Friday, March 30, 2007


I felt a little silly today, and just learned about SRFI 42 (Eager Comprehensions), so I thought I might play with it on a trivial example.

(module happy-birthday-song mzscheme
(require (lib "")
(lib "" "srfi"))

(provide sing)

;; sing: string -> void
;; Prints out the popular happy birthday stanza.
(define (sing person)
(local ((define (trailer i)
(cond [(= i 2)
(format "dear ~a" person)]
"to you"])))
(do-ec (: i 4)
(display "Happy birthday ")
(display (trailer i))


Thursday, March 29, 2007


It's one thing to intone in a dull monotony: "Forgive those who trespass against us," where repetition drains the blood out of a revolutionary and crazy idea. It's quite another thing to try to put the spirit of forgiveness into real action. Serious forgiveness seems to me something superhuman, and I'm finding it hard to do.

Early Monday, right around 1am, I got taken by a pair of con artists who pretended they needed to make an emergency call outside. I let them use my cell, and when they handed the phone back, I didn't realize they'd yanked the battery and the SIM chip inside.

Still, I did get the physical phone back, and there wasn't really much damage, except one night of uneasy sleep and an afternoon buying cellphone components. I should say that I forgive the people who did this to me. A part of me tries doing so, but another part feels that it's a baldfaced lie, and I catch myself wanting something bad, something karmic to happen to the thieves.

But I think about it some more. Frankly, I got off easy: it could have been a lot more perilous, because the two thieves could have gone after much more than my cellphone. The guy had me in a bear hug at one point, pretending to be thankful. I couldn't get out of his grip. He could have squeezed me more tightly, and then I would have been in real trouble. So I am thankful and lucky not to have been crushed in this encounter.

If something this insignificant raises my ire, how hard it must be to forgive when people truly hurt each other! It just makes me wonder.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Programmed Learning

As I was listening to Guy Steele from a talk he gave at Dan Friedman's 60th birthday, I was a little shocked when Guy voiced the relationship between B.F. Skinner's Programmed Learning method and the style of the conversation used in the Little Schemer.
I didn't really think of it that way, and now I'm trying to sort out why I have a negative feeling about Programmed Learning and positive feelings about The Little Schemer.

What both seem to do right is quick iteration: rather than lecture (which bores me to tears), they instruct with a running conversation, Socratic style. I think what's different, at least in the examples that Guy gave, was the degree of difficulty in the questions. In the examples with Skinner, the respondent answer in one-word sound bites, and there's a feeling of rote memorization and little thinking. In contrast, in the Little Schemer, the questions require a lot more out of the student. The stepping stones are spaced widely.

So there are two ideas I'm picking out of this: just as in Agile development, I should be aiming toward iterative learning. At the same time, even though the iterations are fairly regular, the goals in each iteration shouldn't be trivial, but have some real substance behind it.