Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Penguin Parens: referenced by NLTK!

A while ago, I was working on remixing horoscopes and I gushed quite a bit about the lovely free Python NLP toolkit NLTK. And I was honored to get a comment from Steven Bird, one of the NLTK developers and an eminent natural language researcher.

It turns out that they quoted my blog post for the "Quotes" page. Aw :)

I'm checking out their circumstance again, so to speak -- and it's grown so much. They've got most of a textbook (free online!) put together. And the API is gigantic, so much code! Amazing. I'm going to have to dig back into it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

you need more retrocomputing: Mini vMac and old Apple software

So I was looking for cool activities for my new XO laptop, and I ran across Mini vMac, an emulator for the Macintosh Plus; it's cross-platform, but if you happen to have an XO, here's the .xo activity.

And it works really well! You'll need a ROM image, y'know, taken from the Mac Plus that you personally own, and also an image from a "System" disk (available on that same page).

But! As the Mini vMac page points out, you can get old Macintosh System software from somewhere else -- Apple's own Older Software Downloads page, which features all sorts of outdated Apple software. System disks, drivers for bizarre old SCSI hardware... and Hypercard.

The Mini vMac page also links to this fantastic compendium of old macintosh software from third parties, which has even more wild old stuff, like vim 3, forgotten Lisps and MLs, games that you might remember.

I'm going to have to run this fullscreen on my Macbook Pro, woo!

Friday, March 07, 2008

more retrocomputing: procedural graphics languages!

One of my first online experiences -- and probably the first for a lot of people, came in the form of Prodigy, over dialup, on an old DOS box. At the time, Prodigy wasn't an ISP as such -- it was an insular online community, with its own exclusive content and games and message boards and email. Of course, this model wasn't sustainable forever...

But! The interesting thing about Prodigy was the graphics. It was clear, at the time, that it wasn't downloading "images" as such -- y'know, like raster graphics -- it was drawing in terms of commands that would build pictures out of shapes. This was kind of cool; the dialup link was slow enough that you could see it building the picture, usually bigger background shapes first, then the details would get filled in. It occurs to me now that it must have been somebody's job to work out how to draw pictures like this...

It turns out that Prodigy was using the standard language for this: NAPLPS, the North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax. And there were several other services that used the same approach -- some of them sent the commands over modems, like Prodigy, but some went over TV, during that mystical vertical blanking interval that broadcast engineers talk about.

Speaking of sending non-raster graphics down the wire: did you know that there's a set of drawing commands understood by some DEC terminals? It's true. It's called ReGIS. At one point, Brett and I got our hands on some old DEC terminals and spent a few afternoons messing around with this on something that must've been a vt340 or vt420. You can find out all sorts of wonderful things about DEC terminals at the super-top-notch vt100.net. These things seem to be indestructable; I held on to the vt220 for years, passing the joy forward sometime in college; it was still chatting amiably over the serial port on my Linux box, and almost as old as I was.

That's all for now. Happy hacking!