Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Hungry Earth (11th Doctor, episode 8)

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

I’m sorry that my Hungry Earth article is very nearly a week late.  But now is the time: Cold Blood is on tonight, and I want to write down my thoughts on the first half of the two-parter before I see the second.  The reason for that is that in many New Who two-parters, the first half is the stronger: think of The Empty Child vs. The Doctor DancesSilence in the Library vs. Forest of the Dead, and arguably The Time of Angels vs. Flesh and Stone.  On the other hand, the second half sometimes lifts the first, casts it in a clearer light and makes it look better than on first impressions — think of how The Family of Blood surpassed Human Nature (which was already superb).

Either way, I don’t want the second half to bias my impressions of the first, so let’s take a moment to think about The Hungry Earth as a standalone episode.

I will try not to be too spoily, but I can hardly help revealing what the photograph already makes clear: this story features reptilian humanoids who can only be … anyone?  Yep, the Silurians!

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The long-overdue serious attempt at The Silmarillion, part 3: that was awesome!

So once I finally started my long-overdue assault on The Silmarillion [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk], I finished very quickly.  In fact, I absolutely hoovered it up.  I would have blogged about it again sooner, but as regular readers will know, I got distracted by gitBuffy (both the TV series and the dreadful movie), and selection sorting.  Oh, and I wanted to catch up on Doctor Who, which I haven’t actually done yet but at least I feel like it’s under control again now.

As usual, I am going to have a lot to say, but for those who want to cut to the chase I will summarise right up front: The Silmarillion is utterly brilliant.  Those of you who’ve avoided it up till now should fix that mistake ASAP.

“Ëarandil the Mariner fights Ancalagon the Black” by Simone G. Des Roches

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How slow are functional implementations of quicksort?

I’ve been talking with my colleague Jakub Skoczen.  He’s insisting that functional implementations of quicksort, which make and return new arrays at each level of recursion, must surely be much slower than imperative implementations that modify an array in place.

And I can see his point.

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Amy’s Choice (11th Doctor, episode 7)

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

A couple of nights ago,  I watched The Hungry Earth, episode 8 of the new Doctor Who.  Among other things, it reminded me that I’ve not yet written anything about episode 7.  So let’s fix that.  And then I’ll go on to talk about episode 8 next time.

I had more a more fundamental problem with Amy’s Choice than with any other episode in the season so far.  I’ve tried to think of a way to discuss it spoiler-free, but I’ve not come up with anything.  So we warned that THIS REVIEW IS VERY SPOILY.

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What does it take to test a sorting routine?

Thanks to all of you who have taken part in yesterday’s selection-sort challenge, and everyone who’s still submitting code.  (If you haven’t yet done so but plan to, then please don’t read this article until you’ve written your code according to the rules laid down in that article, otherwise you’ll see hints that you probably don’t want to see up front.)

I promised yesterday that I’d post some ideas about a test-suite in a subsequent article: this is it.

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Another challenge: can you write a correct selection sort?

A month ago today, I posted what’s turned out to be by far the most commented-on article on this site: Are you one of the 10% of programmers who can write a binary search?.  The gist of it was that Jon Bentley, in his book Programming Pearls [amazon.comamazon.co.uk], had found in many seminars that when professional programmers are given a high-level description of the binary-search algorithm and a couple of hours to write code that implements it, only one in ten of the offered solutions are free of bugs. An amazing number of you attempted the challenge — somewhere around 500 — and the results seemed to show a correctness rate somewhere between 10% and 50%.

Now we’re going to try the same exercise with one of the simplest of sorting algorithms: selection sort.  (No Wikipedia link for now, because you might see information that you don’t want to see yet.)

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The single dumbest message ever emitted by a computer … it’s back!

Back some time earlier this decade, I was installing Windows 98 on a school-surplus computer for my boys to play games on.  I well remember nearly falling off my chair in shock when, part way through the install, I was presented with this splendidly incoherent message:

Click Finish to continue starting Windows.

(I wish I’d thought to photograph this before continuing the installation, but I am not about to do a new Windows 98 install in 2010 just so I can see the message again.)

I’ve managed to avoid doing Windows installs since then, but according to this comment by someone called Joe, the “finish to continue starting” message was still part of the installation procedure at least as late as Windows XP, and may still be in Windows 7 for all I know.

That’s frightening enough.  But imagine my horror when I saw the same message on tsspark’s Flickr page, now appearing as part of Firefox’s add-on upgrade process:

Is this merely funny?  Or is it a symptom of something more sinister?

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