Chat-a-Whyle

The brunette and I went a traveling the other weekend. It's fascinating to me that fifteen years after I used to drive from Baltimore to Upstate New York for university, the roads in Pennsylvania are still under construction. I don't think I've ever spent more than twenty minutes in the state without being on a road under construction.

Our goal for the weekend was to explore the Finger Lakes district and see if there might be a good candidate for our "retirement" plans. The poor Finger Lakes probably suffered from our trip being the first since we returned from living in Scotland. Neither the land nor the towns jumped up and demanded that we stay. Nothing felt like home.

We did feel like family in Bath, though. We stopped in at the Chat-a-Whyle and were treated to some wonderful sticky buns. Yum! We couldn't leave Western New York without sampling beef on wick, of course, though I never got any wings.

Midway through our meal, a waitress came into the room to make (shout) an announcement.

WAITRESS: Guess what, everybody! I lowered my cholesterol!"
Everyone was dutifully impressed, but we were all painfully aware that she hadn't done it by eating the sticky buns. Oi.

The Warden of English (Jenny McMorris)

The thirteen-year-old boy that lives down the street, Tommy, tells me that he has decided on his new ambition.

"When I grow up," says little Jimmy (or was it Jeffrey? It doesn't matter, I'm making all this up any way). "I want to make dictionaries."

This surprises me, of course, because I didn't think that lexicographical pursuits were on the minds of all good little boys and girls. I express as much to said lad.

"I'm fully 12 years old," he replies, "not some little boy, you know."

I nod sagely.

"I've been reading this," he says. He holds up a book. It's a biography of Henry Fowler.   Henry Fowler lived at the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to writing Modern English Usage, he and his brother were also responsible for the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

"And that made you want to compile dictionaries?" I respond. "But Fowler had to have had the most boring life I've ever read in a biography." I mean, aside from compiling dictionaries, the most interesting thing about him is his inability to write poetry. The author is forced to fill the book with snippets like this:

A natural perruque she grows
Of silver curls well ordered;
With narrow fringe that sparsely shows
My naked noodle's bordered.

and

Her fitting throne an easy chair,
Her joy a motor-car is;
For me a stool, or Shanks's mare,
A fitter mount by far is.

"But writing a dictionary sounds keen," he says.

"Keen? Do teenagers still say 'keen?'" I'm sure they had stopped saying it even when I was a boy.

"There's all kinds of controversy," he says. "Like this: What do you do with words that offend people? Like --"

"Whoa, whoa," I say. "Hold up, Nelly. This is a family blog."

"It's not bad," he says. "This is on page 153:"

The definition of 'Antichrist'...included as one of its meanings 'the Pope'...Henry did feel it to have been common in his youth, and thought that it should be retained but marked so that readers recognized it as a historical usage, or with 'in ultra-Prot. use' perhaps...While admitting the use to be defensible historically Chapman told Henry firmly that it was not 'a familiar sobriquet for his Holiness.'"

"See?" he says. "Imagine the fight they had!"

"Yes," I say. "More fun that humans should be allowed to have."

"Are you mocking me?" Johnny asks.

"Oh, no," I backpedal quickly. "How does one go about becoming a dictionariest?"

"I'm not sure," he wrinkles his nose. "That is 'a question that solvitur ambulando.'"

"Quite," I agree, and Timmy runs off. I hope his parents don't blame this on me, too.

Riding Shotgun on the Metro

This is True

I've been reading a blog about the daily travels of a commuter on the London Underground, so I thought I'd make a quick note of my experience on the Washington, DC, Metro. Here, we don't mind the gap, but we do stand clear of the doors.

Last night, I changed trains at the Mt. Vernon station stop. There's a slight lull in traffic on the Metro at 7:30, so the platform wasn't terribly crowded. The trains are scheduled less frequently after 7, so I settled down on the marble seat to wait for the next Green train.

I was surprised that the next train came quickly, but I was disappointed to see that it was neither a Green nor a Yellow train. Instead, it was one of those "No Passengers" trains you see so often. I've often wondered where the "No Passengers" stop is and whether or not it connects with the thousands of buses that go to "Out of Service." This particular train was a little different: the "No Passengers" sign was a permanent, printed sign, not the normal digital sign.

The train moved to the far end of the platform, near the tunnel's entrance (or the platform's exit?). When the doors opened, shotgun-toting guards stepped from either end of the train. They stood silently in that particularly menacing posture: one hand on shotgun, shotgun butt on hip, one hand free. And they glared.

A metal ramp descended from the middle car, and five (or so) people surrounded a large metal box-on-wheels. It made quite a racket as they wheeled it down the platform and just into the tunnel. A minute passed at most, and they noisily returned with the metal box-on-wheels, putting it back on the train. They boarded again, the guards backed into the train, and the train moved on. Not a word was spoken the entire time.

Spooky.

ClearQuest Tic-Tac-Toe: Action/State

Irrational Use of Rational Tools

Earlier, I mentioned that I was going to embark on one of the most useless tasks possible: I am going to create a ClearQuest schema for Tic-Tac-Toe. Now, ClearQuest is generally used to track defects and enhancements, but since it has a simple workflow model and the ability to configure fields and hooks, I think it will be just peachy to use for a game.

ClearQuest projects are collections of data. Fields, entry forms, states, hooks, and workflow rules are all defined in a "schema." The schema is modified and then applied to projects to change their set-up.

When creating a ClearQuest schema, the first question to ask yourself is: What kinds of records do I want to track? The second question is: What kind of workflow should the records go through?

In our case, I am thinking that a record type of game will be useful. Each record will be an instance of a game. The game record type will be state-based. That is, the record changes state when actions are applied to them. In addition to the game record, we'll also need a record type of player. For that we'll just use the stateless record type of user, which is already included with ClearQuest. (A stateless record has no life. It just sits there with its information available for use. Although you can change the information, changes are not associated with any state.)

There are a couple of routes we could take with game's state flow. I think a typical game might go like this:

  • Create the game
  • Assign Users
  • X Take A Turn
  • O Take A Turn
    • Repeat the last two until game is finished
  • End Game

We'll need names for each of the states in between these actions. For example, we could start with "CREATED" to indicate a game that has been created but no players have been assigned. Once users have been assigned, we could simply have a state of "IN PROCESS" to indicate that turns are being taken. Then, we could have a state of "GAME OVER" to indicate that a game is complete. This is probably the simplest possible state model.

The two areas that this simple model has problems with are: reporting and action control.

From this simple model, I could easily get a listing of all the games that are waiting to begin, all the games that I'm involved in and aren't finished, and all the games that have been finished. However, I think it'd be difficult for me to find games that are waiting for me to play.

One option that would preserve the simple state model would be to have two player fields, and another field that indicates the current player. The query for all my turns would be to find IN PROCESS games where the current player field equals me. This makes querying easier, but it doesn't allow me to put much control on the actions. I'm left with having each player take an action that doesn't modify the state. It's a little harder to put restrictions on this action and to make requirements.

On the other hand, I could separate the turn state into two states: X TURN and O TURN. I could create a query that returns all games where (I'm X and it's X's turn) or (I'm O and it's O's turn). This is a bit clunkier than the other query; however, it's nicer than the base query. Plus, this additional state lets me create more actions for tracking.

So, the final state diagram looks like the attached figure. Please join in and comment on this state sequence. If you think there should be more or fewer, chime in!


Updated: This entry has been updated. I was originally going to try a game of checkers, but I didn't feel like putting in 64 fields for spaces on the board. With Tic-Tac-Toe, I can have only nine space fields. I hope this doesn't disappoint anybody. Maybe we can make a game of checkers or even chess later on...

The Silent Traveller (Chiang Yee)

A Book Note

Since returning to DC from Glasgow, we've been dumped back into the mad rush of modern American life: Three hour drives to ten mile distant locations; Angry commuters sitting on each other on the Metro; Ten hour workdays for (barely) eight hours pay; Brightly colored threats of attack; Fear and loathing of the "lazy" class. It's entirely too easy to spend an entire week angry, yet lacking a target for the anger.

This month's antidote to stress is The Silent Traveller in Oxford, by Chiang Yee. This travelogue is a part of a series of books written by a Chinese ex-patriate in the United Kingdom during the 1940s. He is a writer, poet and watercolor artist who provides journal snippets of his experiences away from home. He calls himself silent because he is cautious to speak to strangers, both from a lack of comfort with the language and from a natural reticence. This rarely seems to keep others from speaking to him, though.

These anecdotes soothe and calm me, somehow. He spends much time walking about the countryside or his neighborhood, simply observing. He is rarely cynical, and often hopeful, as he wanders about. I find his tolerance and lack of anger terribly refreshing. While I might play a particular scene for laughs, the Silent Traveller simply observes and moves on, as in this one:

Leaving the parish church, I intended going through a wooden gate on to a footpath which wound its way down the hill, but a notice saying 'No Road' had been fixed to the gate and I could not pass. There was no other path to the bottom of the hill, so I waved my hand to it and promised to visit it another time.

He decorates his notes with wonderful sketches and beautiful watercolor paintings. The paintings have obvious Asian leanings, but are of very typical English landscapes and cityscapes. So many of them are rain or cloud covered! (My favorite is in the London book: a group of open umbrellas waiting for a bus.)

His gentle musings are relaxing and enjoyable. Occasionally, a note or two remind me that he is living in wartime, too. He has been relocated to Oxford, for instance, because his flat in London was destroyed by bombs. A visit to a barber is interrupted by the overly familiar wartime sirens:

While I was having my hair cut, four children, towels and bathing-costumes over their arms, dashed into the shop. Just then the sirens sounded, and the children one after the other shouted out, 'Hair raid! Hair raid!' until the barber told them to be quiet. The siren sounded familiar to my ears after the London blitzes, and I wondered whether it was familiar to the youngsters, or whether they were joking at my thick black hair falling to the ground in such big quantities. After all, it was a hair raid, and I felt not at all uncomfortable at being laughed at.

It is a reminder that life goes on even during wartime, because it must. And there is refreshment to be had from time to time, because we must have it.

Chiang Yee gives a little encouragement to writers everywhere:

But life is too short and precious for us to pass through it without leaving a few footprints behind us. A man's experience in a certain place at a certain time must be unique, in some way different from the experience of others. Why should I not leave a few words to mark one period in my brief life? Even a bird's clawprints remain for a little time in the snow. Let these impressions of my short years in Oxford remain as long.

ClearQuest Tic-Tac-Toe

Irrational Use of Rational Tools

Rational's ClearQuest is a workflow management tool. It is typically used to help manage defect reports and enhancement requests.

I have decided to create a tic-tac-toe game schema for ClearQuest.

I think it is a good route toward describing how the tool can be used for any workflow based process. Games have a definite workflow, and tic-tac-toe is simple enough that the implementation should be straightforward. The only oddity with a game is the workflow has a circular component to it, but this can be an example of feedback loop (as in develop, test, fail, develop, test, etc.)

Perhaps this is the most useless task I could find, but will you play along?


Updated: This entry has been updated. I was originally going to try a game of checkers, but I didn't feel like putting in 64 fields for spaces on the board. With Tic-Tac-Toe, I can have only nine space fields. I hope this doesn't disappoint anybody. Maybe we can make a game of checkers or even chess later on...

Roy's Place

You have one of those friends, right? The guy (and it's always a guy) who insists on almost being funny nearly all the time? It's not so much that your friend isn't clever, it's just that it never seems to stop.

You might be trying to talk to him about, I don't know, say the importance of television on the development of young minds. And he insists on telling you about the odd word "cleave". On the one hand, "cleave" means to break apart. On the other hand, it also means to bring together. It's often used in the former way by minerologists, and in the latter form by clergy during a wedding.

Then, your friend will ask if you think that might mean that ministers could be called "cleavers"?

And what does this have to do with television anyway? Well, it's probably the tenuous link of "cleaver" to the last name of the Leave it to Beaver family, but you're really afraid to ask because it might send him off on another riff. Because you don't want to risk this, you try to keep the conversation short and get away as quickly as possible. Run away! Run away!

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you are one of those guys? I know it worries me, sure as shootin'. What if my little musings aren't nearly as funny as I thought? What if I'm tedious and boring and people find little ways to avoid me, like having to "go to work" or needing to "visit family" whenever I offer to stop by.

If someone told me I was that person, I might just climb into a little hole and never come out.

So, let's not tell Roy Passin that he's a guy like that. Roy's Place is a sandwich shop in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It's just down the street from the crazy model train guys, so maybe he's in the right neighborhood. Roy's menu includes well over 200 sandwiches. Each one is named, and each name is followed by a comment.

6. QUEEQUEG (Named after my daughter, Pandora.)
Crab salad, Swiss cheese, corn beef & golden sauce, all broiled

7. A GOOD COLD SANDWICH (Because of inflation the price was raised.)
Two stale heels of bread enclosing a freshly-made ice cube

Sure, sometimes the comments are funny, but if you're hungry and you have to read through 210 examples of this kind of funny, your patience begins to flag. It can take an hour to read through the whole menu, and by the time you get to the end, you forgot what was at the beginning and have to start over to pick. Maybe you'll just give up.

Well, don't give up, because the sandwich that will arrive will perk your right up. The bread is fine and the stuffings are plentiful. I think we could have easily gotten by with one sandwich for the both of us and even skipped the fries. The restaurant has character (by which I mean: It's an old, dusty barrooom), and the servers seem to expect you to speed read, but it's worth the little trip up to Gaithersburg for the Andouille sausage and onions. Yum!