June 19, 2024 7:53 PM

I Wrote Some Code For Fun Today

One of the downsides of being department head is that much of the daily work I have to do is less interesting to me than studying computer science or writing programs. It's important work, sure, at least most of it, but it's not why I became a computer scientist.

Today, I ended up not doing most of the administrative work I had planned for the day. On the exercise bike this morning, I read the recent Quanta article about a new way to estimate the number of distinct items in a list. My mind craved computing, so I spent some time implementing the algorithm. I still have a bug somewhere, but I'm close.

Any day I get to write code for fun I call a good day. This is important work, too, because it keeps me fresh. I can justify the time practically, because the exercise also gives me raw material for my courses and for research with my undergrads. But the real value is in keeping me alive as a computer scientist.

The good feeling from writing code today is heightened knowing that tomorrow's planned administrative work can't be postponed and is not fun, for tomorrow I must finish up writing annual salary letters. I am fortunate that writing these letters provokes as little stress as possible, because the faculty in my department are all very good and are doing good work. Even so... Salary letters? Ugh.

Thus I take extra pleasure in an absorbing programming process today.

I realized something about myself as a programmer while on a bike ride with my wife this afternoon.

Even though I prefer to write code in small steps and to write tests before (or in parallel with) the code, I have a weakness: If you give me the algorithm for a task in full upfront, and I grok it, I will occasionally implement the entire algorithm upfront, too. Then I end up debugging the program one error at a time, like a caveman.

Today, I succumbed to this tendency without even thinking about it. I am human.

Posted by Eugene Wallingford | Permalink | Categories: Personal, Software Development, Teaching and Learning

June 05, 2024 2:58 PM

Quick Links from Reading

I have posted or re-posted several links on Mastodon recently, after having been mostly silently for a few weeks. Whenever I end up posting a flurry of items, I find myself thinking, "I may want to use these somewhere later..." and realizing that I don't want to rely on Mastodon search to find them. So here a few, for the record (and for the pleasure of those readers who don't follow my social media postings with the tenacity they deserve).

Oneliner-izer https://github.com/csvoss/onelinerizer converts any Python 2 script into a single line of code.

Favorite line from the documentation:
"Never pass up an opportunity to use the Y combinator."

In my programming languages course, we learn how local variables are a syntactic abstraction. If nothing else, I can use this tool to demonstrate translations of simple Python code into their equivalent function applications.


This is from a short blog post on receiving an AI-generated email message from a friend:

The effort, the clumsiness, and the time invested are where humanity is stored.
-- https://mrgan.com/ai-email-from-a-friend/

Then again, I would like this. I still send actual physical cards to many friends and members of my family each year at Christmas, with (short) personalized handwritten notes. I am not always the best of friends, but occasionally I invest a little effort, clumsiness, and time in saying "I'm thinking of you."


It's surveillance wine in safety bottles.
-- https://mastodon.world/@Mer__edith/112535616774247450

I haven't studied the GDPR provision that Whitaker is commenting on, so I have no comment on it directly. But I love this phrase.


"But stay lucid, even during office hours."

That's a tough ask some days.

I was pointed in the direction of this Camus quote by a tweet from @DylanoA4. The image he posted ends with this quote, but the passage beginning with it is even more fitting as the set-up for a prof's joke about office hours. Here that is, courtesy of a post on goodreads:

But stay lucid, even during office hours. As soon as we are alone in its presence, strive after the nakedness into which the world rejects us. But above all, in order to be, never try to seem.

Every prof knows the rejection of empty office hours. "Where are all the students who need my help, or my sage advice on life and the burning topics of the day?" we cry, palms upturned. But don't count on using that time for any other task either... Students will arrive when you least expect them. Stay lucid, and strive after the nakedness into which the world rejects us.

All academics become Stoics, or spend their lives raging against the night.

Posted by Eugene Wallingford | Permalink | Categories: Computing, General, Teaching and Learning