Browse Month: January 2004

01/31/2004

Today was Alex’s seventh birthday. It’s amazing how time flies… next thing I know, he’ll be asking for the car keys and I’ll be laughing hysterically as I explain about insurance rates for sixteen-year-old boys, and how the bank turned down the second mortgage on the house to pay for it.

In any case, he’s growing up to be a great young man. In addition to his smarts and good looks (inherited, no doubt, from the father he resembles so much), he’s genuinely a good kid and a good example to his younger sibs. We just had parent-teacher conferences the other day, and his teacher opened the conference with, “Well, this is my favorite conference because there’s really nothing to talk about. Alex is doing great.” That’s exactly the kind of stuff I love to hear.

So after a crazy evening with five (!) of his friends at a sleepover, and an inundation of presents, we begin another year of watching him mature and develop. What an honor and privilege it is to be a dad.

01/30/2004

Every junior high kid knows there are three forms of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. You take a solid and heat it enough, and it becomes a liquid. You take the liquid and heat it still further, and it becomes a gas.

In high school, many kids learn there’s a fourth state of matter: plasma. Heat a gas enough, and it becomes ionized and turns to plasma. The fire in a standard wood-burning fireplace is an example of a plasma.

But a few years ago, researchers discovered a fifth state of matter, called a Bose-Einstein condensate. It only occurs at extremely low (near absolute zero) temperatures, and involves a radical phase change in the arrangement of subatomic particles.

And this week, researchers announced a sixth state of matter: a fermionic condensate (that’s a mouthful!). Again accomplished at very low temperatures, it has the interesting property of twisting the laws of quantum dynamics to allow subatomic particles to exist in states they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

Why is this newsworthy? (Or, more precisely, journal-worthy?) Because I think it demonstrates how scientific knowledge continues to increase at a breakneck (actually exponential) pace. There are amazing discoveries every day– many of which are never heard by the general public. I don’t expect high school textbooks to include discussions of, say, Bose-Einstein condensates any time soon… but it’s important to realize how incredible these scientific advances are.

Coming soon? Room-temperature superconductors (based on fermionic condensates) that will revolutionize the generation and distribution of electrical power. Now that would be newsworthy!

01/27/2004

It’s hard for me to express how much I enjoy getting e-mail messages that are two or three megabytes in size because the sender decided to take a screenshot and send it to me via Outlook. I suspect there’s some goofball setting in Windows that lets you snap a screenshot and mail it to someone, but the default format (thank you Microsoft!) is a bitmap image… which is huge because it’s 24-bit uncompressed. The exact same image, without appreciable loss of quality, might take up two percent of that size– a mere sixty kilobytes.

Ahh, clients… without them my life would be so much simpler.

01/27/2004

My old pal Chancellor is now the proud owner of a fancy web administration system, built by yours truly, so he can share his ramblings and musings with the world… just like me.

Anyone else? C’mon, I do this for a living– I can build you a web administration system in, like, an hour!

01/25/2004

There was a hilarious thread on Slashdot today, discussing what computer desktops various famous people might use. Along with the typical jabs about what Bill Gates uses was a great series of comments:

molafson: “I would like to see Jesus’ desktop; I bet he uses OS X.”
madpierre: “Come on he’s the son of God. He uses the command line.”
rmarll: “We’ll never know. I’m sure he’s logged in as root though.”

01/23/2004

Alex just came down to my office, tears on his face, and said he was having problems.

“What kind of problems?”

“The computer isn’t working.”

“And that’s something to cry about?”

“Well, it hurts my feelings when the computer does that.”

Apparently he thinks the computer misbehaves just to spite him. I suppose if I believed that, I’d be in tears most of the day…

01/23/2004

“A happy person is one who enjoys the scenery on a detour.”

— Seen on a sign outside a gas station in Berthoud.

01/22/2004

Today, as I was driving to a meeting in Denver, I was thinking those random thoughts one thinks while one is driving to a meeting in Denver… namely, I was wondering whose portrait was on the ten-dollar bill.

Everyone knows Washington is on the one, and Lincoln is on the five. I was thinking perhaps it was Andrew Jackson, but remembered he was on the twenty. You get fifty clams for Grant, and Franklin comes in on the c-note.

The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became. This is obviously an example of senility setting in, because I’ve seen plenty of ten-spots in my day and should certainly know who grins at me from them.

When I hooked up with my friend Steve for lunch, I posed the same question to him. Of course he’d spent his last ten earlier, and I didn’t have any in my pocket either. Aha, we thought, the pizza place would have some in the cash register. We ordered our lunch and asked the clerk whose picture was on the ten.

They didn’t have any tens. Not one.

Obviously this situation had moved beyond senility into the realm of conspiracy. What sinister forces were working to prevent me from learning who was on the ten? More determined than ever, I finally went to the Fount of All Knowledge… Google.

Sure enough, after a few random links to people writing poetry about ten-dollar bills (no kidding!) I found a U.S. Treasury page showing the bill.

The answer to my conundrum? Alexander Hamilton.

Yeah, like he was even a real President. He’s like Taft or Garfield… a name you heard, but have no idea when they were in charge or what the heck they did.

01/19/2004

“Even when you’re not working, you’re working!”

This was Laralee’s (frighteningly accurate) assessment of my effort yesterday to revamp the CyberSchroeder web site. I spent a couple of hours redesigning everything and rebuilding all the pages. In my opinion it needed it– the old design dated back almost two years, which is bloody forever in the web world. The new look is much cleaner and “twenty-first century” or something.

But she’s right: even if it’s a Saturday night and I’m sitting in bed clacking away on the laptop, I’m doing web stuff. I suppose since it wasn’t for a client, and didn’t have a deadline, and didn’t involve payment, it counted as “personal time”. It is a bit scary, though, to realize that even my personal time is occasionally spent developing web applications.

And in two more years I’ll have to do it again…

01/14/2004

There’s been an interesting development in how you pay for things. Mobil and Exxon have been using their so-called “Speedpass” system to allow people to pay for gas at the pump without having to swipe a credit card. It’s a little keychain fob that contains a radio-frequency identifier (RFID) chip; when you wave it near the pump the system deducts the cost of your gas from your credit card automatically.

Now they’ve teamed up with McDonald’s (in the Chicago area) to offer a way to pay for your meals. Plus, rather than using a keychain you can use a watch. Here’s the text from their ad:

“Are you the type of person who likes sneak previews and private screenings? Are you the first on your block to have the latest gadget? Well, we have just the product for you — the NEW SPEEDPASS-ENABLED TIMEX WATCH. Order yours today!

Your Speedpass-enabled Timex Watch is the fastest and easiest way to pay. No reaching for your wallet, or fumbling with change. The new watch looks and functions just like a regular watch. However, inside the watchband is a miniature Speedpass radio frequency transponder that allows customers to instantly pay for purchases at over 7,500 Exxon and Mobil stations nationwide and at over 440 participating McDonalds’ restaurants in Chicago and Northwest Indiana.”

I wonder if this is going to catch on and cause other merchants to accept Speedpass purchases? Moreover, will we start to see other devices (jewelry, etc.) containing the RFID chips? With recent news about Wal-Mart considering various implementations of RFID in their merchandise, it’s definitely an up-and-coming technology.

Of course the paranoid (who, me?) see that down the road it’s inevitable that you’d have an RFID chip implanted directly in, say, the back of your hand. That way it can’t be stolen (at least not easily) and it’s always with you.

Does convenience outweigh the risks/concerns with this sort of thing?

01/13/2004

Laralee went to a presentation at school about “Gang Activity in Longmont”. Who knew that a cow town like this has a lot of gang activity (apparently it does), and more to the point, who knew that some of it is focused on the middle school (!) next door to the elementary school where Alex and Kyra go.

She came home with a bunch of handouts and information about how to determine if your child has joined a gang (he acts tough, swears, and gets tattoos). It even had a brief dictionary of gang terms, for those of us who don’t know what “kickin’ it” means. Pretty weird stuff.

What’s scary is thinking about how there are gang problems at a middle school… in My Day, I think the worst violence you could ever see at school was when two guys decided to have a fight after school (“psst, Jim Haney is going to fight Dave Hobold in the parking lot at 3:15”) and you could see them shove each other a few times before the vice-principal showed up. Today schools worry about knives, guns, drugs, and the like. Yikes.

01/10/2004

Others see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I see things that never were and ask, “Wow, where did you get this stuff?”

— Seen in an e-mail joke

01/08/2004

For some reason this newspaper snippet cracked me the heck up.

01/06/2004

… So, surprise surprise… after almost fifteen years, Pete Rose has finally publicly that he bet on baseball.

It’s obvious– to me anyway– that he’s doing it for a singular goal: to get into the Hall of Fame.  I’ve read some articles and opinions (I haven’t read his just-released book), but it doesn’t seem to me he’s really very sorry for what he did.  Moreover, although he admitted to wrongdoing he didn’t admit that what he did hurt the sport, he didn’t actually apologize (no “I’m sorry”s anywhere), and the timing of the announcement and release of the book make it all too clear he’s worried he’ll never get into the Hall if he doesn’t at least put on some appearances of remorse.

Today’s newspaper quoted some statistic like “80% of baseball fans want to see Rose in the Hall of Fame”.  Personally, I think he should get what he deserves.  The lifetime ban from the game is just punishment, and with it comes a lifetime ineligibility for the Hall.  You break the rules, you’re out.  I can’t really believe eighty percent of the people think he deserves that honor, but maybe I’m in the (small) minority by thinking cheaters shouldn’t win.

Remorse aside, I think that letting him into the Hall “dilutes” it for those who are more deserving.  There are great men in the Hall, and to add to their ranks a cheater and a liar makes their honor that much less.

01/04/2004

I just read a lengthy but fantastic treatise by Paul Graham entitled “What You Can’t Say”. It expounds on the strange question of what today’s “moral fashion” has made it unpopular, unconfortable, or even dangerous to say.

There were many wonderful points in the article, but one that was particularly interesting to me was the part where he talked about picking your battles. It’s not necessarily wise to argue something that’s unpopular (even if you believe it) because it distracts you from other– probably more important– things.

“Suppose in the future there is a movement to ban the color yellow. Proposals to paint anything yellow are denounced as ‘yellowist’, as is anyone suspected of liking the color. People who like orange are tolerated but viewed with suspicion. Suppose you realize there is nothing wrong with yellow. If you go around saying this, you’ll be denounced as a yellowist too, and you’ll find yourself having a lot of arguments with anti-yellowists. If your aim in life is to rehabilitate the color yellow, that may be what you want. But if you’re mostly interested in other questions, being labelled as a yellowist will just be a distraction. Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.

“I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read about the harassment to which the Scientologists subject their critics, or that pro-Israel groups are ‘compiling dossiers’ on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses, or about people being sued for violating the DMCA, part of me wants to say, ‘All right, you bastards, bring it on.’ The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work.”

That’s good advice, methinks. I disagree with a lot of the current political and philosophic “fashions”, but arguing about them is typically just a waste of breath.

He finishes the topic with a great paragraph:

“The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.”

This is probably why my friends often get annoyed with my views. 🙂

01/02/2004

“As the light changed from red to green to yellow, and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.”

For some reason this cracks me up.

It turns out it was my e-mail .sig about eight years ago.

01/02/2004

Today we were playing on the kids’ computer as a family, and Kyra said she wanted to try the game called “Klickety”. None of us had any idea what it was, so we tried it. A board popped onto the screen with a bunch of colored squares. Clicking a few of them revealed that connecting colors disappear and the rest of the board “falls” into place to fill the gap.

The objective is to end up with as few blocks as possible, but it quickly became obvious that it’s much trickier than it seems. No matter how careful you might be, you end up with a checkerboard of color at the end.

Interestingly, Kyra proved to be quite good. She managed to whittle the 150 initial blocks down to 22. Apparently she’s a savant or something.

Now I’m hooked, and will simply have to continue playing until I get the ultimate goal: zero blocks left. With a bit of blind luck I pulled off a single block at the end, but I don’t know how in the world I’ll get it down to zero.

Ahh, another benefit of the Computer Age…

01/02/2004

In my never-ending quest to see just how geeky I can really be, I checked my “Sent Mail” folder to see how many e-mail messages I sent through all of 2003. It turns out there are 9,835 messages in there– or roughly 27 messages for every day of the year. Assuming I don’t send many on the weekends (since I don’t) that means around 37 per workday.

Diving deeper into the math, and assuming I work around nine hours a day, that’s 4.2 messages every hour or a message every fourteen minutes. Sheesh. I am truly a geek.

And don’t even get me started on the number of spam messages I received in 2003…