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Monday, March 28, 2011

Unlimited NYT access as a subscriber

The upcoming New York Times paywall is causing a bit of an uproar all over the place. But I haven't much paid attention to it because of an email which said that "as a valued home delivery subscriber, you’ll get our All Digital Access package — which includes unlimited access* to and the NYTimes app for your smartphone and tablet — free." As for the asterisk, it says "*Mobile apps are not supported on all devices. Does not include e-reader editions, Premium Crosswords or The New York Times Crosswords apps. Other restrictions apply."

But that's enough for me.

We get the weekend papers only, and it looks as if in my area it's available for $3.15 per week.

If we didn't want the paper weekend edition it would be a different matter, but now you know why, while it's academically important to most of the world, I don't much care about this big todo at the moment.

Copy of the email follows.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living with a smart, sweet dog

Tonight I came home late, at around 9:30PM and the first thing I always see when coming in the front door is her smiling face. Now, dogs don’t smile, but there’s definitely a very happy and excited look that Maggie has, and if you didn’t know her, or if you were afraid of dogs, I don’t think you would like that face very much because her front teeth and fangs are all out, and her eyes are narrow as if she were ready to attack.

I must pause writing at this moment because hers truly came up to get my attention by sitting patently at my desk and giving the quiet “growl” sound she learned gets our attention. I typically respond to these rumbly “mmmmmm”s by standing and saying “show me” which she uses as a sign to lead me through the house to the thing she wants: either the front door for a walk, or back door for yard play, or a toy for tug, or the “food station” for the things that come from there. But tonight to my surprise when I said “show me” she didn’t respond, so when I kneeled she showed me what she really wanted by rolling on her back and exposing her belly for some affection. While I pet her stomach she shows her standard reciprocal affection by putting her paw somewhere on my person (in this case my stomach) and pressing to make some firm contact.

Speaking of which, I’ll share a slightly personal story. Saturday morning I slept late, and Maggie didn’t bother me. So when she heard me trundle around upstairs, she came up to meet me. She was certainly in need of a walk, and she was coming up to ask me so. Now like I said, she will lead me in the direction where she wants to go. Typically she’ll stand facing the direction and then look back to see if I’m following. Now I should point out that since I just got out of bed, I wasn’t what you might call “dressed.” We met on the second floor landing, and rather than lead me downstairs, she led me back to my bedroom. In other words, she took me to get dressed before taking me downstairs for a walk. Neither of us taught her that. She figured that out on her own.

Getting back to tonight - so, after the greeting and the pets and the licks, I told her we were going to do some “training”. Sometimes “training” means working on commands and responses, but in this case we were just going to play with some of her brainier toys. These are a set of three toys made by Nina Ottonson.


When I bought the first of these toys I thought to myself “How the hell is Maggie going to learn how to use these?” But with some patient training from Beth, she was really able to master these. Here’s an old video of her doing the “Dog Smart” puzzle. I assure you she can do these puzzles much faster than she could back then in September.

We did all three of these puzzles tonight, and her performance was typical -- she solves Dogsmart with surprising speed, Dogfighter with reasonable confidence, and with Dogbrick needs a little work and a little help. Watching her struggle with Dogbrick I thought about learning in general, and how she struggled with moving the bricks: with her nose, her teeth and her paws. I have no doubt that with more regular practice she will master it. And this made me think about my own career, and how practice is what makes you good at a task. It doesn’t make you smarter; it just makes you more competent. It helps that Maggie is a smart dog to begin with, but the practice made her an expert at Dogsmart.

We finished the puzzles and with the few remaining pieces of her training treats we went over some basic commands: “on your side”, “stand”, and “stay”. I tried testing her on the very last treat by putting her “on her side” and making her “stay” while a training treat was about two inches from her face. She patiently waited for 30 seconds, her eyes moving between me and the treat. I asked her to “stand” and instead she moved for the treat. I gave her a surprised “Hey!” because .. you know .. hey! Yelling would be wrong, but admonishing her with a loud noise is fine.

Training must always end on a positive note, even if it’s for the stupidest thing, so I resolved to give her one more thing to do. I stood up and so did she so I told her to lie back “down”. After that I had her go “on your side”, and made her “stay”. But then I walked from the living room to the kitchen out of her sight and continued to repeat “stay”. I expected to hear the jingle of her collar tags when I opened the bag of treats, but nothing happened. I was stunned to return with her still “on your side” even though I had been out of sight for so long, and so she was rewarded with a large amount of treats.

Now as I conclude this post she’s lying on the carpet in my office. She fell asleep and is making the distinct barking noise she makes when she’s dreaming. Is she dreaming about a “squirrel”? That’s another word she knows.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rock, Paper, Scissors in today's New York Times.

The NY Times published an online article that lets you play Rock, Paper, Scissors against an AI opponent.

Fantastic. Thinking that the best way to play this thing was by being completely random about it, I immediately went to the nearest shelf of board games to find a six-sided die. Out of eleven board games, only one of them had a six sided die, and that box was still shrink-wrapped.

The computer can perform in a novice mode, where it learns as it plays, or in advanced mode, where it uses 200,000 previous games to inform its predictions on what I would do. Would the die result in a tie game?

Not really. In advanced mode it was looking to predict my moves based on prior moves, and my random element confounded it:

After 20 rounds: 9 W 6 T 5 L
After 30 rounds: 12 W 11 T 7 L
After 40 rounds: 16 W 14 T 10 L

Then I went ahead and tried this against the novice, but limited it to 20 rounds (I have to work at some point.) I was surprised to see that I had a very early lead, though with a majority of ties. By round 16 I was winning 6W 9T 1L, but then it won the last four rounds ending with 6W 9T 5L.

Not statistically significant, but I want to push more data through. That each round takes a couple of uninterruptable seconds didn't help much. The application also only shows the last few rounds, whereas I had hoped it would allow me to export game's full history.

But it certainly has me thinking about how I can inject some form of randomness into my gameplay.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Workspace Mechanic 0.0.6 released to the testing update site

I think enough progress has been made on the Workspace Mechanic for Eclipse to give an update. Most of this you already know if you subscribe to the mailing list.
  1. There is now an update site for stable releases and one for testing releases.
  2. The Workspace Mechanic for Eclipse no longer depends on org.mortbay for JSON parsing. It also no longer depends on Mylyn because it has its own popup.
  3. Tasks may be specified by URL. Actually, it's slightly more complicated than that, but you can read all about it in the design document, which will eventually be turned in to proper documentation.
  4. Prettier icons.
  5. I've published tests for the project, and added many more in the last month.
  6. Lots of issues closed - too many to mention.
  7. I saved the most exciting thing for last. Michael Pellaton is giving a talk at EclipseCon which mentions the Workspace Mechanic for Eclipse, as well as his project: Eclipse Team Etceteras. If you're at EclipseCon, check it out.
Please try it out by installing it from the testing repository, and be sure to provide feedback!

Update: 11:07PM I've updated it to 0.0.7, adding relative URI task paths and supporting LASTMOD preference tasks supplied by URI.