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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Look what I got!

At work I organized an 8-ball tournament, and I asked my friend. Teresa if she would be willing to make the tournament trophies: knitted 8-ball cozies. She did, and they came out great. As a prize, it's attractive, distinct, and yet, sort of bizarre. It's a perfect trophy.

The only mistake was that my teammate and I failed to win the tournament.

But look! Teresa made another cozie just for me!



After a workday on four hours of sleep, this really cheered me up. Since it looks like an eye ball, I named it "My Eye" so we can walk down the street and I can say "My Eye and I."

Thanks, Teresa!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Code-friendly blogging?

I'm looking for advice on either a blog editor or a new blogging service.

Blatherberg will stay where it is, but I want to separate my technical posts. I'm willing to use something other than Blogger, but only because I've been continually disappointed with the inability of Blogger's editor to maintain embedded spaces. Using Google Docs is good at addressing that problem, but introduces others I'm not interested in managing either.

So what I'm looking for is a combination of hosting service and editor that
  1. Preserves formatting
  2. Possibly lets me add-on a source code formatter
  3. Has a template that doesn't constrain the horizontal window size.
  4. Good integration between the editor and the service.
  5. Online editor is a must.
I'll be happy to use Blogger if someone can recommend a good editor to accompany it.

Also, I'd like to make this decision quickly, and seed the new blog with notes from EclipseCon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unicode and custom characters on a console display.

When transferring documents from Google Docs to Blogger, the article's title and labels are not set. If I were to edit the document after the transfer in order to set the article's title and labels, I would lose all my non-breaking spaces. Sadly, I must instead post it as-is, and but the article title, labels, and reference link here.
Unicode and custom characters on a console display.

On my way to Las Vegas, I read the in-flight Southwest magazine which had a puzzle called Shinro. Apparently, I'm not the only one who found it interesting enough to blog about. The game is played on an 8x8 grid partly covered with arrows, and a series of numbers along the rows and columns. Something like this:
Never mind what they mean, that's not important. What's important is that I decided to write a solver for this type of puzzle. I wrote a sudoku puzzle solver a few years ago and this would likely be easier to write than a Sudoku solver due to its rules.

The first thing I did was write the data model and a builder. For example, the grid above was written with this piece of code:

ShinroGrid puzzle = new ShinroBuilder(8, 8)
.setRows(3, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2)
.setColumns(2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2)
.setArrow(0, 7, SW)
.setArrow(2, 0, N)
.setArrow(2, 3, SW)
.setArrow(2, 4, W)
.setArrow(2, 6, SW)
.setArrow(3, 5, E)
.setArrow(5, 0, S)
.setArrow(5, 6, NW)
.setArrow(6, 4, N)
.setArrow(6, 5, W)
.setArrow(7, 2, E)
.build();

The next thing was to write something to print the grid, which I also did:

new Printer(puzzle).print(System.out);

Now, how do you print information like this using ASCII? Most of the grid was easy to do:

|2|1|2|1|2|1|1|2|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
3|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
2|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
2|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

but then it came time to print the arrows. I didn't want to use digits, or the letters 'NE', I wanted something visually recognizable - arrows. For instance, isn't first diagram of this post nice and readable? Sure it is, I made it with OmniGraffle. No way I'm going to integrate that with Java. I checked the unicode charts, and found what I wanted in the 2190 range. So I wrote up something to test this:

public class Demo {
private static char toChar(Direction direction) {
switch(direction) {
case E: return 'u2192';
case N: return 'u2191';
case NE: return 'u2197';
case NW: return 'u2196';
case S: return 'u2193';
case SE: return 'u2198';
case SW: return 'u2199';
case W: return 'u2190';
default: return ' ';
}
}
public static void main(String[] args) {
for(Direction direction : Direction.values()) {
System.out.print(direction + " [" + toChar(direction) + "] ");
}
System.out.println();
}
}

The output is:

NW [?] N [?] NE [?] W [?] E [?] SW [?] S [?] SE [?]

See, my console font doesn't seem to know how to interpret these symbols. It seems unreasonable to me that I would need to set the font for my output console, particularly as I hope someone else will want to run my code elsewhere. Having to rely on an AWT or Swing canvas upon which I must draw these characters also seemed unreasonable.

My very first computer was a TI-99/4a. One of the neat features of the TI was the ability to redefine characters. Since all characters were printed as fixed-width 8x8 pixels, redefining a how a character was displayed was as simple as creating a string representation where each line is the two-digit hex value, such as:

F0
1
1
1
1
0
0
0
0
C0
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
A0
1
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
90
1
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
08
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
04
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
02
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
01
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1

which could be implemented with this code:
10 call clear
20 call char(65, "F0C0A09008040201");
30 print "A"
40 end

(Thanks to the author of http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/99er/index.htm for the sample code and layout)

Maybe my old games were blocky, but I found it much easier to write graphics with these primitives. What's the modern-day equivalent for these? A custom terminal font? This sounds complicated without even thinking about it. I miss CALL CHAR.

My eventual solution was to use characters that were close approximations, but at least had a chance to be drawn:

case N: return '^';
case S: return 'v';
case E: return '>';
case W: return '<';
case NE: return '¬';
case NW: return 'F';
case SE: return 'J';
case SW: return 'L';

and my view finally looks like this:

|2|1|2|1|2|1|1|2|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
3|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|L|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
2|^|.|.|L|<|.|L|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|>|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|v|.|.|.|.|.|F|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
1|.|.|.|.|^|<|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
2|.|.|>|.|.|.|.|.|
-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

It isn't art, but it succeeds at getting conveying information. I succeeded this time, but what if I needed something more complicated for a game like "Where in the world is The Artist (formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince)?"

There should be an easier solution. It shouldn't require a learning curve (such as managing JFrame, lines, per-character font widths, et cetera.) I just want to get visual information across, quickly.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The incredible shrinking newspaper constituency

Major American newspapers have lost 10% of their circulation in the last four years. This, according to Editor & Publisher.

Most interesting takeaway statistics:
  • The 10% decline was 1,400,000 subscribers, meaning there are an estimated 12.6 million subscribers.
  • The LA Times lost over 200,000 subscriptions over the last four years, accounting for 20% of their circulation.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle lost 140,000 subscriptions over the last four years, accounting for almost 30% of their circulation.
  • Boston Globe: -20%
  • New York Times: -7%.
  • USA Today: +2%
  • New York Post: +2.3%
  • Part of the change based on the introduction of the National Do Not Call List.
Additionally,
  • There are approximately 303 million people in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau.

Separating My FriendFeed feed between friends and friends-of-friends

In October, I wrote about using Yahoo Pipes to filter my FriendFeed. At the time I separated them by Twitter messages and everything else. Now that FriendFeed is becoming popular, my feed is big, so I've re-split my feed into friends and friends-of-friends. The RSS feed that comes from FriendFeed doesn't quite make it easy, so I filtered on the phrase class="friend nonf".

Now I can focus on reading what my friends have to say before finding out what their friends have to say.

Update: screen shots, as requested.


Fig 1. Friends.

The Friends filter blocks any entry with a title that contains 'class="friend nonf"'

Fig 2. Non-friends

The Non-Friends filter permits any entry with a title that contains 'class="friend nonf"'