peteg's blog

Nikoly V. Gogol: The Cloak

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I read this after seeing The Namesake about a year ago. The descriptions are prodigiously lengthy and occasionally funny, but the narrative is weak. Do we have to die before getting retribution on the bureaucracy? Doubtlessly I missed some higher meaning in the text.

You can find it as part of the Project Gutenberg Best Russian Short Stories.


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Another Ken Loach classic, and once again one needs a keen ear for the accents of northern England.


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I must have seen this at the cinema back in 2002 or so.

Hal Hartley: Surviving Desire.

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The Black Dahlia

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The I'm-in-a-hurry guide to accessibility.

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I've been warmly surprised by some of the general-topics things I've found on the net recently; either Google's search results are tending away from waffle or I am becoming very adept at closing tabs and flushing the short-term memory buffer. Dive into Accessibility is straightfoward and the tips mostly directly applicable. Unfortunately it has dated a bit; I shudder to think that there are too many HTML 4 websites out there that people now want to make accessible...

I slightly quibble with his advice on access keys (Day 15, p32 of the PDF), where he suggests that a stroke survivor may make use of them. I expect there are many people who struggle to make key chords, especially those having the use of just one hand.

Lust, Caution

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I don't rate Ang Lee; Hulk was absolute rubbish, and perhaps Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was as good as I remember people saying it was, but I don't remember. I didn't see Brokeback Mountain.

This one is pretty good though, a Sergio Leone camera-work and spaghetti-time effort, at first blush similar to the contemporary Zwartboek. The lead actress (Wei Tang) is luminous and quite dextrous in her various roles. It was also great to see Joan Chen play such a major part. Tony Leung is as fabulous as ever.

Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything

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What can I say... I couldn't put it down, and found myself quite liking it after a while. There are some irritatingly heat-over-light sections, such as a general ramble about the arcana that is theoretical physics, but these are wonderfully counter-balanced by the extended geological threads. Most of the stuff on botany was lost on me as I have no grasp of the classifications (genera, phyla, etc.) and he doesn't stop to sketch the tree of life. (Perhaps he did, my (photo)copy was missing ten pages somewhere in the middle.)

I was most disappointed by the sections on DNA and evolution however, coming away with absolutely no new insight into either. Indeed, based on what is said about Charles Darwin I cannot fathom why he was credited with anything.

I could imagine someone coming along and writing something similar but using information as a unifying theme, rather than Planet Earth: one could take the line that local order is increasing (while the universe at large is subject to the second law of thermodynamics, of course) and run with it.

If only science was actually what this book was about. At best Bill Bryson characterises scientific practices ("so-and-so realised that..."), but usually he goes on about the individuals eccentricities rather than the processes (experiments, insights, philosophies) that led to their results. I find it fascinating that Newton and Einstein could have such huge ideas without dirtying their hands with more direct forms of empiricism. (This is somewhat less surprising in computer science as the formal models are more-or-less "cleaned-up" versions of reality.) I fear that modern science is generally a lot more tedious than one might be lead to believe from this book.

There are some good reviews at Amazon. (Having just pasted in some Wikipedia links, I'd have to say you may be better off following your nose there.)

To accesskey or not to accesskey...

/AYAD/Project | Link

An accesskey is another of the W3's ways of muddling concerns; when you type something into a web browser, what does it mean? Does the browser get the keystroke or the page, or the form, and which form are we talking about anyway... It seems the prevailing wisdom is not to use accesskeys as the implementations are broken; in a nutshell, this misfeature is not compositional, a feature shared with all the very worst XHTML ideas.

Back in the real world we're stuck between doing something "many users will be familiar with" (yeah, I remember that) and leaving things alone. I've decided to follow the BBC's ambivalent lead here.

Lazy CSV Parsing in Haskell.

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One of the fun bits about this project is the text munging that comes with it. The regexp libraries for Haskell have super-sophisticated do-what-I-think-you-mean interfaces and not enough (simple) use-cases in the docs. Couple that with my concerns about Unicode support and I'm stuck doing it the very old fashioned way.

OK, enough editorialising; I've written a mostly-{RFC 4810, Haskell 98}-compliant lazy CSV parser that appears to work OK on reasonable-sized inputs. Existing solutions use Parsec, whose return type seems to guarantee that more-or-less the entire output must reside in memory at some point. This might be OK for small files, but the 6Mb of Unicode data I need to import consumes a ridiculous amount of memory, even with GHC's optimiser going full-bore.

You can find it here. The licence is BSD. Couple it with the appropriate utf8-string for your GHC and it works well on UTF-8-encoded files.

Now, to track down a nasty memory leak somewhere in the database code... the profiler tells me SYSTEM is hanging onto some stuff, but not what SYSTEM actually is. Err, what did Fergus say again?

Hal Hartley: The Book of Life

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The Age of Innocence

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Michael Maclear: The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam 1945-1975

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A fairly concise and selective account of the war from a mostly American perspective. As such it is not bad, but it gets a bit too breathless a bit too often. Still, at this length I doubt there is much better.