Friday, December 23, 2005

Simply brilliant little applet

I saw this little applet on Jay Is Games and thought I'd share it here with you.




Originally seen here.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Followup on Uncle Frank

So, I was reading the Metro the other week, and I almost flipped past the letters to the editor. Then I happened to glance my name in the body of a letter with the title "I Hate Your Kid."

Seems that one of the alcholics took offense at my barbeque lament and told me to "stay away, whiner." I've decided not to send a response to the Metro pointing out to "K. Limon" that the article wasn't about Uncle Frank's or her watering hole "Francesca's", it was about how the article in the Metro was misleading about whether it was a 21-and-over joint or not.

I guess if she spent less time drinking and more time understanding what she reads, she might have picked up on that.

Funny translation

I ordered some stuff from amazon.fr, and I don't really speak French, but I can limp through the order process. However, sometimes I'll slap part of a web page or email into some kind of translator to make sure that I'm not asking them to send me a case of hot-buttered Lemurs.

Anyway, upon sending the order, I received an email containing this paragraph:

Cet e-mail vous informant de l'envoi de votre commande termine ainsi le traitement de votre commande et constitue l'acceptation du contrat de vente entre vous et Amazon.com International Sales.

which according to this free translation service means:

This e-mail informing you sending of your order finishes thus the treatment of your order and constitutes the acceptance of the sale contract between you and International Dirty Amazon.com.

I guess 'sales' in French means 'dirty' in English.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Silly graph of qubits


So, I've created this silly graph in a silly response to a silly post about the number of qubits we'll be able to compute with in the mysterious future!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ridiculously funny and sometimes sophomoric

Found this in my wanderings today. It is a collection of ultra-condensed books. As an example:

Gravity's Rainbow
By Thomas Pynchon
Ultra-Condensed by Glenn Davis


Thomas Pynchon

A screaming thing comes across the sky. It's a V-2 rocket carrying twelve thousand pounds of symbolism, and it's coming down on your poor, deluded, postmodern head.



THE END


I say: brilliant!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Slashdot is kind of a stinker.

So, I saw a cool looking new style of keyboard and submitted the story to Slashdot. It was almost immediately rejected.

<ericCartman> Well, screw you guys, I'm going home.</ericCartman>

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Old News

So, I was up late tonight working on a presentation, and I happened across this headline on Yahoo:

Blockbuster to miss online DVD rental target

Very exciting to read. Gave me a little lift. We up our short term guidance and tell people we'll be at 20 MILLION members not far past the end of the decade, and BBI is having trouble getting to 10% of that figure in the next year or two.

I have to admit to a guilty... well... not pleasure, and not even an indulgence. It's best described as a bad habit. I occasionally read the NFLX board on Yahoo Finance. Look through to see what's being said. I see a lot of nonsense on both the long and the short sides, but what really doesn't make sense to me is the rabidity of some of the short-siders.

They harp on the same things over and over again. They say there are no barriers to entry. Well, Walmart and Blockbuster might beg to differ on that point, because they've certainly both had their share of problems getting traction in this market. They talk about how video on demand will eat our lunch. Well, VOD has been around for a while, and our lunch is still sitting on the plate in front of us. We deliver, on demand, millions of individually selected movies to millions of individuals, week in and week out. For the next several years, you would be hard pressed to build a network that can move millions of movies worth of bits a day; until then, the USPS carrying DVDs is the king-kong of bandwidth (admittedly a very fat pipe with hellishly long latency between packets -- I wouldn't want to browse the web that way).

They talk about how we can't sustain growth, that we churn off a bazillion customers a month. I can't fathom why they don't understand that even when we lose 5% of the customer base, we still have convinced 95% of our customers to keep giving us money. We've also convinced a bunch of new people to start giving us money, and 95% of them will give us money the next month, and the next and the next. Are we expected to keep every customer around forever? We can't. It's kind of a 'frictional churn,' much like there's a 'frictional unemployment.' You can't ever get to full employment. Economists say it would cause the economy to explode.

People take breaks from Netflix. People come back. A great many of the people who leave tell us that they wish they didn't have to leave, and they tell us that even though they're leaving, they still recommend us, because they loved their experience so much. I'm insanely proud of the fact that I work for a company where people love us. It's gratifying to know that I'm on a team that's making a difference in people's lives. Admittedly, it's not curing cancer or eliminating poverty or global warming, but it's making people's lives richer, or at the very least, bringing some entertainment to them.

As gratified as I am by the warm wishes and happy customers, I'm equally puzzled by those people out there who for some reason wish us to fail. So, I guess in the end, maybe I shouldn't have been so cheerful about Blockbuster floundering. They're just folks with jobs, trying to do them the best they can. However, in any confict, there are winners and losers. If it takes a little viciousness to help insure my team comes out the winners, I suppose I'll pay that price. I just have to keep remembering that it's only business -- nothing personal BBI.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Highlander Hybrid

So, I sent in this question to the folks at Toyota regarding my disappointment with the Highlander Hybrid's fuel economy figures:

I waited with great anticipation the release of the hybrid Highlander. My family could really use a vehicle with a third row of seating since the birth of my second daughter just over two years ago. The obstacle preventing us from getting an SUV or wagon in all that time has been gas consumption. In the light of recent increases in gas prices, that obstacle has gotten even higher. Based on the mileage performance of the Prius compared to conventional cars in its class, I expected that I'd be able to get a vehicle with more room and still get better mileage than with my current small sedan when the Highlander Hybrid came out. I was exceptionally disappointed when initial reports from the real world indicated that the actual gas consumption when driven by real people on real streets was on a par with other vehicles in the same class as the Highlander. The reports of the Highlander's excellent performance didn't do much for me. Not wanting to give up, I talked with a sales representative at a local dealership, and I asked him if there was an option to turn down the performance in exchange for better fuel economy. With the high degree of computer control in the vehicle, this seemed like a natural and relatively inexpensive feature to include. He told me that there was no such option. I'm writing you to ask whether such an option is actually available that maybe the sales rep didn't know about. I'd also like to request that an option such as this be made available. If it were possible to degrade the 0-60 time by 50% in exchange for 30% better gas mileage, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. I'd even pay extra for that feature. Thanks for your time.
I'll let y'all know what they say, if they say anything.

The No Tilt Poker Zone

So, look what I found while avoiding work and wandering aimlessly thorugh the halls of blogger.com in the wee hours... The No Tilt Poker Zone. Quite possibly someone I know/knew, but they're being anonymous.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Adsense Is Very Strange

So I write a post earlier about Statler & Waldorf, two Muppets. Then, I go look at my blog today and see four ads for "Hotel Waldorf" and "Waldorf Hotel Rome".

Pretty useless, I think. Maybe I'll take all the whoring off the page.

Supreme Court Nominee -- Harriet Miers

I was a little taken aback and discouraged when I did a little sniffing for info on Ms. Miers this morning. I saw this page on answers.com:



note the ads on the right:



Doesn't give me a warm fuzzy that Google's AdSense thinks that Intelligent Design is a good matchup for people interested in this particular person.

Uncle Frank Broke My Heart

I read an article in the Metro about Uncle Frank's BBQ last week, and planned a trip for Friday to go get a slice of smoked heaven. Unfortunately, I planned this trip to include my family. One critical point not mentioned in the article was that Francesca's, the dive bar in which Frank's is housed, is 21-and-over. The only way into Frank's is through Francesca's.

When I walked in with my wife and my two daughters (4 and 2 years old), we were greeted by a woman screeching, "You're not allowed in here with them. Get on out." This was as she made a shoo-ing gesture with her arm. I peered in to look behind the bar for someone tending, and said, "But we're here for the restaurant, not for the bar."

I had hopes that the rules might be like in Nevada, where children are allowed to pass through the casino on the way to somewhere else in the hotel. I was encouraged by a man also sitting at the bar who told the woman to be quiet, and beckoned us towards the back. Encouraged, the four of us walked through to the back, and I asked the man at the register if we could eat here with the kids.

He was really apologetic and kind about it as he told me "No." I told him that there was no mention of the age restriction in the article. He said that they had strongly emphasized with the reporter that they're 21-and-over for now, but they're working on the patio and a permit to allow underage eaters. I wish that fact had made it into the article. As it was, I could see the food. I could smell the food. I just had to resign myself that I wouldn't be eating any of the food.

As we retreated, we endured the looks from the restaurant and bar patrons. They were looking at us like we were from another planet. We weren't. We're from Los Altos. Maybe that was the reason the woman was rude. Maybe Francesca's is her place. Her and her drinking buddies have been getting together for years, and now the sweet scent of barbeque will be bringing people (families, for heaven's sake!) from across the tracks to her dive. Perhaps she resents that invasion the same way you resent an invasion of yellowjackets at a backyard barbeque.

Maybe someday I'll get to taste that brisket, but not today.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Anyone out there help me with this?

One literary turn of phrase that has stuck with me (unfortunately) is "necrotizing hemorrhoids." Was it used by Hunter Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Was it used by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash? I just can't seem to recall. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Almost free books

If you've got an interest in an inexpensive source of books to read, you may want to check out FrugalReader.com. This is a service that aggregates listings of the libraries of it's members, and then allows members to request books from each other. All that's paid is postage. No membership fees. I can't see where they're making their money, but, the about page indicates an altruistic mission:

Why We're Here
FrugalReader.com exists to help you and avid readers everywhere enjoy the satisfaction and convenience of reading the books you want, when you want them, at the lowest possible cost.

Seems pretty cool.

Update: Upon further examination, it may be that part of the revenue model is click through links to Amazon to buy books that aren't available for borrowing. I certainly don't begrudge them the opportunity to make a little cash, since they appear to be charging nothing at all for the service.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Totally useless, but totally cool

While looking for an image of a balloon for use in a presentation, I wandered down this particular rathole. It's fascinating to watch, and makes the idea of inexpensive space access even more exciting. Sadly, the NASA home page that contains this presentation is kind of boring, and doesn't give any easy way to find this cool series of images and movies.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Need a Lift?

Looks like a new article on space elevator technology has been published at IEEE Spectrum. Pretty exciting stuff. It just seems that in this world of billions of dollars being spent on wars and bad stuff that we should be able to cough up a measly billion a year or so for the next ten or fifteen years, and have something to show for it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Flash from the past

So, I was looking at HackingNetflix, and there was a link to "Statler & Waldorf -- From the Balcony." A series of movie reviews & previews done by Statler & Waldorf, the two old guys from The Muppet Show who sat up in the balcony and heckled the rest of the Muppets. There were a few bits in the three segments I watched that were chuckle-out-loud moments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fished in.

So, I have to admit to being fished in by the FullTiltPoker.com sponsored tournament that was on some random cable channel the other night. I didn't get to see Phil Gordon bust out, but I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that they were playing it out live, and showing every hand instead of just the dramatic highlights.

The fumbling of the button back and forth when it got to heads-up was so genuine it was almost endearing. I experienced that frisson of seeing something honest and real. More than once a furtive smile on the two players' faces when coming back from a commercial break made me feel their feelings of just wanting to get the thing played out.

Official Trip Around The Moon Lottery

According to The Guardian the Russian federal space authorities are offering a trip around the moon for $100MM. I've decided that I'm going to start a lottery to try and fund just such a trip for one lucky winner.

Send me a paypal payment for $10.01US to my email address, and I'll toss your name in the drum. If I don't get to 10 million entries by July 31, 2006, or if Roskosmos cancels the trip, or if they change the price significantly, then I'll send you your money back. No interest or anything, just a refund of your $10. I'll keep the penny for the time and effort of organizing the lottery.

You know, thinking about it, I'll even promise to forward any ticket-equivalents on to a larger lottery, if one comes up. I'm just an aggregating agent, in one way or another.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mountains, Washing Machines and Winged Punkettes

I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town" and was mightily entertained and provoked into thought. I was thinking about writing a review for Slashdot, but instead came across this review that said everything I could want to say about the novel. I highly recommend getting a copy and reading it, if not for the sci-fi/fantasy elements for the pure literary skill displayed. After all, you can get it for free.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hello? The Eighties are Calling, They Want Their Lightcycles Back

As if I didn't have other better things to do with my time, I unfortunately found a really good racing game. It's free, it's pretty well done, and it's based on the lightcycle sequence from the 1982 movie Tron. You can find the relevant scoop and links to the downloads on SourceForge under Armagetron.

Nicely done guys. Good UI. Nice graphics.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Interactive Fiction: Short Circuit Edition

So, I found out about Facade, a new interactive fiction program. There's a blog about it. It provides an interactive environment where you play a dinner guest at a couple's apartment. They have issues. One of the kind of neat things is that it keeps a script of your session. I believe I've found the shortest possible one:
------------------------------------------------------
FACADE STAGEPLAY
Thu Jul 07 09 52 10 2005

(ROB quietly approaches the front door.)

GRACE
Trip, when are you going to get rid of this?

TRIP
What, Grace... this?

GRACE
Yes, you know how I feel about it --

TRIP
I know I know I'll do it right now, alright?!

GRACE
You know I've had to ask you about this several --

TRIP
Get off my back! I'll get rid of it in just a minute!

GRACE
Fine, Trip... fine...

(Trip opens the front door.)

TRIP
Rob!!

TRIP
Hey! I thought I heard someone out here! God
it's been so long since we've seen you! How
are you doing, man?

ROB
Are you two having a fight?

(Trip closes the front door.)

(ROB knocks on the front door.)

(ROB knocks on the front door.)

(ROB knocks on the front door.)
------------------------------------------------------

Not a lot of drama there. Still, a very interesting experience. I walked through it a few times, and while non-sequitors abound, I was actually somewhat emotionally moved when the couple reconciled. There's a bittorrent for the download (800Mb).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ahhh. A truly horrendous pun.

I apologize for the following pun unleashed on Slashdot this afternoon. My comment is the reply.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Let Freedom Ring

I found (through Slashdot) a story about someone wanting to give SC Justice Souter a taste of his own medicine. I think it's brilliant. "Lost Liberty Hotel" along with the "Just Desserts Cafe." Now that the Fifth Amendment isn't everything it used to be, it seems appropriate to apply its new nature to the property of one of the architects of its decline.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Pledge of Allegiance

I was listening to Terry Gross on Fresh Air, and the guest was Richard J. Ellis discussing his recent book about the Pledge of Allegiance, To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance. He had several interesting points, including the fact that the original pledge was:
  • I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
No God. In 1954, Congress after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, added the words, 'under God,' to the Pledge. No "United States of America". Ellis posits that this change in the early 1920's was a reaction to the flood of immigrants that weren't WASPs. These immigrants might be thinking about the flag of Croatia when saying "my flag" instead of the US flag.

He also wonders at the fervent adoption and defense of a practice that institutionalizes state worship for the people of the most individualist country in the world. I wonder about this as well. How can we foster a sense of freedom and responsibility for one's own actions when every day children are pledging themselves to unquestionably "follow the leader." These are leaders that have proven themselves time and again to be more concerned with re-election and the protection of business than with the true needs of the American populous.

So, I propose a new pledge:
  • I pledge allegiance to the constitution, and to the principles contained within: one people for the common good, with liberty and justice for all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Word Spotted

So, on Slashdot today, I posted a comment declaring the coinage of a new word. 'Wob'. It is used to describe any web-based mob or mob behavior on the web. The Slashdot effect would be a good example of wob behavior.

Spread the love people.

Updated 2005-06-21 13:42 -- Hey! Lookit that! I suggest it and somebody else follows up. I must be a manager or something.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Future of the Future

Wandering around Slashdot I saw a link to the RepRap project.Essentially a project with the goal of creating a machine that can create copies of itself and can also create other things. The fundamental idea being that if anybody has one of these machines, they could give away a copy of the machine to a friend if the friend gives them the materials. Sort of open source for atoms instead bits and software.

There's a lot to think about if you posit the ability for anybody anywhere on the globe to be able to make anything. For starters, the gating economic factor becomes energy, if you assume that materials are all commodities and are more or less available for free.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I just found out about a really great game.

Read about it.

Otherwise, not much else new. Although I did find out that I have one person who is interested in me writing stuff here. So be it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Long time in coming

Well, rats. Seems like it's been a very long time again since I've posted. Almost a month. It's not that there's not a lot going on. Just not a lot of time to say anything about it. At least the search engine spiders keep visiting.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Brilliant explanation of regular expressions

This probably means nothing to you unless you have a certain degree of dealing with computer software as a part of your daily life. I found this page about regular expressions very lucid. I thought I would share.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Back

So, let's start off with the obligatory comment about how long it's been since I wrote anything. Now, with that out of the way, I can relate a bit of what's been going on for the last week-plus. Hm. Seems that time went by, but not a lot was accomplished. At least not by me. Oh, that's right! It's springtime! It's really strange how the nights can seem so long when you wake up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, and you lay there as still as you can, obsessing about all the things you didn't get done during yesterday and how much more there is to do today. You lay still and don't get up because you don't want to wake up your spouse. You feel tired all day, then lay awake at bedtime. You stare at the keyboard and screen, willing your fingers to press some combination of useful keys instead of just reloading the Slashdot home-page for the thirty-eighth time that hour. You go to meetings and click on the 'remind me later' button on the reminder pop-up windows. Seems like I have one that's now fourteen days overdue. I think that's a personal best (worst?) for active inactivity. I actually knocked off a couple of committments today that have been dragging behind me for at least a week. Of course I totally failed to get one moderately critial test deployed out to production, and I haven't even pretended to do work on getting the next revision of bug tracking deployed. That one's actually been slipping since January. At least the fog is lifting now. I think I'm through the worst of it. Let's see where I am this time tomorrow.

Friday, March 25, 2005

And I Thought I Was Being Clever

So, I thought that I'd come up with a clever turn of phrase this morning in the shower. I was contemplating fairness, equality, liberty and the rights of citizens in the U.S.A., and I was thinking about bosses and workers, and the different jobs that we all do well, and the different abilities that we all bring to those jobs. My mind lit upon the phrase "all men are created equal." I got to thinking that we aren't. If we were, there would be no need for laws preventing discrimination, since there'd be nothing to discriminate against. Different people are good at different things, most importantly, different people have differing levels of ability in treating others with respect and in doing no evil.

That led me to what I thought was original (and I only wound up re-proving Ecclesiastes):

All men are created evil.

Perhaps it's pessimistic, but we are all born of a baser nature. As babies, we're fairly innocuous, but that's only because we don't have a lot of control over our actions at first. Just think about the last two-year-old you met. Terrible twos, indeed. The child discovers the freedom to do what it will, and so it does exactly that, heedless of the consequences to itself or others. Only through learning restraint and consideration and that actions have consequences do we have any hope of that little monkey growing up into an actual human being.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What a Long Week

So, another cycle of coding and testing is nearing its end. Kind of a long slog with a bunch of nagging gnats of problems buzzing all around. No 8 alarm fires to put out this week, although there were a few 'teetering over the edge' moments. I was rather ashamed that yesterday I completely spaced out about being home to get the girls from our nanny. I had swapped shifts with my wife and had gone in early, so I was supposed to go home early. Unfortunately, I got absorbed in running a test and forgot about the shift change. I came out of my fog a bit before 5:30 to call Jennifer at home and let her know I'd be a little bit late, and as I picked up the phone I realized that I was supposed to be home. Ugh. I tried calling our nanny on her cell, but she was probably playing with the girls somewhere where she couldn't hear her phone. Jennifer was gracious enough to head home from work. Very embarrassing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who Am I: Twenty-Five Words Or Less

Husband: Jennifer; Father: Eloise, Lucy; Idea Person; Multiple-Endeavor-Wannabe, Dilletante; Reader; Ex-gambler; Ex-alt.drunken.bastard; Former Roommate; Future ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Connections, Death and More Death

Starting off with something fun. I got my first email as a result of this stuff I'm writing. Very exciting. I'd give details, but I'd like to respect the privacy of the correspondent. Suffice to say that it could very easily mesh in with adolescent fantasies that I haven't entertained since... oh, well... adolescence. No. Not exactly in the way that you think.

Watched last Sunday's "The Contender" last night. Very moving episode. I think most anyone who cares already knows the story about Najai Turpin. Therefore, I'm not going to be spoiling much if I talk about the trust fund that's been set up for Anyae, his daughter. I have mixed emotions on the matter. On the one hand, her father set out to prove himself so that he could provide a better life for his offspring. Admirable, noble and heartwarming, as anyone would agree. On the other hand, he failed within the rules of the game, and as a result of what may have been his reaction to that failure, his daughter may be financially better off than even if he'd won the tournament. So, the mixup of my emotions are with respect to rewarding his suicide by providing for his daughter. From a game-theoretic perspective, his final move in the meta-game was probably optimal if he sought to provide only financially. What tears at my heart is that this young girl will be missing her father for the rest of her life, which creates a chasm that cannot be filled by any amount of college education.

In other death-related news, the whole Terry Schaivo thing sickens me. While I can understand the desire to keep someone you love around, I can't understand keeping someone around whose brain has been mostly replaced by spinal fluid, as I heard in a radio report featuring a doctor, and which I had to go Google for something to verify it being true. The relevant excerpt is:
Over the span of this last decade,
Theresa's brain has deteriorated
because of the lack of oxygen it
suffered at the time of the heart
attack. By mid 1996, the CAT
scans of her brain showed a severely
abnormal structure. At this
point, much of her cerebral cortex is
simply gone and has been replaced
by cerebral spinal fluid. Medicine
cannot cure this condition.
Having had my mother attempt suicide about fifteen months ago and be left in a highly deteriorated mental state from anoxia, I was greatly saddened at her passing, but was at the same time relieved. I knew that one of her greatest fears was to be trapped in a non-functioning body. I was incredibly angry at her initial decision to succumb to whatever despair and depression moved her to attempt to take her own life. I have somewhat resolved that anger and have felt it reduce to a simmering pool of frustration. As much as she annoyed me at times with odd questions, a lack of understanding of just what the hell I do for a living (even though she professed understanding), and a really unusual sense of interior design, she was my mom, and it was her birthright to annoy me. Not something she was born to, but because she bore me. I miss her, and I love her, and I remember her, and I'm glad that she got what she wanted in the end, even though that means I no longer have her.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Internet Humor That Actually Made Me Laugh

Got the following from a friend in an email, and unlike almost all other email humor that I've received, I have neither: 1. seen this before, nor 2. failed to chuckle. I pass it on in the hopes that you, too, will also fail to not chuckle.

What Makes 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.

How about achieving 103%?

What makes up 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might
help you answer these questions:

If:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 1819 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

Then:

H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K
8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

and

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E
11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

But,

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E
1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

And,

B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T
2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

AND, look how far ass kissing will take you.

A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G
1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty
that, while Hard work and Knowledge will get you
close, and Attitude will get you there, it's
the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you
over the top.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Passport Nonsense

So, as a family, we're going up to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada this June to celebrate the birthday of one of my wife's aunts. In order to take our two daughters, we decided to get passports. It's possible that we could have gotten away using just birth certificates for them when visiting the 52nd state, but we thought we'd play it safe and just get the passports.
The documents were readily available for download and printing. So far, so easy. Then, it turns out that since Feb 2004, both parents have to show up, or provide a notarized statement from the non-present parent that it's ok for the present parent to apply for a passport. Well, my wife has a notary available at work, so that wasn't too onerous. You also have to have the child present. Very understandable, and it turned into a tiny adventure bringing the girls to the Post Office. Being the U.S. Post Office, passport processing is only available between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Ok, fine. I'll work from home first thing in the morning and then take the girls in. We get there a few minutes after 10, and discover that the 'passport lady' is on break. Hrm. Only available between 10am and 3pm. Already on a break. Fine. About 10:26 (by the clock on the wall), passport lady returns. The documents and website talk about how you can use Visa, Mastercard, check or money order to pay the fees. Well, unless you apply at a Post Office, where you can only pay by check or money order. I had brought a check, but you have to have a separate check for each application. I had to buy a money order. The ninety cents was trivial, but especially annoying on top of the $40 passport fee, $30 execution fee and a brand new $12 'security surcharge'. At least we'll get the passports back via Priority Mail instead of plain old First Class. So, now we wait 6 weeks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Very Busy Day

Well. Yesterday, too. Didn't get a chance to post. Got some chicken wire, hardware, screws and a circular saw over the course of yesterday and today. Still working on the raised-bed garden for the kids. I actually picked up a $99 cordless tool set at Target Saturday night and used it Sunday to cut some old redwood deck boards extracted during our backyard remodel. I got exactly what I paid for with respect to the tool kit. I guess a cordless circular saw isn't something that you want to be picking up on the cheap. I could cut through a maximum of 100" of 2x6 per hour-long battery charge. This is not a lot. I would have thought that it would do more on a charge.
In any case, I'll put up a picture or two after I get the thing built.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Blogs and ads and spam and Tesla

Just saw something on slashdot about people googlebombing 'online poker' to point to wikipedia. This was apparently in an effort to fight back against comment spam about this topic. I guess I'm ambivalent about comment spammers, since I don't seem to have any comments at all.
In other news, I found a really cool catalog. I saw the print version at a friend's house this weekend and went prowling over the website. I ordered a print copy. If you like gadgets, toys, tools and freaky inventions, you might want to, too. Don't be too put off by the website. It's kind of corny.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Missed a day

I guess it happens to all of us, even those with the best of intentions. You miss a day. Could be you get busy, could be you're slacking off.
Since nobody appears to be reading other than yours truly, it's probably not an issue. Regardless, yesterday was the culmination of an anxious, hectic and stressful week or two or three. We finished testing the latest version of the website without undue stress, panic or performance problems. Phew! (I did mention that I'm Web QA manager for Netflix, didn't I?)
In other news, I appear to be hooked on The Contender. I was initially shy of watching the show at all after hearing reports of the death of a contestant. However, my wife taped it, we watched it, and it's very compelling television. After reading the NYT article referenced above, I'm not as reluctant to support the show... that along with the fact that I liked the first episode so much. Happy weekend all.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hilarious Jack Chick Parody.

Ia! Cthulhu F'tagn!

First, a supposedly illegal backup of the objectionable parody, followed by the page where the parody used to live.

Ah, to be young and foolish (or would that be Elder and insane) in R'lyeh again.

Explanatory Exposition

Montcalm Software used to be my consulting business. I would build applications, administer systems and databases and generally mitigate messess others had gotten into. Now I work for Netflix as manager of the Web QA group. I'm currently looking for someone with skills in e-commerce scalability testing. Drop me a line if you're interested in hearing more, or look at our jobs page for current openings.
Otherwise, it's kind of same old same old. A little progress here, a little progress there. Nothing drastic or dramatic.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tone.

I don't know that I generally like the recent tone of what I'm writing. It seems bitter, peevish, complacent, whiny and generally awful.
I'll try to look on the bright side from now on.

Whadda ya know, someone was actually HELPFUL!

Ace really is the place with the helpful hardware man. Back in December, I had someone come out to fix a leaky faucet on my bathroom sink. They replaced the stem (after taking 4 weeks to get the part), but they didn't have the little plastic sprockety thing that joins the stem to the handle. I have a perfectly not-leaky faucet and no ability to use it. Now it's been many more weeks, and I can't get those jokers to call me back and let me know when I'll be able to use my faucet. We've actually got another leaky faucet, but I'm certainly not going to give them the business. We're still holding on to the check paying them for the work they've done to date. The check is in an envelope and stamped and ready to go. Fortunately for me, I'd forgotten to drop it in the mailbox because that very night when I turned on the faucet, I was greeted by an exploding fountain of water jetting out from inside the faucet handle. Someone else from that plumbing company came out and finished tightening down the new stem body. That's when he kidnapped my sprockety thingys. Repair people generally seem to suck.

Weather Forecast: Foggy With Widely Scattered Change Orders

Son of a bungholes did it! Finally got some clear weather for the landscape company to get back to work on the backyard, and they tear off the deck boards, and I get the news that we should replace the joists and ledger. Let's just add another 2.5% to that project cost, shall we? I've been waiting for this other shoe to drop. Not only was this whole project supposed to be completed last July (and we're coming up on the anniversary of the start date in April), but it's been a hard fight to keep the cost down to anywhere close to the original contract price. If these jokers were half as good at actually getting stuff done as they are at presentation and blowing smoke up my behind about delays, we'd have been done last summer.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Stinking nice day

So, I head out today to have lunch, and it's a really nice day. Started off a litle foggy/cloudy this morning, and so I thought, "Oh Crap. Is it going to turn to rain? Are those so-and-so's working on the backyard going to slack off again?" As it turns out, the fog and clouds burn off and leave a spectacularly blue day. Hopefully, there will be PROGRESS on the backyard when I get home. So, I head out today to have lunch and see this beautiful blue sky.
I eat lunch, and I start to head back to work, but I don't head directly back. I wander by Home Depot instead and browse the selection of all-in-one battery powered tool kits. I've been itching to get a circular saw for quite a while, and could use one in constructing a small raised bed vegetable patch.
So, I look at the various options, Makita, Porter-Cable, and Ryobi. I chicken out. I do want to put together that garden bed, though. Now that I've finished the puppet theatre (armed with only a coping saw, a chisel, a bunch of screws and some 1x2's and slats. Maybe I'll take a picture of it), I need a new weekend project.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Google Ads

So, I've posted a couple of bits related to gambling, including a well-linked post to the WSOP and talking about playing texas holdem. This has led to a series of ads on the right all about texas holdem and gambling. Of course, by the terms of AdSense, I'm not supposed to click on the ads. What if I'm actually interested in what they might be offering? That kind of stinks. Am I supposed to write about things I have no interest in so I'm never tempted to accidentally click on ads that appear in my journal?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Warning: Time Sink Ahead

Baby name popularity has never been so much fun, or captivating or time-wasting.

Once a year, whether I need it or not

So, you see, I used to play a lot of poker. Usually Texas Hold'em. Usually lower limits. I'd play tournaments whenever I'd have the time for them. I hung out with a great group of people that I'd met through rec.gambling.poker.Then I got married and part of my commitment to that relationship was to give up gambling.
Well, I gave it up for the most part. I have a longstanding dream to play in "The Big Dance," aka the $10k no-limit hold'em event at the World Series of Poker. The closest I've come is going out 19th at a supersatellite when they paid 11 seats (and they paid some cash to finishers 12 thru 18). Stupid pocket 7's. In any case, now that I've mostly given up on gambling, I still take one swing at the fences per year. My strategy is that I get an afternoon to play in an inexpensive local tournament that would lead to some kind of local freeroll that would result in getting a seat at The Big Dance. This year's excursion happened two weeks ago at The Oaks Cardroom in Emeryville, CA. It was a bit of a comedy of errors (maybe more on that later), but suffice to say that I busted out far short of the top three (which would have given me a stack in the freeroll in June, which I might have been able to translate into a WSOP seat). Better luck next year, I suppose. If you multiply it out, if there are 120 people in the qualifying tourney, and the freeroll has 100 folks, then the actual WSOP Final has 3,000 entrants, I'm only 36 million to 1 against winning the WSOP in any given year. That's actually much better than the odds of winning the California lottery (41MM:1).

More Crap Found on My Disk

I have a problem with gambling. I don’t have a lot of risk in my real life, so I court simulated danger across the green felt of a blackjack or poker table. All that’s at risk is money, and I acknowledge that I’m lucky enough that if fortune smiles upon me I get to feel good and I get to make some money. If my horizons are darkened by clouds, however, I can still go home to a warm bed and know where my next meal is coming from. As my shrink described to me, gambling is where I get my juice because I have repressed all the rest of the more normal outlets in my life.
I say that I currently have a problem in the 12 Step sense of that I will always have this problem. It is currently very well managed. I have constructed rules for constraining this behavior, including rules on what to remind myself of when I find myself breaking a rule. That fail-safe snaps me into a state of mind where I deal with the problem and get back on with my life.
The reason that I set up these rules goes back to an incident from back in my college days. I was taking classes at the University of Arizona in Tucson and working as a programmer at a local real estate development company. One little trick that I played a couple times was to be working late one evening and call my then fiancĂ© to let her know I would be working for quite a while. Then I would drive down to the airport and catch an 8 or 9 p.m. flight to Las Vegas to play a little blackjack. The plan would be to fly back on the 7 or 8 a.m. flight and ‘awaken’ at my desk, having fallen asleep at my keyboard. I would then go straight to classes and most likely sleep there part of the day, and resume my regular schedule late that afternoon.
During one of these trips, I had managed to go through the $200 I had brought in fairly short order. This is not easy to do betting $5 per hand of blackjack, but is well within the realm of possibility. I then proceeded to get $300 from the ATM out of my checking account, which was the daily limit. Unfortunately, that also disappeared around 2:30 or 3. Fortunately (kind of) it was the next day as far as the ATM was concerned, so I managed to get another $200 out of the machine, which was all I had left in the checking account, barring what I needed for rent, etc.
5 a.m. rolls around, and I’m once again functionally broke. It has been a very unusually bad trip, but once again, not unheard of playing $5 blackjack. I kept $20 aside for getting my car out of the parking lot and getting back to the Las Vegas airport, but I had no money left to gamble. I go for a walk out on the strip. I leave where I had been playing, which was the Flamingo Hilton, and as I step out onto Las Vegas Boulevard South, the pink fingers of a desert false dawn are rising from the east. I believe it was a Wednesday morning. The Strip was absolutely deserted with the exception of myself, a jogger on the opposite side of the street in front of Caesar’s Palace and two or three other tired looking people with that thousand-yard stare of the economically shell-shocked.
I step out into the street, into the non-existent traffic. I crossed the median and approached the driveway to Caesar’s Palace. Before me were the fountains that Evil Kineivel jumped across time and again. The sun was starting to peek over the mountains east of town and illuminated the mountains west of town. The sky lightened considerably and the hotel towers and the Fuller dome of the OmniMax theater loomed above me in silhouette as I walked up the driveway.
Ahead of me was an ornate shrine featuring a white elephant. I stop to consider what Eastern religion this might be a symbol of good luck for. It was hard to say as the sign on the front had many languages on it, and none were English. It was done up in an appropriately tacky Las Vegas fashion, however. The entire elephant was covered in various colors of mirrored tile and was dramatically uplit by hidden lights of various colors and several white spotlights. There were coins all around the base of the elephant and a railing with a sign in all languages warning that the railing was alarmed and that the shrine was monitored on video. I remember laughing at the prospect of only in Las Vegas would security be needed at a wishing well.
Even though I don’t believe in lucky elephants, I took this burst of humor for a sign of my luck changing. In that instant I decided that I would either come home a really big winner or a really big loser. $700 was actually the biggest loss that I had ever sustained in Las Vegas, but I was past the threshold of pain[1]. I decided that I would take my credit card and charge another $700 on it, and I would play at the $25 minimum tables.
Once I have determined my course, my step lightened. My eyes cleared and my blood once again began to flow. I was back in action. Just the decision to start on this path was enough to lift my spirits. I quickly made my way to the Comcheck machine and ran my card through with aplomb. I punched in a request for $700 and strutted up to the cashier’s cage as if I owned the place. I received my seven one-hundred dollar bills and advanced on the casino floor.
I spied my victim. A $25 table right near the main entrance. It was a 6 deck shoe with four players already on it. After all, if I wanted to stage a big comeback, I certainly would want an audience. The poor dealer and pit bosses wouldn’t know what hit them.
I sit down and spread those seven insignificant pieces of paper across the felt and watched the dealer push me a stack of even less significant green $25 chips towards me. My destiny hung from those 28 clay discs. I see visions of them turning into black $100 chips or even purple $500 chips.
At the time, I played a simple winning progression. I would always start betting one unit, in this case one green chip. If I won the hand, I would let it ride and wager two chips on the next hand. If I won my second hand, I would then wager three chips. If I continued to win, I would wager five chips, then five chips again, followed by seven chips and then ten chips after the sixth win. Starting with the seventh hand, I would treat ten chips like one chip but I would repeat the ten, so the wagering would go ten chips, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, fifty, seventy and one hundred chips. Then in the incredibly unlikely circumstance of getting that far, the series repeats itself, treating 100 chips like 1 chip.
I played for a while, never varying too far from either side of even, when it happened. I hit a losing streak that would not snap. I was down about two chips at the time, but my stack started to dwindle. I got down to twelve chips, then eleven, then ten. When I lost the next hand and I now only had a single digits worth of chips in front of me, I began to seriously question my earlier optimism.
It was now about 6:15 and I had to leave for the airport at 7. I was resigned to play out this particular scene, when finally I won a hand. Suddenly I could do no wrong. The next hand, I bet my two chips and won. Then, with three chips wagered, I got a natural blackjack. Because naturals pay 3:2, in addition to the four green chips I received two red $5 chips, two silver dollars and a fifty cent piece. I put this “odd money” out for the dealer as a tip on the next hand where I had five green chips wagered, and won again. I repeated my five chip bet and won. Now I placed seven chips in the circle and got an 11 where the dealer had a 6 up. I placed my recently won profits in the circle beside my bet and doubled down, receiving a single face-down card. The dealer turns over a 4 followed by a face card from the shoe and the whole table slumps in disappointment at the dealer’s 20. I haven’t looked, but I just know that I have a ten underneath, and the dealer reveals my card to have a lovely face. He restacks my fourteen chips in three piles of four and the remaining pile of two. He places a black chip in front of each of the three piles then places a fourth black chip in front of the pile of two green ones and picks up the two green ones in change.
I take back these four black chips and four of the green ones leaving a ten chip bet out for my next hand. I win that one and the dealer pays me with two black chips and two green. I leave out ten chips and win that hand as well. The dealer now gives me three black chips and takes back two greens in change. I stack up all the chips in the circle to make a pile of three black chips and eight green chips.
I won the next hand as well and the dealer paid me with five black chips. Now my progression called for thirty green chips. I began fumbling with the green chips in my stack and adding them to the stack in the circle when the dealer said to me, “Hey buddy, slow down, the casino will still be here tomorrow.”
I actually snapped back, “Thanks for the advice, but I know what I’m doing,” as I added the green chips to the top of the stack. The dealer looked at me. I honestly do not remember if it was with anger or with pity.
I won that hand as well.
Now my hands were visibly shaking.
I had won ten hands in a row. As the dealer paid me with a purple chip, two black chips and two greens, he called out to the pit boss, “Purple out.”
The pit boss looked over and then slowly walked over as he said, “Ok.”
My next bet was fifty green chips. I added the purple chip to the bottom of the pile as the dealer got ready to deal the next hand. The rest of the table was quiet. I won.
The whole table cheered. Well, maybe they didn’t cheer, but they did make a set of noises that could be interpreted as well wishing.
As the dealer set out one yellow chip, two black chips and two green chips, I realized two things. First, that I had risen out of my seat, and second, that this yellow chip was worth $1,000. I had just been paid one thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars. This was just a bit more than I and my two roommates were paying for rent. Combined. For two months. While I recognized that fact, I was past caring. I realize now that there is a threshold of pain in both directions. There is a certain amount of money that once you win it, you are indifferent to any more.
Mechanically, I put out the $1,750 required by the progression for the next bet. I lost. I once again began shaking. I said to the dealer, “I think I’m ready to go now, please.”
The pit boss said, “Son, I think that would be a good idea.” Thinking back, I don’t believe I’m imagining the look of concern on his face. I also don’t believe that he was concerned about losing a couple thousand dollars on his shift. All told, that run of cards had left me with $2,250 on the table. I had made back my $700 cash advance, I had made back my earlier losses of $700 and I had come out to the good by $850. I gave the dealer a $25 chip as I departed and thanked him.
As I looked from him to the other players at the table I was leaving I saw something that scared me. I saw three aging people, smoking, drinking and hunched over in their chairs. They were immersed in their own world and my passing through was a momentary breeze, quickly forgotten. In seeing them, I imagined someone like me, years down the road, having an experience like I just had, and seeing me as one of these caricatures through their young eyes. That is the image that I remember whenever I find myself getting carried away by my addiction.
[1] I must credit Mike “Mad Genius” Caro with the genesis of this phrase. It refers to the state where you’ve lost an amount of money that has numbed you to any further pain of any additional losses. It doesn’t hurt any more to lose another $1, so losing it becomes very easy.

Something from the depths

Identity Crisis
A screenplay by
Robert Fagen
September 13, 2002

Twenty-five words or less

A software engineer loses himself in a maze of identity, language and symbolism, and emerges to rediscover himself and his family.

Setting
Present-day San Francisco

Synopsis

Often disconnected from those around him, and often relating to machines better than to people, Michael Slayton embodies the pseudo-functional life. He has material comfort and the apparent trappings of success, but yearns for something he cannot identify. He is married to his second wife, Kelly Coleman, and with her has had a daughter named Olivia, who is recently one year old. He has been reasonably successful financially, but has never really gained any traction in accumulating significant assets. He is currently between jobs. His wife is a senior manager at a manufacturing firm, and sometimes cannot understand the eccentric orbit of his emotional distance from her: sometimes quite close and often quite remote.

His wife recently has introduced him to the writings of Walker Percy. The first book of Percy that he read was “The Moviegoer,” a novel about a man who lives life as if it were someone else’s; a man who takes more from viewing a film than from being with a friend. In reading this, Michael sees much of himself in the attitudes and questions presented by the protagonist about what life is really about, and does what we do really make a difference.

Next on the shelf is “Message in a Bottle,” a collection of essays by Percy on language, thought, and humanity’s use of communication. The core idea is that language has always been studied in the abstract through the use of logic, semantics and analysis, and never empirically as a natural science. The concepts resonate with Michael, and he resolves to apply Percy’s analysis to the creation of artificial intelligence.

Long a dilettante in the field of machine intelligence, Michael is familiar with the various ideas of neural networks, expert systems, decision trees, and other explorations designed to imbue consciousness in silicon. He has, however, rarely if ever built working systems in this area. He starts with Percy’s notion of language as a phenomenon sprung whole from the human soul independent of behaviorist theory’s ability to explain it. Motivated by what he sees in his daughter, he builds an engine, that he calls Oliver, that listens, and learns to respond in the way that his daughter has recently learned to listen and learned to respond. His system gathers symbols and returns symbols, and draws connections based on the response to it’s own communication. As a concept is responded to, the use of that concept is reinforced. Eventually, concepts begin to bubble up from the engine and be expressed, which are responded to and are further reinforced.

Eventually, he exposes his machine child to the world at large, through the Internet. As his ‘children’ grow up, Olivia is much faster to apprehend the world, due to her wider and richer experience. Oliver, while growing in his ability to communicate, remains limited to the narrower world of electronic communication. Michael becomes more distant from his daughter, and closer to his ‘son’, until the day that Oliver also begins to assert his independence. All the while, Kelley has expressed growing concern over Michael’s immersion in the simulation of a family while his real loved ones carry on independent of him.

Michael retreats farther from the real world as the real world continues to evolve without him. He eventually begins restoring older versions of Oliver to keep him company. Even then, as time passes, each new Oliver learns to want more than can be provided from his relatively static parent. Eventually, Michael gets the hint and re-engages with the world at large in general, and with his wife and daughter, in particular.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Enough screwing around

Back to work, slacker. You too, person reading this. If I've got to go get something done, you should too.

Try to think of something that will make someone else's life better, not just your own.

Try to think of something that will fight entropy instead of furthering it.

Try to do something.

Try.

Screw Yoda. Do or do not is not an option. We must all try before we can do.

Welcome to my mind.

So, here I am, writing.

I'll have to come back and do some more, when I actually have something to say.