Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2006-07-28
  Disconnected from the regular channels.
It was a busy week this week in Lake Wobegon. Oh wait, wrong show.

I was away part of this week, as happens every year. The timing is always right during Max's birthday, which caused the family some consternation until this year. Since this year he was in Kindergarten, we just moved his birthday to be before the school year ended. I wish I knew you could do that back when I was a kid, would have been handy. Maybe they've changed the rules since my parents were parents.

So for several days I had most of my garage, a pile of scrap from the local metalbenders, and a fair amount of school property packed up in my car and hauled out to Showlow to teach Indian kids how to weld. Its a little bit of a challenge teaching them in three days what we usually have a whole semester to go over, and they're not always ideally dressed (think shorts, tank tops and sandals instead of boots and long sleeves), but I've worked up enough of an idea what will fly in a couple of days to keep them occupied and otherwise out of trouble.

However, besides being in the middle of Max's birthday, this trip is usually in the middle of some big deadline at work; so I spend a portion of the day back in the huts, poking on my laptop and trying to get stuff done for work. This week was no different, as we had the usual circus of new hw deployment, cluster trouble, new processing, new market data, and a dog & pony show for the powers that be. Mornings were usually checking on various details while hanging on the line for several hours in a conference call (boy I love Free calling with SkypeOut) Nights I was back online, finishing this feature or that, creating new database tables with abandon and pushing data around as best I could.

When camp was over Wednesday (and we had launched our last 2L water rocket up into the air) I was ready to get home to my family, and my own computer lair. How ironic that the moment I get home my internet goes down. At first I didn't worry too much, DSL goes out from time to time, usually it comes back. So that night I poked around on my local machine, dealt with local issues like a new color printer that needed setting up, and then went to bed.

Come the next morning, I rose and headed back to my burrow to see what's happening, only to find out the DSL is still down. I call in to my service provider to harangue them some more only to find out that the mop on duty the night before didn't even create a record of my call. So I rail at level 1 tech support some more and settle down to get by as best I can.

The morning is not so bad, mostly spent on the phone again (only this time I have to tie up the land line which thankfully is working). Various jokes are made in reference to Cheeseburger Brown's excellent article on his time spent without internet and I get considerable millage from the phrase, "I don't know, the internet's down." After the conference call I link in on my laptop using my cell phone and can get a connection, though 2 bars on sprint wireless cannot hope to support a dozen x-windows, google mail, my IM services and various other windows. I give up a few hours later in disgust and take Max to swim class.

Facing the prospect that the internet will continue to be down, I dig into my bag of tricks and decide to go wandering out into the world to get my internet connection. There's a number of businesses that offer wifi, but being a runt of a town, most places close around 9pm. Luckily BBW is both a wifi hotspot and a sports bar—its actually open until midnight. I tuck the clan into its beds and head out to eat cheese fries and get some work done. The staff is very patient with me, I pick slowly at my food, drink a dozen refills of Mr. Pibb Maxx, and generally seem to be ignoring them. I try my best to be unobtrusive, and leave a big tip. The connection isn't perfect, I'm often re-logging into sessions that die inexplicably, but its a highspeed connection and I get a fair amount of work done.

The next morning with the demo looming, I return and work through lunch. Finally the bored meeting starts, we stop trying to make any more changes, I pay off my tab and head back home. Still no connection, and no help from my ISP, so I do what I should have done long ago and call the phone company. I get yet another inept level 1 phone droid who leads me through the process of disconnecting the power to my DSL modem and resetting it for the Nth time (I've done this so many times now, I'm able to do it virtually, calling off the power up sequence of lights, colors and blinks by heart, accurate to the second), and he finally runs a diagnostic from the back end and determines that a truck roll is actually needed to fix whatever mysterious ailment has infected the wires.

That night, I'm down in my basement again poking away at local matters when my computer suddenly chirps at me about some random bit of news acquired from afar. Curious, I look over and discover that 48 hours after losing my connection, it has found its way back to the house and is working again. Sigh.

 
2006-07-18
  Saved by habit
I don't make the simple mistakes very often these days, that's what makes them all the harder to find when I do make them. I try to clear my mind and assume anything could be wrong when hunting problems, but its so much nicer where the computer can point them out in the first place.

if (1 == a) { ... }
People give me a hard time for writing code this way, but there's a very good reason to do it like this instead of a == 1 .   Slip up and type a single equals and my code becomes invalid (in just about any language), slip up the other way and you have the perfectly valid but wrong a = 1 . So I had to smile today when the compiler complained to me:
g++ -g -Iinc -Wno-multichar -D_DEBUG -D_LINUX -o obj/snp_core.o -c snp_core.cpp snp_core.cpp: In function `int main(int, char**)': snp_core.cpp:43: non-lvalue in assignment make: *** [obj/snp_core.o] Error 1
Hadn't made this mistake in several years, but a few seconds later the problem was corrected. Somewhere else someone is cursing their program and it may be some time before they find the problem.
 
2006-07-16
  Random scraps on my desk
I was cleaning up my desk a little while back, looking for my Round Table club card, which I did not find, but I did find lots of little scraps of paper with various notes on my desk. One, was a quote from Roman law which I've already lost again, but I remembered enough of it to find it on the web; so I figured I'd put it here where it wouldn't get covered up with un-paid medical insurance bills, monthly statements for my keogh, and other design notes from the ghost of projects past.

De minimis non curat praetor
(or, "The magistrate does not consider trifles," for those of you who can't read latin.)

Another ancient scrap on my desk, is a list of the nine Siggraph locations from 1987 to 1995 that I attended (by hook, or by crook, or by 1962 dodge sports van):

Anaheim   (local)
Atlanta   (road trip, mostly spent in NM looking for a new driveshaft)
Boston   (airline travel voucher)
Dallas   (another road trip, Pierce brought his motorcycle)
Las Vegas   (not a great place to bring a black car in July)
Chicago   (impressive unions)
Anaheim
Florida   (time shares are great)
Los Angeles
Excellent, two more postage sized pieces of paper I can throw away now.
 
2006-07-13
  Fun and silly tools for the office
It was my birthday a little while back (no I won't say how hold I am now except to say that to feel better, I count it in hex). Anyways, the local movie theater doesn't let you go to the movies for free anymore, and I've already mentioned how well Baskin Robbins does with birthdays, but a friend was in Phoenix and picked me up something completely impractical for my birthday.

Its a drink cooler (the blue spot is just big enough for a drink can), and it plugs into USB and runs a thermoelectric chiller.

I took it to the office this week, because I was there all week, and since they supply free drinks, I drink even more soda there than I do at home. Over the week we put it through its paces.

Left empty, it will condense some water out of the air, building up a nice little puddle, and then proceed to chill that puddle down quite cold. Probably mid 40°s. Given an entire can, starting at room temperature, its not so impressive, but does manage to put a small chill on the can. The sweet spot seems to be right around 1/2 to 1/4 of a can, where it can keep it nice and cool; so the original plan was to start with a can from the fridge, drinking it down while the ambient air fights the cooler over the temperature.

To get an idea how much cooling is going on, I did some digging around.

First off, USB is only allowed to put out 500mA of current to devices attached. There is something called USB power+ that lets you pull six amps, but I don't think this cooler is designed for it. Turns out the cooler is playing games though, according to the FAQ, the cool pulls a non-standard 1.1 amps (or 5.75 watts of power).

Ok, converting from power used to cooling, that's the next trick as its not watt for watt. See cooling is all about juggling entropy, thus in some circumstances its easy to get 4W of cooling for 1W of electricity (since electricity is higher grade power than heat is). Its like the thermoelectric powered fan on top of my woodstove. It doesn't make my stove heat the room any less, it just takes advantage of the fact that the top of my stove is at 800°F and I'm only trying to heat the room up to 70°F. Lots of entropy to spare there.

So a quick scan for peltier device efficiency finds this FAQ which places the TOC of its devices at around 0.7. Not that great compared to other systems, but pretty good for something with no moving pieces. There's also a fan blowing on the heat sink, and that's got to take a bit of power (its kind of noisy too), so lets say there's 4.4 watts left over for the junction. 4.4 * 0.7 = 3 watts of cooling.

So what's that translate into? 0.004 horsepower (not that useful), 0.00284 BTU/sec (that'd be more useful for heating). What's something that you measure refrigeration in? Well, the big coolers for machine rooms and such are rated in tons (which is like a ton of ice). That sounds good, as this thing supposedly would replace putting ice in my drink. So lets see. 3w = 0.00085304 tons of refridgeration, which would be 1.7 pounds of ice over a 24 hour period, or about 0.07 pounds of ice per hour. Now if we assume an ice cube is 2cm on its side (those little ones you get from the drink machine at 7-11), then that ice cube is also 8mL which is also 8 grams. So we would get about 4 ice cubes per hour, or one ice cube every 15 minutes.

I think a cooler with about twice the power would really do the trick (even on a full can), but then it would also really smoke the USB port on your power mac, and that wouldn't be good. I guess we'll just have to wait for peltier junctions to get better, or someone's going to have to open up the case and bring out some serious 12v power. Might need to upgrade the fan at that point as well.

 
2006-07-11
  Getting what I want by asking
Twice last week I went from good to best with a little extra effort. It gives one hope for the future.

We were at Baskin Robbins to get icecream (I was hoping to get a free cone for my birthday, but it turns out you have to go to the web site and signup for spam in order to get a coupon for free icecream), so Max picks out some strange flavor with green and purple swirls, and I'm looking for something. I decide on Strawberry, because that's my second favorite flavor. I mention this to the person at the counter, and they ask me what my favorite flavor is. "Coconut Pineapple," I reply. "We have that flavor," she says. Really?

Coconut pineapple is this very strange combination that became my favorite back in the days of Thrifty Drugs Icecream. Back before playlands and stores focused on selling to preschoolers, the best marketing tool was cheap icecream cones (originally a dime, later on a quarter—still a great price). They're selection was somewhat limited, and past the usual vanilla and chocolate, some of the flavors were quite strange. Being a 13 year old kid at the time, strange was my reson d'etre; so I tried all the weirdest things, including the icecream.

Lumps of under-ripe yellow fruit in my icecream is still just as strange as it was way back when.

This week I was getting ready for my flight out, and I was pondering what to do for drinks. They used to serve a decent variety of drinks on the flights, but they've cut back further and further to the point where if you don't coke or diet, then you're pretty much out of luck. So I stop by the local minimart on the way to the airport, but unfortunately all I can find is Pepsi & Coke drinks. Sure I can survive a bottle of Dr. Pepper berries and cream on the flight, but it wasn't what I was really wanted. I go to pay for my DPBC but ask if they have any 7-up products. Turns out that over in a side cabinet, around the corner from the regular drink cabinets, below so odd brand of fruit drinks, on the very bottom shelf, they've got products from the 7-up bottler, including Orange Crush.

Saved again by standing up and being extra annoying.

 
2006-07-06
  Making random connections
I watched Proof yesturday, cause a friend recommended it. It was a strange film, involving insanity and math, but it had one of those endings where the ending is not the end, but rather the beginning of something else.

As it was ending, and I was listening to the music, my brain said, "this is familiar." "Let me think," I thought. Lets see, Gwyneth Paltrow, the ending is another beginning, and that music. Could it be?

IMDB
Proof, no not proof of life ... that one.
ok, music, not on first page—typical
more cast
Original music by: Stephen Warbeck
scroll down credits ...
28. Mystery Men really?
31. Shakespear in Love ahah!

Same music, same girl, same pullback camera shot (turns out the director is the same too). Almost makes me want to go rent Captain Corelli's Mandolin and see if that has the same ending shot as well.

 
2006-07-02
  Watch out for wild animals
I live in the sticks, surrounded by a couple billion trees, rocks and pinecones. There's a couple thousand people dumb enough to try and live up here as well, but basically the place is still run by the animals. Its no surprise to see an elk walking through the backyard in the evening or hear coyotes on the hill at night. And then of course, there's the deer on the road. I've seen plenty of them, I even hit one once (just grazed it). Perfectly ordinary around here.

VS

So this Saturday I was out in California, driving up the I280 to work. Just me and a couple million other cars zooming around the bends, up and down the hills. In this urban spraw you're looking for accidents, bad drivers (worse than you), and police vehicles. What you're not typically looking for is deer. But that's what we saw that morning, walking warily across the highway, headed for greener grass on the other side I guess. Either the deer out here are smarter, or this one was very lucky, cause it managed to cross five lanes of traffic without a scratch.

 
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
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Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
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Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
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The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

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Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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