I have the left and right…

I was playing around with the Online Etymology Dictionary tonight and was randomly typing in short words. In the entry for “jack” I found this:

The jack in a pack of playing cards (1674) is in Ger. Bauer “peasant.”

Huh… now what am I going to idly wonder about as my grandparents hand me my ass in Euchre? Wonder if the connection I’m assuming is real. Better check Wikipedia:

Euchre, the game responsible for introducing the Jack (Joker) into modern packs, invented around 1860 to act as a top trump or best Bower (from the German word Bauer, “farmer”, denoting also the Jack at cards[1])

That sounds promising, but it’s possibly lore since it assigns a bit of a heightened sense of worth on the subject of the article for introducing a major element into modern decks. So let’s check Playing Cards:

Before this time, the lowest court card in an English deck was officially termed the Knave, but its abbreviation (“Kn”) was too similar to the King (“K”) and thus this term did not translate well to indices. However, from the 1600s on the Knave had often been termed the Jack, a term borrowed from the game All Fours where the Knave of trumps has this name. All Fours was considered a game of the lower classes, so the use of the term Jack at one time was considered vulgar. The use of indices, however, encouraged a formal change from Knave to Jack in English decks


Hmmm… That implies that the “role” of the Jack had been played by the Knave for a long time, and that it had been unofficially termed “Jack” since the 1600s. That’s not so promising. While the entire concept of what a deck of playing cards has always been fluid, this section seems to clearly show that the concept of three “court” ranks was already in place in the 1300s:

It is likely that the precursor of modern cards arrived in Europe from the Mamelukes of Egypt in the late 1300s, by which time they had already assumed a form very close to that in use today. In particular, the Mameluke deck contained 52 cards comprising four “suits”: polo sticks, coins, swords, and cups. Each suit contained ten “spot” cards (cards identified by the number of suit symbols or “pips” they show) and three “court” cards named malik (King), nā’ib malik (Viceroy or Deputy King), and thānī nā’ib (Second or Under-Deputy)

Well, it looks to me like Euchre introduced neither the concept of the Jack, nor the name “Jack” itself. The headscratcher for me is the reference for the original statement, which is “Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, David Parlett – pg.104”. I can’t find the text of that reference online, but the author seems like a serious scholar from what I turned up. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t a misunderstanding by the reader of what the writer meant.

Oh well, it was a nice story while it lasted…

Wikipedia hell: a portrait

Sat down for some laptop/TV time this evening and, having read The Frog Prince to my daughter this evening, thought to myself “Hmmm, I’ve heard the original Grimm Fairy tales were pretty rough, I wonder if I can find any of the originals”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_Grimm (7/23 21:06:28)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapunzel_syndrome (7/24 00:10:41)

Of course, I’m not done reading, but I got sidetracked seeing if I could pull up this information programmatically (I need a project!). It’s not even that extreme of a case!

I wonder if there’s a Firefox extension that would draw a graph (in the mathematical sense) of refers. Even better, a time-scale animation that draws the referrer graph in proportionate time to give a sense of how long stuff was read. Though that;s note really what that would do I guess. Perhaps you need the extension to record the front-most window first? Hmmm.

What’s the deal with the Kindle dictionary?

I’m currently lost in wikipedia hell when I realized one of the things I find disappointing about the Kindle. I love the inline dictionary, but I really dislike:

  • How long it takes to look stuff up
  • The quality of the dictionary (not the definitions themselves, but how many words aren’t in the dictionary)
  • The fact that the dictionary can’t be used to look up words in a definition.

While all of these are annoying, the last one drives me nuts. I end up looking up words in definitions all the time. Even if I know the word, I might want the exact denotation, a derivation, pronunciation, etymology. Not being able to easily “chain” lookups together is really frustrating.

Thought, language, and telepathy

I was reading a post at the blog for Stack Overflow regarding their policy on English language postings (Summary: post in English). I always go on alert when I hear about language being dictated, but I think they have a solid policy here. First, Jeff has been very upfront from day 1 about not wanting to capture the market space in non-English speaking markets, which I think is a pretty clear statement that he wanted SO to be English-only. Second, he’s been very clear that he’s trying to build a community, and posts in different languages built silos, not a single community.

All that said, that post I mentioned contains this:

Now, if askers try to use English and put in “sorry, my English isn’t very good”, that’s fine. Heck, a lot of native English speakers aren’t very good at it, either! The reason we have collaborative editing is to learn and improve together. This is totally fine and even encouraged. (Please do try to make sense, as our users are often brilliant, but not telepathic as far as I know.)

I’m sure if I was a language researcher this is old hat, but think about this. Let’s say telepathy (“mind reading”) is real. You have, say, an Italian speaker who knows no other languages who is a telepath. Could that person “read the mind” of a speaker of a native Asian language? In other words, is the form of thought some constant across human beings, or is it dictated by the language in which a person is able to form thoughts?

OK, I purposefully picked two very different languages above. How about an Italian speaker and a French speaker? would the similarity of the languages matter?

What if you had a native Mandarin speaker who also knew French, and a telepath who spoke French? Would the Mandarin speaker have to form thoughts in his non-native French for the telepath to understand?

I have no basis for this, but my feeling is that emotions could be transferred via telepathy, but that a speaker of one language couldn’t read the “thoughts” of a speaker of another language, at least not in the sense we usually mean when we discuss “reading” minds.

Here’s the real mind-blower for me though. I believe that language and intellect are strongly influenced by culture, and culture is in turn influenced by language and intellect (I loves me some Sapir-Whorf, in other words). If we concede that telepaths can feel base emotions and “patterns” in thought, is it possible that these patterns are also culturally and linguistically shaped? In other words, if a French telepath reads the emotions of a Mandarin speaker, would the French speaker interpret them correctly?

If you had a starving peasant who was momentarily happy when given a ham sandwich, would a fat, first-world telepath correctly interpret the peasant’s emotions at that moment as happiness?

Open protocols…

I was thinking about the mythical Apple tablet and ChromeOS the other day and it occurred to me that, while I like Apple products, if I really want to participate in that market it’s almost irrelevant that it be an Apple product (leaving aside their usually stunning hardware design, of course). From an OS point of view, though, who cares? It’s designed to be an interface to the web. I use protocols, not applications… SSH and HTTP/HTTPS and I’m pretty happy… And I bet I could find or hack up an HTTPS interface to SSH pretty quickly. What a far cry from a few years ago when an OS’s applications were key.

Family status

My lovely daughter sums up this afternoon’s trip to the sandbox:

“Daddy, daddy, I got a splinter!”

“And Ellie got blood on her face!”

“And Mommy got a headache!”

I was assured by my lovely wife that this was indeed an accurate summary.

Sort order with podcasts in iPod Shuffle

I’ve had a long-standing issue with my iPod Shuffle (first gen) where regardless of what order I place my music and podcasts in, podcasts always play before music, and the podcasts play in reverse chronological order (so newest podcast first). I had read of a solution in which deleting your iTunes Database and other files would fix the problem, but I have so many custom playlists related to podcasts that it seemed like less work to deal with the weird sort order than to try to recreate my iTunes environment.

This was all peachy until a few months ago. I abused my 512MB shuffle so much that the headset jack was loose and it would only play audio through one channel. I really wanted another 1st-gen Shuffle (the built-in USB jack is the killer feature for me) and I eventually found out that my niece had upgraded to a nano. After some not-especially-fierce haggling I bought her 1st-gen 1GB Shuffle. Both audio channels, more storage, and as an added bonus, a sane playlist order!

That’s right, somehow her iPod allowed me to sort the podcasts in the order I wanted them to be in. Heaven.

Then a week ago, to fix some perceived problem, I updated the iPod software to 1.1.5 (I don’t know what version it had on it before – based on the rest of this story it seems likely it had an older release, but it seems unlike me not to immediately update the software). Guess what? Podcasts went back to the old behavior where they were played in reverse chronological order. Hell.

I finally got mad enough to spend some time on the problem. One very valuable piece of information I had this time is that there was nothing necessarily tying my problem to my specific machine, since I had used this newer shuffle for a few months on this PC without problems.

The first thing I tried was reformatting the iPod on my Mac Server. Didn’t work. Then I tried moving my iTunes folder out of the way and reinstalling. Didn’t work. Drat. That was basically the suggestion of people to rebuild your iTunes library.

One very interesting thing I did find is that this behavior isn’t really hard coded to reverse-chronological. It’s actually tied to the sort order of your “Podcasts” Library section. I was able to prove this to myself, I could change to forward chronological and the podcasts would always play oldest to newest. This wasn’t perfect (I really want to listen to “today’s” podcasts in whatever order, then listen to “older” podcasts oldest-to-newest. I like having finer control than that, but that’s all I really need).

I was excited for a few minutes because I though “ah, I don’t need very granular control, I can just create an artificial rating and sort on it!” Nope. I have no idea why (older posts I found indicated this wasn’t always the case) but my iTunes ( on Windows XP) will only allow me to sort on the “Release Date” column, so my idea of rating the “daily” podcasts 5 stars and the “other” podcasts 3 stars wouldn’t work. Drat.

I finally came full circle and realized that maybe it was a software revision issue. I know my problem started when I installed 1.1.5, but I don’t know what version it had previously been running. Also, I found no mention of software version in the (many) discussions of this issue on the web. In fact, I found several that swore up and down that “nothing had changed”. Sure, right.

I had spent so much time on this that giving up would have left me not only unhappy with the Shuffle behavior but also with all the time I wasted. So, I tried the thing I was sure would fail (and in fact that I wasn’t even sure I would be able to attempt). I downgraded from release 1.1.5 to 1.1.4. Et voila! I can’t believe that worked! How did you not tell me that, Internet? =)

Here are the exact steps I followed that fixed my problem. I think some of them are superfluous (I doubt it matters that I did the actual update on a Mac) but I want to state what I did exactly since there seems to be a lot of confusion on this issue:

  • Download iPod Updater 2006-06-28 from Apple
  • Install updater on my Mac server (still running 10.3.9, iTunes 7.7.1(11) – don’t laugh, it’s rock solid)
  • Quit iTunes
  • Delete iTunes folder (after making a backup of course)
  • Run iPod updater
  • Choose “restore”, say yes to everything
  • “Quit” the updater when it informs you that the iPod is restarting
  • Once iTunes starts up (it did so automatically for me) and you’ve renamed the iPod, unplug it
  • Transfer iPod to Win XP machine running iTunes “Erase” when you are informed that your iPod is attached to another machine
  • Transfer a couple podcasts and a couple of songs to the iPod, sort to the two types are intermixed
  • unplug shuffle
  • plug shuffle back in
  • See that the podcasts and songs are in same order as when you unplugged!

Like I said, it probably doesn’t matter that I did it on a different machine or that I delete the iTunes folder while doing it, but those are the steps I happened to do that worked.

Faking RARP Packets

packit – http://www.packetfactory.net/projects/packit/

Error finding net/bpf.h when building on some platforms. Solution is:

ln -s ../pcap-bpf.h /usr/include/net/pbf.h

Solution and explanation found at http://wwwx.cs.unc.edu/~jsterrel/articles/net-bpf.php

Actual solution used for my problem:

-m inject
-t arp
-c 1
-H 30
-A 3
-Y 00:04:23:5F:81:D8
-X 00:04:23:5F:81:D8

What Visio Means to Me…

I just had an epiphany.

I thought that I was infatuated with Microsoft Visio because I liked drawing pretty pictures. And while people seemed to like the pictures I drew, I always felt slightly silly because ultimately all I was doing was drawing pretty pictures.

I just finished drawing a multi-server, multi-silo, multi-site application that I knew nothing about before 72 hours ago, from the power cords into the walls to the networks to the logical application flow. I looked at the document and realized that I didn’t love Visio because of the pretty pictures, I love it because, when I am able to produce that pretty picture, it means I understand the thing I am modeling 100%, top to bottom. And that’s a feeling I don’t have to feel silly about.