Why a really large dictionary is not a good thing

Sometimes you’ll see somebody brag about how many words are in their spell-checking dictionary. It turns out that having too many words in a spell checker’s dictionary is worse than having too few. Suppose you had a spell checker whose dictionary contained every word in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then you hand it this sentence:…

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The martial arts logon picture

Along the lines of Windows as Rorschach test, here’s an example of someone attributing malicious behavior to randomness. Among the logon pictures that come with Windows XP is a martial arts kick. I remember one bug we got that went something like this: “Windows XP is racist. It put a picture of a kung fu…

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The look of Luna

Luna was the code name for the Windows XP “look”. The designers did a lot of research (and got off to a lot of false starts, as you might expect) before they came to the design they ultimately settled upon. During the Luna studies, that people’s reaction to Luna was often, “Wow this would be…

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When temperance backfires

[South Carolina is] the only state in the nation requiring bars to serve all hard liquor in minibottles. The minibottle’s place behind the bar is even enshrined in the state’s constitution. Mini-bottles are those cute little single-serving bottles you see on airplanes and in hotel refrigerators. The law was originally passed under pressure from the…

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“Special skills” draft on the drawing board

The [U.S.] government is taking the first steps toward a targeted military draft of Americans with special skills in computers and foreign languages. Apparently, there is already a special system to draft “health care personnel”, whatever that means. Can you imagine the havoc that could be wrought by disgruntled programmers forced to write code for…

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Where did my Task Manager tabs and buttons go?

Ah, welcome to “Tiny Footprint Mode”. This mode exists for the ultrageeks who want to put a tiny little CPU meter in the corner of the screen. To go back to normal mode, just double-click a blank space in the border. This is one of those geek features that has created more problems than it…

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It’s embarrassing how little Swedish you need to know

Because everybody here speaks English. Perfectly. Sometimes they’ll speak English to me even before I say anything. (My comparative silence probably gives me away as a non-native.) Other times they’ll notice that I’m speaking with a bad accent and switch to English. Some humor me by speaking Swedish until I finally break down and ask…

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Why Ctrl+Alt shouldn’t be used as a shortcut modifier

You may have noticed that Windows doesn’t use Ctrl+Alt as a keyboard shortcut anywhere. (Or at least it shouldn’t.) If a chorded modifier is needed, it’s usually Ctrl+Shift. That’s because Ctrl+Alt has special meaning on many keyboards. The combination Ctrl+Alt is also known as AltGr, and it acts as an alternate shift key. For example,…

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The army is cool, except for the part where you have to fight

There’s some to-do over a soldier who volunteered to serve in the army who has since changed his mind and is applying for conscientous objector status. I noticed this trend over two years ago, when people who had enlisted in the armed forces underwent a change of heart after the World Trade Center attacks: Many…

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You know you’ve been in Sweden too long when…

Some Aussie ex-pats developed a list of “You know you’ve been in Sweden too long when…”. My friend who is acting as my host (and who is himself a U.S. ex-pat) says that the list is astonishingly accurate, and that your reaction to it goes through several phases. Confusion. You don’t know what the list…

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