A review on “Little Soldiers” by Lenora Chu.

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I have gone through the book in the title. I am no saying “have read”, because for quite some time already, since first grasping this trick while conquering Baudrillard’s “Simulacra”, I am getting through a lot of material via listening to Text-to-Speech, rather than reading directly. Not just is it very handy when there is a “sunken” time during which it is not possible to execute tasks that require full concentration. This, however, comes at a price, namely, certain details are perceived differently, compared to reading in a traditional way.

Anyway, I have listened through the book, and it was an enlightening experience, which I would like to share with the world in this short review.

The book tells a story of an American couple with two children living in Shanghai for a few years, who’s elder son had a chance to attend classes in a Chinese kindergarten (as opposed to what typically happens to the expat children in China – they attend foreign-style kindergartens, which are especially plentiful in Shanghai).

The book was especially interesting to me, as I am not an original product of either American, or Chinese culture, so I had a chance to see the story from a third-party perspective.

Continue reading “A review on “Little Soldiers” by Lenora Chu.”

I’ve hacked a simple script for drawing a file system tree as a graph with graphviz. Sounds fun?

Once I realised than a file system tree is like a MindMap…

Here’s the gitlab link: https://gitlab.com/Lockywolf/scsh-xattr-mindmap

Contrary to the name, it is actually in Chibi, not in scsh. I initially thought that scsh would be better due to more exensive posix support, but it turned out to be that Chibi was good enough.

It is a small-ish (500 lines of code) script to generate a graph from your filesystem tree. It accepts a few options (editable directly at the file top) and duplicates quite a lot of the GNU Find functionality, but I didn’t find a way to avoid doing that, as it has to use heuristics in order to prune the tree to a reasonable size.

The resulting image is like this:

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Small, 1Mb

Large, 44Mb

I plotted the Slarm64 (Unofficial Slackware for Raspberry Pi) repository tree, just for the demonstration purposes.

The size of the images above is 1×2.5 metres. It’s large, but my original goal was to plot my whole file system. The ’size=’ parameter is tunable. I think it is reasonable to assume that you need to have at least 4 square centimetres per node, so a graph that large would accommodate about 4000 nodes. In my opinion, 8000 is still possible, but too tight.

With the default settings the script ignores regular files, but traverses symlinks. In theory it also supports hardlinks, but you would need to turn on drawing regular files manually.

I made this script, because I started to feel that I am starting to forget what I have on my hard drive, that has amassed quite a lot of life history for the past 20 years. (Since hard drives became reasonably priced.)

Use-cases and pull requests welcome. One more reason to create this script was to prove that Scheme can be a practical programming language.

Technologically, this code is not terribly advanced, the only trick that may be interesting to programming nerds is having the r7rs module and the main function in the same file (like scsh/scheme48 suggest doing), which requires procedural module analysis.

I had to glue on a couple of C bindings for sys/xattr.h, those are now available at the Snow-Fort repo. Those are Chibi-specific.

Hope you will enjoy it.

Solving SICP

This report is written as a post-mortem of a project that has, perhaps, been the author’s most extensive personal project: creating a complete and comprehensive solution to one of the most famous programming problem sets in the modern computer science curriculum “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs”, by Abelson, Sussman, and Sussman (\cite{Abelson1996}).

It measures exactly:

  • How much effort SICP requires (729 hours 19 minutes (over eight months), 292 sessions).
  • How many computer languages it involves (6).
  • How many pieces of software are required (9).
  • How much communication with peers is needed.

It suggests:

  • A practical software-supported task management procedure for solving coursework.
  • Several improvements, on the technical side, to any hard skills teaching process.
  • Several improvements, on the social side, to any kind of teaching process.

The solution is published online (the source code and pdf file):

This report (and the data in the appendix) can be applied immediately as:

  • A single-point estimate of the SICP problem set difficulty.
  • A class handout aimed at increasing students’ motivation to study.
  • A data source for a study of learning patterns among adult professionals aiming for continuing education.
  • An “almost ready” protocol for a convenient problem-set solution procedure, which produces artefacts that can be later used as a student portfolio.
  • An “almost ready”, and “almost convenient” protocol for measuring time consumption of almost any problem set expressible in a digital form.

Additionally, a time-tracking data analysis can be reproduced interactively in the org-mode version of this report. (See: Appendix: Emacs Lisp code for data analysis)

Read full paper

A marvelous sample of chinese propaganda

Yesterday I posted an unremarkable Chinese propaganda poster, I believe, created in order to sweeten for the kids the necessity to go back to school.

As it is school-oriented, of course it is profession-related. That is, it is a manga/tradition Cbhinese scroll stylized depiction of potential professions.

The post received an unexpected amount of attention, so I am publishing an extended version.

The poster

The border guard

The cosmonaut

The banker

The firefighter

The musician and the farmer

The photo reporter

Cultural activist?

Industrial climber

5G Engineer

Cleaning staff

Driver

Digital marketer

Cook

Livestock farmer

Photographer

Flight attendant

Buider

Search-and-Rescue

Doctor

Criminal Lawyer

Banker

Teacher

Police

Logistics

Seller

Public maintenance

Oil-and-gas

Forestry

Civil engineer

Scientist

Courier

Drone pilot

Writer

Advertiser

Programmer

Let us discuss SRFI-216: SICP Prerequisites

Abstract

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This post is a not-so-technical introduction to the Scheme Request for Implementation 216: SICP Prerequisites, that I have written and made available for discussion. (Please, contribute!)

SICP stands for the “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs”, a world-famous introductory programming textbook.

It’s aim is to make the exercises and examples from the book be available for any Scheme system bothering to provide it, and not just MIT/GNU Scheme and Racket (which doesn’t even consider itself a Scheme any more). Before this SRFI an issue tracker request asking for SICP support would have been looking vaguely. Now you can just write “Could you consider providing SRFI-216 (and 203)” in your implementation.

In order to write this SRFI, I went through the whole book and solved all the exercises. However, my experience is just mine, and to make a truly good common vocabulary, community feedback is required.

For technical detail and more background, I am inviting you to read the whole article.

Read the whole story

A short review of the “Art of War for Women” by Chin-Ning Choo.

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The Art of War.

NOTE: this review is not about a similarly-titled book by Sheetz-Runkle, and not about a similarly-titled book by Huang and Rosenberg.

The “Art of War”, not such a long time ago used to be fairly unknown to the western audience. Maybe because there had already been a well-established western military tradition, represented by von Clausewitz. The Soviets, however, perhaps due to being actively involved with Asia since the very establishment, were much more open to the Eastern tradition, and the Art of War was a part of the Soviet intelligence curriculum for a long time. Eventually the West has also fallen victim to this millennia-old book on strategy and tactics, and the Art of War began its triumphant parade over the business culture. This was also partly fuelled by the very visible progress that the Asian cultures, from Mongolia to Japan, had by the end of the 20th century. One of the most prominent marks of the era was a recent British independence slogan “Will the Brexit Referendum make London the Singapore-on-Thames?”. Such an astonishing claim to be made in the former capital of the world.

The book by Ms Choo introduces the concept of the 21st century being the “Century of Asia” at the very beginning of the book. Indeed, although the book is full of citations from the Art of War, my feeling was that they were cherry-picked with the main purpose of adding Ms Choo’s book an Asian flavour, rather being the core knowledge carrier.

Maybe it’s actually for the best. To each his own, I am still planning to lay my hands on the old book itself, and thankfully, the “for Women” version was not much of a spoiler.

The second claim that is firmly made in the book is that the 21st century is going to be the century of women. That’s probably a thing that nobody is going to argue against, since the technology is making the world a much more comfortable place for women, so even though I would be more careful about attributing the whole century to just a since human trait (sex), we are definitely going (in fact we already are) seeing more female influence on the everyday life.

The core ideas.

The book is roughly structured around five aspects of success.

They bear fancy Chinese names, but for simplicity I am just writing them out in layman terms:

  • Personal qualities
  • Temporal properties
  • Fixed properties
  • Skill
  • Implementation

Each chapter is dedicated to one of the components of success, and in each of those the author tries, beyond presenting the basic concept of a component and the actions that are needed to nurture this component, some additional traits that are supposed to be more related to women than men.

Quite unsurprisingly, as the book progresses, each subsequent chapter bears less “femaleness” and more “practical guidelines”.

In general, I cannot say that I highly assess the parts that are more dedicated to the sexual dimorphism. The management chapters were quite good. I have made a lot of records, and rearranged some of my working practices, following her advice. The “female” parts, to be honest, did not help illuminating how exactly sexual dimorphism affects the differences of performance between the employees of different sexes too much. The book contains quite a lot of female encouragement and debunking of old misconceptions about women, which is a great thing, but seems to be of less use to those who have already given up those misconceptions. However, developing “conceptions” (pun intended), that is the understanding when and how exactly sexual differences can be used as a leverage, and where they should be kept in mind as a thing of concern, is sub-optimal, in my opinion.

Conclusion

The book is short, and can be done in a couple of evenings. It is probably worth reading as an encouraging material, although women who have already decided to be the best of themselves, are unlikely to need any more encouragement. Some anecdotal evidence is nice, it feels very nice to be able to relate yourself to some real-life examples. Some paragons of female success are also given, from various areas of life, from politicians to doctors and managers. The management-related, gender-agnostic chapters are just good and worth looking even more than once. Is it the book to be read to find out about gender differences and how to use them – perhaps not, and it is also not a good book about the “Art of War”.

The main military thought that you can derive from it is that avoiding defeat may be often a much more efficient strategy than winning a battle. After all, Suvorov is believed to be emphasising this a lot.

The Russian translation is horrible, however.

Contacts

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A short review on “The Madness of Crowds” by Douglas Murray (2019).

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I have read the “Madness of Crowds”. It is a book about several kinds of inequalities in the society, to which a lot of effort has been paid in order to compensate for them, and although up to a certain point a lot of this effort paid off, recently the effects became more controversial than working.

Douglas discusses four big (in the amount of text dedicated to them) inequalities, and many more small ones.

I think that the main point that should be taken away from the text is that much more thinking needs to be done before deciding on an important issue, even if this issue may seem perfectly obvious to the referential group. If someone is offering you a “clear solution” to an issue, doubt it even if it is a direct extrapolation of the solution to the same issue as it used to be in the past. Doubt it if is the same solution to a different issue, no matter how similar it may look. Doubt it in any circumstances.

Another thing that I take out of his book is: read the classics. Not the classical fiction, but the classical thought. The older guys, like Democritus, Protagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Confucius, Babylonians, they have been outdated and superseded… but it is astonishing to see how slowly the process of change goes in the human nature, compared to the human tools.

There is also one thought that is not terribly new, at least I heard it several times from different people, but which, I tell myself, is worth repeating. When listening to people giving advice, try to distinguish the people who are giving you good advice because they want you to become better from people who give you bad advice because they want you to fail.

The book is not too long, a native speaker can probably get through it in a couple of evenings.

Contacts

Subscribe and donate if you find anything in this blog and/or other pages useful. Repost, share and discuss, feedback helps me become better.

I also have:

Facebook
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A review on “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer Jr.”

Abstract

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Richards J.Heuer Jr.is one of the people who revolutionised the way intelligence content is produced in the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.A. Speaking crudely, his main contribution was the introduction of the “Scientific Method” into the everyday routines of the CIA analysts. This book is partly his self-reflection on this transformation, and partly a list of heuristics that any intellectual worker could employ to improve his own efficiency (and self-satisfaction). I found it very good. It clarified quite a bit of concepts I had been only vaguely aware of, and helped me hone a few of my own ideas.

I actually recommend reading it to everyone, and perhaps would even suggest studying it at school, because it is hard to find a skill of more generality than a skill of thinking. And the intelligence aroma just makes the book more exciting for kids.

If you are interested in more detail, welcome under the cut.

Continue reading “A review on “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer Jr.””