Associative memory

Mental Graph

One thing that makes communication very difficult is that people have very different thought processes. Any explanation or logical argument can be undermined because the though train of the two persons involved in the discussion have followed different tracks. While I would not describe myself as an illogical person, my though processes tend to be very associative: I have very bad memory and I remember everything by association, so my mind wanders along the connections on my memory graph.

One example of how this works is the graph around the word apple. For many english words with germanic roots, I don’t remember them as separate words, but more like variants of their german counterpart, in this case Apfel, from there you get to the north-german word Apfelsine which is not an apple, but an orange, and was originally an apple from China. Orange is a good word because it is used in many languages, French, German (in the south) and English, the word stays similar in japanese: オレンジ (ORENJI).

The word for Apple in French is pomme, there is a similar word in Italian: pomo, which is not used for apples, the word is mela, which stems from malus, which is apple in Latin, but also means bad (like malus/bonus). From there you hit the whole evil fruit thing with Adam and Eve. If you backtrack to pomo, there is a derived word which basically means apple of gold: Pomodoro, a tomato.

Apple is the name of a record-label, who publishes the music of the Beatles: Apple-records. The beater of the Beatles is Ringo Starr, interestingly, apple in Japanese is said リンゴ (RINGO). This is probably not a coincidence, given the presence of 洋子 小野 (Yoko Ono) around the Beatles. In the Kanji (YO) means ocean, but is also used to designate western related things, like culture or food. That kanji is build-up from the water radical (⺡) and the kanji for goat (羊).

Ringo is usually written in Katakana, the kanji form is 林檎 (リンゴ), the first kanji is 林, which means woods, and is basically tree (木) written twice. (GO) is not used in Japanese, it just means fruit or red apple in Chinese and is pronounced qín.

There is another company called Apple (the two had a lot of fun suing each other), which produces computers, the most known is probably the Macintosh. Interestingly, McIntosh is also a kind of apple. Apple also used to build a PDA called the Newton, named after a physicists who became famous for getting hit by an apple (and some stuff about gravitation and derivation). Nowadays Apple produces a lot of computers in China, but they are not called oranges.

One really weird apple derived word is pineapple, first because these things really don’t look like apples, second because most of the planet agreed to call these things ananas. French has pomme de pin, but those are the cones of the pine trees. In swiss-french these are called pives.

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Evil CSV Result

CSV Parsing

Inigo,"You killed my father
Darth, I am your father"
Evil Guy,""";drop table"
"Expert", "Trust me, I'm an expert"
Balmer,"""Developers, Developers"""
Yoda,Do,do not try
Me,"Do not
quote me, please"

I recently wrote about the complexity of the CSV format. Many people think the format is well defined, and well understood, so I though I would build an example file highlighting the complexity of such data. You can download the original CSV file.

The goal of the game is simple: tell me what is the correct parsing of that data, how many lines, how many columns, and their content. Of course, you can open the file with some tool, but that’s cheating, and you will have to trust the tool to do the right thing…

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A young woman in a white dress wearing a red glowing ring

Eternal Vows

A young woman in a white dress wearing a red glowing ring

While I use technology a lot, I have only started using ebooks, mostly because my backlog of paper-book is sufficient to keep me busy for some time. Pretty randomly, I discovered that Eternal Vows by Chrissy Peebles was for free, so I gave it a try [spoiler alert, but hey!]. I read it on three devices: my laptop, my nexus 7 tablet, and my iPhone 5. The Kindle application on those various devices is not very advanced, lacking even basic copy-paste, but it works, the text, including the reading position in the book was synchronised between the devices. I had the feeling that screen pixel density has a very large impact on the reading experience, larger that the screen size. My laptop has 50 pixels per centimetre, the tablet 85, the phone 128.

Eternal Vows

ISBN: 978-1-4841-3167-1

I read quite a lot of fantasy books when I was younger, and the archetypical story is that a random young guy gets projected into some fantasy world, where he has various adventures. Eternal Vows follows the same basic structure, but the main character is a woman, pretty early in the story she puts on a magical ring that give her magical powers, but that she cannot get rid from, and she looks for a way back to her own universe.

The book is described as Paranormal romance and fantasy adventure on amazon, personally, I would describe this as non-geeky fantasy: while the text has all the superficial bits of fantasy, the fantasy part is quite secondary: neither the character not the author seem to actually care for it. After reading the book, I cannot really say much about the world the heroine entered, it is medieval, people speak and understand modern american, there is some kind of church, and there is some magic, reserved to an immortal elite.

Clearly I’m not the intended readership of this book, quite the opposite in fact, but it is pretty interesting to see this variant of the archetypical fantasy story. The main character, Sarah, is a scientist, but she does not work on something that would be mentioned in the American Scientific, instead she is looking for the Bigfoot, science is not really a driver for her, in fact she is just looking for her lost sister. Readers can rest assured that the book is pretty devoid of sciency bits after chapter 1.

Sarah is supposed to be the leader of a team, but her leadership skills are pretty low: she basically says no a lot, rolls her eyes, and tells reminds her team-member that she is paying them, while they are in another dimension with no way back. Besides that, she mostly agonises about the situation and does what the male character tell her to do.

The core plot point of the book, and I suspect the following ones, is that Sarah weds Victor, some immortal lord and puts on a magical ring that makes herself immortal and capable of magic. Her decision to do this is not of her own devising, but rather an idea of her sceptic journalist ex-boyfriend, Frank, who also got projected into this world.

While Frank is presented as a jerk, he seems to be the only character with some skills, he asks questions about the universe they are in, and organises a rescue for Sarah, and generally tries to do things. The central plot is basically Sarah being torn between Frank who is, as his names indicates, the honest good guy™, deep-down, and Victor, who is basically the immortal, century old, über-winner. Both guys are of course hot, but Victor more so.

Once the story went over the dimension rift and the wedding, it is just a sequence of chases with some interludes of bickering between Sarah, Frank and various members of her team, a lot of emoting is involved. They are helped by various locals, luck and the magical ring, which is a good thing, because Sarah and her team have the general skill level of lost US tourists, even when the author conveniently whisked away the whole language issue.

On the other hand, Victor, who is supposed to be a century old tyrant is not very good at recovering his runaway wife, once she puts on the magical ring, he is quite smitten over her, and tells her telepathically that he admires the fact she stood up against him (by accepting to marry him after less than a day in dungeon). So he basically follows her remotely in the pretty random quest Sarah sets herself up to at the end of the first book.

Generally this book reminded me of Alexia Tarabotti story I read (in French), and while I cannot claim that Gail Carriger’s writing is good (I read a translation), I found the style of Chrissy Peebles very weak. The plot, the character and the universe are pretty shallow, and even the emotions are underwhelming, a lot of them are thrown around, but given the uninteresting the characters are and how little they actually do, it is difficult to care, by the end of the first book, I really wanted Sarah to move with Victor and get over with it all… In conclusion an interesting read in the academic sense, but a pretty lame book.

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Religion et Tradeoff

Une manière de reconnaître un ingénieur est le fait qu’il a tendance à répondre ça dépend a toutes les questions. En effet tout problème a typiquement plusieurs variables qui interagissent, l’interaction de ces variables est ce qui décide si quelque chose est possible, raisonnable ou rentable. Le corollaire c’est qu’il n’y a pas de réponse, juste des Trade-off, un terme qui n’existe pas réellement en français, le terme le plus proche, compromis n’exprime qu’un seul point dans l’espace des possibilités, avec en plus une très mauvaise connotation.

Le fait qu’il existe une myriade de solutions à un problème donné – avec une combinaison de variables très différentes – est quelque chose que l’on trouve partout dans la nature, la grande variété d’espèces animales ou végétales revient à cela : chaque niche écologique est une possibilité différente, avec ses avantages et ses défauts, aucune n’est réellement meilleure dans l’absolu, certaines sont plus adaptées à un moment donné où un autre, mais comme l’environnement change en permanence, ce qui était très approprié un jour peut devenir un handicap le lendemain.

Les religions semblent être la négation du trade-off : les dieux sont censés être, sinon parfaits, au moins l’incarnation d’une forme d’optimum. Leurs narrations consistent largement a essayer de cadrer le chaos et l’arbitraire ambiant, d’y injecter un ordre sous-jacent et invisible, un designer bienveillant qui ne fait pas de compromis. C’est une position qui me semble absurde, car elle est fondamentalement en désaccord avec l’univers tel que je le perçois, et oblige a nier d’une manière où d’une autre tout ce qui n’entre pas dans le cadre…

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A Kitten

La première église unifiée des chatons

Un chaton écaille de tortue

Une chose relativement compliquée à expliquer est ce que font les gens sur les réseaux sociaux en général, et Facebook en particulier. L’explications la plus courte est qu’ils partagent des photos de paysages, de bébés et de chatons. Dit comme ça, cela semble être une perte de temps, mais on peut aussi voir cela comme une forme de communion.

Communier, verbe. Être en union spirituelle ou affective avec d’autres personnes, partager une condition, un sentiment.

Ces images consensuelles font que tout le monde peut, un instant, être d’accord. Communier et échanger des ragots, on est clairement dans le marché de l’église traditionnelle, avec en prime une théologie simplifiée  : point de dieu unique mais triple, point de fils de dieu et charpentier cloué pour expier nos crimes, juste des chatons…

Xuxa the Kitten #1 © Ryan Poplin Creative Commons Attribution – Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 2.0 Générique.

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Boîte d'allumettes décorées de Douglasia Vitaliana


Boîte d'allumettes décorées de Douglasia Vitaliana

Ma grand-mère était de ces personnes qui gardaient un peu tout, même les petites choses. Comme j’ai pris mon premier appartement peu après sa mort, j’ai hérité de toute une série d’objets divers, dont une réserve de boîtes d’allumettes. J’en ai consommé la plus grande partie, et les déménagements ont aidé à disperser celles qui me restent ; parfois, je retombe sur une de ces boîtes.

On ne peut pas réellement dire que les allumettes sont une chose qui a beaucoup changé ces 25 dernières années, pourtant ce qui me frappe quand je fais craquer une de ces vieilles allumettes, c’est d’abord le parfum, je ne sais pas si elles ont été fabriquées à partir d’un bois différent, où si c’est simplement un quart de siècle de stockage qui altère l’odeur, mais elles sentent comme de vraies allumettes. Ce qui est sûr, c’est que le bois brûle plus régulièrement et plus lentement, ce qui normal vu que le bois a eu amplement le temps de sécher.

Si les allumettes n’ont pas réellement changé, la boîte a suivi l’évolution du temps, elle est toujours en carton, ornée d’une image éducative, mais le carton est bien plus fin, et lisse, la piste à gratter est à présent un réseau d’hexagones plutôt qu’une zone uniforme. Le dos de la boîte est le plus intéressant. L’ancienne boîte ne portait aucune indication, le nom de la plante illustrée et un simple code, deux lettres, TA. Les nouvelles boîtes ont une marque : Swedish Match, et quelques indications : il y a 45 allumettes, le bois est du tremble importé de Suède. Un petit texte explique aussi que les têtes d’allumages ne contiennent ni souffre, ni bichromate de potassium, ni oxyde de zinc. Si ça se trouve, ma madeleine à moi, c’est le KClO3

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Les mangues de Mao

Mangue de Mao dans un reliquaire

Samedi dernier je suis passé avec des amies au Musée Rietberg, une des expositions temporaires qui s’est terminée le dimanche s’appelait : La Mangue de Mao – culte des Masses durant la Révolution Culturelle et présente un aspect de la révolution culturelle que j’ignorais : le culte de la mangue. Durant la révolution culturelle, Mao fit cadeau de mangues à certains groupes ouvriers, les marquants ainsi comme privilégiés. À cette époque, la mangue était un fruit inconnu en Chine. Cette marque devint un symbole, qui se retrouva un peu partout, sur différents objets de propagande, mais aussi comme objet de culte, avec notamment des mangues en cire dans des reliquaires.

L’exposition n’était malheureusement pas très grande, mais le sujet me semble fascinant, comment l’absurdité des objets de cultes peut s’appliquer à un fruit, en se concentrant sur sa forme superficielle, et non pas le fruit lui même. Le paradoxe c’est que la culture de la mangue a été introduit d’abord à Taiwan, base des nationalistes, dans les années 60, et sur le continent dans les années 80, bien après la révolution culturelle. Aujourd’hui la Chine est la septième producteur mondial, les reliquaires et les objets kitsch qui ne furent pas détruit quand le vent politique tourna, se retrouvent dans les marchés aux puces…

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CSV Files

Coma Separated Value files are one of the most common ways of passing around data, while there is an RFC describing that format, it is extremely fuzzy, and there are many subtle variants of the format, and many people get them wrong, simply assuming they can join the values with coma characters and lines with carriage returns, maybe adding quotes around each record; this is bound to fail, as textual data typically contains quotes, commas, and carriage returns. So we get numerous bugs because some program does not properly escape characters, or some other does not properly decode escape characters.

The big irony of the situation is that the venerable ASCII code contains characters design to solve that exact problem 0x36 (record separator) and 0x35 (group separator). These characters are never used in textual data (and should be removed if they are), so building and decoding a file using those control characters would be much easier and more robust.

Why is this not happening? Text editors cannot properly handle those characters, and one of the legacies of Unix is that it is better to have a broken, brittle format that can be manipulated with a text editor than a well specified binary format. There is a certain irony of calling a file using ASCII control characters binary, but as they are not handled by text-editor, they are, for all intent and purposes, binary.

Some people will argue that XML is the solution – it really is not. Because first there is no standard XML format for passing around flat records, second because XML has the same escaping problem, the only difference is that the characters to escape are different…

Edit: two more entries about CSV parsing: CSV parsing and More CSV evil.

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Three characters in front of an ornate ring, a man with glowing fire in his palm, a red-haired woman in armour holding a spear and a black haired woman with the same spear, but with wings a a glow on her brow.

I recently bought the first volume of the comic book Ravine by Stjepan Šejić, aka Nebezial and Ron Marz. This purchase was a bit curious for me: my interest in fantasy has waned with the years, and I tend to be picky about the drawing style. I had been following Stjepan Šejić on deviantart for some time and I really love his drawings, he has a style that is both detailed and energetic, his pictures reminded me of the art by or , basically the good covers of Dungeon and Dragons modules. Except Stjepan Šejić has this level of quality throughout each page of the whole album.

Ravine Book 1
Text: &
Illustration: Stjepan Šejić
Top-Cow Production
ISBN : 978-1-60706722-1

The universe seems like a mix of classical fantasy fare: a founding drama, lots of dragons, many humanoid races, a falling empire, a growing religion, and of course a malediction. The book starts with a map and there is a glossary at the end of the book, along with character and race descriptions. While this sounds very much run of the mill, this was clearly done with both passion and skill, the art is just gorgeous. More importantly, the story with its two chaotic main character is what makes the whole thing tick. Usually fantasy is extremely predictable, but this story seems to have the level of chaos of a RPG session but few of the conventions, making the story very interesting.

All in all a very interesting first book, and I’m curious to see where the second one will go, the sneak peeks on deviantart look promising.

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Le Roi Mathias sur une île déserte

Couverture du livre «Le Roi Mathias sur une île déserte» avec un africain vouté portant un masque hirsute

Le livre suivant sur ma liste de lecture était Le roi Matthias sur une île déserte de Janusz Korczak. Un texte que j’ai reçu en cadeau, motivé – on s’en doute – par le titre. Il s’agit d’un livre assez différent de ce que je lis habituellement : après une révolution avortée, le jeune roi Mathias a différentes aventures et est exilé sur une île. Il s’agit avant tout d’une réflexion sur le rôle des enfants dans la société et leurs droits ; le texte est plus proche des lettres persanes que des 1001 nuits.

Le roi Mathias sur une île déserte

Traduction : Zofia Bobowicz
Éditions Fabert
ISBN : 978-2-84922239-3

Le style est assez typique de l’époque : mélange de pédagogie, d’humanisme, avec un petit fond de racisme envers les jaunes et les noirs, surtout les cannibales. Le style est aussi très typé : troisième personne, avec des recours réguliers a des entrées de journal intime ou des lettres. Cela dit, malgré la présence de lourdeurs du style pédagogiques, la narration reste prenante, et l’histoire intéressantes. L’écriture est agréable, je pense que cela est dû à un très bon travail de traduction depuis le polonais par Zofia Bobowicz.

En conclusion, une lecture agréable sur un thème important, même si le texte a un peu vieilli.

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