Browse Month: December 2008

12/31/2008

I actually used the phrase “ja mon” in conversation today. It just kind of popped into my head, and I channeled some weird Jamaican accent.

12/31/2008

Researchers at a European research facility called the Nanoscience and Picotechnology Group are working on computing at a molecular level. We’re talking a handful of atoms here– way, way smaller than even nanotechnology.

A snippet from the article I just read:

The team has managed to design a simple logic gate with 30 atoms that perform the same task as 14 transistors while also exploring the architecture, technology and chemistry needed to achieve computing inside a single molecule and to interconnect molecules. They are focusing on two architectures: one that mimics the classical design of a logic gate but in atomic form, and another process that relies on changes to the molecule’s conformation to carry out the logic gate inputs and quantum mechanics to perform the computation.

Holy cow. Amazing stuff. The research is pretty fundamental right now– nothing that’s going to become a commercial product for several years at least– but just the fact that they can potentially build CPUs a millionth (or less) the size of current semiconductor chips could mean that in a decade we may literally have computers more powerful than today’s supercomputers in a box the size of, say, a grain of sand.

12/30/2008

So much for the table on our patio.

We just heard a crash outside, and it was the table blowing over and smashing into a gazillion pieces of glass on the concrete. According to NOAA, the wind is blowing at 46 miles an hour in Longmont right now. We can hear it howling around the house, rattling windows and so forth. It’s nights like this that make me happy to have a nice safe secure warm bed.

12/28/2008

Mom gave me and Laralee a brain-teaser sort of puzzle book for Christmas, and we’ve been going through it tackling the various crosswords, word searches, logic puzzles, sudokus, and other miscellany. They’re great “brain exercises” and give one a real sense of accomplishment when you finally figure out, for example, what fifteen national capitals are listed in the letter grid.

Every page has a little two-line puzzle at the bottom, so after you finish the big crossword or whatever you can take a moment to do a “quickie”. Of course these aren’t always quick, and I’ve found that many of them are actually harder than the “main” puzzle that fills the rest of the page.

Take, for example, the one we were staring at today: what’s the shortest English word that includes the letters APB in a row? The book even gave the helpful hint that it’s seven letters long.

So we puzzled for three hours, until our puzzlers were sore (heh, subtle Dr. Seuss reference there) but couldn’t figure it out. The problem is that puzzles like this– unlike crosswords or sudoku– are completely open-ended. There’s a huge solution space that’s difficult to traverse. Like a riddle, you think and think and either never get it, or suddenly figure it out in a flash and, looking back, realize it was completely obvious.

Being the brilliant and terrifically clever computer geek I am, I figured out that I could dump the contents of my laptop’s spell-checker dictionary and scan for words containing APB. After a few minutes of toying with the software I came up with the command to do what I needed. And I turned up words like clapboard, chapbook (huh?), and scrapbook. And there, at the bottom of the list, was the answer I sought.

soapbox

Hah! One more puzzle down (with some help from my trusty laptop)…

12/28/2008

It’s amazing how quickly the human body (well, my body at least) gets out of shape. Today it’s about 45 degrees and sunny, and most of the snow has melted off the roads and sidewalks, so I decided to hop on my bike for a little ride. But I quickly discovered that the same route I took a month ago without much effort has become a bit tougher. My initial theory– that a mysterious inertial force had made the sidewalk more difficult to traverse– was thrown out in favor of the slightly more plausible theory that I haven’t been on my bike in a few weeks and I’ve lost whatever magic juice powers those muscles.

Still, it was good to get out and bike a bit. Hopefully the weather will hold and I’ll be able to do it throughout the week, and maybe even get in a game of ultimate…

12/23/2008

Brian, Tony, and I just got back from lunch and two guys in trenchcoats followed us into the office. They immediately introduced themselves as Walter and Tyler and asked what we do here at Zing. This seems to happen about once a month: despite the big “NO SOLICITING” sign beside the door, people like this seem to think it applies to everyone but themselves. Go figure.

Anyway, as soon as they asked what we did, Tony launched into a monologue about how we build online poker systems and run the money through the Netherlands to avoid prosecution under U.S. law. He was absolutely brilliant. He did all of this with a completely straight face while Brian and I bit our tongues trying not to laugh. Tony continued by explaining how we can accept hard cash, or World of Warcraft currency that’s traded on eBay. He then asked Walter and Tyler if they’d like to sign up for an account with us right now.

The best part was that these guys were completely at a loss about what to say. As Tony continued to regale them with stories about how we use our Comcast connection to manage all of our poker systems, and how when the connection goes down we’re still liable for bets in the pot, and all kinds of other technical-sounding things, they just stood there listening like deer in headlights.

In the end they managed to toss in a few words about what they were selling (T1 lines for a vendor I’ve worked with and despise), but they beat a hasty retreat before Tony could get them to ante up some cash for an online account.

Sweet. Two gold stars for Tony.

12/22/2008

Interesting thing I learned today:

There are five tastes. Everyone’s familiar with bitter, sweet, salty, and sour… those were identified back around 400BC. But it wasn’t until the early 20th Century that a Japanese chemist identified a fifth taste, called umami (Japanese for “delicious”).

Oddly enough, monosodium glutamate (generally known as MSG) triggers umami pretty strongly, which is why MSG makes things so darn tasty.

Now if I can only work that into a dinner conversation somehow: “Mmm, these ramen noodles are really umami!”

12/20/2008

I’m signing up for an online bank account and I’m faced with the inevitable Stupid Security Questions, where I have to select from a list of questions and provide answers that “only I would know”. The problem is that all of the standard questions have already been abused:

* What’s your mother’s maiden name?
* What are the last four digits of your Social Security Number?
* Where were you born?

So now they have to resort to things like:

Come on– even I don’t know the answers to some of these! I have no idea what high school Laralee attended, nor do I know my father’s mother’s middle name. And if I choose something like “What was your favorite college year” it’s not like I have a particular year that was so rockin’ awesome that I would always remember, “Oh yeah, 1993 was my best year in college ever!

So instead I just pick various questions and always answer them with the same thing: “Steve”.

* Note that I don’t actually put “Steve”, but you get the idea. The real word I use is much more secret than that, and certainly I can’t publish it here where the Identity Thieves’ Guild would find it.

12/19/2008

Today, to celebrate the impending holiday, we decided to goof off all afternoon at the office. So Rob brought in his Wii and Xbox and we jacked them into our projector and some speakers. Then we cranked Rock Band and played some Mario Kart, interspersed with the usual games of foosball and liberal helpings of Cheetos and Double Stuf Oreos.

Brian jams on guitar:

Rob accompanies on bass:

And Tony provides drums:

Good times, good times.

12/19/2008

It is finished.

I just dropped my 200 or so Christmas letters in the mailbox. The kids helped by stuffing envelopes and slapping on labels and stamps. What a production. Every year I have a rush of creativity about some new thing I can try. And every year I run into crazy problems I wouldn’t have expected. We ran out of toner in the printer. The labels all printed a quarter-inch too high. We ran out of stamps (well, technically we were short by a single stamp– so someone ended up with a Liberty Bell stamp). Et cetera.

Back in The Day I would buy a dozen boxes of Christmas cards and hand write all of my little missives to friends and family, but that just doesn’t work any more. When I retire, maybe I’ll go back to that…

12/18/2008

“Don’t think you can. Know you can.”

— Morpheus, in The Matrix

12/17/2008

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

— Thomas Jefferson

12/14/2008

Wow, it’s cold out there today. In fact, it’s booger-freezing cold, which I is a technical term I use to refer to the fact that when you step outside your boogers immediately freeze up.

Alex and I walked over to Blockbuster to return our movie, and it was maybe a quarter-mile but by the time we got back home my cheeks were burning and my fingers were chilled (even through my thick ski gloves).

It looks like the rest of the week is going to be more of the same. Winter is definitely here.

12/13/2008

I just bought a new hard drive online. One terabyte. One hundred bucks.

Holy cow. I still remember my first hard drive, a forty megabyte monster that sat on my desk and was bigger (and much louder) than the laptop I’m using to write this. It cost something like four hundred dollars used. Now, for a quarter of the price, I get twenty-five thousand times more storage.

Isn’t technological progress marvelous?

12/12/2008

Tonight I was out walking to the grocery store and noticed the moon was pretty darn bright. It turns out that tonight it’s at perigee (its closest orbital point to Earth) and in fact is closer than it’s been in the past fifteen years.

Evidently that makes it about 14% larger than any other full moon this year, and correspondingly it’s 30% brighter. Wow.

12/12/2008

I saw this as I poked around some blogs this evening. Absolutely classic.

12/10/2008

I often crack myself up as I’m working on projects for clients. For example, I built an online survey system for a local company, and to demonstrate it I entered a few sample questions so they could see how it works:

If these guys aren’t Monty Python fans this won’t mean much to them, of course, but at least I get a good chuckle out of it.

12/07/2008

And lo, the Lord did look down upon Longmont and bequeath beautiful 60-degree weather so those therein need not hangeth their Christmas lights in freezing cold.

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