Our Latest Discovery

September 28, 2007  2:31 PM

What are the 45 best freeware design programs?

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

snap2objects.com knows. In fact, Mauricio Duque‘s list of the 45 best freeware design programs is just the thing to help you or any (cheap) relatives with image editing, desktop publishing or Web design.

The Colombian graphic designer affectionately known as “Mao” took a break from working towards his master’s in information systems design to go through thousands and thousands of applications and bring us his list of the best of the best. As he says, none of them will replace Photoshop, Flash, InDesign, Quark or other professional applications, but the price is right!

I’ve loved GIMP for a while, but, I have to admit, most of these were new to me. Thanks, Mao!

September 24, 2007  12:41 PM

Watch the Catsters on YouTube and learn about monads, math and functional programming

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Ok, I admit it: calculus is now officially a decade in my past. Math, or “maths,” as the Brits put it, however, is very much in my present, considering the importance of algorithms to modern life. (For more on that, just review this thread on the growing public awareness of algorithms over on Slashdot.)

One mathematical concept that’s worth mastering is the monad. Monads, in the context of functional programming (as opposed to pure mathematics), are a useful way of expressing input/output (I/O) operations and changes in state without using language features that introduce side effects. Monads are useful in any situation where a programmer wants to carry out a purely functional computation while a related computation is performed externally. Monad also, by the way, was the codename for Window’s Powershell before it was launched, a nod to the use of monads in that highly functional scripting language.

Make sense?

If that explanation still doesn’t suffice to explain what a monad is, never fear: The Catsters have posted a series of videos on YouTube to help you master the concept!

Monads 1: An introduction to monads, including the definition and a look at the monoid monad.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/9fohXBj2UEI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Monads 2: Continuation of the monoid monad example and introduction of the category monad.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/Si6_oG7ZdK4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Monads 3: The definition of algebras for monads. The example of monoids as algebras for the monoid monad.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/eBQnysX7oLI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Monads 4: An appendix to Monads 3: more on monoids as algebras for the monoid monad.

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Monads 5: Morphisms between algebras and the category of algebras. A first look at the question of monadicity.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/Cm-O_ZWEIGY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
If, after viewing, you’re still a bit curious about monads and programming, try Noel Winstanley’s “What the hell are Monads?” MenTaLguY also explains monads in the context of Ruby, escaping the need to work with Haskell.

Hat tip goes to the n-Category Cafe for the discovery!

September 21, 2007  11:09 AM

Video: MS-DOS 5 Upgrade creates geeky nostalgia — or not

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Thanks to the terrific, frequently hilarious Geekend over at TechRepublic (I love anyone who can be as unabashedly geeky about scifi and fantasy as the trivia geek), we bring you the MS-DOS 5 Upgrade Video.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.collegehumor.com/moogaloop/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1774935&" width="480" height="360"/]

This blast from the past, hosted on College Humor.com, was actually created as an instructional video by the same people who brought us the Blue Screen of Death.

Thanks, Microsofties. We barely know what to say. Geek rap was never the same again. If you think freeing up memory, creating GUIs or adding an Undelete command is cool, this one’s for you.

September 19, 2007  10:11 AM

Harrrrr! ‘Tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore


Avast, all ye scurrrrrvy sons o’ sea cooks!

I don’t usually talk to readers that way — but September 19th be Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not talking about those folk that plunder the Web for ill-gained software booty. Nay! I’m talking about the power of the Web to spread the news about festive events like this and to provide trinkets for our amusement, such as:

A great assortment of videos from the originators of Talk like a Pirate Day, Cap’n Slappy ‘n’ Ol’ Chumbucket.

A pirate name generator. Rancid Eve Barossa? I’m going to try my luck elsewhere…

Here’s a quiz to scientifically determine your pirate name.

(My pirate name is: Black Mary Bonney. There’s also a little personality sketch to go with your name…
>> Like anyone confronted with the harshness of robbery on the high seas, you can be pessimistic at times. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate’s life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

A pirate glossary

Advice for the lovelorn pirate

And English-to-Pirate / Pirate-to-English translators.

Ahoy. Ahem. Arrrrrr. There be lots more treasure where that came from but SOME of us have work to do. Have fun and be safe out there, landlubbers.

And remember, if it’s software ye be wantin’, buy retail.

~ Black Mary Bonney

September 17, 2007  1:49 PM

Andreesen on the three kinds of platforms, the cloud and the future of the Internet

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

One of my favorite discoveries of the past year has definitely been Marc Andreessen’s blog. From the moment he first started posting long, chewy, thoughtful discussions of his thoughts on technology, business and startups (along with wonderful digressions into great new sci-fi writers, Web 2.0, and essential online cheat sheets), Marc has been on the must-read list for most of the techie blogosphere.

Now, the famous co-founder of Netscape and co-author of the Mosaic browser has moved on to Ning, a social networking startup that’s jostling with Microsoft, Amazon, Sun, Facebook and others to provide a platform for all manner of distributed applications, all within “the cloud.” Amazon even calls their platform the Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2.

Therein lies the rub. The word platform has become overused to the point of losing any precise meaning. WhatIs.com has long provided two definitions for platform:

1) In computers, a platform is an underlying computer system on which application programs can run. On personal computers, Windows 2000 and the Mac OS X are examples of two different platforms. On enterprise servers or mainframes, IBM’s S/390 is an example of a platform.

A platform consists of an operating system, the computer system’s coordinating program, which in turn is built on the instruction set for a processor or microprocessor, the hardware that performs logic operations and manages data movement in the computer. The operating system must be designed to work with the particular processor’s set of instructions. As an example, Microsoft’s Windows 2000 is built to work with a series of microprocessors from the Intel Corporation that share the same or similar sets of instructions. There are usually other implied parts in any computer platform such as a motherboard and a data bus, but these parts have increasingly become modularized and standardized.

Historically, most application programs have had to be written to run on a particular platform. Each platform provided a different application program interface for different system services. Thus, a PC program would have to be written to run on the Windows 2000 platform and then again to run on the Mac OS X platform. Although these platform differences continue to exist and there will probably always be proprietary differences between them, new open or standards-conforming interfaces now allow many programs to run on different platforms or to interoperate with different platforms through mediating or “broker” programs.

2) A platform is any base of technologies on which other technologies or processes are built.

Fortunately, in this mammoth post, Andreessen both modifies and adds to these definitions, putting the term in the context of the Internet and then exploring three different levels of online platform: the “Access API,” the “Plug-in API,” and the “Runtime environment.”

As a rather famous online pundit often writes,  read the whole thing (RTWT). If you’re at all interested in programming, online business strategy and the concept of the cloud, you’ll be glad you did.

September 14, 2007  11:45 AM

Printer technology to deliver medication

SarahCortes Sarah Cortes Profile: SarahCortes

I’m sure we all have an old laser printer or two around the house – you know, the one that’s sits in the corner unplugged, gathering dust.  One of these days, we’ll put it up for sale on eBay or Craigslist.  One of these days.  Well, that printer just might contain technology that can aid in medical treatment!

Victoria Colliver, reporting in a San Francisco Chronicle article earlier this week, highlighted printer technology from HP that can be adapted for use in administering drugs to patients.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The same technology that Hewlett-Packard printers use to squirt ink soon could be administering drugs to patients through thousands of tiny needles embedded in a skin patch.

And just like a cartridge that can fire different colors, this new smart patch would be able to deliver several medications – at various doses and times, according to a person’s needs.

This is great stuff.  I will think about it the next time I’m buying a toner cartridge for the one printer that I do have plugged in.

September 12, 2007  10:21 AM

A-Space and Intellipedia: Spy agencies go all Web 2.0

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Birds do it, bees do it… Well, ok — that wasn’t true. Birds and bees aren’t getting into wikis and social networking yet but almost everyone else is.

Even spies are all over it. Last year the feds launched a wiki for the 16 US intelligence agencies (Did you know there were that many? I didn’t.) Based on the Wikipedia model, Intellipedia has three separate components based on clearance levels.

Unlike Wikipedia, Intellipedia is not open to public access. Here’s an unofficial blog dedicated to Intellipedia news, though. This FCW article explains how Young feds bring intell changes.

In this screencast on FCW.com, Chris Rasmussen (Knowledge Management Officer, Intellipedia, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense) discusses “what it’s like to work as an Intellipedian, the rules they live by, and how the new tools are helping transform the ways of the intelligence-processing for good.”

At this writing, Intellipedia has about 30,000 articles online, undergoing 4,800 edits on a daily basis.

And with Intellipedia established, a social networking site similar to MySpace is under development. It sounds as if A-Space will incorporate the wiki site:

From an InformationWeek article:

A-Space will begin life as a portal that includes a Web-based word processing tool akin to Google Docs, a wiki-based intelligence community encyclopedia known as Intellipedia and access to three “huge, terabyte databases” of current raw intel for analysts to sift through. It’ll be scaled for 10,000 users at day one. By the end of 2008, the DNI hopes to bring in other resources like intelligence blogs, social networking capabilities akin to a Facebook for spooks, secure Web-based e-mail, better search functionality, and much more.

A-Space is expected to be online in December of this year.

What’s up next? Maybe a Second Life-like virtual world (If you ask me, this stuff is ALL a bit other-worldly). Here’s what Sean Dennehy, the CIA’s Chief of Intellipedia development, had to say (quoted in this FCW article): “I think it is a no-brainer. We could use it for training and other things.”

Other things might involve the ongoing “war on terror.” According to this article in The Australian: “…jihadists are turning to artificial online worlds such as Second Life to train and recruit members.”

Who knows what those guys will be up to next? Who knows what they’re up to right now, for that matter?

I’d tell you more but, you know, then I’d have to kill ya.

~ Ivy Wigmore

September 11, 2007  9:36 AM

The Singularity: Creating smarter-than-human intelligence through high technology

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

This past weekend, many of the world’s foremost thinkers gathered at the Singularity Summit within the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. You might ask what the Singularity is, of course, as the focus of all of this heady cogitation?

It’s the point where a consciousness is comes into being (usually an AI) that is itself smarter than the humans who created it.

According to the Summit’s overview:

Vernor Vinge originally coined the term “Singularity” in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.

The summit’s Web site features videos, podcasts and coverage from all over the Internet of the yearly event, including a great piece from Peter Thiel on Wired.com exploring how to invest in the Singularity.

I can’t help but think of SkyNet, the decidedly nasty entity depicted so dramatically in the Terminator series, but there are more positive outcomes, many of which are amply explained here, where the summit’s organizers explain why the Singularity is worth working towards.  Whether humanity is willing or able to do so is another question entirely. We can only hope!

Speaking from a somewhat philosophical perspective, Joe Foran also had some deep thoughts regarding the concept, articulated in Virtualization and the Singularity on the Server Virtualization blog. If you’re wondering how virtualization and futurism blend together, look no further.

August 29, 2007  3:06 PM

Notes on pronunciation in IT: AAA server and SQL

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Permanence is both fleeting and intractable on the Internet. In the print world, once the newspaper, magazine or book has been proofed and fact-checked to the point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, the final product is just that.

Online, “stop the presses” just doesn’t cut it. It’s a nearly universal experience to have clicked “send” before the message or attachment is ready for its audience — or post, in the age of the blogosphere, YouTube and Twitter. And it’s not just novice users that wish they had thought twice before responding or composing their thoughts. Part of the job here at WhatIs.com is always making sure that our copy and links are accurate and working, whether you find our content though this blog, within our definitions or learning content or in any of the new media types that have appeared on the site over the past few years, like podcasts, embedded videos or screencasts.

Earlier today, unfortunately, came one of the moments that editors cringe to admit, where a grammatical rule was broken and a wild card character made its way into one of the few remaining digital media forms that can’t be recalled: the email newsletter. Once it goes out of the mail server, there’s no calling your words back. WhatIs.com sends out a Word of the Day newsletter (Subscribe ere), each weekday, chosen from among the thousands of IT-related terms in the database. Our editors write three questions to go along with the term, usually written to match whatever the theme of the term might be — mobile computing, open source, SAP, CRM or perhaps whatever major tech events has occurred recently.

The three categories of tech trivia include:

Today’s Word of the Day was BotHunter, which meant that our questions centered on security and threat management. The final question should have read as follows:

In IT security, AAA means more than roadside assistance. A AAA server is a server program that handles user requests for access to computer resources and “AAA” services. What do the three A’s stand for in AAA server?

When I originally wrote the question, I heard “triple A” in my head when I read AAA, a symptom of depending on a certain highway assistance service for decades. In the context of IT security, however, AAA is pronounced by saying each letter separately, or “Ay Ay Ay,” spelling out the acronym. That means that “an” is correct, not “a” as I wrote in the newsletter, just as it is in our definition for AAA server. My apologies to you, dear reader, for the mistake.

If you’re further interested in the correct pronunciation for some of the most commonly mispronounced terms in IT, make sure to consult our guide, How do you pronounce IT? You can see the correct phonics and hear the word spoken aloud by yours truly. Leave us a voice message if you disagree, approve or want to add to the list.

August 29, 2007  1:43 PM

Latin phrase cheatsheets to impress your friends and colleagues

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Last week I sent out a quiz about Latin-derived terms:

Quiz: For Latin Lovers

Latin is a dead language,
As dead as it can be.
First it killed the Romans
And now it’s killing me.

Years ago, when Latin was taught in the public schools, all the boys and girls inscribed their Latin texts with that little ditty. Or so our moms tell us. Despite its seeming unpopularity, Latin was — and still is — extremely useful for making you look like a real smartypants. Are you a Latin Lover? Take our quiz to help you decide.

In fact — believe it or not — I’m not a fluent speaker of Latin, so I set forth to look for potential phrases that I could bend to my purposes. I found, to my delight, that there was not a lot that I could use for the quiz, but lots of things that might be handy for other applications:

Here’s a slice of the long list of common and useful Latin phrases from Dialogue on Everything2.com:

Ne plus ultra: Nothing further; perfection
Nil desperandum: No reason for despair; never despair.
Nolen volens: Willing or unwilling
Non compos mentis: Not of sound mind
Non sequitur: It does not follow.
Nota bene: Mark well.
Obiit: He (or she) died.
Obiter dictum: A thing said by the way
Ora pro nobis: Pray for us.
Ore rotundo: With full voice
O tempora! O mores!: O the times! O the manners!

Below, there’s a coordinated list from Xerces. Here’s a taste:

E contrario: on the contrary
Experto credite!: Trust me!
Extinctus amabitur idem: How soon we forget!
Fama volat: Rumor travels swiftly
Filius est patris: He’s a chip off the old block
Forte consulto: accidently on purpose – a cool oxymoron!
Hic et nunc: here and now
Hic et ubique: here and everywhere
Humanum est errare: To err is human

From systay on Everything2, Fun Latin phrases. Such as:

Si Hoc Legere Scis Nimium Eruditionis Habes
– If you can read this you’re overeducated

Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur
– Oh! Was I speaking Latin again? Silly me. Sometimes it just sort of slips out

Un idea perplexi na
– The idea is strange to us

albae gallinae filius
– son of a white chicken

Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum
– I think that I think, therefore I think that I am

If you look to the bottom of the page, there are links to a variety of Latin pages on the site.

The BBC’s h2g2 pages have more Latin fun. Here are just a few of the need-to-know phrases listed:

Ita erat quando hic adveni: It was that way when I got here

Nihil declarandum: I have nothing to declare

Ut si!: As if!

Canis meus id comedit: My dog ate it

Die dulci freure: Have a nice day

Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabris, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam: I have a catapult. Unless you give me all of your money, I will fling an enormous rock at your head.

Utinam barbari spatioum proprium tuum invadant: May barbarians invade your personal space

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem: Stand aside, little people! I am here on official business

Or you could go to Abigail’s Big Table of Latin Phrases

Here’s a sampling of handy phrases from Abigail’s cheatsheet:

Heia, amice, utrum illae sunt sarcinae tuae, an modo Carthaginem despoliasti?: Hey, pal, is that carry-on luggage or did you just sack Carthage?

Heu, modo itera omnia quae mihi nunc nuper narravisti, sed nunc Anglice?: Listen, would you repeat everything you just told me, only this time say it in English?

hunc tu caveto: beware of this man

Id est mihi, id non est tibi!: It is mine, not yours!

Id imperfectum manet dum confectum erit: It isn’t over until it’s over

Illegitimi non carborundum: Don’t let the bastards wear you down

Illiud Latine dici non potest: You can’t say that in Latin.

And with that, friends, Absum! (I’m outta here!)

~ Ivy Wigmore

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