Thursday, 31 May 2007

Accessibility bookmarklet

Here's a small bookmarklet to underline hyperlinks. I've added it to my Firefox bookmark bar under the simple name "_". It is very handy when some poorly designed sites have a CSS where links are both (1) not underlined, and (2) in a colour quite close to the colour of the regular text. That happens quite often (esp. to colour-blind web users...)

Wednesday, 30 May 2007


I've finished uploading to Flickr the pictures of my honeymoon in Venice. How can you make bad pictures in Venice? As Bird used to say: in the silly hope you do enjoy...

Ponte de la malvasia veghia

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Intertextuality, as they say

I've just finished reading The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Long ago, I thought this was just another crime novel. Then, I got a bit more familiar with Eco's essays, and thought it might be another kind of book after all. I was right: it's not only a crime novel. It's full of references to a load of other minor or major works of literature (and I'm sure I've not even caught 10% of them). The double level of lecture makes it fun to read, if you pay attention.

For example, in the very first page, I could spot an allusion to the opening of Don Quixote. Later, multiple allusions to Dante, including a direct interpolation of a verse of the Divine Comedy into the text. The character Jorge de Burgos, the blind man, guardian of a labyrinth-library, is evidently a nightmarish version of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. The delirious dream of Adso, towards the end of the book, is treated like James Joyce could have done. And, last but not least, the hero, Guillaume of Baskerville, is evidently a clone of Sherlock Holmes, with who he shares many physical and moral features (including a predilection for drugs).

Monday, 28 May 2007

Vanity projects

These days the correct vanity project is yet another useless ORM.
-- Matt S. Trout on the mailing list

Vanity projects used to be templating systems, remember? That was the obligatory small project a beginner ought to write for himself. Seems that we move on to higher abstractions.

However, I still think that there's room for a good open source OODBMS. That would be an interesting project. Maybe an interesting vanity project, even!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

MySQL annoyance

Got bitten by a bit of insanity in MySQL 5.0.26. Imagine you have a bogus query, SELECT poo FROM SomeTable, that looks correct, except that there is no "poo" column in the said table. (You mispelled "foo". So much for your brain.) MySQL will correctly return an error, Unknown column or somesuch, when you try to run it.

Except in a subquery. Like, for example, in:

DELETE FROM SomeOtherTable WHERE id IN (SELECT poo FROM SomeTable)
which will be then exactly equivalent to a simple, unadorned DELETE FROM SomeOtherTable. And you loose your data.

Friday, 11 May 2007

"Irina Palm" colours

I'm seeing in the streets posters for a new movie, Irina Palm. The posters look like this:

It probably looks fine to most readers, and I must say that it's almost readable for me and my colour-blind eyes. But the paper posters are completely monochromatic to me, even when I'm close, and I had to ask another person to know what was written. That sucks. Conclusion... Don't use color combinations that cause problems for people with color blindness in its various forms. (That's from the W3C HTML 4.01 Specification, section 6.5.1).

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Old brass band video

A friend found a video of me, playing in a brass band at the Sables d'Olonne, for the Edhec nautic race, circa 1994. I'm not getting younger, am I. And he put it on youtube (sorry, bad quality, old recording technologies.)

I'm the tall guy with a cornet, behind, in the middle. Yes, that's on a boat.
(Given the way we play here, we must have been dead drunk! but less than the guy trying to mimic a conductor just in front of us.)

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Birthplaces of Presidents

Out of idleness, and to try the new google maps functionalities, I created a map of the birthplaces of the presidents of the French republics. Two were born abroad; five in Paris; most of the others in the geographical center of France.

Monday, 7 May 2007

The origins of Creationism

One of the delusions of the creationists is about their own origins. They like to think that they're the guardians of an old truth, that has been under attack since only one or two centuries. But creationism is itself a recent invention, and that should not be forgotten.

Nietzsche said that myths were beginning to die when people started believing in them. (He was more specifically speaking about Greek myths, if I remember correctly, but that's besides the point.) The story of Adam and Eve was, during thousands of years, a vivid myth that was innerving the mystery of the origins of mankind, and which was used as the center for the theological or esoteric meditations of the learned classes. It is important to see that, for Christians and Jews, the Genesis was naturally open to multiple interpretations, which weren't mutually exclusive: as the Bible was supposed to be given by a being whose intelligence was infinite, it was only logical to seek in it other meanings than the pure literal one.

That's what the Jews made, for example, with the compilation of the Talmud, after the desctruction of the Second Temple, and later, with the Kabbalah. For the Rabbis, the story of Adam describes the drama of the incarnation of the soul, of divine nature, in flesh ("unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them" -- Genesis 3:21 : meaning that before the Fall, before the birth in this world, souls are immaterial).

In the Christian world, Saint Augustine wrote a short book on the literal interpretation of the Genesis, where he explains that the purpose of the Bible is not to be a book about natural history, but about salvation, that the alleged six days of the creation must be seen as a metaphor, and that what reason and intelligence allow the men to discover must not be shadowed by too much respect to the letter of Scriptures. This view, shared by many other Fathers, is still today the official view of the Catholic Church.

So, why and how did creationism appear ? I blame the Puritans. When this fringe of Protestantism decided that they didn't need professional priests, or specialists in theology and in exegesis, and that they didn't want any mediation between them and the Scripture, they closed their minds to three thousand years of wisdom. That was only the translation in the spiritual field of the austerity they imposed to themselves in their lives: a people of merchants, of bankers, obsessed by usefulness and thrift, scared by anything that could be related to pleasure, scared then by the pleasure of learning for learning's sake, of the joy given by the speculation of a bondless mind, with no sight of practical applications. Creationism is the product of a strong hatred for freedom of thought, itself the product of a strong hatred for idleness, for culture, and for anything that has no practical uses. And that's why it's so dangerous, and why it must be fought at all costs, not only by atheists, but also by all partisans of a religion from where spirituality is not absent.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Musings on diff -u

diff(1) and patch(1) are wonderful tools, but there might be still room for improvement. As someone who deals with a large number of patches, I find that patches that just move code around contain too much redundant information, and are thus difficult to read.

I'd like an addition to the unified diff format. Instead of showing a large chunk being deleted and added again later, it would factorize it, for example like this:

non modified text
-first line of moved text
[-... block number #1 ...-]
-last line of moved text
+first line of moved text
[+... block number #1 ... +]
+last line of moved text
rest of the context goes here

For extra points, that should work across files. That could be first implemented as a post-processor to diff(1).

For extra extra bonus points, some clever version control system would use this for an enhanced version of the annotate/blame/praise command, so it could show history even for code that was moved around.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A postcard from Jeanne d'Arc

The far-right movements in Europe have now consistently adopted a strategy of having two visages, for two different audiences.

The first visage, nice and smiling, is aimed at the general public: the electors who are not yet won to the cause, and who need to be seduced. Denying all accusations of racism or fascism (or other un-nice words), that side likes to talk about how the traditional political parties want to reduce it to silence: because its novel and bright ideas to save the country scare the People in Power. Paradoxically, at the same time, it likes to point out that the far-right ideas appear in the discourses of mainline politicians, who copy them because they're right, without giving credit. However, that shallow rhetoric isn't sufficient to mask the complete lack of political insight, which is usually limited to blaming immigrants or the EU for everything, and posing as a victim the rest of the time.

The second visage is usually shown only to the inner party. It's much scarier. But sometimes you can have a glance at it.

After many weeks of electoral campaign in France, where we were exposed daily to the carefully sugared discourses of Le Pen (not mentioning the election posters everywhere in the streets), the French far-right finally revealed itself tel qu'en lui-même, yesterday May 1st, day of Jeanne d'Arc, traditionally an annual convention of the core supporters of Le Pen. I found a nice photoset on Flickr about that the 2007 Jeanne d'Arc celebration. Some pictures are really scary.

Take, for example, this one, and look at the details of the postcards:

One of them depicts Philippe Pétain with nostalgia -- Pétain was Hitler's strawman during the occupation of France in World War II. Another postcard features a guy making the fascist salute. A third one shows Hitler greeting Simone Veil (author of the French law that legalized abortion) among a club of mass murderers, including also Stalin an Mao -- a scene which insults not only the memory of the Holocaust victims, but also Veil herself, since she survived Auschwitz.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Mr. Thorow

I'm reading Hawthorne's Notebooks. During september 1842, Hawthorne meets a strange little man, Mr. "Thorow", from who he buys a canoe that Thorow build himself. After a few pages, I began to realize that the little man was actually Henry David Thoreau, and the wikipedia entry, quoting Hawthorne, confirmed that.

Another neighbour of Hawthorne during those years was Ralph Waldo Emerson; the notebooks contains lots of little amusing facts about him, and Hawthorne befriended him (although he had little sympathy for Emerson's unitarian beliefs).