Alex the cognitive parrot

Best obituary ever:

A shame, then, that he is now, in the words of Monty Python, an ex-parrot.

If you’re not familiar, Alex The Parrot is a parrot who was adopted by a scientist who wasn’t, at the time, involved in linguistics. But, in teaching Alex to speak, she ended up teaching him things like counting and basic recognition of objects. Over the years, this evolved into all manners of experiments on what kind of cognition Alex was capable of.


By the end, said Dr Pepperberg, Alex had the intelligence of a five-year-old child and had not reached his full potential. He had a vocabulary of 150 words. He knew the names of 50 objects and could, in addition, describe their colours, shapes and the materials they were made from. He could answer questions about objects’ properties, even when he had not seen that particular combination of properties before. He could ask for things – and would reject a proffered item and ask again if it was not what he wanted. He understood, and could discuss, the concepts of “bigger”, “smaller”, “same” and “different”. And he could count up to six, including the number zero (and was grappling with the concept of “seven” when he died). He even knew when and how to apologise if he annoyed Dr Pepperberg or her collaborators.

Its just amazing.

Making sense of Fitts' Law

Particle Tree has an excellent article on Fitts’ Law. That’s the one that, amongst other thing, leads to putting the Dock and Start Menu buttons on the edges of the screen. You definitely want to check it out, if only for the terrific images used as demonstration, like this one:


Of course, if you’re more about the math[1] you could just read up on ye olde’ Wikipedia.

fn1. There’s math in UI design?

Nielsen Symphony No. 4

Still the most difficult orchestral piece I’ve played (though I played it quite poorly at the time):

Gotta love the dueling timpani. And insanely difficult string runs.

Categorized as Music

Lion head scroll

Charles Mingus had what must be the coolest double bass on the planet:

Charles Mingus' double bass scroll

Photo credit: tm_marcello

Categorized as Music

Check your head

Paul Graham’s latest essay returns to the ground that first made me notice and hold him in high regard. Holding a Program in One’s Head delves into what kind of intellectual exercise software development is (one that requires focused and uninterrupted thinking) and then goes on to provide a bunch of guidelines for effective programmer working spaces (small teams, distraction-free workspaces). See also: Test #8 on the 12 Steps to Better Code.

Categorized as Code