The Best of Blog Overflow: November 2011

Ah, it's that time again -- time to recap the best posts from this past month on our Blog Overflow sites. The last time we did this, we featured some really cool posts from all over. This past month, we had even more really awesome posts. We didn't have over 9000 of them (though one can dream) but still. Lots.

Geographic Information Systems

I unabashedly called out GIS in the last post, and GIS totally rose to the challenge. Or maybe they just had an entry in the wings. Either way, their entry, It's all about the data was a thought-provoking entry whose value goes well beyond map-making, with a message that programmers and UX designers and even DIYers can appreciate.

Yes [the new map] was beautiful, she said, but not as good as the old one. I was shocked. I’m sure my mouth hung open. You see, one thing we’d done all those years before, with equipment that had less computing power than today’s phones, was add place names. Lots and lots of place names, based on local knowledge. Oh. Our new maps don’t have those.

CS Theory

I mentioned off-hand that CS Theory has a blog, and in November they provided this interesting entry (note: it's quite technical!) about quantifier elimination.

On its face, it was not even clear that the problem (non-negative rank) was decidable, let alone solvable in polynomial time. But on the other hand, they observed that previous work had already shown the existence of an algorithm using quantifier elimination. Ankur was a little taken aback by the claim, by the power of quantifier elimination. He knew of the theory somewhere in the back of his mind, in the same way that you probably know of Brownian motion or universal algebra (possible future topics in this “Something you should know about” series!), but he’d never had the occasion to really use it till then.

I'm going to be honest: despite my math minor, I didn't fully grasp this entry. It's also only half the story, which doesn't help. However, it's written in a really accessible style, and there's a lot of really interesting work linked to in this entry. I could very easily see this entry being in a professional periodical within the field, as an overview and "walkthrough" of the subject. Even with the gaps in my knowledge, the polish in this entry was obvious, and so I felt it deserved some spotlighting.


This past month, the TeX (pronounced like "tech" for those unaware) blog interviewed one of their top users, lockstep. The interview itself is long but really interesting; he talks about his vocation, his work with TeX, and why he uses our TeX site. It's absolutely worth a read, even if (La)TeX isn't necessarily immediate in your life.

Paulo: As Joseph mentioned, you are the biblatex expert and the one-man tagging machine on TeX.sx. How did you become aware of this community? :) lockstep: I occasionally peruse comp.text.tex via Google (I do not participate, though). There was a post about a proposed stackexchange group dealing with TeX, and (half a year later or so) another post that the private beta had started. I decided to give tex.sx a try – it was already in public beta then. The rest is history. ;-)

English Language & Usage

We'll finish on something a bit more lighthearted:

Our English Language blog's so cool! I'll read it and learn a new rule Or other awesome thing That I can then bring To the "Best of Site Blogs" pool!

Or, if you prefer:

We have here an awesome blog post That could teach one to be the toast Of any cool parties And seem a real smartie, While staying refined, unlike most!

Two things that can indicate a good grasp of a language, at least in the case of English, are the abilities to pun and to rhyme. Punning is probably more difficult than rhyming, since it requires not only a good grasp of pronunciation and a swift vocabulary, but also knowledge of the meaning of a great many words and idioms. One of my favourite British pastimes that involves a lot of rhyming and occasional punning, is that of writing limericks.

There you have it -- a nice assortment of awesome entries from BlogOverflow. Don't get me wrong; these aren't the only entries posted this month. Gaming, for example, had a number of really interesting entries this past month, covering everything from videos about game launches to ruining a good game with background "music".

And, as before, if your community's blog wasn't featured this month, there are two options. Either post more (I'm looking at you, Cross Validated!) or just wait -- I'm doing my best to feature different blogs each month.

Happy readings! And, be sure to comment on these entries. Even something as quick as, "Great entry!" means so much to the writers. It's like upvoting, but with more keystrokes.

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