Browse Month: March 2003

03/19/2003

Now that all the snow has stopped falling, it’s time to clean up. This turned out to be that really wet, slushy, heavy snow. Great for making snowmen, terrible for shoveling out of the driveway. Two of our enterprising neighborhood kids came over and offered to shovel the snow, but they gave up after about ten minutes.

Later, Laralee and I both found out why. That stuff was really really heavy. After several hours (two by her, a half by me) we had most of the driveway cleared, and tomorrow our backs will probably be thanking us.

Being the kind of guy I am, I was curious how much snow we shoveled. Our driveway is about 70 feet long, and we cleared about 12 feet across. The snow was at least one and a half feet deep (more in places). Multiplying that out, it comes to 1,260 cubic feet of snow. And compacted slushy snow weighs around 30 pounds per cubic foot.

All told, we shoveled 37,800 pounds of snow from our driveway alone!

That would make quite a snowman.

03/19/2003

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Some people in the Denver area– like those stuck at the (closed) airport, or the truck drivers stuck on the side of the (closed) highways– probably aren’t enjoying this week’s winter wonderland much. But I’m loving it. We’ve got well more than a foot now, and I think the drifts in our driveway would submerge Zack.

It’s good not only because we need the water, but because this entire winter has been somewhat of a disappointment in terms of snowfall. A nice blizzard now and again does wonders for the spirit.

When you work at home, that is…

03/18/2003

Get out the duct tape (again) because now we’re at threat level ORANGE PLUS! That’s right, campers, this is even worse than last time– which was just plain old carrot orange.

Of course any idiot with the IQ of cabbage could tell you that as we prepare to attack Iraq there’s a greater threat that someone might hit back. But looking more closely at the new threat, there are a few items of note. These are all quoted from an article on MSNBC:

“[Tom Ridge] said that, so far, the intelligence community hadn’t identified any specific threats to the nation.”

Hmm. Good thing we’re bumping the threat level, then. At least last time he said that the intelligence community had indications of something going down. This time there’s nothing really specific– maybe he had gas or something and took it as a sign.

Mr. Ridge continued with, “There is bound to be disinformation. Don’t react to rumors. We will strive to get the facts out there as fast as we can.”

Yeah, like the way they’re always getting the facts out to us. I don’t think I’ve seen many facts at all when it comes to this ridiculous Threat Level ballyhoo. It’s all mamby-pamby “well, maybe something’s going to happen” nonsense.

In an amazingly prophetic statement, Ridge also said, “We know we have been attacked before. We know that our interests have been attacked abroad. And we should prepare for potential attacks, either here or abroad at this time.”

Thank you, Nostradamus. So we’ve narrowed it down to a POTENTIAL attack, either here or abroad… in other words, something MIGHT happen SOMEWHERE in the world.

Finally, “U.S. counterterrorism officials say the most specific information points to possible attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East.”

Holy cow– now I understand why these guys are getting paid the top dollars while I just sit around poking holes in their Threat Levels. Only a Nobel laureate could come up with logic that says someone might attack our soldiers marching into combat!

It’s certainly general knowledge that I openly mock the Threat Level system for its meaningless colors and lack of hard evidence, but even those who support the system for its ability to keep us “on our toes” (and buying plastic sheeting) must see this sort of rhetoric from Tom Ridge and others in the administration as nothing short of laughable.

Sigh.

03/17/2003

Woo hoo! It looks like we’re finally going to be getting some real snow around here… according to the National Weather Service’s winter storm warning:

A MAJOR WINTER STORM WILL BRING VERY HEAVY SNOW TO THE EASTERN
SLOPES OF THE FRONT RANGE…THE FRONT RANGE CITIES…AND THE PALMER
DIVIDE. THE SNOW IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE FALLING INTO WEDNESDAY…
AND POSSIBLY INTO THURSDAY MORNING. A WINTER STORM WARNING IS IN
EFFECT THROUGH WEDNESDAY FOR THESE AREAS. TOTAL STORM ACCUMULATIONS OF 2 TO 5 FEET ARE EXPECTED IN THE MOUNTAINS AND FOOTHILLS…WITH 1 TO 3 FEET IN THE FRONT RANGE CITIES. AT THIS TIME IT LOOKS LIKE THE WORST OF THE SNOW AND WIND WILL BE TUESDAY NIGHT AND WEDNESDAY.

03/13/2003

Sunny. Seventy degrees. No wind.

Sounds like a good time to go out and play ultimate. So La and I packed up the kids and went to a park at lunchtime to play some pickup with about a dozen other people. It was a lot of fun, but only served to demonstrate (not surprisingly) how terribly out of shape I am.

Still, we’ve got to go and get ourselves back in shape for the all-important summer league. Hopefully the weather will hold for all Thursday lunch games…

03/10/2003

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have had that last cookie.

03/09/2003

I was putting Alex and Kyra to bed tonight and Alex asked a deep mathematic question:

“Dad, how far is it from two to infinity?”

I pondered that for a moment (partially wondering where the heck it came from) and finally said, “Well, infinity is forever. So it’s forever from two to infinity.”

“But how big a number is infinity?”

“Infinity isn’t actually a number. It’s higher than all the other numbers.”

“How high do the numbers go?”

“They go forever. All the way to… err… infinity.”

Obviously I’d been trapped by my own argument. Infinity isn’t a number, but the numbers reach all the way to infinity. As I said my good-nights and turned out the light, I was left wondering how to explain the concept of infinity to a six-year-old. It’s not really something you’d expect until a calculus course…

03/07/2003

I’m reading “Manifold: Time”, a good science fiction yarn, and I’ve plowed about halfway through it. In the latest happenings, the protagonist(s) get a glimpse of the future– the far future. It raises some fascinating issues.

According to recent scientific measurements, our universe is about 13.4 billion years old. That’s obviously a very long time; in comparison humanity has been around for the merest blink of an eye. But consider that the sun will probably continue burning for another few billion years– eventually bloating to become a red giant, then shrinking to die quietly as a dwarf star.

Beyond that, as the eons pass, the stellar population of the galaxy will continue to age. Stars will die, some as spectacular supernovas, and in their death throes will give birth to new stars. But as time marches inexorably onward, fewer and fewer new stars will be born. The raw material to build them will become more rare. The black hole at the center of the galaxy– currently massing several million stars– will grow as it engulfs stars near the galactic core.

Continue farther into the future, when stellar fusion begins to run down. The universe has expanded to the point where the energy density is frightfully low, and only small local energy sources provide any warmth in a rapidly-cooling cosmos. As the clock marches into the hundreds of billions of years, the stars burn out and space goes dark.

Trillions of years pass. Black holes are the only viable energy sources, because as they swallow entire galaxies, and even clusters of galaxies, they give off gravitational radiation. Hopefully future civilizations will know how to harness that energy, because it will be one of the few ways to sustain life.

The exponents climb: hundreds of trillions of years, and still farther. Matter itself begins to come apart as proton decay steps in. Atoms can no longer remain stable; they simply dissolve into quarks. There is virtually no energy left anywhere– the universe has expanded to the point where it is near absolute zero.

And in the end– the very very end– there is nothing. Matter and energy have completely evaporated: consumed by black holes, dissolved into constituent particles. Space is cold, dark, and empty.

Kind of puts things in perspective. Enjoy what you have, because eventually it’ll be gone.

03/07/2003

I just read an interesting article about why the internet is stupid. To quote:

“The Internet is stupid. On purpose. Its designers made sure the biggest, most inclusive network of them all was dumb as a box of rocks.

The Internet doesn’t know lots of things a smart network like the phone system knows: Identities, permissions, priorities, etc. The Internet only knows one thing: this bunch of bits needs to move from one end of the Net to another.

There are technical reasons why stupidity is a good design. Stupid is sturdy. If a router fails, packets route around it, meaning that the Net stays up. Thanks to its stupidity, the Net welcomes new devices and people, so it grows quickly and in all directions. It’s also easy for architects to incorporate Net access into all kinds of smart devices – camcorders, telephones, sprinkler systems – that live at the Net’s ends.

That’s because the most important reason Stupid is Good has less to do with technology and everything to do with value.”

I think that’s very true, and also very smart (ha). I actually try to incorporate that principle into a lot of the work I do– web applications, in general, should be built for people who are NOT very web savvy. They should have interfaces that are simple and straightforward. They should do what you’d expect them to do. They should tell you when you do something wrong, in terms that are easy to understand.

Too bad not everyone thinks stupid is smart.

(with credit to Doc Searls and David Weinberger, World of Ends)

03/06/2003

Zack has a habit that annoys the heck out of Laralee: he runs over to her nightstand, opens the top drawer, and rummages around for interesting things. These include her glasses (how about those fingerprint smudges?), a few bottles of medicine, and assorted other trinkets.

Exasperated with him, she installed a little childproof lock on the drawer tonight. It’s a plastic piece that locks and won’t open the drawer more than about an inch until you push it down to unlock it. After installing it (which took a good twenty minutes of drilling and adjusting screws) she tested it. Solid. The drawer didn’t open.

So she called Zack over. “Hey Zack, can you open this drawer?” He reached for it, pulled…

YANK.

The drawer slid right open. She adjusted it for the thousandth time, tried it, and it didn’t budge. “Hey Zack…”

YANK.

Again, he managed to open the drawer with one swift pull. This went on perhaps three or four more times, as I watched with immense amusement. She’d test it– solid. She’d ask Zack to try it. YANK. I think the trick was that he’d pull it so fast (hey, there’s exciting stuff in there!) the plastic catch didn’t have time to lock.

Tomorrow she’s going to take the childproof lock off.

03/06/2003

Like anyone who has a computer and an e-mail account, I’m bombarded with spam. The more interesting ones (to me) tend to be the letters from people in central Africa (usually Nigeria) who have managed to get their hands on huge sums of money from a cost overrun on a dam project or whatever. And of course they want my help (!) to transfer it to an offshore bank account, for which they’ll pay me a cool million.

It’s staggering to think that people fall for these scams– some estimates say American’s shell out $100 million a year because they give out their bank account numbers and suddenly find their accounts emptied. But a new game is emerging in the cyber-culture: that of baiting the fraudsters.

That’s right, friends! You too can set up a dummy e-mail account somewhere and start corresponding with your new Nigerian friend… leading them on a humorous but eventually frustrating trail of fake information, seeing just how long they’ll continue trying to milk you for your cash.

Apparently there are groups of people who do this, and have a marvelous time doing to. I haven’t decided yet if I should play along, but it would sure be a fun adventure…

03/04/2003

In the lunch time prayer today, Kyra said:

“… and bless that we’ll all eat healthy food, and never have sweets again …”

You don’t hear many kids say that! (When questioned after the prayer, she admitted that she was in fact really looking forward to Easter and Halloween… which indicates to me that her desire to never have sweets again might not be very strong.)

03/03/2003

Internet radio is perhaps one of the cooler faces of network technology. Through a server like Shoutcast I can pick from hundreds of music “stations” run by people like me. Those stations are broadcasting continuous music, and I can connect and listen whenever I want. There aren’t any ads (well, some stations promote themselves now and then) and it’s crystal-clear digital sound.

Of course there’s a down side to all of this: the evil empire of the RIAA has decided this technology is somehow overstepping the bounds of copyright, and therefore it must be crushed and eliminated in order to preserve the monopoly the RIAA has enjoyed for decades. Therefore, internet radio is now subject to an FCC tax– levied per song per listener, as I recall– which makes operating these stations an expensive proposition. It’s especially important to note that internet radio is taxed at a higher rate than standard AM/FM broadcast radio. Interesting.

In any case, I believe the RIAA will eventually crumble under the weight of its own legal division as it continues trying to fight the twenty-first century, and we’ll all be rid of a greedy self-centered corporate monster.

In the meantime, I’ll continue listening to Shoutcast and occasionally run my own server just for fun. Let the tunes begin!

03/03/2003

I just read a fascinating article that points out how a bag of flour that today costs 69 cents was equivalent to about three days’ wages for someone living in the Middle
Ages.  As technology and society have advanced, so has our ability to provide food for the populace. It’s astounding to consider that just before Gutenberg’s time, a single book might cost the equivalent of $6,000 in today’s dollars.

Yet despite our staggering advances, there are still places in the world where people live in conditions that are quite literally the same as those people in the Middle Ages. Wealth, technology, and access to food and health care are distributed in a shamefully unequal manner. I whine because my internet connection isn’t fast enough, while across the world someone cries because their infant son has died of malnutrition.

There aren’t easy answers to these sorts of problems, but it does make one pause to consider the bountiful wealth we enjoy without a moment’s thought.

03/03/2003

James Watson, co-Nobel laureate for his work on the discovery of DNA fifty years ago, has made some comments that are both funny and thought-provoking. He claims that stupidity is genetic and should be “cured” using gene therapy. While it’s certainly true that intelligence is related to one’s genetic traits, a discussion like this inevitably leads into whether it’s “right” to tamper with the human genome to produce more intelligent people.

The whirlwind of discussion surrounding gengeneering never seems to stop. We have an enormous capability, yet we don’t really understand (or, sometimes, want to understand) the implications and responsibilities that come with it.

03/01/2003

Holy cow, I found out there’s another person reading these musings… my friend Mike!

I imagine within a few weeks this site will be like Slashdot and will have millions of readers hopping in for an interesting anecdote with their morning coffee.

Okay, so maybe not.