Monday, February 2, 2009

Did you mean...

The power is back on! This evening, I was able to hop on the web and get caught up on Battlestar Galactica. I watch a couple of shows this way, but mostly watch movies from Netflix. With no electricity at home last week, this wasn't really an option, so I ended up doing a lot of reading. On Friday I went to stay at my Dad's house, and at that point I went back to watching movies! Reading was very fun though -- I think I have now read most of the books I got last Christmas.

Last year, I kept track of all of the books I read and all of the movies I watched. I kept them on a web page with links to their Wikipedia entries when they existed. When I visit random Wikipedia pages, I try to make any obvious corrections to the pages, and also learn neat things sometimes. For example, apparently Water for Elephants was first drafted during NaNoWriMo. On last year's lists, movies seriously outweighed books. This year I am keeping the same lists and, due to the power outage, books are at least catching up.

I only brought a few books with me to my Dad's house, so ended up downloading a few free random ebooks on the iPhone through Stanza. One of them had a silly title: The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death. I went to find the Wikipedia entry for it, so just did a search for:
the idiot girl and the flaming tantrum of death
No hit -- it is not too surprising that the book doesn't have an entry, but what was surprising was when the search results asked:
Did you mean: the idiot girl and the flaming tantoo of death
What?? Would there really be hits for that instead? I clicked, and...
Did you mean: the idiot gil and the fleming tango of death
Oh of course, that makes a lot more sense! So I clicked, and...
Did you mean: the idiot gill and the fleming tang of death
Hehe. So I clicked, and...
Did you mean: the idiot gill and the flying tank of death
Now we're getting somewhere! So I clicked, and...

This one actually got two search results: List of Doctor Who villains (exactly what it sounds like) and Corner Gas (a Canadian sitcom). Neither contain that exact phrase, unfortunately, though they do have all those words in them. Search engines are cool.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I now pronounce you...

I once had a friend that pronounced the word "gesture" as "guess-ture". It was not part of an accent that he had -- he pronounced German and George in the typical way -- but this one word he pronounced oddly. Whenever we had a conversation that involved gestures, we would both steadfastly pronounce the word our own way, adding stress to the situation, and making it feel somewhat like we weren't even talking about the same thing. My mom explained to me that such things were common in kids who did a lot of reading: if they encountered a particular word for the first time in text, they would make up a pronunciation and stick with it.

The same thing appears to happen with all of these new words for file formats, software and other bits of internet culture: most people learn these words by reading them or by hearing them from someone who has only read them. Even in a formal class, the professor is likely to have only read about the material and spoken to others locally rather than having learned about it from an official source with accompanying audio. Even when a new word appears in a dictionary, its entry may suggest multiple pronunciations or disagree with a dictionary that used different sources. Many developers don't encourage any one particular pronunciation as long as people are talking about their work.

Some examples I've noticed recently:
  • FAQ: a Frequently Asked Question about a given topic, or a document in question/answer format addressing such questions. The various dictionaries on say "fak" or "ef-ay-kyoo" and vary about which is preferred. I use either depending on context (fak if one is already visible, F.A.Q. if I am introducing the idea) but tend to not use "fact". I also avoid the sassy variant fa-queue.

  • GIF: Graphics Interchange Format, an early bitmap image format. I pronounce this one with the hard g (like the one in graphic) which is different from the official developer pronunciation (which purposely sounds like the peanut butter brand). Fortunately I don't say the word much, because I don't often use the format. I fell out of the habit of using it due to LZW patent threats which have since expired. The PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format, designed as a GIF replacement, always served my purposes just as well and was nifty in its own right. PNG, officially pronounced "ping", cites one of its spiffier features as "unambiguous pronunciation", which I find funny because I have also pronounced it P-N-G and "pung".

  • LaTeX: a document markup language popular in the sciences (and a free way to make PDF documents!). In our math department, incoming graduate students commonly learn the language from their office-mates (when required to use it for papers, class notes or worksheets for their students) and at the same time adopt the pronunciation of their particular office-mates or teachers. I pronounce this one LAY-tech, but often hear LAH-tech, lah-TECH and LAY-tekz. In the LaTeX user manual, the creator of the language does not suggest a pronunciation, but rather says that "one of the hardest things about using LaTeX is deciding how to pronounce it."

  • SQL: Structured Query Language, a database language with many variants including MySQL and postgreSQL. The ANSI standard indicates that the correct pronunciation is just reading off the initials S-Q-L rather than saying "sequel" (which was the name of an earlier language). I do pronounce this one in the standard way, though I recently went to a conference where everyone said "sequel". I have also heard "squill", "squall" and "squirrel".

  • Linux: a family of operating systems (mostly free and open source) which run on the Linux kernel, initially developed by Linus Torvalds. Linus's pronunciation (which sounds similar to his name) is considered the correct one, though I know very few people who use it. I pronounce it LIH-nix and I think LIE-nix (rhyming with the English pronunciation of Linus) is reasonably common as well.
Sometimes I wish that developers would vocally commit to a pronunciation even when they think it is is unambiguous (as did the version control system Subversion) but other times I think it wouldn't help. When presented with the correct (developer-sanctioned) pronunciation, I sometimes reject it because I think it sounds weird. Even my friend, when shown the dictionary entry for "gesture", shrugged and continued pronouncing it his own way.

Maybe this will cease to be a problem as more communication is text-only, or fix itself as web pages are replaced by some format with audio more integrated.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blue 2.0: Done!

I have now finished all of the activities for Blue 2.0: that was fun! Thanks so much to the organizers for putting this together and helping us out along the way. I know we'll be able to use a lot of these technologies at work now that everyone is more familiar with them.

Blue 2.0: My video!

Not long ago, I came across a book of poetry that I wrote in second grade. My favorite poem was "hens", so I have performed (and enhanced) it for YouTube. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to leave comments on the YouTube page!

This was a fun project! I did all of the images with IrfanView and GIMP, and recorded the audio with Audacity on my Windows machine. I put the movie together (and published it to YouTube) with iMovie on my mac.

I was reminded of a project I did in middle school, where they paired each of us up with an elementary school kid. The kids wrote Halloween stories, and we had to transcribe them with calligraphy pens and make spooky illustrations. Mine was called "The Legend of the Pumpkin Patch". I don't remember too much about it except that there was "moaning and groaning in the pumpkin patch", which we all got a big kick out of. This project felt similar, only this time the kid writing the book was me! I think Kathy would have been pleased with the result.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blue 2.0: Photos, Podcasting and Video


Flickr is very cool, and very easy to use. I had no trouble uploading a bunch of photos, rotating the sideways ones, and arranging them into a slide show. I made one slide show for painting day (the day we painted our downstairs camera room and one corner of our lab) and another for Becky's Bon Voyage party before her trip to Italy.

A few things to note:
  • If you are using a free account and your photos are large, resize your photos before uploading them. Flickr will only show a reduced copy of your photo anyway and you will use up less of your monthly quota this way.
  • Flickr only wants your photos, not your drawings, screenshots or newspaper scans. Occasional ones are fine, as long as you tag them as such.

So far in the library we have used Flickr to share photos of department events. We may also use it in the future to share photos of our work area and processes for colleagues to view and use in presentations.


None of us had any podcast ideas that we were particularly fond of doing by ourselves (though Ben made one of himself reading Shakespeare) so we (Shell, Thom, Crystal, Ben and I) decided to record one together. It was very easy! We downloaded Audacity onto a lab computer, gathered around a headset microphone, and chatted about our experiences with Blue 2.0. We exported the file to MP3 (using the LAME library, which must be downloaded separately) and uploaded it to my web site. Our podcast was over half an hour long, so the file was so large that it would have used up a substantial amount of the quota offered by the free hosting site we looked at. We all enjoyed the experience so much that we are planning future podcasts. Any suggestions for content?


There are many good library videos on YouTube, but this was my favorite that I found today:

Cookie Monster tries to get cookies from an increasingly frustrated librarian by sneaking in his request after a request for a book. I like this video for several reasons.

For one thing, it's Sesame Street!! One of my favorite uses of YouTube is looking up things I remember from my childhood and getting all nostalgic about them. Remember that series of public service announcements with the clock guy who talks about nutrition and hygiene? Time for Timer is on YouTube! That freaky Raggedy Ann musical? The songs are on YouTube!

Another reason: it parallels what Nerve and IFC have declared to be one of the 50 greatest comedy sketches of all time, Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch: "much of the joke stems from the rational man growing increasingly hysterical, while the irrational one remains perfectly calm".

The final reason is that Cookie Monster's request would not be so out of place in many of today's libraries. With the idea of "library as place" being important, many libraries have coffee shops and restaurants inside to make them more friendly places to be. I suspect that if I were to go to the circulation desk and order a picture book and a box of cookies, I would be directed to the Education Library and to Grub @ The Hub or the Ovid's/Starbucks in the same building.

Oh and one more link: Read or Die Another Day. Yuriko Readman ("The Paper") is my hero!

Currently working on a video of my own to post.

Blue 2.0: Social Networking


I created a MySpace profile:

In middle school, I brought a clipboard of paper to all of my classes. The back was a collage of pictures from movies that I'd cut out of magazines. Some of my classmates did similar things; I remember one girl had band-aids with various characters and designs on her clipboard. Without talking to people specifically, I could display my interests and start conversations with people with similar interests, and I could change what I had there by taping new pictures over the old. It seems to me that MySpace profiles are a more high tech version of that clipboard -- if I could have put music or video (or games or polls) on there, or had the content update when my favorite actor had a new movie coming out, I probably would have. If companies could have used the back of my clipboard to most favorably advertise their newest movies, they probably would have done that too.

There is also that "I have more friends than other people, see this big list of them?" aspect that many social networking sites have. In middle school, we did this with friendship bracelets (made with embroidery floss) or friendship pins (safety pins with colored beads that you wore on your shoelaces) -- the more you had, the more friends you had! Of course, many of us made additional pins and bracelets for ourselves. It's probably harder to justify making MySpace profiles for your imaginary friends, though I wouldn't doubt people do that too!

Overall, I'm not that fond of MySpace. Maybe I just haven't personalized it enough, but the ads pretty aggressively outshout the content. It's pretty rude to have an ad on such a page which is a link that says "1 New Message".


I made a Facebook profile:

Maybe it's just that Facebook is aimed at an older audience, but I pretty instantly found lots of friends from college on Facebook. It also seems that there is more of a focus on games to play with your friends and ways to find old and new friends. I have several games of Scrabulous going on at any particular time, and I keep hearing about this superhero game where you fight each other with your assigned super powers. MySpace seems to have more to watch than to do.

I don't typically do the "microblogging" that these sites allow; that is, letting people know at any given time what I'm doing. "Zemkat's in a meeting", "Zemkat's going to lunch!", "Zemkat's back from lunch". I set my Google Talk status to "watching a movie" several months ago, and never changed it. When I see people in real life now, they ask how the movie is, and if I'll be finished with it any time soon (because if it's that good, they'd like to borrow it).

Facebook seems to be a fine site -- the interface is clean and not covered with ads. I'm not sure that I like that every new application I install seems to get access to everything I do on Facebook, but I'm also not sure if such privacy is all that important to me. I do after all use a Kroger card and a Pet Perks card to save money at the store, and sometimes I get coupons in the mail for things that I actually buy. Maybe letting application developers know what sorts of things I like will lead to more things that I like. I know this is an invasion of my privacy, but I am not chilled by it. Kroger doesn't sell anything so embarrassing that I wouldn't buy it just because the Kroger people would know. Nor will I do anything that private on Facebook.


I made a LinkedIn profile:

As a third social networking site, I made an account on LinkedIn. I chose this site because I received two invitations from colleagues. The first tempted me to join with a statement like, "if you join now, you will have access to Kopana's network of 2 people." How can I say no to that?

It seems to be a more professional networking site -- you don't just link to who you know and who you like, but who you have worked with and whose work you would recommend to others. There is built-in functionality for requesting letters of recommendation, for example. Seems interesting, though I currently only know a few people who use it. We'll see how my network grows.

Friday, April 11, 2008


This afternoon we gathered around my desk and recorded a podcast about Blue 2.0! You can download the podcast from my web site. I made an account with podbean, which may have offered extra features, but it wasn't clear enough that they wouldn't try to bill me if our podcast became too popular.

It's about 30MB, so I suggest saving it to your computer or mp3 player and listening to it from there.