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.

02/28/2003

Hiliarous bumper sticker:

What if the hokey-pokey IS what it’s all about?

02/26/2003

I was called for jury duty yesterday morning. I trundled down to the Boulder Courthouse (a place which I’m quite familiar with by now) and went obediently to the Jury Assembly Room. There I was treated to a lovely 20-minute video about my responsibilities as a citizen, the jury process, yada yada. Truly an entertaining experience– look for the video at your local Blockbuster soon.

Anyway, then we went to the courtroom where we were introduced to the District Attorney (Ms. Laskey) and the defendant (Mr. Moore). Apparently Mr. Moore had been driving with a revoked license and was caught. Oops. He had elected to defend himself in this trial, which was probably not the wisest choice on his part.

They picked twelve of the thirty of us (I was not one) and questioned them about their personal status, feelings toward law enforcement, etc. Everyone “passed” I suppose, and then Ms. Laskey asked a few questions of the jurors. She was articulate, well-dressed, and obviously very experienced with this sort of thing. Mr. Moore had his turn, and he asked a rambling question that must’ve gone on for two minutes (after which the juror he had asked said, “huh?”). He was wearing his Broncos sweatshirt and jeans, and was a pretty stark contrast to the DA.

Well, they selected the jurors and everyone else (me included) was allowed to leave. That was that. It might have been interesting to watch the trial, because it’s my opinion that Ms. Laskey was going to chew him up and spit him out… but I had things to do, so I guess I’ll never know how it came out.

So my civic duty is covered for at least one more year. One of these times it might be fun to actually sit on a jury, but for now I’m happy to have only spent the morning.

02/20/2003

HP has impressed me once again.

I bought a new drum kit for my laser printer (I don’t even know what the drum kit is for, but it’s pretty expensive). It came in a nice box, of course, and inside the box was a note about recycling. HP wants me to send back the old drum kit– which looks like a large and fairly complicated collection of plastic, gears, and metal– so they can reuse it by filling it with whatever goes into a drum kit.

Now, that’s all well and good, and I considered whether it was worth it to me to recycle it. Then I saw the UPS slip.

See, HP included a postage-paid (blank check) UPS Ground shipping label that I could slap on the box. Then I can send it back to HP, they reuse it, and the Earth says “thanks”.

That’s cool.

02/18/2003

An eight-year-old named Rod lives next door. He really impresses the kids with his belching prowess. It’s to the point where the kids let loose a burp and compare it to what I can only describe as the Rod Scale.

Alex: (buuuuuuuuuuuuurp!)
Kyra: “Wow Alex, that was as good as Rod’s burps!”

Or, on the other end of the scale:

Alex: (burp)
Kyra: “That burp wasn’t nearly as good as Rod’s.”

Dinner conversation will never be the same.

02/18/2003

To my great surprise, I learned that at least two people in the world read this journal!

One is my friend Tad, who stumbled across it on my da Vinci Projects site; the other is my pal Roy who insists, “Hey, I’m a fan!”

Thanks for reading, guys. I’ll try to keep things interesting…

02/18/2003

Happy birthday to me!

I’m 31 today– a good prime number, and as I say to people, the 6th anniversary of my 25th birthday.

02/16/2003

I just downloaded and installed a nifty little gadget. It’s called WayV and it recognizes mouse strokes like a PDA stylus– and performs actions based on them. For example, I can “write” an M on my screen and it’ll launch my mail program. N for Netscape, K for Konqueror, / (slash) to kill the window, and so on. Fun!

02/15/2003

Valentine’s Day was fun as always. We made heart-shaped sugar cookies with the kids. Kyra had her friend Amanda over, and they decorated them (and of course ate several in the process). We gave some to friends’ kids, and hoarded the rest.

Laralee hid little Valentine notes around the house… well, that’s not exactly accurate. She wrote the little notes, and the kids hid them. Then they’d come up to me and say things like “Dad, don’t you need to use your stapler?” When I said I didn’t really, but thanks for asking, they’d insist, “No, I think you should get out your stapler and staple something.” Lo and behold, there was a little note under the stapler. Et cetera.

And I, being the incurable romantic that I am, rented “The Bourne Identity” for us to watch. What a terrifically romantic movie…

02/11/2003

I got my “new toys” today: four brand new Shuttle SK41G small-form-factor computers, and all the little trinkets that go inside. These puppies are awesome little silver boxes, less than half the size of a standard desktop system, and they really pack a wallop.

So I spent a couple of hours putting everything together, and basked in the soft blue glow of the power-on LED and the translucent front panel. Tomorrow I’ll actually set everything up, and then (sadly) they’ll be shipped off to Boulder to act as my new faster-better-stronger web and database servers.

Now if I can just think of an excuse to get one for the house…