Python rules!

My students chose to have a lecture on Python as the last lecture of the semester this winter, so I had to spend a few days on the language. I'd never programmed in Python before, but since I've programmed in heaven knows how many languages* I was able to grasp the basic idea of the language and run some simple stuff I found on the web. It seemed interesting, although it uses whitespace as a block delimiter. Ah, that was one of my traumas, writing the paper "When Whitespace Conveys Meaning" that got itself rejected from a number of conferences. Horrible languages that use this.

Anyway, one of my takeaways was that this is a great language for throwaway programming, even better than awk. A friend finally convinced me that I really needed a large file of random garbage interspersed with plagiarized sentences for testing the software systems. So I decided to give it a try this afternoon.

Together with my student researcher (who is studying computing but had also never programmed with Python before) we sat down at 11.50 am and started googling. I fired up the environment, and we started to play. We had spoken through the algorithm at lunch yesterday. At about 12.25 my other student researcher showed up (a doctoral student in philosophy) and tried to understand what we were doing. At 12.35 we had a working Python program to generate a paragraph of garbage from the on-board dictionary.

After lunch we spent about 15 minutes getting the rest to work, but made an error way back in one method. I had exam proctoring, so I started the exam and then spent an hour rewriting the program (including comments, like I bitch at my students to do), using good variable names, and finding the error. The end result is highly parametrized (far too high for a throwaway program), easy to read program. In about 3 person hours. Done and delivered, and we can carry on. And: it was fun, even with the stupid indentations.

So yeah, I now understand all the excitement with Python. It rules! But still, I rather don't want it used in safety critical or vital systems ...

* Basic, Fortran IV, COBOL, APL, awk, Perl, Pascal (various dialects), Occam, Ada, Java plus smatterings of report languages and database languages and compiler-compiler syntax and .....

Chocolates from the Deutsche Bahn?

There was a big package came in the mail today. From the Deutsche Bahn. Inside was a tin of hand-made chocolates and a letter apologizing for the train delay I experienced the middle of February when the trains were stopped/rerouted because of a supposed bomb threat.

Now, I already filled out the forms and got my 5,75 € refund. I asked for the refund as a certificate to be used on my next trip, except that it wouldn't accept the certificate for payment on my next trip. I cursed the DB, why can't they get it right like that bookseller from the States that I used to use? But I didn't write a bitching letter (or I have started writing them in my sleep). So do they have my laptop bugged, or did my Prof. Dr. dazzle them?

Whatever. Good chocolates.


Hannah Arendt

The Swedish church in Lund organizes movie nights in the movie theater across the street in order to attract young people to the church. Yesterday they watched "Hannah Arendt", and I managed to get free tickets to tag along, even though I don't really pass for 25 any more.

I was planning on seeing this film by Margarethe von Trotta anyway, so it was perfect - and shown in German, English, and Hebrew with Swedish subtitles in a very comfy, oldish theater. Ooooh, I didn't realize that Axel Milberg, my second-favorite Tatort-Kommissar (Jan Leifers is, of course, in first place) would be playing such a major role!

Hannah Arendt is a German philosopher who escaped Europe and is teaching in New York when the Eichmann Trials begin in Israel. Eichmann was kidnapped in South America and brought to Israel to be put on trial. Arendt is sent by the New Yorker to report on the trial. The film uses real footage of Eichmann and of people testifying. Eichmann is not a monster, but just a guy doing his job. A terrible job it is, getting rid of the Jews, but for him it's just a job to be done.

Arendt, who had studied with (and loved) Heidegger, spends a lot of time thinking about thinking - and about what it means to be evil. Her report for the New Yorker is not what they expected, as she portrays him as he is, just a cog in the system. And she points out that there were Jewish leaders who collaborated with the Nazis - they, too, are to blame. An uproar ensues with people who did not actually read her article threatening her and sending hate mail, calling her anti-Jewish and a whore, the precursor to today's shitstorms.

She defends herself in a brilliant lecture, losing her Jewish friend Hans Jonas, who is not able to accept her position as he is 100 % pro Zionist.

The characters of Arendt and her partner Heinrich Blücher are wonderfully played. I feel so comfortable looking at their apartment and can really feel the depth of their characters. Irritating was the constant smoking, although that may actually have been the case at that time that professors smoked in the lecture. Must have been hard on the smokers in the audience, seeing everyone up on the screen being allowed to smoke. Although they could smoke on the way over to the church for coffee and cookies and talking after the film.

I ordered two books of Arendts today, I really think I need to know more about her and her work. And the film was great - go see it, if you have a chance.