Monday: Hili dialogue

We’ve lived through another week, making it to Monday, December 4, 2017, or National Cookie Day. Only 27 days remain until the end of the year; 21 until the beginning of Coynezaa. (I just discovered that my birthday is also National Bicarbonate of Soda Day.)

There’s a Google Doodle today, a game you can play, but it’s intended for children to learn coding. As Time Magazine notes:

Google celebrated the 50th anniversary of Logo, the world’s first programming language designed for kids, on Monday with a Doodle that celebrates kids coding languages and is aimed at teaching children to code.

In an interactive Doodle, called “Coding for Carrots,” users help an animated rabbit navigate a block maze. The rabbit hops from block to block in response to increasingly complex code sequences the game directs its players to input.

MIT’s Champika Fernando, who worked on Coding for Carrots with Google, said she was nine-years-old when she first coded through Papert’s program.

“It makes me happy to think of all of the nine-year-olds who will get their first coding experience playing with today’s Doodle,” Fernando said. “My hope is that people will find this first experience appealing and engaging, and they’ll be encouraged to go further.

Click on screenshot to go there. I must be dumber than a kid, because I can’t even start the damn game! Can any readers give a tip?

It’s one of those days when not much happened in history. On December 4, 1674, Father Jacques Marquette founded a mission on Lake Michigan to convert the Native Americans; this was the first settlement of what would become CHICAGO.  On this day in 1954, the first Burger King opened in Miami. And it was exactly two years later when the Million Dollar Quartet (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash) assembled by accident at the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee,  and a one-off jam session ensued. A few recordings survive. Read the Wikipedia link in the last sentence to find out how it happened (i.e., by chance); here’s a snippet:

Whatever Elvis’ feelings may or may not have been in regard to “following” Lewis, Presley was clearly the “star” of the impromptu jam session, which consisted largely of snippets of gospel songs that the four artists had all grown up singing. The recordings show Elvis, the most nationally and internationally famous of the four at the time, to be the focal point of what was a casual, spur-of-the-moment gathering of four artists who would each go on to contribute greatly to the seismic shift in popular music in the late 1950s.

And eleven minutes of recording from the session. Some of it’s quite good!

More fun music facts: on this day in 1965, the Grateful Dead first played in concert under that name.  Finally, on this day in 1991, Pan American World Airways (“Pan Am”) ended its operations. I used to fly it internationally all the time, and was saddened.

Notables born on December 4 include Thomas Carlyle (1795), Samuel Butler (1895), Edith Cavell (1865), Wassily Kandinsky (1866, the first true abstract artist), Rainer Maria Rilke (1875), Alfred Hershey (1908), Chris Hillman and Dennis Wilson (both 1944), and Marisa Tomei (1964). Those who ceased to be on this day include Omar Khayyám (1131),  Cardinal Richelieu (1642), Thomas Hobbes (1679), John Tyndall (1893), Thomas Hunt Morgan (my academic great-grandfather; 1945), Frank Zappa (1993), and Liam Clancy (2009).  Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists, but before he went abstract he made this print, called “Katze”:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is loath to get her cute paws in the snow:

Hili: Here we go again.
A: How’s that?
Hili: My paws are going to be freezing again.
 In Polish:
Hili: Znowu.
Ja: Co znowu?
Hili: Znowu będzie mi zimno w łapki.

And some tweets from Matthew Cobb. The first pair came with this message: “Here are two from Jill Pruetz, who is Director of the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project, Senegal.”

Both have videos to watch:

Second part:

Matthew’s caption: “Lovely robber fly (is there any other kind?)”

Best cat photobomb ever!

And an interloping shrew:


  1. David Duncan
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    “My paws are going to be freezing again.”

    Would she appreciate some cat shoes?

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to overstate the impact on popular music of Sun Record’s Sam Phillips, who told Elvis it was ok to sing like a black boy. Phillips was an earlier promoter of integration (or “race-mixing,” as it was known in the South in those days), although I suppose some today would write him off as a cultural appropriator.

    Would that Elvis had stayed in Memphis with him instead of going off to Hollywood with Col. Tom!

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Pan Am was always my favorite airline. They never degenerated into the dog eat dog world of deregulation. Probably why they are no longer with us. I noticed my pharmacy is buying my health insurance company for 69 billion. Maybe they will soon buy hospitals and funeral homes and we can have full one stop shopping.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Calling Elvis and the Killer and Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash the “Million Dollar Quartet” has something of a Dr. Evil pre-inflation feel to it. 🙂

  5. Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Google doodle:
    You need to pull the arrow up from the bottom and put it in front of the rabbit, then press the start button – and hop

    • Jim batterson
      Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Sherfolder is correct. This is a way for children to learn to do step by step instructions, ie algorithms for problem solving. After you get the rabbit to hop once and get the carrot, you will asked to put in two hop symbols, one after the other (and of course hit the start arrow on the right). At some point you will be introduced to a “right turn arrow” and of course you still must tell the rabbit/dumb computer everything so even though the carrot is right in front of her, you need to tell her to hop one step forward to get it. They also introduce the loop symbol….known as do loops to those of us who learned fortran in the 1960’s. Justtry it out by moving symbols. You cannot break it is my guess.

      • Jim batterson
        Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        And one more thought. You can repeat the right turn symbol four times in a row to have the rabbit do a 360 or five times to make a fancy right turn.

        • Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          That’s all too hard for me! I suppose familiarity with computer games would help. . . .

          • Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            Not really – it is basic programming – I bet if you think of it like routines, then you can do it. Drag the arrows or turns or repeats into the box, eg fir the last one,
            L>R>L2 Repeat times 3

            That is not the quickest solution…

      • darrelle
        Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Fortran77 was still in the curriculum at many US Universities in the mid ’80s.

        Shoot. Until the shift to object oriented languages all languages were so similar they were like different dialects of the same language.

        • David Harper
          Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          I respectfully beg to differ. How are FORTRAN, LISP, COBOL and C in any way similar? And that’s without adding FORTH, Algol or Prolog into the mix 🙂

          • darrelle
            Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

            No worries here. Disagreement is good for the constitution. 🙂

          • Posted December 4, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

            I agree. As a professional programmer who started in the early ’70s, I view those languages as quite different. They were also designed for different problem areas.

          • Posted December 4, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            FORTRAN, COBOL, C and Algol all belong to the imperative family. Lisp is sort of functional programming and Prolog is logical programming. I’m not entirely sure where Forth lies.

            FORTRAN, COBOL, C and Algol have similarities in that they consist of lists of sequential instructions that act on data. C and Algol fall into a subgroup called block structured programming languages which means that their programs conform to a hierarchical structure.

            So these four languages have superficial differences but are fundamentally similar.

            • Posted December 4, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

              If you are looking at programming languages from that high an altitude then, yes, they are all similar. This is why we call them all “programming languages”.

              I worked for FORTH, Inc. for 3 months in the late ’70s. Although it ended up not being a job that worked for me, it was a fantastic learning experience. FORTH is so different from other programming languages, it gave me a completely different perspective. It is definitely an imperative language but very, very different from other languages in how it is used by the programmer and its overall philosophy. I continue recommending that people who are just starting out that they should try FORTH for a while just to open their eyes. That said, I could only take it for 3 months but that is another, longer story.

              • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                If you are looking at programming languages from that high an altitude then, yes, they are all similar. This is why we call them all “programming languages”.

                But you understand that there are fundamental differences between the programming models of Lisp and Prolog and the programming model of Fortran, Cobol, C and Algol. It’s an important and real distinction which means a lot more than just “they are all programming languages”.

              • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                I think you mistook my point. My position is that these programming languages are only similar if viewed from a very great distance. If one becomes familiar with programming language design, one will see that they are very different languages.

              • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                But the differences are actually fairly superficial in comparison to the fundamental programming model.

        • Posted December 4, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          uh… no.

          More or less the first three high level languages invented were Cobol, Fortran and Lisp. Lisp is quite different to the other too.

          It’s true that most languages before Simula and Smalltalk could be described as “imperative” programming languages (not Lisp though). i.e. they were basically sequential lists of instructions that acted on data, but even amongst them, there were important sub divisions. Probably the most important was the division between block structured and non-block structured languages.

          • darrelle
            Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            Interesting. I’ve never heard of Lisp.

            I am not a professional software designer so I have no issues being corrected on this by you and the others above who seem to be much more experienced than I.

            What prompted my ignorant observation is that of the meager 4 or 5 languages I ever used, some fairly extensively, they were all so similar that I was able to pick them up readily. Command names and syntax varied to one degree or another but the general types of algorithms (i.e. loops, calls, etc.) you created with them were quite similar. Of course that’s all from an amateur’s perspective and could be hopelessly parochial.

            • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

              You are correct about a certain subclass of languages which have more or less dominated programming but there are other ways…

              You should have a go with Lisp. It takes some getting used to because it is so different from the imperative languages. Even better, try a pure functional language like Haskell. The learning curve is very steep though.

              • darrelle
                Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Thank You.

                I’m rereading Pinker’s The Language Instinct, which has led me to wonder the following. If you haven’t read it this might not make sense, but do you happen to know if any programming language designers have ever experimented with incorporating any of the structural rules or concepts of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar into a programming language? Or based a language on UG rules or concepts?

              • Posted December 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                Not that I know of and I doubt it would be all that useful. There have been many attempts to create programming languages that are closer to the English language. (Probably other languages too but mostly English.) Presumably the intent was to make them easier to use by humans.

                Personally, I think this is a waste of time. Programming languages need to be much more precise than human language because they are used to instruct a computer in doing something we need done precisely. Even when we instruct humans to do something in a very precise way, we try to avoid the ambiguity of everyday language.

                Although it is a goal to invent a general purpose AI we can talk to, it would still be a bad idea to use everyday English to instruct it to, say, run a nuclear power plant. Programming languages are much more precise and even then we need to thoroughly test the result. I suppose we could tell the AI how to run the reactor in everyday English if we were willing to test the hell out of it before we allow it to run.

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      I found this thing strangely addicting… which is the point, I suppose

      • Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        I agree. Once you’ve figured out how it works, it’s really fun. One of the best goolge doodles I’ve played so far.

  6. darrelle
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Off topic, but I just heard something that is so cool it should be shared.

    As most probably are aware SpaceX will soon attempt its first launch of their Falcon Heavy. Recently confirmed rumors, confirmed by Musk himself apparently, are that SpaceX will be using Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster as the cargo, destined for deep space. Unconfirmed is that the car’s sound system will be set to play Major Tom.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      According to Verge:

      …we asked him to confirm that it was real. Musk replied to us first by email, confirming that it was real. Then, after The Verge published a story about the plan, Musk sent us a response in a direct message on Twitter saying he “totally made it up.” We now know that response was false; a person familiar with the matter told The Verge Saturday evening that the payload is in fact real

      I doubt it will happen – even if he really wanted to do it, there may be legalities that prevent it. For myself: this is his ego in action & it’s the wrong kind of “can do”. These young [post-Gates], tech billionaires have problems grasping their own limitations in spheres outside the limited one that made ’em rich.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        Regarding your last paragraph, while I have no issues with your position I completely disagree with it. Except with the “I doubt it will happen” part. That I agree with. It seems too complicated to achieve. Unless it has been planned for quite some time already.

    • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Musk has stated that he doubts the first launch of Falcon Heavy will be successful. This is probably intentional lowering of expectations. However, the launch is clearly not intended to send a useful payload anywhere. My guess is that the car is just a matter of wanting to test the rocket with a payload of a certain weight and, of course, a small, victimless publicity stunt.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely, the car is just mass for a test flight. There is no real mission beyond testing the launcher.

        Lowering expectations shouldn’t really be necessary IMO, but people seem to forget how difficult rocketry is. This is the first launch attempt of a new rocket. While the FH is comprised of 3 F9s which have flown many times now, strapping three multi-engine liquid fueled rockets together is a complex problem and has not gone very well in the past.

        • Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          Maybe lowering expectations isn’t strictly necessary but it does allow Musk to say “I told you so” if it fails in some manner. I suspect it will mostly be successful. I would buy stock in SpaceX if I could. I do own Tesla stock.

  7. Liz
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed watching the Million Dollar Quartet. I had no idea that happened.

  8. Posted December 4, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    PS it is a form of Python I suppose

  9. nay
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Success! I was finally able to get through the Google Doodle to the tea party reward – and it only took me TWO HOURS! In my defense, my first and only computer course was the original Introduction to Information Science (IS) at U. of Hawaii in 1970, so it took a while to get back in the groove of designating each step. Hint: Turning occurs in place, so remember to specifically arrow forward to move your bunny. So it transpires that my university level computer course is now taught in kindergarten. Sigh! I be old now.

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