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random thoughts

wristwatch requirements   ...   random thoughts
mon 2005-aug-08 13:14:26 pdt   ...   permalink

A few days ago my watch broke -- the little knob you pull out to set the time came off entirely and so the watch is just stopped. It didn't come off while I was pulling it out to set the time or anything, I just noticed at some point that my watch was a couple hours behind, and stopped, and that the little knob was missing. Odd.

So now I'm faced with the task of getting a new watch. I've had this one for three years, and been pretty happy with it. I went back and found the email confirmation from when I originally ordered it, and determined that it is this one. So I could just get the same one again. It does meet almost all my requirements for a watch, and a quick look around confirms that my requirements, as simple as they are, are probably not going to be any easier to completely satisfy now than they were three years ago.

my requirements )

Okay, I think I'll go with this one, even though the face is white-on-black. Actually, looks like it might be silver-on-black. And they do seem to have silver-on-white, but it appears to be harder to read. I think the black background will be fine. And hey, no 13-24... Plus, it has the day of the week, and it correctly handles the number of days in each month. And it even manages to fit the day and date right alongside the "3", instead of dropping the "3" to make room. Interesting.

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What color hat am I wearing?   ...   random thoughts , logic , math
tue 2005-may-10 15:07:22 pdt   ...   permalink

I recently wrote up (in an email to someone) a few of my favorite cute little logic-ish puzzles, involving guessing the color of the hat on one's head. As long as I'd already written them up anyway, I figured I'd post them here so that others may share the joy. I did not invent them, and I have no idea where the first two come from; the third I provide a reference for below.

colored hat problems )

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c plus plus   ...   random thoughts , programming
sun 2005-apr-17 15:54:39 pdt   ...   permalink

So one not-really-anticipated side-effect of being back in school now (as I have been the last six months) after seven years in industry is that I have to write C++ code again.

blah blah coding blah )

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good writing   ...   random thoughts
thu 2005-mar-24 18:11:18 pst   ...   permalink

I was thinking recently about writing, and what makes some prose more enjoyable to read. And in particular, I noticed a device that good writers use well (and which I do not): they use similes. By drawing a parallel between their actual literal subject matter and some aspect of another perhaps not-obviously-related context, they are able not only to conjure compelling imagery, but even (and this is part of what I find interesting) to make their statements more concrete by way of abstraction.

Perhaps this is obvious to anyone who, say, wrote a humanities paper at any point in college (I did not) (seriously, not one). I mean, I certainly grok the fact that people learn things well through analogies, and that people are better at generalizing a rule from specific examples than they are at forming specific examples from a general rule. But I guess I hadn't thought to apply roughly the same concept to general prose writing.

I think part of my problem is that I just don't think in similes. When occasionally my brain for some reason starts up a sentence heading towards a simile, I often wind up with silly utterances like "it was going so fast, it was like ... a ... thing that ... goes ... really fast", and then I just let the participants in the conversation who actually have a decent command of the English language take over.

Of course, similes aren't everything. Probably my bigger problem is that my vocabulary just isn't all that big. I do try to avoid words like "thing" and "interesting" which carry very little meaning -- and believe me, it's really a concerted effort -- and I think that helps my writing a bit. (Though I probably wind up using "compelling" way too often as a substitute for "interesting". Ah well.)

Anyway, I don't really have a point here (which of course is another problem with my writing...), so I guess I'll just stop now.

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non-mountain unicycle   ...   random thoughts , unicycle
fri 2005-feb-25 14:29:26 pst   ...   permalink

Yesterday I switched back to my non-mountain unicycle. And man, those short cranks are weird! It feels like I'm riding a little toy unicycle with tiny little cranks. First time I got on it, my foot flew right off the pedal because it was trying to trace out a much larger circle. The rest of the day, every time I got on, it felt weird. I've been riding that Miyata for 12 years (and a similar Miyata for another 6 years or so before that), and after just a week and a half (including a 16-mile ride, granted) on a big fancy muni, the Miyata is already strange and unfamiliar.

Oh, and the other thing I forgot to mention about Seth's muni is the KH seat! When I first started riding the KH24, I immediately fell in love with the seat. And indeed, going back to my Miyata yesterday, it felt like I was sitting on a metal plate. I guess the 12-year-old foam isn't very squishy any more, but even brand new, I don't think the Miyata seat holds a candle to the KH. If I'm going to continue riding the 20-inch, I'll definitely need to see if I can get a KH seat for it. The problem, I suspect, will be getting one on a seat post of the right size for the Miyata.

I definitely still like the smaller wheel. For one thing, I noticed the extra maneuverability several times during the day (for example, tight turns that I was able to make more easily than I'd been able to on the muni). And easily getting up to high RPMs sure is fun.

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mountain unicycle   ...   random thoughts , unicycle
tue 2005-feb-22 17:21:38 pst   ...   permalink

So last Sunday I went on a 16-mile mountain unicycle ride (or "muni ride" as those in the know call it, and yes we know that makes it sound like we're riding the bus in San Francisco).

way more detail than you probably care to read regarding the ride and my thoughts about choice of unicycles )

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NetFlix   ...   random thoughts , netflix
sun 2005-jan-02 17:21:30 pst   ...   permalink

We've decided to sign up for NetFlix. For a while, I'd been a proponent of the theory that instead of signing up for NetFlix, it would make sense to just buy one DVD each month. I figure that would cost roughly the same amount, and would gradually accumulate a nice library of movies. Of course it only actually gives you more options for things to watch (that you haven't already seen) if you don't watch very many movies each month. But I figure we kind of tend to go in and out of phases of watching a lot and not so many, so it seemed a plausible system.

In the end, the main problem with that theory is that actually buying a DVD each month is a lot more effort than having NetFlix simply send you the next thing in your queue whenever you're done with the previous... But in any case, I think NetFlix will also have the advantage of encouraging us to actually watch more movies, since we'll figure, oh, we better watch this and send it back and get the next one. Also, a lot of the DVDs we already own we haven't watched, in part because, well, there's never any reason to watch such-and-such film now -- we can always watch it another time. With NetFlix, we'll feel more pressure to just watch what we have. And if we watch movies more often, then we won't feel we have to always choose the best possible movie to watch now, we'll be free to simply choose one of the three NetFlix discs we currently have, whatever they happen to be, and just watch that.

Anyway, so we just signed up yesterday, and we already have over 120 movies in our queue -- a lot more than the total number of movies we watched in 2004! Since clearly we won't be using the NetFlix queue in a strictly FIFO fashion, there will almost certainly be discs added to the end of the queue that stay near the end as other things keep getting bumped ahead of them. But I guess there's nothing really wrong with that.

Any experienced NetFlix users out there want to share words of wisdom with the newbies?

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people live in West Virginia?   ...   random thoughts
tue 2004-dec-14 03:04:14 pst   ...   permalink

Recently had the following IM conversation with a friend of mine, who was to be flying home for the holidays the next day:

me: have a good flight
me: where are you flying, anyway?
friend: WV
me: west virginia?
friend: yup
me: weird.
friend: haha not if you live there
me: no, i mean, weird that you live there!
friend: hehe believe it or not there are quite a few people who live there.
me: crazy.

Who knew?

I wonder how many other closet West Virginians I might have met besides this one.

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Shinteki   ...   random thoughts
mon 2004-nov-08 17:28:25 pst   ...   permalink

Last saturday I participated in the second Shinteki all-day puzzle hunt event, called "Untamed". Overall it was quite well done, and I had a great time.

However, I did have a few quibbles. Most notably, there was too much reliance on web research. My feeling is that these puzzles should be self-contained, requiring very little research or domain-specific knowledge -- it should be more about your figuring-stuff-out skills than about your ability to use the web while on the road (web-heavy puzzles could be fine if you weren't also driving all over, though even then, I would probably in general find them less fun to solve)... Not that this hunt didn't have the figuring-stuff-out aspect, just that it was too heavy on the research.

Another issue is that a puzzle shouldn't be so hard that the only possible way to solve it is with hints -- it should at least feel like you could eventually have done it without the hint. When you get a hint, you should realize "oh, right, that makes sense, I just didn't notice this particular aspect before," or somesuch, rather than, "what?? we were never going to come up with that on our own!"

One of the most frustrating puzzles was one where it turned out we'd been doing exactly the right thing, but because of one little error, we couldn't see the answer. We just had one letter in the wrong position! The fact that it was the correct letter actually was just by chance, but still, we were one letter off, and could not see the answer. If you can't get it when you're that close, that shouldn't be the answer! We had it down to "AFREATEV", and we knew it was supposed to be something you might win in a sweepstakes, or somesuch. We tried "A FLAT TV" and "A FREE TV" and a number of other things around there, and we tried tweaking various of the parts we were less sure of, but nothing helped. Turns out it was "A FREE ATV" (ATV == all terrain vehicle). Huh?? Lame.

Of the other clues, well, some were better than others, but most were quite good. I think my favorite was one where they had included a whole bunch of anagrams of "Shinteki Untamed" in a body of text, and it turned out that you had to find the anagrams and then count the words in between one anagram and the next (and then apply A=1 to those counts). Reading the text, it was clear that it had been written under some constraint -- so many parts of it just sounded weird... So that was pretty cool. Solving it was also very much a team effort, which made it fun.

In preparation for this hunt, I decided to learn to read morse code, braille, and other common systems used to encode messages in these sorts of puzzle hunts. So I wrote a little "flash card" web interface for all the common encodings. It shows you a coded letter, and you just type your guess in, and it then gives you the answer and a new one to guess. I found that I was able to very quickly learn most of the codes this way -- I didn't bother studying the lookup tables first, I just started having it prompt me, and at first I didn't know any, and then gradually I'd start to know some, and eventually pretty much all of them.

Having done this turned out to be reasonably helpful, though not as much as it could have been. In particular, the only message all day which was in morse code was not even really needed to get the final answer for that puzzle; and then the part of that puzzle which involved a message in Braille wound up getting shut down by the police while we were there! (I don't know what they were thinking when they decided to take a puzzle that required both darkness and noise, and put it in a park which closes at sunset...) And semaphore never came up at all (though I think it was actually in one of the puzzles we never saw). However, A=1 came up several times, and binary came up once, so being able to do those relatively directly certainly helped.

I think their previous event, "Aquarius", did a better job of emphasizing solving skill over research capability. Also, I think it had a good deal less extraneous information in the puzzles. As one of my teammates pointed out, when writing these kinds of puzzles, the more you write, the less you say. Everything that's extraneous, whether intended or not, winds up being a red herring. And they had a lot of extraneous stuff in the flavor-text.

But anyway, complaints aside, I really did have a good time, and will very likely participate in their next event.

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I do all my own stunts   ...   random thoughts
fri 2004-sep-24 01:00:47 pdt   ...   permalink

So last week I went to the DNA Lounge, my favorite nightclub. Not that I go clubbing enough to have a favorite club, mind you, but jwz (the geek who owns it) is awesome. And I like the geek crowd that it attracts.

Anyway, so the last couple times I've gone dancing at the DNA, I've worn one of my usual purple and yellow outfits, but the trouble is that once I get to the club, I don't actually look interesting because it's mostly just dark, and so my colorfulness is not particularly visible. So I figured what I really need is a good clubbing t-shirt (or two). Basically my theory for what would qualify as a clubbing t-shirt was anything that would fluoresce under blacklight... Perhaps a black t-shirt with white text saying something pithy and clever.

As it happens, a few weeks ago I saw these two t-shirts at Target: "I do all my own stunts" with a stick figure falling down, and "Keep staring, I might do a trick", both in white text on black. Now, both of these I'd seen before -- at juggling festivals. And both of them I'd thought maybe were meant to be juggling shirts ... until I saw them at Target, and then I understood: the meaning intended by whoever created these shirts was rather different from the meaning it bore on the chest of a juggler at a juggling festival.

Specifically, "Keep staring, I might do a trick" is meant to be worn by someone with freaky hair, say, such that people are already staring at them a lot, and so they make fun of those staring people by wearing this shirt. Though I guess "I do all my own stunts" isn't really all that different when worn by a juggler, except that, well, they do in fact in some sense perform stunts. But I digress.

So anyway, the point is, I'd seen these shirts at Target, and then realized I wanted to get "I do all my own stunts" to wear to the DNA. So, um, I went to Target and bought it. Yup. Okay, there's no punchline. Maybe the digression was really the point here, not this paragraph. Move along.

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olympics   ...   random thoughts
sat 2004-aug-28 15:17:00 pdt   ...   permalink

So I watched some of the Olympics -- some gymnastics, some running, some diving, maybe a bit of other stuff, I forget what all...

Of what I watched, gymnastics was definitely the most interesting. They do some crazy incredible stuff these days. But they all get scores of at least 9.0, and I certainly can't really tell the difference between a 9.765 routine and a 9.812 routine, or whatever. Sure, anyone can see whether they stick the landing or not, but there's obviously a great deal of subtlety that you only get if you're really immersed in the field of gymnastics...

I guess my point is just that the fact that the scores are all so close (and so close to perfect) makes it hard to really get into the competition side of it. Of course I still enjoy watching the routines, basically just as performances.

Now, diving on the other hand, well, the scores actually seem to average about 5.0, ranging from maybe 2.0 or so all the way up to the occasional 8.5 or so. Also, maybe because they're just doing one thing at a time, and you're told the dive difficulty, it feels more accessible. Anyway, so the upshot is that I felt a bit more into the competition side of it than I did with the gymnastics.

The running events that I watched weren't really themselves all that exciting, though there were some interesting aspects to them. One interesting thing is the "photo finish" images they show so you can see the hundredth-of-a-second differences between different runners. Turns out (as I learned from this article), the reason the runners look distorted in those images is that it's not just a regular photo. Basically, each vertical slice of pixels comes from a particular moment in time, and the x-axis of the image corresponds to different times. So it's actually showing everyone, not at the same moment, but each at the moment they crossed the finish line. (And that's why there's a white background -- that's not put in there, that's just because the camera is aimed directly on the finish line, where the ground actually is in fact white.)

One interesting thing about generating an image like that is that if you were to cross the finish line in the other direction, you would appear to be going the same direction as everyone else in the generated image. But if you walk backwards across the line (actually walking in either direction), then you would appear to be going the opposite direction from everyone else. Kind of cool.

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replacement phone   ...   random thoughts
thu 2004-aug-05 01:46:11 pdt   ...   permalink

So I had been having problems with my Treo 600. Well, mostly just one problem: it wouldn't make calls -- or receive them (two! two problems) -- unless it was plugged into a charger. One nice thing is that it'll charge off USB, and my PowerBook provides power to the USB port even when the laptop is asleep. So, as long as I had my backpack with me, I could still make calls when I needed to. But still, not a good state for a phone to be in, unable to make calls.

It started out only happening intermittently, maybe initially only when the battery was low. But over a period of a few weeks, it gradually got worse to where it was all the time. Anyway, so finally, last Friday I went to a SprintPCS store and asked about it. The guy first did a soft reset (which of course I'd done to no avail), and when that didn't help, he went off through a door, and came back a minute later saying that the phone was bad and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately they didn't have any in the store, and so they would have to order it. He said it should be in by Tuesday. Fine.

Okay, so then yesterday (the Tuesday in question) I got the replacement. Seems to be all good, works great now, and no issues restoring from the backup on the SD card. Yay.

Now, on the old one, I'd noticed little spots on the screen (in the ChangeCard coin locations, naturally), and so I figured with this new one, maybe I should try to avoid that happening again, by using a screen protector kind of thing. I managed to find my old WriteRights that I'd bought a few PalmPilots ago. Of course they're too big for the Treo screen, so I trimmed one down to about the right size, close enough anyway.

So here's the (possibly) interesting part, which is why I'm bothering with this whole story. Well, presumably they now have screen protectors that are designed to be used with color screens. Because it turns out that this protector is not quite colorless -- it allows through the red, green, and blue sub-pixels in different amounts. So as a result, my screen now has these very distinct vertical stripes!

Turns out I don't actually mind the stripes, so far anyway. But I'm now a bit more ready to believe the claim I once heard that you could get 80 columns of legible text on the Treo's 160x160 screen by making use of the sub-pixels (each character being 6 sub-pixels wide). Still, I'll believe it when I see it...

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location-based tasks   ...   random thoughts
thu 2004-may-27 14:30:43 pdt   ...   permalink

A lot of tasks are location-oriented. My PDA (or phone or whatever) should be able know when I'm in the right location for a given task, and should remind me to do that task only when I'm there. For example, I'd like to be reminded to swap the dead battery in my pocket for the one in the charger, but the reminder is only helpful if it comes when I'm actually in the room where the charger is (and preferably when I'm just entering that room and hence not already sitting down or whatever...). Other examples might be to pay a bill when I'm in the room where I keep my bills, or, I dunno, to check how much milk is in the fridge next time I'm in the kitchen, or something.

possible way to do it )

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''i can't draw''   ...   random thoughts
tue 2004-may-18 15:44:23 pdt   ...   permalink

When people say, "I can't draw", what they mean is "I can't draw the images in my head so that they look in physical form the way they looked in my head."

It's quite possible to create good and interesting images (by drawing or various other physical or software-based tools) without the end result being the same as what was in your head. In which case I might argue that it's not really true that you can't draw. It just depends on what the end result is intended for, and whether in that context it really matters that it look the way it looks in your head...

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