29 September 2005

A broken link is fixed

Someone wrote me mail:

Dear Jason,

http://jorendorff.com/toys/puzzle.html is a 404. It makes me sad
because I like the other foldout toys are very fun and make me happy.

He was right. The broken link appeared on a page of programmer toys, under the blurb: “This one is a bit of a puzzle. It shows you a few lines of code that have profound implications for the way hundreds of millions of people live every day—and asks you to figure out what the code does.”

I had to laugh, because nothing can deliver on that kind of promise, especially after the extra anticipation of waiting for the link to be fixed. Anyway, it's fixed now. If you know a little Python, take a look.

23 September 2005

Unix strikes again

Today at work someone wanted to add some third-party libraries to our version control system. So he typed p4 add vendorlibs/*.so*. Or so he thought.

The command spit out an incredible amount of garbage on his screen. Eventually we figured out he had actually typed pr add vendorlibs/*.so*. The only way this would be funnier is if pr were actually the print command. It's not, despite what the man page says. It's just a text formatting tool.

09 September 2005

Bloggers encourage donations

Crooked Timber will send you a free mix CD if you donate $100 to Katrina relief.

Asymmetrical Information counteroffers: a homemade pound cake for a $100 donation. (Or, a blog entry on the topic of your choice for $250. A risky offer, though the author prudently excludes her private life from the menu.)

Update: What the heck, I'll write on the topic of your choice if you give $50 to Katrina relief. E-mail me or leave a comment. (Not much of a prize, I know, but you don't want my cooking.)

08 September 2005

Hurricane Katrina

As the President says, there will be plenty of time in the months ahead to assess the government's performance. But it seems safe to say a few things:
  • It is correct to hold disaster response to a very high standard. There is nothing special about Katrina (its severity, suddenness, or unexpectedness; or the problems presented by New Orleans' unique geography) that should deflect criticism or excuse mistakes. Handling worst-case scenarios is FEMA's mission.

  • To date, criticisms of the response have been short on plain facts. A dispassionate timeline of events and responses is needed.

  • The mandatory evacuation probably saved tens of thousands of lives. Thousands more could have been saved by a determined effort to evacuate everyone. (It has been suggested that the city should have been evacuated much sooner, but that smells of hindsight.)

  • Barring the Red Cross from New Orleans while thousands of people were still desperate for food and water was unnecessarily cruel and likely cost lives. (More broadly, turning back individuals who went there to help seems like a bad idea to me, but I am apparently the only one.)

  • Every government account of anything related to the hurricane has been appallingly politicized, from Mayor Nagin's sleep-deprived rant to Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly's revised account of the Bataan's response. The President's observation that there will be time for criticism later hasn't prevented him or anyone else from conspicuously passing the buck.

  • The key people in the government didn't grasp the magnitude of what was happening. Neither did the media, which reported Katrina Monday and Tuesday with about the same tone as they reported Andrew (which killed about 65 people; Katrina probably killed thousands). Undoubtedly if the right people in government had been smart enough, prepared enough, and confident enough to ignore the media and proceed with the certain understanding that things were soon to get much worse, many lives could have been saved and much suffering avoided. Whether this is too much to expect from a government agency is an open question. More on this later.