Friday, November 13, 2009

The Oracle of Stupid

Someone at work pointed this out. You can ask the magic box any question, and this is the best we can come up with.

Reproduce: go to Google and start typing a question. Google will start giving you suggestions that are relevant and popular. Best, try to imagine who would have searched for that and why. Sometimes it is tragically obvious, sometimes it is not.

Here are a few more to try:

  • is there
  • are there
  • who was
  • why
  • why is
One word of warning: "can" and "could" questions seem to be dominated by questions about pregnancy...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Software installs for a fresh Mac

Here's a list of software I had to install to get closer to normal in the Mac:

  • Firefox (with NoScript, AdBlockPlus, Greasemonkey, Ubiquity, Firebug, and Vacuum Places)
  • Carbon Emacs
  • Xcode with developer tools
  • Quicksilver
  • X-Edit 2.0 (for my guitar pedal)
  • Nethack
  • Crossover Games (running Steam and thus, Team Fortress 2)
  • GarageBand extras
  • GrandPerspective (hard drive dissector)
The terminal situation on the Mac seems pretty hopeless. I could use a good recommendation. I'm looking for Command-means-meta and high color, tabs would be nice. At this point I'm just running M-x shell in Emacs, but Emacs has problems in the remote shell (in particular, I can't get remote completions to work because Emacs consumes the Tab).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Media I

I'll try to put my adventures in media all in one place, so you can skip them if you like.

The Prisoner
Where have you been all my life? Seriously, I am glad I ran across this last weekend. I haven't finished them all, but this is my kind of show. It's creepy, surreal, inventive, epic.

It's strange because I recognize a fair portion of the motifs from a Simpsons episode where Homer is taken to a sinister island because, as Mr X, he publishes an internet rumor that shows that he knows too much. The constant drugging, the replacement of number 2, even a cameo by the star.

You can see it on demand if you have Comcast. They provided all the episodes as a teaser for the AMC remake miniseries (looks like 6 episodes, starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen).

If you have been waiting for an excuse to buy a Blu-Ray player, it looks like they've remastered the entire series in surround sound, and since it was originally filmed in 35mm, in high-def as well. It's coming out tomorrow at my fair employer.

Anna Karenina
In the words of Apu, "Mmmm... that's some good adultery!"

I have been rereading the epic novels of my youth lately. Dune held up, no surprise there. The Belgariad actually suffered a bit on my reread, somewhat to my surprise. The Eye of the World, also surprisingly, remains pretty cracking good.

And then there's Anna. My copy is twelve years old now and it's a bit the worse for wear. I have to retape the preface again because the pages have ripped off and are falling away from the binding. The page edge is covered in transferred ink from fingers and hands that rested too long on the words. It's got six colors of ink on the pages. By any standards, I've defaced it beyond recognition.

What keeps me coming back? As I've grown, I've found this novel growing with me. Now that I'm a family man with a young son, the pressures and paradises of married life stand out more starkly to me in Anna. I continue to see myself in her and Levin.

Anna escapes from her bourgeois life into a more dangerous one. For that much, she has to be admired. The part of us that cries out for more than the world around us must be listened to. But what we escape into must be carefully decided. Anna's passion and lack of wisdom leads her down a dark road, but it could could have been otherwise.

Thom Yorke at the Orpheum
Thom Yorke, the lead singer/songwriter of Radiohead, has been touring with a rock band, including longtime producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass. They are performing Yorke's solo material, including The Eraser album in its entirety, Radiohead B-sides and some new songs.

The new stuff will require some more listening (read: it's difficult, live)... but what they are doing to The Eraser is really fascinating. A somewhat methodical, bleeping and blooping "apocalyptic dance" album is transformed into wild rock.

I picked up the mp3s for one of the shows, so if you have trouble finding them, let me know and I'll post them.

Meanwhile, here is a study in contrasts. This is "The Eraser", the first song on the solo album, from the album, from a solo performance, and from this latest one with the band.

Album version

Live at Latitude Festival, solo

Live at the Orpheum, with the new band

Back in Mac

I know it's time to buy Windows again or whatever, but... I got a Macbook. The year of Linux on the desktop is coming, maybe soon, but... I got a Macbook.

So that's that. I've joined the ranks of the smug, latte-drinking weenies. I'll spend my life looking down my nose at well-meaning gents and shatter their illusions of love.

One of the many consequences is that I now have a platform to establish my online identity from. Before, sharing my wife's iMac, it was hard to just take over. I'd want to blog something and be on it all night. Now that I have the laptop, the resource contention is over. So I friended 40+ people on Facebook, I'm blogging tonight, I have a place to get back into reading the internet one RSS feed at a time, I even got a Google Wave invite. Look out world, here I come.

Also, I have a mobile recording station. Along with a helpful tip from the makers of my multi-effects pedal and a shiny new vintage white solid-body electric SG, I've been making recordings in Garage Band. And they sound like real music! It's hard to try to fake that sound with a plugged-in acoustic guitar. Now it sounds pure and sharp.

I'm gaming with the details turned up. It turns out that Team Fortress 2 has a ton of shiny lighting effects that I never saw before. It has actually been hard to play because it's so cool looking...

The only feature I am really missing compared to my Amazon laptop is a number pad accessible under the uiojkl keys. As it is, I either have to accept the dangerous yubnhjkl (You have much trouble lifting a large box. Continue? [ynq] (q)) or the hard to reach 123456789 for moving around in Nethack.

This may not sound like much of a missing feature to you, but you don't play nearly as much Nethack as I do.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Inventions to improve car network behavior and communication

  • proximity warning and online driving safety tips delivered by The Computer (you're tailgating too closely for a construction zone, Dave)
  • a GPS with bird's eye display of nearby cars that broadcast their location
  • text nastygrams to bad drivers' license plate number
  • new codes for head and taillights ("preparing to change lanes" is only the tip of the iceberg)
  • gun to write messages on sticky notes or with dissolvable paint balls and shoot at doors of other cars
Please steal these ideas. Their time has come.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Studio Unleashed II

Once again, a song from the studio redone live in a fresh and interesting way.

This is by Sufjan Stevens. It's called The Transfiguration. You can read an "official" version here for context.



Sunday, May 31, 2009

Everything in its right place

That is the title of a seminal song on Radiohead's Kid A album. It was the first album to follow what is, for my money, the greatest album of the 90s, OK Computer. Instead of staying with the same sound that won them deserved fame, fortune, and critical acclaim, Radiohead experimented and remixed their way to a strange new sound. The song is not about everything being in its right place, when everything is jumbled and patched together.

That is a bit how I feel about this last several months. It has felt like a transition to a brave new world full of experiments and risk. Gone is the stability of a home and routine. Even though we are staying in the home I grew up in, I have never felt so rootless. Maybe it has something to do with having all our stuff in storage.

Along with feeling my way around at work (Greasemonkey is my new pal), we've been searching for a house. It hasn't gone great, with our most promising candidate running into issues at the inspection stage. We want to cut the cord and be done with it.

Trying to work around this sense of disorientation has not been easy. I have taken up incessant media consumption in response. It's been Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists on the radio, Team Fortress 2 and Zelda and Nethack and Dwarf Fortress for video games, Gordon Ramsay, soccer, and Top Gear on the TV, the internet on every screen in the house and in the phone in my pocket, on which I am typing right now... It's a good thing I have a family or I'd be a mole person right now.

It's not all bad but it is starting to feel like a dangerous new normal. For me it seems to be about forming relationships with machines rather than people. I start to resemble what I spend all my time with. You take a little break from being yourself and before you know it, you can't get back. I already feel disconnected and foggy. This has to stop.

Time to retreat like a turtle back into my shell... but at least I am awake again. Hope you and yours are well.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I just figured out what went up on my blog a couple weeks ago. I sent a command to a mail daemon that allowed me to blog from my phone. And I thought I'd written something in between now and then...

Anyway, I'm alive, no worries. I'm in Seattle, working for Amazon, living with my parents while we save for a house. Life is strange, but ok.

I need to start catching everyone up soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And the thing I meant to say earlier

I was cleaning out my desk and happened upon a great fortune-cookie fortune. It reads:

Your future is whatever you make of it, so make it a good one.

It was great to see this on the eve of a fascinating new future, of course.

This is not really a fortune at all. It is an anti-fortune.

Fortunes tell you what is going to happen, in such a way that you feel powerless to prevent it. "A guest will arrive unexpectedly." "You will meet with success." "Lucky numbers: 2 4 13 25 36 39". "Someone close to you will die soon."

This one tells you that you can shape your own destiny. Paradoxically, it critiques other fortunes but it is a fortune. It is a universal truth that is uniquely personal, yet it was one of thousands of copies distributed randomly to Chinese-food lovers.

Without warning

The end of my time at Lockheed has snuck up on me. My last day is tomorrow, and it's basically a half day.

On Monday, my coworkers treated me to a farewell lunch. They had all signed a poster and we had a good time.

My heart is getting a little full with it all. I started getting misty as I piled up a year and a half of notes and file folders, ready for the memory hole. I've been finding things in my desk that remind me of people. There are about twenty people on the team, so I have already started wondering if I've seen some of them for the last time. I hope they'll email, but I don't know.

I had this guitar in my garage for several months and I told our janitor lady that she could have it. I finally brought it in today, but I didn't see her. We talk whenever she comes around on her rounds. I'll leave it with someone if I don't see her.

The transition has been incredibly fast. It is an off season for the relocation company, so the movers are coming tomorrow. They take our car on Friday and we fly out to Seattle on Saturday. And I start with Amazon on Monday. Our house is in disarray. Alex seems to be worn out and irritable because of all of it. Sarah is working hard as usual.

In a way, I feel like it's better than the alternative, so I won't be pining away after my colleagues while I take vacation on a beach somewhere.

I'm a little nervous about the job, but I am eager to dive in too. My new manager sent me some reading material on software metrics, so I've been dusting off my data mining skills and learning about what makes a useful metric.

I'll be working downtown in the Columbia Center, whose parking rates are highway robbery, so I'm considering taking the bus instead. From my parents' house, the 132 is pretty direct all the way into downtown. That would make home less accessible in an emergency, unfortunately. Maybe I can find a cheaper garage. Amazon would subsidize my parking to some degree, but I don't know what the rates are like.

Give me a mail if you want to see me after we're settled in.

I'm also thinking about starting a technical blog now that I'm outside the Lockheed Martin firewall.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fate, it seems, has a strange sense of irony

I'm moving back to Seattle! Believe me, I am as shocked as you are. I haven't lived in my hometown for seven years.

As you may know, I've been working on defense software for Lockheed Martin in Littleton for the past year and a half. I'm proud of my work at Lockheed and I don't regret the last several months by a long shot.

Over that time, Sarah and I came to realize two things: we are not mountain people, and we're not really outdoor people. We've made some great friends and had some fun times, but we're ready to be close to family again, in the wet and woolly and green Pacific Northwest.

I'm starting work for Amazon shortly (yes, that Amazon) as a software developer. As an AI guy interested in getting out on the cutting edge, this was a chance I couldn't afford to pass up. To be honest, I racked my brains after my on-site interviews, replaying them for several sleepless nights afterwards, finding ways I could've answered technical questions better. I read somewhere that rat brains do this after the rat runs a maze. Their neurons actually fire in the same pattern that they did while running the maze, dozens of times.

My C++ and SQL questions were fun and interesting. I was thinking about "find the longest palindrome in a string" for several days afterward, still looking for performance hacks.

I was pretty sure I blew my last interview after venturing into some chancy territory about internet technology, with which I have a nodding familiarity, but no great expertise. You can imagine my surprise and my relief when, after my last sleepless night, I looked up the difference between a GET and a POST and found out that I had basically remembered correctly, in a somewhat stressful situation. That was when I began to believe it all might happen.

Last Friday, the hiring manager talked to me again about the position, proposing an interesting project for my first several months, then all was go. The recruiter made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and we were off.

I'm suppose to be there two weeks from today, but I have trouble believing the relocation can happen so quickly. On the other hand, I've been surprised already.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I have been lost in contemplation for the last month or so.

Christmas break was good, just very full.

How sweet that inauguration was. I watched it on Fox News at work (the channel of the TV cannot be changed) with forty other people. I only laughed once. President Obama was talking about restoring the rule of law, and Fox cut to former President Bush. The latter had this look on his face. Otherwise I was kind of on pins and needles. The last week has been pretty riveting for me.

It's not because the president is a liberal president. I feel a profound sense of relief that we might have truth, justice, science, and the American way back on our side again. Changes in tone like that come from the top. It has been good so far.

Sarah and I finished watching Six Feet Under. Every six months or so, we happen across a TV show and we decide to watch it together, cover to cover on DVD.

It's a hard show to watch in many ways. I would rate this show adults only for all the regular adult reasons, it's a hard R at the minimum (D L N S V and so on). But that's not what was hard for me. It challenges your sense of balance, your emotions, your personal meaning of life. It reaches from the vulgar to the sublime, the hilarious to the heartbreaking. 

I think I mentioned before it's about a man who returns to his boyhood home when his father, a funeral director dies. Little by little, he decides to become a funeral director alongside his brother, and to rejoin his family. The show juggles all their stories deftly, and has many surprises in store along the way. It is just about note-perfect television.

I have never dealt well with death. Whenever I've encountered it, it has always been an occasion for soul-searching and pain. I didn't become a Christian because I was frightened of dying, but the deaths of friends and family in high school set me on the path of thinking and living that led to my Christianity.

While I talked to Sarah about it, I noticed suddenly that I had, for a long time, been using my Christian belief as a way to ignore my fear of dying. I found things like the following comforting:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

"Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?"

-- First Letter to the Corinthians

And I do still find such beliefs comforting. It's just that I don't want to use them to avoid the grieving and the pain that also come with death. As the show's creator said in a retrospective on Six Feet Under, yes, the title of the show is about burial, but it's also about the emotions that we shove below the surface of our behavior and our consciousness. As the funeral directors say repeatedly in the show, sometimes people like to view the body of their loved one to feel a sense of closure. Similarly, our emotions and our pain need a viewing before we lay them to rest.

If you can bear it (and you'll figure out pretty fast if you can), I recommend this show as highly as possible. It's basically perfect.

I'm heading back to Seattle for two nights only on Thursday, for Dad's 50th birthday. It sounds like we are blowing the doors off on Friday night, not sure what's happening yet.

Oh, and my personal data was involved in two major breaches in a week, on a website and compromising my debit card. So far I do not appear to be the victim of fraud. However, this goes a long way toward explaining how quiet I have been on Facebook. If I can get over it, I'll start updating my statuses (statii?) along with the rest of you.

Hope you had a nice hiatus over your break as well.