Leonard Sax

Derek Kite’s blog about gender mentions Leonard Sax. I feel I have to chip in with a a warning: Sax’s book “Why  Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences.” has been widely exposed as pseudoscience of the worst kind.

Sax is anecdotal, overinterprets his sources and more. He has a political agenda: he is the premier proponent of single sex education. The “science of sex differences” is mostly on the same intellectual level as “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus”.

Don’t read Sax (at least not seriously): read Language Log


As Terry Pratchett likes to have his characters say (Pterry being as fond of  his own jokes as the next man and liking to repeat them often), a metaphor is a lie. Which makes it surprising, given the propensity of software engineers to shout “Not True!” at the drop of a hat, that metaphors are so often used in our software: everywhere from basic concepts to icons.

We’re going to have a KOffice crash interaction design meeting next weekend at my place, and in preparation I’m reading up on my Cooper. One thing that has always surprised me is the use of metaphors in software. Cooper agrees: in chapter 20 of About Face 2.0 he talks about metaphors, idoms and affordances, preferring the latter two over the first. The big problem with metaphors is not that they don’t fit the way humans think, we do think in metaphors, but that they don’t scale and become stale so very fast. For example:

  • The clipboard. Who has ever seen a real clipboard? Outside old World War II movies? One of those cardboard thingies with a metal clasp on ’em? And how often on those real-life clipboard did you see words, sentences, small scraps of text, the odd image, long-play records, movie reels and complete folders from the filing cabinet held by that clasp? The clipboard on a computer is a metaphor, that is, a lie.
  • The pasteboard. Even more obscure, page layout design applications like Pagemaker use the pasteboard metaphor. That is, around the page you’re working on, you’ve got this great big desk that you cover with cut-out scraps of text and image that you’re going to glue in the right order on your page. I have worked that way, when I was a kid and prepared a monthly magazine on Andal — but as a metaphor, it should be retired.
  • Filing folders. I don’t know about you, but while my desk at work still has an arrangement for those folders that have a bit of bent metal in them to hang them from a frame so you can drop paper in it, I’ve never used them in the past decade. So inconvenient.
  • Forms. My favourite pet peeve. A dialog with checkboxes, radiobuttons, text areas and so on look just like my income tax statement… The metaphor still works, although the income tax statement is moving to a wxWidgets-based application, but to be reminded day in day out of taxes… Eugh!

On the other hand, I don’t see the problem with saving documents: I can handle a small working set of things I work on (my XEmacs has never more than a dozen open buffers), and a place where the things are moved for safety. But actually, instead of having to decide for every document whether I would like to save it or not, I would like to have that working set in a more literal way: my set of documents, organized in work piles per task, and the option (with a reminder, visually for instance through having my workspace too cluttered for comfort) to put the documents in a versioned safe place from time to time. Everything on that workspace should always be as I left them; including the last edits.

Absolutely lazy…

That’s what I feel. The weather is nice and I haven’t done a thing about Krita for quite a bit of time. Of course, that’s partly because I have a hard time getting into the Qt4 porting; porting Qt3 to Qt4 makes me feel like I’m learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels again. Which, given that I’m as Dutch as Dutchmen come (being from mixed German and Swiss stock), you may well imagine is hard on me. Anyway, if I cannot bike, I’m going to ramble…

And then, I’m busy in a few other ways. For work, I need to learn JavaScript. Did that last week & got dwr to work to integrate with Java. Ajax in Action is a gem of a book, and The Definitive Javascript Guide is, although old, a very helpful reference. JavaScript is marred by the same problem as Java and Python: these languages are so popular that simply googling just doesn’t help. Most pages are from commercial aggregators that ask you to get a (paid!) subscription to see the answers to a particular question. And newsgroups have been a no-go area for years, as are mailing lists. It’s simple: too many people asking questions and giving answers. Books are needed, then.

There’s also a kind of natural progression in the popularity of a language or tool — if it gets popular at all. Werumeus Buning already noted this in his essay “Korte handleiding tot den literairen roem” — at first you need something to push against. For Python, this was Perl. For Ruby it’s Python and Java (woohoo! two adversaries!). For Perl it was AWK and sed. And so on, I bet the same happened with Smalltalk and Lisp way back in the days before I had a computer.

And communities are the same. Small net communities often define themselves as “friendly” opposed to the arrogance of the established big brother. If you take a careful look, you’ll see that happen everywhere.

Which brings me to the following… Apparently, some people are under the impression I’m “posting” to planetkde.org. And that I should keep on topic. Or at least, not mention my religion. Children, painting and tulips are okay, it seems.

Something similar happened to me last Saturday. I was in Brussels for the last-but-one lesson in my theology course (another reason not to work on Krita, I need to write a couple of papers still…). We had a course in liturgical music, and the teacher had brought his laptop and speakers. A nice warm day, the windows were open. Apparently the music was audible in the street, and some people disliked that very much, and turned on their car radios with some kind of modern music with a lot of beats in it. Ah well, an apter illustration of the ancient Greek ideas about how good music heals body and mind and bad mars it was impossible, so I’m grateful to them.

But to make everything clear: I am posting on my own webserver, which runs on my own computer behind my own adsl modem. Planetkde, but other planets too, are free to syndicate my rss feed, as are individual people
using apps like akregator (which I use myself). But I’m not going to tailor what I write about to any aggregator… And if I’m too lazy to make different feeds for different subjects, well, all I can say is “tant pis”.

Anyway, enough rambling for one night. Time for some Google Summer of Code application rating.

Brain making weird connections again

Once I was a scholar, and learned Classical Tibetan, among other languages. Now our teacher was a very fine scholar and gave us a bit of poetry by the famous sixth Dalai Lama to translate, when we’d had about a year of Classical Tibetan.

In four well-formed lines, this poem expressed the essential dichotomy
between his day and his night life, between his exalted and his debased personality. (And, this being Buddhism, there’s an argument to be made for connecting the two back to front: where exaltedness exceeds it becomes depravity and where depravity exceeds, it becomes exaltedness. Or something like that, I’m no longer as deeply into Buddhism as I once was.)

And somehow, inexplicably, I have been thinking of this poem all week long, when I was working on getting Krita ready for the freeze at night, and learning how to work with Java Studio Creator (new! hot! Visual Basic 3.0 for Web Applications! Only more complex, with Java and not as stable!) It’s strange how man’s mind works…

But back to Tsangyang Gyatso. An accurate translation is not suitable for a public web page, especially the last line would sound like a spammer’s favourite subject line:

po ta la ru bzhugs dus
rig ‘dzin tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho
lha sa zhol du sdod dus
‘chal po dvangs bzang dbang po

Even someone who doesn’t know any Tibetan should recognize the first word (three syllables) of the first line, and the first word (two syllables) of the second line.

A loose translation in English:

In the Potala Palace
I am Rigdzin Tsangyang Gyatso
But in downton Lhasa,
I’m Dangzang Wangpo.

Now, where did I put my Dutch translation? It must be somewhere on the hard disk of my first laptop, or maybe on an old floppy… I’ve forgotten what Rigdzin Tsangyang Gyatso means. Something laudable, I’m sure.

But the old font I used when writing Tibetan in Word 2 is still available. The encoding is fantasy, and I made the font with CorelDraw.

Engineering, apparently

But with an equal amount of linguistics, sociology and art. Hm. This is the first quiz where I had “agree completely” at the majority of questions. I mean — everything is so fascinating. I once read a couple of studies on television soaps — fascinating, even though the soaps themselves are pretty boring. But here’s my score:

You scored as Engineering. You should be an Engineering major!


created with QuizFarm.com

A lying winter

Reading one book leads to another; and in this case, reading the pseudo-Dorothy Sayers Thrones, Dominations led me to read John Donne. It seems from the quotes in “Thrones, Dominations” that neither Dorothy Sayers nor Jill Paton Walsh have made much progress in the collected work, all quotes are from poems early in the volume.

Anyway, from Collected Works of John Donne, a natural progression was to  the old Penguin Classic, The Metaphysical Poets. This book must have been on Irina’s shelves since before I first met her, because it contained a newspaper clipping from December 1986, when I was 17 years old.

We are still reading the same newspaper: Trouw, one of the surviving underground resistance papers from the second world war, a newspaper with a very Christian identity. Or so it is still regarded…

Reading this clipping shows clearly that there’s been quite a bit of change. This clipping contains a review of a translation of Donne’s poems and is written by Eduard Pijlman. It is not exquisitely well-written, but the prose is serviceable enough. It supposes, however, a form of Christian belief that Trouw nowadays actively opposes.

By coincidence (coincidence? the “pensees” by Pascal-wannabe Alexander Elchaninov state that whoever believes coincidence exists, doesn’t believe in God…), Trouw today published an interview with a minister. This interview was mainly remarkable for its tenacity in trying to get this minister to tell Trouw he didn’t believe in God anymore. This minister, Sam
Jansen from Driebergen very courageously resisted the onslaught.

The difference between today’s interview, and this 19 year-old book review couldn’t have been greater. In fact, I suspect the review would be refused by the Nederlands Dagblad…. The reviewer is especially impressed by both Donne’s and Donne’s translator’s insight in St. Paul’s second letter to the

Not a topic that would make many hearts beat faster — but a week or two earlier, I received a copy of the latest issue of “Liter”. Lloyd Haft, who once taught me modern Chinese, sent me this copy because it contains a number of his poems. One of them, the first in fact, on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

I’m not really word-perfect, anything but word-perfect in fact, in the tail chapters of the Bible, having grown up in a family of convinced Church-leavers, so I needed to read the letter to the Romans before I knew what I had felt on reading the poem; namely that this was a perfect commentary, an enriching summary (if such a thing can be allowed to exist). Irina tells me the poem about the Acts of the Apostles is even better, and the one on Corinthians I sends shivers down my spine.

I’ve been studying letters and poems together and have forgotten to write a thank-you note for the copy of Liter… Which we’ll subscribe to, since the other content is very interesting, too.

But I wish Trouw would still publish reviews like the one by Eduard Pijlman.

By the way, about the lying winter… Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore my love was infinite, if spring make it more. And about the letter to the Romans (in the hope that quoting one poem is fair use and all that):

Wij vragen nog
naar weten,
strekkingen die strikken,

Maar waarheid is geen wet:
zij is een wij.
Altijd wijder,
nergens hier alleen.

Waarheid maken wij niet vast.
Wij komen er benaderend,
in beademend beamen.

(Lloyd Haft)

Somehow, this is very close to Christos Yannaras’ Freedom of Morality and Zizioulas’ Being as Communion. Both are relatively modern (time moves slowly in amateur theology) Greek theologians who emphasize the fact that belief is communion and community. We get there together, as Lloyd Haft says, in untranslatable Dutch.

Idly browsing

I tend to give GNUStep a try now and then — not because I’m not quite happy with KDE (although I seem to remember that alt-up moved to the parent directory in our file dialog before 3.5, or am I mistaken?) — but because I’ve always wanted a NextStep machine and never could afford one. It’s kind of misplaced, but there you are. And GNUStep is coming along quite nicely, not so much of the “we are not a desktop environment, we are a cross-platform development environment that allows you to create apps that only work together well in their own desktop environment that you’re not gonna get” anymore, but it’s nowhere near polished or even usable yet.

But that’s not important: what is important is Riccardo’s blog, the Art is Long. Because the GNUStep guys aren’t constantly pushed to make something that’s more like Windows, more like OS X (okay, there’s some of that, but not too much, I feel), more like Gnome or more like KDE, they have some leisure time to look around.

So, and that’s the point: Riccardo pointed me at a lecture by Alan Kay [part 1] [part 2] that was pretty mind boggling. From Doug Engelbart who had a cooperative office suite where two people, each with their own mouse pointer (“bug” he called them) are working on the same document, miles apart, with a live video link in a corner of the screen, to eleven year old kids who write a ham radio circuit design app, to the slightly tubby woman who
learns to play tennis in twenty minutes.

And all along really good advise about designing software and computers
for users.


Today, trains got delayed and rerouted around Amsterdam because some silly person spotted someone with wires hanging about and around their backpack…. As if, in this iPod era, wires are a surefire sign of a bomb.

I mean… I don’t want to go all Schneier, haven’t got the credentials, but it’s almost like this story, that has been blogged about enough.

Look, there are plenty of ways, I’m sure, although I deny any active or direct knowledge and wouldn’t be able to make a bomb to save the world from certain doom, but it’s just hacking, anyway — if I were to make a bomb, it wouldn’t involve wires. Wires are so — fifties James Bond, you know.

By the way, in the discussions in Parliament about the national ID, we were told that it was a great success: many tens of thousands of fines have been collected for the serious offense of not carrying your ID — something that became only an offense January 1st, 2005.

However, nowhere have I been able to find an answer to the really important question: how many terrorists have been arrested because of the national ID — nor answers to the secondary question, how many ordinary criminals have been arrested because of same. The first was ostentatiously the goal of the national ID, the second was advertised as a nice side-effect.

But everyone who is asked for his ID who isn’t a terrorist or a criminal is a false positive, like an email that’s flagged as spam when it isn’t, and everyone who’s fined is like an email that gets the “respond to this challenge then I’ll know you’re real” response, sort of like. So, what’s the success rate? How many terrorists got caught? More importantly, would SpamAssassin have caught on with the success rate of this measure?

By the sidewalk, how many people think the data traffic retention law that’s being pushed because we need that data to catch terrorists, is actually motivated and intended to catch music and movie swappers?

Many years ago

Trolltech favoured me with a t-shirt as a token of appreciation for the articles on Qt I used to write, like Visual Development with Qt 3.0 and a baker’s dozen other articles on Qt and PyQt. Did give me a little the feeling I wasn’t an objective journalist, but a shill who took presents for positive articles — but then, I never intended to be an objective journalist, just an enthusiast who tried to tell people about the stuff he got excited about.

But although it was a very nice t-shirt, and though I’m though not all that stout, really, I’m not quite medium-sized. It never fit me.

Anyway, years passed by and my eldest daughter, Naomi, grew up to like black and to prefer to wear things that her peers in the grammar school she went to this year haven’t seen before. I lost a t-shirt, but it Trolltech has gained a grass-roots supporter:


I simply cannot parse sentences with that word in it. I know — from observing the AI types at work — that it more or less means making a list of words that divvy up a chunk of reality so a program can fake being intelligent through pattern-matching. And the dictionary defines it as “the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being.” Which, actually, thank you very much, doesn’t help me much.

But what does it mean in a text translated from the Greek written in Paris of the seventies? That is, what the thingummybob is the meaning of “ontological ethos of the communion?”? The weirdest thing is, if I just scratch out all instances of the word in this book (The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras), all sentences seem to make perfect sense, and I cannot conceive of a way they will have any more meaning than with their auctorial scattering of “ontological”.

Same with the adjective “existential” in the same book or “real” and “true” in Schmemann’s “Introduction to Liturgical Theology.” If these were hack writers I’d suspect them of trying to up the wordcount a bit…