Friday fun with Ogden Nash

Someone at Reuters is having too much fun:

China threatens drama
if Obama
meets the Dalai Lama

Followed by

meets the Dalai Lama
despite China drama

I am reminded of the immortal words of Ogden Nash:

The one-L lama, he's a priest
The two-L llama, he's a beast
And I would bet a silk pajama
There isn't any three-L lllama

To which my Bostonian friend Marty responds "that big fire was a right three-alahmah".

Um, no

Dear non-English-as-a-first-language-speaking phishing attackers, let me point out all the ways that I know that this is not actually from PayPal:1

Dear Costumer, [A costumer is someone who makes clothing for actors. You meant "customer".]

We need more information from you [missing period]

We need your help resoving [resolving] an issue with your account. To give us to work together on this, [this phrase doesn't make any sense] we've temporarily limited what you can do with your account untill [until] the issue is resolved.

We need a little bit [of] information about you to help confirm you [your] identity [missing period]

Note: Please note that in 50% of cases you will receive this e-mail in the spam box, [comma splice] it is because of the increased security emailing services you use. [No, it's because you're criminals.]

UPDATE: This is deliberate! How astonishingly devious. See this transcript of On The Media and this Microsoft Research paper.

  1. Oddly enough gmail did not flag this as phishing, despite having a PayPal logo embedded in it and a link to what is obviously a phishing site.

Higgledy piggledy

Hello all, I am back from vacation, but rather than get right back into programming language design, let's have some fun for a Friday.

Most of you are probably familiar with iambic pentameter, which is the poetic meter that Shakespeare wrote in: most lines in Shakespeare are ten syllables, divided up into five iambic feet. Each foot has an unstressed syllable at the beginning and a stressed syllable at the end. As Hamlet says:

O, THAT this TOO too SOlid FLESH would MELT

Very serious, iambs. Continue reading

The psychology of C# analysis

developersThe organizers of the recent Static Analysis Symposium1 were kind enough to invite me to give the opening talk. Now, this is a conference where the presentations have titles like "Efficient Generation of Correctness Certificates for the Abstract Domain of Polyhedra"; I know what all those words mean individually, it's just them next to each other in that order that I don't understand. Fortunately for me, the SAS organizers invite people in industry to give talks about the less academic, more pragmatic aspects of program analysis, which I was happy to do.

They also let me pad my presentation with funny pictures of cats, which helped a lot.

Unfortunately I don't have a recording of the talk, but my slides are posted here if you want to check them out.

Special thanks to Scott Meyer of who was kind enough to allow me to use his comic about informative presentations in my informative presentation.

  1. Conveniently held four blocks from my office.

The postmodern gumballs (rerun)

I've been writing this blog for almost ten years now and there are plenty of readers who have quite reasonably never gone back through that archive of over 750 posts. Maybe one Friday a month or so, I'm going to rerun one of my favourite "fun" posts from the last decade. Today, a story I posted on the first anniversary of my blog, in September of 2004. Enjoy!

It's hard to believe it but it's true: I've been at this for an entire year. How the time has flown. In honour of my first blogoversary, today I bring you a story that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I promised a while back that I’d tell you all the story of the Postmodern Gumballs and today's the day. Names have been changed to silly code names to protect the innocent. All silly code names were approved by the people thus encoded.

One day, long ago, in the summer term of 1992 I bicycled in to school as usual. Except this time I stopped at the bulk food store in Highland Hills mall along the way and bought a big bag of sour gumballs. But these were not ordinary sour gumballs. They were incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs. But these were not just incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs. They were stale incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs. Moreover, though they began excruciatingly sour, the flavour all drained out of them in about two minutes, leaving the chewer with a mouth full of bland, stale-tasting rubber and an intense craving for more.

I arrived way early for class. This was a small class, only eight students. I think it was 1B advanced algebra or calculus or some such thing. So I’m sitting there, popping awful gumball after awful gumball, when in walks Mr. Thingo1.

"Thingo!" says I, "Would you like some gum? These gumballs are not only bad-tasting and excruciatingly sour, but they’re stale to boot and highly addictive. Have a few."

"Sure, why not?" answered Thingo.

A few minutes later, the Singular Orbifold showed up. Thingo and I pounced. "Orbifold! Have some gumballs! They’re bad-tasting and exceedingly stale, and you’ll end up with a wad of disgusting rubbery goo in your mouth that you don’t dare swallow yet cannot spit out. Want some?"

"Sure!" said Orbifold, though to be frank, he looked slightly dubious.

A few minutes later, the Essential Singularity walked in. We three cornered her, chewing furiously.

"Ingrid, I mean, Essential Singularity! Would you like some sour gumballs? They’re stale and bad tasting!"

"No!" said the Essential Singularity, "of course not!"

"But all your friends are doing it."

"Oh. Well, OK then."

And we all miserably chewed great grey gobs of disgusting gum for the next fifty minutes.

I’m salivating just thinking about it.

You see of course what the philosophical importance was. The four of us had discarded objectivity, rejected opinions of conventional authority and disdained those universally held ideological absolutes so incorrectly described as "truths". We broke down our hitherto established standards, categories, distinctions and boundaries. At least, we did all that insofar as gumball quality was concerned: we chewed the Postmodern Gumballs.

Next time on FAIC: A new beginning!

  1. Who is now Professor Thingo in that very same faculty, interestingly enough.

Wackiness ensues

This Twitter feed  answers the question "What would happen if Anders Hejlsberg and Barbara Liskov were forced to share an apartment1 in an "odd couple" style sitcom?"

Apparently I'm the "Kramer" of this sitcom. I hope I'm played by Ryan Gosling. Additional suggestions on casting the principal roles can be left in the comments.

Next time on FAIC: Can the is operator return true even if there is no compile-time conversion to the stated type?

  1. A single-threaded apartment, I'd assume.

What would Feynman do?

No one I know at Microsoft asks those godawful "lateral-thinking puzzle" interview questions anymore. Maybe someone still does, I don't know. But rumour has it that a lot of companies are still following the Microsoft lead from the 1990s in their interviews. In that tradition, I present a sequel to Keith Michaels' 2003 exercise in counterfactual reasoning. Once more, we dare to ask the question "how well would the late Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman do in a technical interview at a software company?"

Continue reading

What I did on my summer vacation

I'm back, and I've almost made it through the 525 not-automatically-sorted email messages, caught up on my blog reading, and so on.  There are a number of interesting technical questions in my backlog that I'll start getting to later this week once I dig myself out of the pile of bug reports that accumulated during my absence.

Until then, again, this was just too precious to not share.  If you only want technical stuff, stop reading now.

One of the highlights of my twice-annual return to my ancestral home is spending time with my cousins.  My five-year-old cousin Zephy takes great delight in taunting me.  Every year she teaches the small army of munchkins that she hangs out with some ditty which is to be shouted repeatedly whenever I come into view.  This year it was "Eric is evil!  Eric is evil!  Eeeeevil!"  It's quite the experience, believe me.  I suspect that the root of this behaviour has something to do with the fact that I once convinced her that Lake Huron is chock-full of Great Canadian Beaver-Sharks -- giant buck-toothed, flat-tailed sharks which subsist on a diet of driftwood, canoe paddles, wooden sailboats and little girls -- and then repeatedly threatened to throw her in the lake. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.

Her older sister Victoria does not believe in Beaver-Sharks.  At one point she and her friend Kelsey ran up to me (ten year old girls run everywhere) to ask if they could borrow my pair of kayaks.  "Sure.  You can always borrow the kayaks even if I'm not around as long as you tell a responsible adult that you're going out on the lake," I said.  Kelsey got a slightly worried look -- "Is my mother a responsible adult?" she deadpanned.  

For future reference: unless otherwise noted, all mothers are responsible adults.  

And finally, Vic has a "mad crush" on a boy, who will remain unnamed.  She wasn't sure what to do about that, and since apparently I'm an internationally recognized expert on getting boys to like you, she asked my advice.  I wasn't sure what to say -- the first girl I ever had a mad crush on I ended up dating for seven years, which is probably atypical -- so I've started surveying every 8-12 year old girl that I meet as to what they do about mad crushes.  I met an eight-year-old girl named Heather at a barbecue over the weekend and asked her.  Her detailed off-the-cuff reply showed that she'd already put a lot of thought into this question, though she had not actually needed to test her theories yet.  Allow me to quote from memory:

There are two things you can do if you have a mad crush on a boy, you can ask him to propose marriage and if he won't, then beat him up, then send him to an island, then surround the island with huge rocks so that he can't escape, then send him Valentine's cards that say 'I HATE YOU!' but if he does propose marriage then you can kiss him and marry him and move into an apartment and have a baby and bake him a cake that says 'YOU ARE MY FAVOURITE BOYFRIEND' in the icing.

Sounds like a good plan! Any current or former 8-12 girls out there who have additional advice for surviving a mad crush (who I suppose happen to also be interested in programming language design if you're reading my blog…) please leave comments and I'll forward them on.  Run-on sentences are fine.