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MotherTongue May 24, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Hello Kitty, Japan, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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I’m weirdly proud of this application because it was my idea, although my friend Mark


programmed it (does this make it pirate software?).  It just takes random hiragana or katakana characters and reads them aloud while highlighting them, equivalent to a mother reading to her child.  I like to think that this would help someone learn Japanese kana a little faster than flashcards.

Next I would like to port it to WinCE 5, so I could put it on my phone.  Hey, it could happen.

This is an application that works well for two reasons: one, Japanese is a monotonal language, so the syllables mostly sound the same no matter what order they are spoken in (not entirely true, but largely) and two, it’s a syllabic language in the first place (each symbol represents an entire syllable.  It’s hard to misspell in Japanese).

This program (MotherTongue.exe) can be used with other languages for this reason.  Just put .png files of the syllables of your new language with .mp3 files with the corresponding names in the same directory as MotherTongue.exe and start it up.  Purists might wish to use a silent syllable between words, but I haven’t bothered. It will also work with other sound and picture files, but I haven’t tested it with them, since my needs are already met.  I have toyed with the idea of using it to read Japanese aloud, but parsing random English-transliterated Japanese is liable to be too tricky to ask my boss to code up over beer.  I would have to move up to better bribes.

Leave comments about this if you would like. I would appreciate it.


EXCITING UPDATE:  I have written a version this for Android.  It’s ridiculous to put it on GooglePlay since I’m writing something much grander for language-learning activities generally but I’ll send it to you if you leave me contact info in the comments.

Additional update: strangely, this ancient post is still getting hits from somewhere. there are much better kinds of language-learning tools out there, most especially Google Translate, which can read you text in Japanese and a huge number of other languages, works in your browser or as an app on your phone.
Seriously, I am only leaving this page up because I am in love with the sound of my own writing.

Gambling Does Pay! (the House) May 24, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words.
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Wow, I went to Vegas, and the guy at the machine next to me
I, however, came back $50 poorer. As did 2 million others.
Who wins? Not us.
I once worked for a guy whose previous job was a product
manager at Bally’s. He shared with me a few little snippets
of info about how those machines are programmed. They’re
all networked, and they’re designed to pay out only as
much as is needed to keep the suckers, er, customers
playing at the adjacent machines.
I seem to recall that in Operant Conditioning it’s called Scheduled
Reinforcement. Though in this case it’s a little different,
since the reinforcement is delivered to a neighbor.
They had software engineers, mathematicians, and
psychologists running around developing the machines–
and lawyers, to make sure there was enough pseudo-randomness
to appease the regulators.
Our economy is not operated with the same tight level
of control and design, but in Silly Valley the
machines happen to have paid out in close enough proximity
and enough regularity to keep everyone playing at a
fever pitch. Apparently y’all still are.
Outside of the valley, it’s the same racket, but
the media gets the job of making the jackpots seem
much more regular and proximate than they are (e.g.
hyping wealthy celebrities and telling the Horatio
Alger myth again and again).
The Lotto Economy, I’ve called it for years. Still fits.
It’s a total farce. A shell game, a scam, a racket.


From The List That Cannot Be Named

True Greatness Never Dies May 23, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable.
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These were at the Maker Fair, but I have no idea why.

There are, perhaps, some things I was destined not to know.

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That Nifty Spider Car Thingie May 23, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Video.
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From the Maker Fair 2010 in San Mateo, CA.

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Stepdaughter Drives the Lost in Space Bot at Maker Fair May 22, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys.
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She charmed everyone she met at Maker Fair, including this guy and his son.  They built a lovely replica of the Lost in  Space robot over the last several years, and let Sarah drive it a little bit:

Sarah also made a nifty shoe enhancement with Sugru, the nifty silicone repair goop that sticks to everything but polycarbonate (which makes for a packaging nightmare, to hear Roger Ashby, the executive chairman of Sugru, tell it).  He promised to put Sarah’s creation on their web site and had the photographer take her picture…but I took one, too:

S6302679 The finished shoe is quite elaborate (I would even say rococo), but I will wait for the Sugru people to post it.


UPDATE:  Roger sent me some photos, but the one I like best is this one:


Isn’t she beautiful?

Given the nature of Sugru’s web site, I expect it to be shown there as this:

 shoes for industry

Dr. Who Theme on a Tesla Coil May 22, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Video.
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Performed at Maker Fair today, May 23, 2010 by Arc Attack.  The guy is in a Faraday suit and the main noises you hear are square waves fed through those huge Tesla coils.  They did other numbers, but I got there late and missed them; this was the finale.

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What the Real Goal of 3D Printing Is May 21, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Toys.
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Last week, DuPont Displays announced the development of a manufacturing process that the company says can be used to print large, high-performance OLED televisions at volumes that should bring down costs. Using a custom-made printer from Japanese manufacturer Dainippon Screen, DuPont says it can print a 50-inch television in under two minutes, and testing of the displays shows their performance is reliable–the displays should last 15 years.

I believe them.  This is the goal of the 3D printing movement: ever-smaller resolution printing, which makes possible apparently solid things like TVs and computing pads which can be made cheaply and DROPPED without being destroyed.  Oh, yes, and most anything else, too.

Other companies are working on OLED and especially OLED inks, including Universal Display Corporation (United States), Merck (no surprise)  in Germany, and Sumitomo Chemical.  Kateeva, (Menlo Park, CA) is developing OLED-printing equipment that uses shadow-mask fabrication tech with ink-jet printing.

Exciting update: the DuPont printing a TV in under two minutes is absolutely unsupported by any research I am able to carry out. I was reading MIT’s Technology Review and they said it. I can’t find any REAL information about this, and have to assume Technology Review is full of shit, and Katherine Bourzac made up that quote. I would try to check this with her, but she apparently has no e-mail address, unlike other contributors to Technology Review. The other staff of Technology Review ignored my inquiries about this. Thoroughly.

Tiny Science Done Up Big May 20, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Science, Toys.
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“The emerging Nanotechnology [field] is expected to change our world to a comparable extent as Microtechnology has (introducing integrated circuits, microsurgery and spacecraft).

To give everybody an opportunity to make his own "hands on" experience with the Nanoworld we provide all information to build up and use some of the standard equipment of this fascinating field of science, starting with the Nobel Prize winner of 1986: the Scanning-Tunneling-Microscope (STM).”

This is the extremely modest beginning of a project site which will allow any sufficiently determined person to build a scanning-tunneling microscope (and its handy cousin, the force microscope, which will let you manipulate atoms one at a time).  It works by measuring small electrostatic forces between an electrode and a surface to be studied and builds up a map of the surface by reading tiny currents generated thereby.  Nifty.  You might have thought this technology was beyond your reach, nay, even magical1 but you would be wrong.

image See?  Made with ordinary materials and patience.  The plans are on the site and the software to run the analog to digital converter that reads the currents (written in Visual Basic 6!  Who says you can’t do real work with BASIC?) as well as the “Scientifical Explanation”.  Be forgiving; the author’s first language is German.


1.  For all values of “sufficiently advanced”

Silliness Exemplified May 20, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Video.
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I love this. “Desktop-sized all-in-one pencil extruder.  Forms usable number 2 pencils at the rate of twenty pencils an hour.”

It’s all it should be

Automated Regression Testing (GUI only) May 11, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Publishing Tools.
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I have been tasked for some time with automating certain aspects of software testing at my place of employment (the leading maker and seller of PCR devices, but not, alas, the patent-holder for much of the intellectual property we need to sell product), specifically the testing of nightly builds of nearly-stable products with an eye to checking basic functionality such as creating new protocols and plates, making a simple RT run, opening several data files and checking each form in the data analysis package.  I had previously examined Vermont Hightest and found it too unstable for routine use, and began to look at other software packages. This means I get to test several packages which purport to do this.  Here are quick notes on that unhappy task:


H-P’s Quick Test Professional

This product is the child of the formerly famous WinRunner, and is a complex, many-headed Hydra with 1656 pages of disjointed, user-unfriendly documentation, a 136-page tutorial (web-centric and little help with my specific questions) and a mere 108-page installation manual.  For the potential tester exploring with a two-week license, there is also the "support" of a very slow-to-run and sparsely populated web forum.

In short, docs and help suck.

This does not give the evaluator much confidence in the cleverness of the management of the authoring company.  Surely, during the sales-decision period, a seller would try to make the product as appealing as possible, and suggest the selling company had huge support resources.

Didn’t happen here.

Unsurprisingly, there is an entire ecosystem surrounding this product centered on teaching people how to use it.  I guess many customers didn’t take the hint from their two-week experience in evaluation.  They learned pretty fast after that, since most of this ecosystem of tutorials, courses and certifications isn’t H-P’s.

This is not to say that the software itself is without value; it does perform several testing tasks which we find useful, such as file manipulation and form "exercising".  It does these in a way which makes checking the results of such tests manually absolutely required (explanation to follow below in the boring part "Things QTP Does Poorly").  It does this with apparently very fine scriptable control over some aspects of testing, and no control over other aspects.  In short, it is probably not suitable for our purposes.  Annoyingly, it took about two weeks to be pretty sure of this due to the convoluted documentation and non-existent support.  Marketing Documentation has a lot to answer for at H-P.

Things QTP Does Poorly
1) Documentation – I believe I have said this before.
2) Automation – If there is a way to automatically start a test or series of tests every night, I’m not sure what it is (see item 1, above).  It may not exist.
3) Reporting – When QTP records original images of forms, it does so immediately, usually before the form is done drawing.  This makes a bitmap comparison impossible and makes each report indicate a Fail of the bitmap comparison if one is requested.  This is because it makes bitmap comparisons after the form is fully drawn.  I can manipulate the delay time before bitmap recording after the form is drawn during the run, but not during the recording process.
4) The recordings are sometimes inaccurate (especially with regards to mouse dragging and dropping), but this can be edited from the scripts in a useful way (unlike Vermont Hightest) by trial and error pretty quickly.  Experience is helpful here.
5) Does not work well with a two-monitor system (don’t ask).

Things QTP Does Well
1) Scripts execute promptly, and completely.
2) Programmed delays work well, although are an undocumented (probably) feature.  I found it through desperate experimentation and a hint I found in the forums. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve the problems in recording, as I mentioned earlier.
3) Does make bitmap comparisons of what it considers active areas–except these may not be the areas we consider active.  This may be adjustable, but who can say without a guide to the documentation?


AutomationAnywhere’s Testing Anywhere

Although the ease of recording of Testing Anywhere is very great, the playback leaves much to be desired.  Screen redraws of our application are not completed, possibly because the Testing Anywhere is drawing too much in the way of CPU or memory resources.  This condition is not affected by closing all other applications prior to running the test.  The script itself cannot be modified to insert delay between a mouse action and the  first bitmap comparison, a deeply stupid oversight.

This makes bitmap comparisons useless, and leads to false failures.  In any case bitmap comparisons fail even when identical bitmaps are presented, although there may be some real (test-related) reason for this.

Bitmap comparison failure alone is enough to disqualify this software for our purposes.  I cannot recommend this product at all.

I tried to get their helpdesk guys to give me a hint, and they watched it happen and  suggested I use the object capture method for recording, but it doesn’t recognize many of the objects on our forms, so that’s a complete bust.


Test Complete 7

Test Complete 7 is also a complete bust.  It really doesn’t understand which items have or should have focus.  It has only one setting for delay, so that to make things delay and wait for new forms to open or the current to redraw, one must choose the longest possible delay expected…multiplying the test time possibly by factors of twenty or more.  Not good.

So, when it fails to recognize the Startup Wizard, it closes it as unexpected and tries to perform mouse functions on the underlying form…which leads to total inaction and failure of all test checkpoints.  At least the first time I tried it.

The second time I tried it without any checkpoints and it just barreled through all the test gestures without checking anything whatsoever.  When the time came to wait for the run to complete, it just barreled through the remaining mouse actions and reported the test as a complete failure.

Which I guess it is.

Oh, and non-paid support for prospective customers is non-existent for application testers, but not web development testers.  I presume they know where the money is.  Just sayin’.

My cow-orker (hyphenation intentional) Reza was able to get it to recognize the Startup Wizard, but the other problems remained.

Military Spending May 11, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable, Video.
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Pithy Comment Here May 6, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorized.
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