Month: October 2013

Halloween (No letters missing)


Letter Main Candidate Secondary Comments
A  Allsaints    
B  Broom  Bat  
C  Cauldron  Costume, Candy  
D  Devil    
E  Elvira  Evil  
F  Fairy    
G  Ghost  Ghoul  
H  Headstone  Hell, Haunted  
I  Imp    
J  Jack    
K  Knock    
L  Lantern    
M  Monster    
N  Night    
O  October  
P  Pumpkin    
Q  Quiver    
R  Rip    (as the tombstone phrase)
S  Spider  Skull  
T  Trick  Treat  
U  Undead    
V  Vampire    
W  Witch  Werewolf  
X  Xena    (Warrior Princess, a costume)
Y  Yelp    
Z  Zombie    

Ancient Roman Celebrities (No K, W, X, Y, Z)

Letter Main Candidate Secondary Comments
A Augustus   First official emperor
B Brutus   Killer of Caesar
C Caesar   First unofficial emperor
D Diocletian   Ruled over the Empire at its largest extent
E Eusebius   First chronicler of the Christian Church
F Flavius Fabius Both are names of gentes, the aristocratic families of Rome
G Germanicus   Father of crazy Caligula
H Hadrianus   Roman emperor, usually spelled Hadrian in English
I Irenaeus   Church theologian
J Julius   Name of the gens to which Caesar belonged
L Livius   Name of a gens, made famous by the historian that goes by its name
M Marcus   Common name (see Marcus Aurelius and Marcus Antonius) derived from Mars
N Nero   Emperor famous for burning down Rome
O Octavius   Common name, for the eight-born
P Pompeius   Another gens, made famous by several Romans (Pompey)
Q Quintus   Common name, for the fifth-born
R Romulus   The founder of Rome
S Scipio Sextus, Septimus A gens made famous by the winner against Carthage
T Titus Traianus Early Roman emperor
U Ulpius   Gens to which the emperor Trajan belonged
V Valens   Late emperor, captured by the Persians

Countries (No W, X)

Letter Main Candidate Secondary Comments
A Angola Albania, Algeria, Austria Shortest length
B Brazil Benin Largest
C China Chile, Canada, Cuba Largest
D Denmark Dominica Shortest
E Egypt Ecuador,Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia Shortest
F France Fiji, Finland Permanent member of UN Security Council
G Greece Gabon, Germany, Guinea Cradle of civilization
H Haiti Honduras, Hungary Shortest
I India Iraq, Iran, Italy, Israel Largest
J Japan Jamaica, Jordan Largest
K Kenya Korea, Kuwait Korea is split, Kuwait is small
L Laos Latvia, Lebanon, Libya Shortest
M Mali Malta, Malaysia, Mexico Shortest
N Nepal Norway, Niger, Nigeria Shortest (with Niger, which would easily get confused)
O Oman  
P Peru Panama, Poland, Pakistan, Portugal Shortest
Q Qatar  
R Russia Romania, Rwanda Largest
S Spain Syria, Sweden, Sudan, Somalia Easiest to spell
T Turkey Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Tuvalu Largest
U Uganda Uruguay, Ukraine, USA (?) Shortest
V Vietnam Vanuatu, Venezuela Shortest
Y Yemen  
Z Zambia Zimbabwe Shortest

The Alphabet Lists

Kubuntu made it to Saucy Salamander, the release starting with an ‘s’ and formally named 13.10 (after the year and month of the release). The previous one was 13.04, code-named Raring Ringtail, with the letter ‘r’, which is one before ‘s’. The next release will be named after another animal living in South Africa (where Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, lives) who name starts with ‘t’. Also, there will be another adjective in ‘t’ to alliterate with that.

The use of alphabetical sequences of names is fairly common (even here in my beloved Pacific Beach, whose North-South streets are named alphabetically after people you’ve never heard of). This has good reasons: it’s easier to remember words than numbers (at least for many people), the words can be chosen to have a theme that reminds you of what they stand for, and you can honor something or someone that means and matters.

Not all those naming conventions are well-thought-out. For instance, when I worked at Yahoo!, the IT department thought it funny to give developer workstations the names of infectious diseases. Then, when they’d talk amongst themselves, they’d say things like, “Marco is the guy that has (the machine named) syphilis.” That was quite offensive, especially because they didn’t allow you to change names.

But that got me thinking: how about I create a central repository of such lists? You can send me yours, and I’ll add them (make sure there is nobody else’s copyright attached, and by sending such a list, you set the copyright of your lists to Creative Commons).

Here are the rules for the lists:

  1. A single, unifying theme
  2. One-word entries only, so that nobody has to deal with restrictions on spaces or special characters
  3. Only the 26 characters of the Latin alphabet in English allowed
  4. If multiple entries are available, the more well-known (to an American audience) is preferred
  5. If multiple entries are available and all are about equally known (or unknown), the shortest is preferred
  6. Same as above, the easiest to spell is preferred
  7. Hard to find letters (Q, X, Y) are typically omitted, or a less qualified entry allowed

Here is the link to the list of lists.

Keep Your Data Safe: Cloud RAIDs

You have probably heard the story: someone has all their data stored in the Cloud, and one morning it’s all gone. Maybe Google disabled your email account and won’t you let back in. Or maybe it’s Dropbox that dropped your files. Or maybe it’s (and this is a real case) that handed somebody’s account to someone else, who promptly cleaned the account and deleted all the other person’s files.

In information security, the concept of safety includes and extends security. Security is what you need to protect your data from malevolent others. Safety encompasses that, but adds protection from other kinds of mistakes. Like the ones mentioned above.

Here is an analogy: data security is like the walls and doors and alarm systems you use to protect yourself from burglars. Data safety is that plus the smoke detector and the sprinkler system.

Here is what we’ll do: we will use free cloud services to keep an encrypted copy of whatever data we want. We will provide the encryption, and we will make sure the data is “safe,” in that the failure of any single provider will not cause us to lose any data.


Introducting Umana

Here is the initial sketch for a new programming language, umana. I know, I know: the world has already enough programming languages, and it seems to be every programmer’s wet dream to create a new one and join Guido van Rossum and Dennis Ritchie in the Halls of Eternal Fame.

umana, though, is a little different. It doesn’t want to be the proof of great intelligence and technical acumen. Instead, it aims to translate the way computers do things into terms readily understood by humans. Hence the name: while it sounds derived from an African language (think Ubuntu), it is actually the Italian word for, “human.” The analogy here is the term, lingua franca, or Frankish language (in Italian), which was what people used around the Mediterranean to speak to each other when they had no better language in common.

Let me give you an example of how umana translates. Take a class definition from Java:


Privacy or Transparency? The Battle for the Soul of the 21st Century

NetherlandsWhen you drive at night through the countryside in the Netherlands, you notice something odd: people are sitting at the dinner table, watching TV, or getting ready to go to bed in their homes, and you can clearly see them from the street. There are no curtains, no shades, no privacy. Coming from a society that values the ability not to be bothered, the idea that everyone gets to see everything you do seems threatening.

Apparently, this transparency has its roots in Protestantism. You shouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t want others to see, and in the Netherlands you just don’t do anything you wouldn’t want others to see. Curtainless windows are just one example: I recall how weird it felt when I visited a swimming pool in Vaals, only to find out that the showers were shared: naked men, women, and children all in one room.

What this has done to the Dutch cannot be underestimated: they have become an incredibly tolerant and open-minded nation, one that is proud of its ability to live with just about anything that could be human nature. They are happy, they are free-spirited, and they are incredibly tall (not that this has anything to do with privacy).

On the other side of the Channel, the exact opposite. Since Victorian times (and possibly before), England has tried to shy away from controversy by allowing and forcing people to hide themselves. You are supposed to front a suitable facade and to do the things that belong to human nature in hiding. The defining keyword of this society is proper.


L’America: Wireless Service

Note: I should be writing about the mess in Washington with the Continuing Resolution and the Debt Ceiling, since that’s what you readers keep asking about. Maybe later, but right now I have Washington Dysfunction Fatigue Syndrome

There I am, in 2013, and I need new cell service. It’s mostly a work thing: I need a newer Android device with Bluetooth 4.0, and that means a new contract of sorts. Which gets me to explaining the weird way the American wireless carrier system works.

In the rest of the world, you (mostly) have phones and carriers. The two are merrily separated. You buy your phone, you get your SIM card, you put your SIM into the phone, and you are good to go. When you don’t like your phone no more, you get a new one and put the old SIM into the new phone. If you find a cheaper carrier, you get the new SIM card and put it into your old phone. Simple.

In America, it doesn’t work that way. Your phone is typically tied to your carrier in a way much deeper than just by a SIM card. Your phone won’t work on any other carrier (except for roaming with the corresponding charges). Even after your contract expires, that’s typically true and your phone or other device will essentially be an electronic brick with no connectivity.

The first reason for this is purely technical: America was the first to adopt a wireless standard, and it failed to make the standard for the world. That’s been the case for TV, too, and the result is that most of the world uses PAL versus America’s SECAM. In the phone world, most of the world uses GSM, while America is split between the older standard, CDMA, and GSM itself.