

York houses a Computer History Museum which is shepherded by  Stachniak and Scott M. Campbell from the University of Waterloo, whom I’ve put on my radar to track down.

Stachniak is now turning his gaze towards I.P.Sharp and is particularly interested in the “APL community’s” views and attitudes towards micro computing in the 1970’s.

The more I learn about us, the less comfortable I am in generalizing about views, but that’s a puzzle for another day.

In any case, he has a boatload of photos inherited from the folks at Soliton, so I had the pleasure of seeing many of the old guard in their youth, which is, quite frankly how I remember everyone anyway.

Oh, and he’s a little reluctant to show me some of the photos.  Just when I was beginning to fear there would be no competing with the sex, drugs and rock and roll featured in The Social Network!

But seriously, Stachniak was able to interview Ken twice before he died and for this, he deserves a medal.

Thank goodness someone was thinking.


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Truth, APL and the Dijkstra problem

Never underestimate the power of a tag line!

In June of 1975, Edsger W. Dijkstra wrote an essay called:  How do we tell truths that might hurt? Which is characterized as a series of aphorisms about computer programming languages, one of which is APL.

Essentially, Dijkstra wrote a bunch of catchy, satirical critiques about the programming languages of the day.  He prefaces this work by mentioning a lack of rigorous criticism in the computing community, which I haven’t experienced, but I believe, because it’s backed up by some of Dennis Shasha’s work. So, I suspect that as an artifact of its time, this work could have galvanized  computer scientists to shape up.

And then time marches on…

I haven’t done an official count, but my initial investigations indicate that Dijkstra’s 1975 quip against APL is the most frequently used quote about APL in cyberspace to this day.

Do you know what this means? Dijkstra is the author of APL’s most famous tag line. And that was 35 years ago. And it doesn’t appear as though he liked APL very much.

Now, there’s something to think about.


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Alan Perlis and APL is More Like French

It’s interesting trolling the programming language forums where APL is sometimes referred to with unwarranted derision and in the past tense.  I actually start worrying that I am blowing someone’s cover when I say:  Wow,  still the underdog language out there silently kicking ass.

And I have to admit, I find the vehemence is just weird.  Maybe Ken peed on someone’s cornflakes and started some strange feud a long long long time ago, but that’s an almost impossible image on conjure up. I don’t get it.  Anyway…

What I’m winding up to here, is that there have been moments of validation and triumph all along this bumpy path, and Yale University’s Alan Perlis 1978 talk Almost Perfect Artifacts Improve in Small Ways: APL is more French than English represents  one of those moments.

I first learned about Alan Perlis from Dave Thomas, who spoke at a conference in Princeton NJ in 2009.  Thomas mentioned that in this 1978 talk, Alan Perlis talked about idioms in APL, and that these idioms actually were the first design patterns.

It turns out that Perlis also used APL to teach the introductory computer science course,  CPSC 221, at Yale around 1976-1984.

Well, now I have the audio tape of that 1978 talk by Alan Perlis.  Afraid playing it will destroy it, and dying to hear it,  I’m sending it off to the farm where my Dad will carefully digitize it.

I gotta say, it’s awesome holding that tape in my hands.


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