February 2008 Archives

Next week, I will start teaching a course on type systems. As I will give it in English to Italian students, I thought it would be better to use some slides instead of just writing on the white board. So I have been working on these slides, basing them on Benjamin Pierce's great book on type systems.

I did not dive immediately in the slides, I first tried to get an idea of how I would start the course. To do so, I searched for some course notes online, did some lists of concepts I wanted to convey, and dropped all this in a Curio idea space. I then crafted a more detailed list of this first course outline, which I then transferred to Keynote.

Why Keynote you may ask (maybe wondering when I'll get to the point of this post)? Well, I have grown fond of it, and it prevents me from writing slides that are too technical (or too much like a copy and paste of a research paper). I really like LaTeX, and I cannot imagine using something else to write papers, but I am less sure about slides.

In any case, having chosen Keynote, there was still some technical content to typeset, as type systems are all about things like "Γ ⊢ λx:T. t : T → T'". One solution would be to use LaTeXiT, a great small free utility to produce PDF images out of LaTeX, which when combined to its LinkBack support makes it play great with Keynote. I however see several drawbacks with this approach:

  • one would have to work hard to make sure the text fonts in Keynote and the generated fonts by pdflatex for the mathematical symbols are close enough for the result not to be ugly;
  • if some mathematical symbol occur inline some text, then either all of it has to be done in LaTeX, or editing the text becomes a bit painful (as images have fixed positions and cannot be anchored at some point in the text);
  • similarly, if coloring needs to be done, it has to be done and edited in LaTeXiT;
  • LinkBack works great, but I've found that going back and forth between LaTeXiT and Keynote to tweak things takes some time.

So I searched for an alternative solution. As Keynote is using Unicode fonts by default, there are many many characters available. And by many I mean this


This palette is accessible in many applications, using the Edit → Special Characters... menu. However, I quickly found tiring to go to this menu, double-click on the wanted character (which I usually put in the "Favorite" tab using the gears menu on the bottom left), and going back to editing. Even assigning a shortcut to invoke this palette would not speed things enough. Which is when I thought of using TextExpander.

TextExpander is a preference pane that lets you assign things (that can be text, but also images or even the result of some AppleScript) to abbreviations. When the abbreviation is typed, it is immediately replaced by the corresponding text. I use it for fairly mundane things, like salutations at the end of an email: when I type cdt, I get



I have many of these abbreviations defined, for website addresses I often go to, for my phone numbers, for salutations, for the current date in ISO format... and now for special characters


Creating these abbreviations was very easy: just create a new snippet, and in the text field simply use the Special Characters palette to enter the character wanted. And this is how I now easily enter these strange Γ and λ without leaving the comfort of the current application, be it TextMate (as of right now), Mail, or Keynote.

A few weeks ago I posted about some games one might want to try beyond gateway games. The most recent episode of The Dice Tower, episode 116, talks about the very same thing. The list of the games they recommend is also online.

Buying a game


pic149722_md.jpgFriday, I took some time of my afternoon to go search for card sleeves for my Citadels roles cards. Of course, this was just an excuse to drop by a board game shop and browse around. And somehow I knew I would get out with a new game...

So I started browsing. I was first tempted by the deluxe version of Wings of War, that I could see myself playing with Augustin. But the box was a bit big (and going without the miniatures was not an option) and the price was a bit high. Then I moved on to the shelves with the smaller boxes, and this is when I saw the game I decided to buy.

The box was small, which was a plus. This would probably mean a fairly quick game with a reasonable price. I could not grab the box as it was too high, but the cover, depicted on the right, and title immediately suggested a theme that would appeal to Christelle. As most of my games are currently played with her, this was a major factor in the decision to buy it. I could also see the names of the authors of the game, Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti, two persons whose games I usually really like. At this point I was expecting a fairly light and chaotic game taking place in the court of Marie Antoinette. (For more on the history and theme of the game, Bruno Faidutti tells it very well.)

I thus asked if I could see the box, somehow partially committing myself to purchase it, and it confirmed much of this. The price was right, it was a short 45 minutes to one hour game, and the game play looked nice enough.

That very evening, we were having Jorge for diner so we got this game out and tried it. It was a lot of fun, fairly easy to play, and lasted for one hour and ten minutes. I'm pretty sure this game will come out more often.

For more information, you can go to The Geek or to Bruno Faidutti's page for this game.

Web Comics

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OOTS-1.gifYesterday was a great day: I finally received the latest volume of the Order of the Stick comics (thanks Thomas for forwarding it, as it arrived one day after I left the US cool.gif). The Order of the Stick is one of the first web comics I've started reading, and it's definitely my favorite. I've bought every book, and regularly read the new strip that comes out (too) infrequently.

There are two other comics I follow online. One is the classical PhD Comics, an almost 10 years old comics about doing a PhD. This is quite realistic, and that's probably why you'll often find printed strips displayed in research labs. As for the other, WereGeek, I only started reading it a few weeks ago. It's still in the purgatory zone (in the sense: will I keep giving it some time), but I like the role playing and board game references.

If you have some favorite web comics, don't hesitate to mention them in the comments!

Wagon trémi sur FreeLUG


Je suis tombé il y a quelques jours sur un article très intéressant de FreeLUG décrivant une expérience de construction collective où chaque enfant construit un même modèle de wagon en légos, qui sont ensuite assemblés en un grand train.

Voyant ceci, Augustin a voulu faire pareil, et comme le plan du wagon était donné, je l'ai imprimé hier (Augustin m'a même appelé au travail pour m'assurer que je n'oublierais pas) et nous l'avons construit hier soir. N'ayant que peu de légos, nous n'avons pu en faire qu'un seul, mais c'était déjà une expérience très sympathique.

Avant de vous montrer quelques photos, j'en profite pour recommander vivement le site de l'auteur de ce projet. Si vous êtes fans de légos, cela vaut clairement le détour.




Legos and Multitasking

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The other day, I read a very interesting article on the failure of multitasking. This has lead me to look at how I behave and when I multitask, how badly I do it.

There are times when things go well, like washing the dishes or walking, and listening to a podcast at the same time. There are times when it's not so good, for instance grocery shopping and listening to podcasts (yes, I listen to many podcasts): I realized last Saturday, after losing my spot in a long podcast, that there were many things I could not remember hearing. I recently also found another occurrence of failing at multitasking: searching for Lego bricks.

Yesterday, I spent some time playing with Augustin, and my assigned task was to rebuild the engine from the cargo train set. Most of the time was spent searching for the correct brick, and I tried a couple times to search for two bricks at the same time, to save time. I then realized it requires a lot of concentration to keep both shapes in mind, and it's much easier to lose this concentration and let the mind wander, not finding anything. Searching for a single brick is much simpler and can be done in a much more relaxed way.

So the bottom line is that even when playing with Legos, I'm not too good at multitasking. I guess it's OK, I'll just have to remember it.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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March 2008 is the next archive.

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