Sunday, August 16, 2015

It’s time to change this punctuation rule (or am I being too dotty?)

Languages are constantly and continually changing, as are the rules for punctuation. I’ve been interested in languages since early High School days (where I was introduced to Latin and French, my first exposure to foreign tongues).

Being used to mathematics and computer coding, there’s one particular punctuation rule that I’d like to see changed for the better

In mathematics and computer programming languages, there are statement construction rules such as the requirement to balance parentheses. In spoken languages, there are sentence construction rules that we are expected to follow.

For example, in “good English” there are rules for the placement of punctuation marks such as the full stop (the dot, or period). Taking as one example Jef Raskin’s essay Effectiveness of Mathematics and consider the final two sentences:

It is because we have evolved so as to have brains that work the way the world does, that part of what has evolved are the logical (to us) processes of deduction. As we build mathematics we build it in conformity with the physical world because the foundations of logic, the very nature of what makes sense to us, was dictated by the physical world. The inherent abilities of our brains were established, and those abilities reinforced, by natural selection. If we have been schooled by the physical world, should we be surprised that our works reflect its teachings? From this point of view, we should be surprised only if mathematics, built on a logic derived from the way the world behaves, was not able to describe the world. We do not need to resort to Penrose’s mystical explanation, which is based on a "belief in the profound mathematical harmony of Nature" as he proclaimed in his book, The Emperor’s New Mind. In an appropriately skeptical book, The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan came close to my position, saying that, "our notions, both hereditary and learned, of how Nature works were forged in the millions of years our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. I think the roots of logic are perhaps deeper than our sentient ancestors." I move from "perhaps" to "must have been".

In the first of these two sentences we see the conventional punctuation rule for concluding a sentence containing a quoted phrase. This rule states that you should precede the closing quotation mark with the full stop. …    “must have been”.    rather than  “must have been.”

In the second sentence, and probably inadvertently, Jef placed the full stop after the closing quotation mark.

I prefer he second usage, and reckon that the rule should be changed to be like this. It makes more sense to me, and is more “balanced” in the way that mathematical expressions and computer programming statements would require.

Let’s start a movement to get this punctuation rule changed. I hope you agree with me that it’s a “better way”.  Or am I just being an unpleasant, unrepentant pedant?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

If it’s safe enough for NASA, then it’s good enough for me (software coding rules)

NASA / JPL Laboratory develop spectacular stuff, and it’s not all rockets and space vehicle of all sorts.

Behind al that NASA has been doing for decades is software, used to monitor and control all their vehicles since the earth orbiters and the moonshots of the 1960s.

I’ve retired from active IT work now, and closed Asia/Pacific Computer Services at the end of 2013 (importantly though, NotesTracker is still available and supported, more about this very soon).

Now I’m an IT end-user and industry observer, and one thing that continues to be disturb and even appall me is how so much flawed and sub-standard software gets dumped upon us by companies of all sizes.

Well, over the decades NASA hasn’t been in the position to deploy any sub-standard applications. When livers depend of application robustness in a manned mission, or a space probe is at the outer edge of our solar system, they can’t debug and alter it very easily (if at al)l. So it has to be as close to perfect as possible right from the start of a mission.

NASA uses a set of coding rules such as “No function should be longer than what can be printed on a single sheet of  paper” to develop top-class applications, and you should consider using such rules when designing and developing your own apps.

Go view a summary of the NASA/JPL Laboratory for Reliable Software methodology at The Power of Ten –  Rules for Developing Safety Critical Code

An application crash?

Friday, August 14, 2015

What is a scientist? And, is the Internet rotting kids’ brains?

There's a recent article Don’t panic, the internet won’t rot children’s brains in The Conversation that’s very much worth reading in its own right.

However, in this case I’m pointing out that it has an excellent, to-the-point passage about the nature of science:

There’s no admission ceremony to become a scientist, no Hippocratic-like oath, no hand placed on a holy book while pledging to uphold this or that. There’s no need for any of this, because without following the fundamentals of science, you are, quite simply, not a scientist.

At the very core of science is the judgement of theories in light of available evidence. Scientists are humans. We have our own beliefs and prejudices, and at times it is near-on impossible to divorce ourselves from these.

That’s why the only kingmaker in science is evidence: objective, irrefutable observations. For every scientific theory proven through observations, there are dozens that lie shattered on the floor. And that’s how it should be.

And I’ll leave it at that, for you to ponder.

Not to be judgmental, but the above quotation has the spelling “judgement” and there’s an interesting discussion of this spelling over at The Grammarist