Boom

A couple of days ago, a meteor streaked across the sky in Michigan and slammed into the ground (technically becoming a meteorite at that point). This is an awesome photo supposedly showing it:

It reminds me of that classic quote from Aliens: “Nuke it from orbit– it’s the only way to be sure”. Yikes.

Uncle Abe

I’m in Washington, D.C. tonight for a business trip, and after finishing a day of meetings and an awesome Italian dinner, I decided that hanging out alone in my hotel room wouldn’t be all that exciting. So I grabbed Steven (my fellow Zinger) and we headed over to the National Mall.

We walked along the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument, which looked really cool all lit up in the cold winter night.

Nearby was the World War II Memorial:

We continued on to the Lincoln Memorial to see Uncle Abe.

We had planned to stop by the Jefferson Memorial as well, and maybe even walk past some of the other federal buildings (Smithsonian, National Archives) but it was so frigid that neither of us could feel our fingers any more. And I was wearing gloves! So we packed it up and headed back to the warmth of our hotel rooms.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll drop in on a few other landmarks. It was cool to see these after many years, and be reminded of the inspiring history of our country.

Car 17

Yesterday as I was riding the train at DIA to the concourse where my airline was, I noticed a sign in the car that gave a phone number and said I could provide feedback by texting the car number (17, in my case). So I did.

I figured very few people ever give feedback about their train car at DIA, and those who do are probably griping about something. So why not provide some positive feedback? Maybe Maximillian really enjoyed my comment. I’m not sure what the “appropriate department” would be, nor can I imagine what it must be like to be a guy like Maximillian, who apparently spends his day waiting for incoming texts about the DIA trains. But hey, if I can brighten someone’s day with a simple text while I’m riding the train, so be it.

Windows updates don’t care about you

I was working on my business taxes, when all of a sudden the software shut down and the desktop went black. After a second, I received a nice message from Windows:

Seriously, Windows? Right in the middle of my work, with no warning whatsoever? I would at least expect a little prompt like “Holy cow, there’s a super duper critical update that I absolutely need to apply right this very second regardless of what you’re doing! Save your data and click ‘OK’ to begin!” Nope. So I get to re-enter all of the tax data I’d been working on.

Sigh. Windows.

CTR forever

Last weekend when we took Alex to BYU I decided to buy a CTR ring at the bookstore. That stands for “Choose the Right” and is intended as a simple reminder to be a better person.

I first bought one that was a size 11, because that’s what the little ring sizer thing indicated for my right ring finger. But as I slipped it on and walked out of the store, the ring was sliding around my finger… I knew it would drive me nuts in no time. I returned to the store and asked if I could exchange it for a size 10.5. Sure thing. I slipped that one on my finger and was much happier with the fit.

Later, I wanted to take off the ring, but found to my surprise that I couldn’t. It had gone on pretty easily, but absolutely wouldn’t slide back over my first knuckle. I put lotion on my finger and tried pulling and twisting, all to no avail. Today I was walking outside (roughly 30 degrees) and thought maybe the cold would shrink my finger or something. Nope. I’m really not sure if or how I’ll get this thing off.

I suppose it’s a sign of sorts that I really need to be reminded to choose the right.

Forever.

Lithium bomb

My wireless keyboard at work suddenly stopped working, and a bit of searching on YouTube showed me that it was almost certainly because the rechargeable battery (it’s solar-powered) had faded. An $80 wireless keyboard without power is pretty much worthless without that $8 battery, so I ordered one from Amazon.

It came in a surprisingly large box with warning labels on the top and all the sides about how dangerous lithium batteries can be:

Wow, you’d think it was a bomb or something. So I guess they trucked it across the country for me. I opened the box and saw the nickel-sized battery inside:

No padding or anything… just this little innocuous-looking thing that apparently strikes fear into the hearts of passenger airline pilots everywhere.

Fingernails

The other evening, Zaque went over to his friend Ma’ata’s house. I’m not sure what they did, but at some point during the evening, apparently she painted his fingernails.

Ahh, the things teenage boys will do to humor teenage girls…

Global warming

Here’s a shot of the tachometer in my car the other day, which shows the temperature after I finished playing ultimate.

Yeah, that’s January in Colorado this year. We could sure use some snow…

Chaos

As we continue working on cleaning out our crawlspace, I was struck by how much stuff we have… here’s a shot of the basement, where we’ve been staging everything:

It made me think of those clown cars, where you can’t believe how many clowns can fit into such a little car. It’s amazing how many boxes fit into our little crawlspace (and there are still at least a dozen in there, and five in my office).

Still, it feels good to de-clutter…

Ironic?

I’ve decided that in 2018 I’m going to work on working less.

For years I’ve been hoping to put in fewer hours, leading (ever so gradually) to my retirement in June 2019. It’s been a long process, and over the past few years I’ve successfully reduced my average hours at work. Yet I’m still a long way from that magical zero that means retirement, so I need to step up my game.

This year I figured I’d leave the office around 3pm. That would more or less force me to work fewer hours. As a side benefit, it would give me time to work on my seminary lessons in the afternoons, meaning I’d actually have my evenings free. (For the past two years, every school night has meant I’m spending two hours after dinner working on a lesson, and then basically going to bed.)

Two weeks into the year, it’s going well. I think I left at 3:30 yesterday, but the other work days were right around 3:00. Success!

However, both yesterday and today I skipped my lunchtime ultimate games, because I was really busy at work (servers to patch for Spectre and Meltdown) and figured if I wanted to stick with my 3pm target I couldn’t take an hour or three to play ultimate.

This afternoon as I clacked away at my keyboard, it occurred to me that the biggest reason I want to reduce my work hours is so I can do non-work stuff. Like… ultimate. Why, then, was I giving up playing ultimate so I could put in the hours to leave early so I could do things like play ultimate? Argh.

Clearly I’ll need to refine my goals a bit.

BYU redux

Well, another kid off to college! Alex starts his first semester at BYU on Monday, so we packed everything into the van and headed out to Utah.

The night before, we celebrated with a nice dinner at Outback (because, hey, gift card!). I wanted to capture Alex’s excitement about going to college the next day.

Actually, I wanted one last picture of his epic beard. This is two months of growth. ZZ Top he’s not.

We headed across Wyoming on Friday and managed to find his new apartment, even without (shudder) the help of Google Maps, which was mysteriously not working on any of our three phones. I was pleasantly impressed with how nice and tidy the place was. The kitchen looked good:

Out of curiosity, I checked the cupboards and was satisfied that they indeed were well-stocked for the average college student.

Frosted cereal? Check. Peanut butter? Yep. Pancake mix and instant oatmeal, for hot breakfasts (or late-night snacks)? Of course. Throw in a bag of chocolate chips, and you’re all set.

We headed over to campus to get his new student ID card, but were foiled because in order to get your photo taken for an ID card at BYU, you must obey the “dress and grooming standards” of the university, which include a prohibition on facial hair. So back at the apartment, Alex went to work on the beard.

And now he’s clean-shaven again, and ready to charm the ladies!

We unloaded some of his things, but left the bulk of the room setup to him. He decided to pose beside his desk.

Notice the pen behind his ear, which he set there just for the photo because, in his words, it makes him look “more academic”. Yeah. Because everyone puts pens behind their ears these days.

To wrap up the day, we went to the Olive Garden for dinner (another gift card!) and enjoyed a delicious meal. Alex signed for the check, and made me proud with his “signature”:

Normally I sign with a little boat on the ocean, some sun and clouds, and the occasional shark in the water. One time I couldn’t finish my masterpiece because (apparently) these little table kiosks only allow a certain number of strokes in a signature.

La and I said our good-byes and headed east, eventually finding a motel in Evanston WY for the bargain price of $45. Who knew any motels were that cheap any more? Although it looked like it had slipped through a time vortex from 1978, it was nice and clean and the bed and pillows worked just like regular beds and pillows, so we slept fine. We finished our drive home today, chatting a bit in the van about how exciting this must be for Alex. I’m sure he’ll do great at BYU, and I’m excited to hear about his next adventures.

Meggings

For the past couple of months I’ve been wearing some spandex pants when I play ultimate. For indoor league, they’re great because they save my knees from the little turf sand/pebbles when I dive, and for outdoor games they keep my legs toasty warm when it’s 30 degrees. They’re awesome.

Bonus: they’re hot yellow and have little racing stripes on the back. I don’t think the stripes make me any faster, but I can only hope my opponents see them and think I’m fast.

The problem? What to call them. They’re tights or leggings, but both terms are very… umm… feminine. Only girls wear tights and leggings, right? I came up with “meggings”, which are “men’s leggings”. Laralee suggested “mights” (men’s tights) but I don’t think it has quite the same panache. So I’m going with meggings.

Once the term catches on, remember you heard it here first.

That hair

Zaque’s hair has been growing more “unkempt” over the past few weeks, and now that school is starting, La and I felt like it was time to trim the mane.

This was what he looked like this morning:

From his expression, one might think we dragged him out of bed at 6am or something. Nope, it was 11am.

Anyway, La went to work with the trimmer, and he looked much better afterward:

Interesting side note: in the morning he was wearing his Tacocat shirt, and this evening it was Tacosaurus…

Rejections

Also in the old college files, I found that– for reasons I still don’t comprehend– I’d kept all of the rejection letters I’d received over those years. As a freshman, starry-eyed with ambition and planning a career in nuclear engineering, I remember applying for internships at all the cool physics labs around the country.

Jet Propulsion Lab, of course:

And then again a year later. By then I’d changed from nuclear to aerospace engineering, which one might argue is more apropos for JPL, but alas:

Argonne National Lab would’ve been amazing:

Oddly enough, a few years later I presented an undergraduate research paper at Argonne.

I think I also wrote to all of the NASA facilities:

There were at least twenty more rejection letters from aerospace companies, national labs, and on and on. I still remember the feeling of receiving a letter in the mail, with a return address of one of these places I thought were so awesome, only to open the envelope and see another form rejection letter. After two years I stopped applying for internships altogether and spent the next two summers working on research projects which later brought me to Argonne and even an international physics conference in Toronto. Hah!

Perhaps the most interesting series of rejection letters was from the Department of Residential Life. During my sophomore year I applied to be a resident assistant. After going through the interview process, I received the sad news that I’d been declined:

I was heartbroken, because I’d been working in hall government (with the Department) for two years and had quickly risen through the ranks to become the vice-president and then president of my entire residence hall of 1,200 students. I figured I had a pretty good shot. A couple of my friends did as well, and it made it even harder to learn that they’d been accepted as RA’s when I hadn’t.

Then, a few weeks later, hope was born anew when I received a letter informing me the Department had re-opened one of the RA positions:

Maybe this would work out after all!

But, no. Ten days later they turned me down a second time. Rude.

Amongst these papers, I found the assessment I’d received as part of the interview process. It was kind of funny to see that my communication skills were rated very highly, but my people skills weren’t all that great, and my leadership skills were absolutely horrendous.

Apparently I wasn’t much of a leader.

In an awesome turn of events, a few weeks after receiving these rejection notices, I learned that another RA position had opened, and they’d decided to give it to me. Hooray! I went on to a glorious career in Residential Life, serving as an RA, summer RA, senior RA, summer RA (a second time), and finally Head RA. Take that, interview process!

I used to know this stuff

As I continued the “slash and burn” of my old papers and files from our crawlspace (well, technically, I’ll be recycling it, not burning it), I found all of my old class files. I’d literally kept about sixty manila folders with my homework, tests, and papers from all of my college classes. In true OCD fashion, each folder was neatly labeled with the course name and number.

Of course it was a time-honored tradition to share “files” like this with other students who came after you. If, for example, my friend was taking Calculus III, she might ask me if I’d had the same professor a semester or two before and, if so, whether she could borrow my files for the semester. It would help her with double-checking homework, preparing for tests, and so forth. The fraternities were famous for this, and I remember seeing dozens of full-size filing cabinets filled with hundreds of thousands of pages of old homework assignments for this purpose. Of course the professors knew it happened, and would tweaks exams now and then to make sure their students weren’t just memorizing the files.

Anyway, it was fun to go through them and stare in awe at the cryptic scribbles, thinking “Wow, I used to know this stuff!” Today, of course, they’re just cryptic scribbles. But there was a time, some 25ish years ago, when I completely understood things like…

Linear algebra:

Particle motion equations:

(This was from the introductory physics course.)

Three-dimensional calculus:

(Actually, I loved this stuff! Yay, triple integrals!)

Circuit analysis:

Electromagnetic theory:

Solid-state physics and crystalline structure:

Statics:

(I don’t even remember what “statics” means, but I do remember it being the “weed-out” class for the mechanical engineering majors.)

Oh yeah, and quantum mechanics:

(This stuff kicked my 21-year-old butt and I remember it was the only “C” grade I received in college. Quantum mechanics is awesome, but wavefunctions make my head hurt.)

And who could forget the FORTRAN class I took as a freshman, where we’d write programs on a VAX mainframe, print them out on continuous-feed green paper, and hand them in to the professor.

(The crazy irony is that despite how useless I perceived FORTRAN to be, I spent my first year out of college programming in it.)

I also found things like study cards for tests, where I’d cram everything I knew onto a 3×5″ index card:

(I think this is for stellar astrophysics.)

Of course not everything was math, physics, or computers. I actually took literature and history and foreign-language and government classes. One of the professors on campus was a world-renowned expert on Shakespeare, and he was an awesome guy, so I took his Shakespeare course. During the semester we studied all of the Bard’s “major” works, but honestly I only read Hamlet. We were supposed to write three papers– they made up our entire grade– and somehow I managed to talk him into allowing me to write a single three-part paper on that one play. Behold:

And all of this is just a smattering of the stuff I had. Thousands upon thousands of pages of it. It boggles the mind that not only did I once have all this knowledge crammed into my skull, but that would I keep it tucked away in my crawlspace 25 years later.

Objects and methods

Amongst the crawlspace treasure trove I found a series of slides I’d made for a work presentation sometime in the late 90’s. I think it was for an object-oriented programming class I was either taking or teaching, because it includes references to objects (representations of physical things in software) and methods (representations of actions done to those things).

Words can’t fully describe it, so here is the series of slides. It’s important to note they were, in fact, done in crayon.

There was a corresponding set of transparencies for each of these, which clearly meant it was an official presentation of some kind. Alex saw them and was amazed. “I know what those are! You put them on a big light box and it projects them onto the wall!” Yeah, kid, those were the days.

I also explained to Alex that sometimes, in Corporate America, it’s completely appropriate (and, one might argue, necessary) to step outside the box and give a professional presentation in crayon.

Crawlspace

Earlier this year, La and I cleared out dozens of boxes from our crawlspace as we started our journey of “de-cluttering” the house. A few months later, I dumped thousands of dollars’ worth of old computer equipment. Today, as we were putting away our Christmas things, Laralee decided to empty the entire crawlspace and start tossing the old unused stuff we’ve accumulated.

I claimed six of the boxes:

… And then spent the rest of the afternoon going through them. It was an amazing treasure trove of Why the Heck Did I Keep This…

Consider, for example, the user manual (100+ pages!) for some software I worked on at Raytheon in 1997:

Of course I needed to save hundreds of expense reports where I’d requested reimbursements for company travel in 1999:

There must’ve been a hundred manila folders with stuff like this in them. I laughed when I saw this particular one:

Yep, that pretty much described its contents, as well as the rest of the box. I loved finding my VAX mainframe account setup form, which I filled out on my first day of work out of college:

I enjoyed seeing a quote for a Silicon Graphics computer I’d requisitioned a few years after that. Notice the price tag: thirty-five thousand dollars, and that’s with a substantial discount. Because hey, graphics cards weren’t cheap in 1998.

There was also a smattering of cool stuff, like dozens of pages where I’d worked out the math for orbital dynamics calculations. Here’s one where I calculated the effects of a nuclear blast on the Van Allen radiation belts, using a simplified cubic spline approach:

Or some matrix algebra to handle conversions between celestial coordinate systems:

I actually used to know what this stuff meant!

Anyway, by the end of the afternoon I had a stack of paper three feet high that could be recycled. And that was just two of the boxes. I still have to crack open the others! But that’s for another day…

The little things in life

Nothing’s quite as nice as opening a new container of Carmex.

Someone once told me Carmex is like “crack for lips”. Maybe so, but wow, it’s so nice not to have to dig around the bottom of the container to get a little bit of it. These things last me about a year, I think, so it’s rare to enjoy this feeling. I guess I’ll savor it…

Classic

Christmas break has been a great opportunity to relax a bit, and as part of that, last night I was tinkering around with some stuff on the computer and thought I’d fire up an old copy of DOSBox. DOSBox is a program that allows one to run really old MS-DOS applications on a modern computer. It’s a pretty clever emulator, and it means the ancient classic games I played as a kid can be resurrected.

After a few quick internet searches, I found copies of Lode Runner and Night Mission Pinball. These were two of my favorite games as a kid.

Behold Lode Runner:

Thom and I would spend hours working on beating the levels (there are 150), and then we started making our own. Lode Runner was one of the first games– maybe the first game– to allow you to modify it. We had a great time coming up with clever tricks and traps to make our levels difficult.

Then there was Night Mission Pinball:

I can’t even count the number of hours Dirk and I spent on this game. For whatever reason, it was wicked fun. It had a horrible droning noise in the background though– I guess it was supposed to simulate the hum of a real pinball game. It was bad enough that I eventually de-compiled the assembly code for the game and hacked a few bytes to remove the droning sound. Yeah, geeky.

Anyway, it was a blast to spend a little time playing these classic and reminiscing about those good times… 30+ years ago…

Champs

I started out 2017 with three consecutive ultimate championships: indoor league, spring outdoor league, and the Memorial Day tournament. Every season is, of course, a completely different team, which makes it even more fun.

My summer league team came close to winning with a second-place finish, but then my fall league team had the worst record I’ve ever endured, losing all but two games in the season (but somehow managing to be absolutely the most fun team I’ve ever been on).

Well, I managed to wrap up the year with one last championship, this time in the Royal Rumble indoor tournament.

I had a great team and in the preliminaries we played some close games, but then in the championship game something clicked and we completely dominated. It was one of those “leave no doubt” moments, and a really fun group of players.

2017 championship bookends!