« September 2005 | Main | November 2005 »

October 31, 2005

How About Some Nanotech?

I sent an email to Elias Towe today, basically telling him I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'd like to do some nanotech stuff, thanks. He replied and said, hey, stop by my office, and we'll chat. So, I did, and we did.

The first thing that impressed me was that he was able to give me an overview of the CMU nanotech institute as if he'd done it a million times before. Maybe he has, but it was still cool to feel like he was actually putting some effort into presenting the institute to me.

We talked for 15 or 20 minutes about the stuff they do, and most of it sounds pretty interesting. I'm not really interested in the storage systems research, but stuff like nanoscale transistors, solar energy gathering, cleaning up New Jersey one molecule at a time, single photon transport, and a particular medical sensing application held my interest pretty well.

He said I should send him an email in a week or so and tell him what sort of general things I'd like to do, and he'll hook me up with the appropriate people in the nanotech institute.

Meanwhile, I'd like to check out the ICES Open House this Thursday. The Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES) is the umbrella group under which the Center for Nano-enabled Devices and Energy Technologies (CNXT) sits. CNXT is where all the nanotech stuff happens.

So, yeah, the conversation with Dr. Towe got me pumped. Hooray.

Oh, and happy Halloween or something. :)

October 30, 2005

More homework?!

I worked out today that my VLSI CAD class was assigned a new homework this past Tuesday, while I was out with food poisoning. It's due this Thursday, so I guess that's what I'll be doing for the next few days. I'm already 17% finished (20 of 120 points), though, so I guess that's good. However, the last half of the homework covers material that was introduced while I had food poisoning, so I guess that's bad. I may have to pick the TA's brain a bit... in person... which I hate doing.

In related news, the food poisoning went away on Friday as quickly as it came. I was about a third of the way through watching Star Trek: First Contact, when all of a sudden, I noticed my stomach stopped making noise and carrying on. A few hours later, I still hadn't noticed anything, and the following morning, there was still nothing. I deemed myself cured and haven't looked back. Hooray for patience.

Katy and I made our flight reservations for the Massachusetts/Maine/Texas trip this afternoon, and we're excited about it. Oh, if only the next month and a half would pass more quickly...

Also, if you are a registered voter in Texas, please read what Andrew has to say about the November 8 ballot.

So, I'm trying to get someone in CMU ECE to consider giving me something cool to do in the spring. I emailed a professor several minutes ago about some nano-self-assembly and quantum electronics stuff, and maybe that will pan out, but wow, I really suck at selling myself. Especially in an academic context. I mean, what do I have to say? I went to a crap undergraduate school, passed my classes, don't remember jack about them, was employed in telecom for a while, don't remember jack about that either, and I probably got into one of the best schools in the world because someone hadn't had enough coffee when they were reading my application? That doesn't sound like it will fly. Anyway, I really want to get the opportunity to do some nanotech-related research in the spring, and if any of you have any idea how to make this easier, I'd appreciate some tips.

Back to tech mapping in SIS... poof.

October 27, 2005

Midgets with Hammers

Once in a while, someone sends me an email with the following attached. This time, my dad sent it to me, and it arrived in PDF form, rather than just text. Spiffy.

Supposedly, these are actual problems and solutions listed on Qantas post-flight gripe sheets. Pilots write the problems, mechanics write the solutions. The email is also always accompanied by the sentence "Qantas is the only major airline that has never had an accident."

Regardless of whether they're real, they're always funny.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet-per-minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're there for.

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

October 26, 2005

Summertime, Summertime, Sum-sum-summertime

I had been tossing and turning in bed for over an hour before I decided to bring my laptop in here and browse the web for a bit. Again, being sick sucks.

While the NOAA forecast doesn't say this, the Intellicast forecast does: it will snow tonight and tomorrow morning. I'm looking forward to it, and if I'm awake when it's happening, I'll take some pictures so you silly Texas people can drool over them.

If you haven't already, read Andrew's comment to my previous post. He definitely has a way with, er, revisionist history. :)

This is the point at which you can stop reading if you don't care about technobabble.

So, I joined this thing called IRCache today. It's basically a network of content caching proxies all over the US...

You don't know what a content caching proxy is? OK, well, it's a program that runs on a server between you and the Internet. When you use a web browser to access a web site, the web browser asks the proxy for the web site, instead of asking the web server itself. If the proxy doesn't have the web site you want, it downloads the content from the web server on the other end of the Internet and stores it on its hard drive. If the proxy does have what you want, it just asks the web server if there's a newer version. If so, it downloads it just like last time. If not, it feeds your web browser the page it downloaded, oh, two days ago.

Most of the time, the last case happens: you ask the proxy for a web page, and there's no new version available, so it just gives you the content it already has. This has the benefits of reducing overall Internet bandwidth use, reducing the time it takes for you to get your web page, and reducing the bandwidth cost to the person or company that runs the web site. So, it works out very well for everyone.

IRCache, this thing I joined today, is a network of these caching proxies. I linked my proxy (located on the server in the closet in my living room) with their proxy in New York (They have one in Pittsburgh, but the one in New York is actually closer in terms of Internet distance (hops).), and essentially, my proxy is now going to feed off that proxy in New York. Because many people use these IRCache proxies, it's fair to say I'll notice a huge decrease in (pseudo-) web site response time, which is good for me, good for them, and good for the Internet. Wonderful!

Incidentally, you too can use this service even without having your own proxy server. Go find that box, somewhere in your web browser preferences, that asks you for an automatic proxy configuration URL. Enable that thing and enter http://www.ircache.net/pac/random.pac. Hit OK a few times, and that's it. You're now on the road to glorious proxy quickness. Your web browser will only ask the proxy for content that's unsecure (HTTP protocol, not HTTPS protocol), by the way, so you won't have to worry about it hanging on to your bank account password or anything like that.

If you want more information, there's a manual/FAQ located here. Section 4.2 tells you how to configure your browser to do this in a bit more detail than I gave.

If you're at work or behind a corporate firewall or something, this may not work. Your company may already have a proxy implemented in a transparent fashion, and trying to use a different one may screw it all up and not let you access the web at all.

Maybe I can sleep now.

Oh, and Taylor: yes, definitely, Katy makes fantastic chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

Maybe It's Food Poisoning, Maybe It's Catholic

I have decided my current ailments can be attributed to either food poisoning or influenza. Both have symptoms similar to what I've been experiencing for the past day or so. I really think it's food poisoning of the listeriosis variety from some Thai curry I ate Monday night. Being sick sucks.

Elsewhere (Jersey), in an abortion of free speech rights, Pope John XIII Regional High School has told its students they are no longer allowed to blog. Period. If a student is found to be blogging, he or she will be suspended. Reverend Kieran McHugh, the school's principal, says this rule is now in effect because of the dangers of predators going after the students. Our friends at the EFF are looking at ways to flog Pope John with large olive branches.

Also, anyone who wants to buy a ViewSonic VX924 monitor to replace my VA721 monitor is welcome to do so.

October 25, 2005

Chilly Days May Be Sickly

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather forecast had snow and then didn't. Well, it's back. In fact, it's back for today, this evening, tonight, tomorrow morning, and again on Thursday. So, uh, snow, anyone?

After a restless night, I woke up this morning very warm, weak, and with a headache. Because this is not something I normally do, I got a little worried, and Katy scampered off to bring me ibuprofen and Sudafed. It is entirely because of her valiant, selfless effort this morning (she also made me green tea) that I am now able to write this post. Hooray for Katy!

In other news, you've surely noticed I changed the site a bit. I guess I felt it needed more black and white and less color and shading. It's a minimalist, wintry blog now, I suppose. And, it looks tons better in Firefox than in Internet Explorer, which is a nice change.

Andrew notes that Time has commanded their monkeys to create a list of the 100 best English-language books that have been published since 1923. I regret I have only read nine of them in their entirety, but I'm certain another 15-20 have been on my list of books to read for years. I only really read on flights these days, sigh.

In 2003, with some help from my mom, I compiled a list of all the books I could remember reading and put in on the web. That list is now outdated and defunct, but it was an entertaining exercise while it lasted. I encourage anyone who hasn't done this to do it at some point, as it puts one's literary experience in perspective. I have gotten Kari and Tamara to do this since I did it, and they also enjoyed it.

That's all for today.

October 24, 2005

Snow, No!

A few days ago, there was snow at the end of the extended weather forecast. Now, there's not. This makes me very sad.

Meanwhile, it's a cool forty-something degrees outside and raining. I haven't seen the sun in a little less than a week, and according to the forecast, I won't see the sun for another little-less-than-a-week. Which is nice, as I was getting tired of seeing sun all the time.

My windows are slightly foggy, so hooray for chilly weather.

It's definitely autumn here, and the trees seem to have gotten the memo, as their leaves have largely turned brilliant reds and yellows and started to fall, covering the streets, sidewalks, and parked cars with collages of October color. There are some particularly amazing colors on the trees on the CMU campus in front of Warner Hall. I'd take my camera up there for some pictures, but it's raining, and I don't want to risk damaging my camera.

As the leaves are changing color, the students are becoming more stressed while the second half of the semester begins. In my classes, we are changing topics rather severely, so it's almost like starting them over with different material but still having to remember the old stuff.

My VLSI CAD exam last week went well, as I got a 98 on it. I was hoping for a 100, but I guess I didn't quite know what I was blathering on one of the problems. My Computer Security exam is today at 4:30, and I'm not expecting my grade to be quite so high as a 98, but it shouldn't be terribly low, either. I'm struggling with the formal logic verification for secure authorization crap we learned, like, the first two weeks of class. Everything after that is peachy keen, though.


I don't know what happened to the haunted hay ride, but I suppose it was cancelled because of the rain. Perhaps Katy found something out and just didn't tell me. At any rate, I totally forgot about it over the weekend and just remembered it this morning.

This is the first on my Google quote of the day list: "The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated." -- Oscar Wilde.

I like that quote in what is probably an inappropriately perverse manner.

Back to studying...

October 19, 2005

Weather, Class, & Other Sundries

As you can see, the weather here is turning from pleasant and warm to wet and chilly. I'm looking forward to wearing my coat, though I wish I had a less bulky outer garment, like a leather jacket or something. I've never pictured myself as a leather jacket kind of guy, but maybe it's time to find out. At any rate, I'll probably cruise through J. Crew on Walnut St. in the near future and see what they have to offer in terms of warm clothing that's not bulky.

I took my VLSI CAD mid-term exam yesterday, and I think it went very well. So well, in fact, that I think a perfect score is a great possibility. Not bad for 15 minutes of studying, I think. The questions encompassed the bulk of what we've covered in class so far: the applications of Shannon cofactors to the Boolean difference and proofs thereof; canonical binary decision diagram optimization; SAT solvers and algorithms that apply to specific applications; and a few other things.

My VLSI CAD class is my favorite class here, and it's rather a shame, I think, that I can't see myself doing anything even remotely related to it in the future. From what I can tell, the class content really only has industrial applications, not academic applications, and I'm finished with industry for a good long time, now.

I've been putting a lot of time, lately, into a project for my VLSI CAD class, as well. It's due tomorrow by midnight, so I still have a little over 35 hours to work on it. It is finished insofar as I don't have to pound out any more code, but there are some bugs I need to fix. The nature of the project is such that I can't tell directly from the program's results where the bug might lay, so I'll probably spend a long time this afternoon, tonight, and tomorrow just staring at my code. Fun times.

I ended up having coffee with Boris on Sunday, by the way, and that went very well. We spoke of old times and new, comparing our journeys to CMU graduate school. It turns out he was doing a summer internship at Intel in Hillsboro, a suburb west of Portland, during the not-quite-a-year I lived in downtown Portland. It's rather a pity we were out of contact then; I certainly could have used another friend while I lived there. He and I have plans to run together soon, and I'm looking forward to it, as he says he knows some cool places to run. Specifically, he mentioned Schenley Park, which is just south of CMU and very large (not quite as large as Memorial Park, for you Houstonians), and I'm excited about that.

Katy has arranged two events for us in the near future: a haunted hay ride this weekend with her friend Vanessa and a Pittsburgh Opera performance, tickets courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh, on, er, the 28th, I think. The hay ride seems cool, but I'm afraid it might end up sucking because of the rain. The opera is Strauss's Ariadne Auf Naxos, and I know nothing about it. I'm disappointed that there will be subtitles along with (usually above) the stage, but I suppose that's a good way of getting new patrons that wouldn't otherwise go to the opera, so I'll deal with it. I'm all for getting more people involved in the arts.

In other news, Tamara has submitted her dissertation to her group of very boring, old men, and she is expecting to defend it the first week of November. Hooray for Dr. Tammy! ;)

So, yeah, all you Texas people should take a good look at that forecast image and figure out why you're still dealing with temperatures in the 90s in October.

That is all.

October 14, 2005

Oh, Nothing

"He's turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed." -- David Frost.

I have nothing to say, really.

Except, maybe, that I found Boris, and he's apparently in the robotics department here at CMU. I sent him a Facebook message last night, but he hasn't yet responded.

Oh, oh, oh. Have you ever used Google Scholar? Well, go use it. Then, go to Scholar Preferences, and enter the name of your university. Then, when you search for an article, it will tell you if your university has it on file! This is way too useful. And totally obsoleting everything everyone ever knew about walking. Because you now have even less of a reason to move your ass from your chair (couch, in my case) to get that article your need for your research. Wow. This is either really cool or really terrible. Judges?

October 12, 2005

Vietnamese Ducks

These are live ducks being transported to market by some jackass on a motorcycle in Vietnam.

Image seems to be property of the AFP.



Since midnight on March 1, 2005, I have received 29305 emails at my personal account, of which 21949 have been caught by my spam filter and either filed as spam (5545 of them) or automatically deleted (16404 of them). I estimate at least another 3000 or so have made it past my spam filter (it was very generous until a few months ago, when I learned how to make it do Bayesian learning), so let's put the number of spams I've received at 25000. This means 85.3% of the email I receive is spam. Statistically, then, if I receive five emails, it's only 73.5% likely that one will be legitimate.

Since I made my spam filter start using Bayesian learning, I really only get about five or six spams in my inbox a day, I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 spams in my spam box a day, and the rest get shuffled off into the bit sink of /dev/null. I also get about one or two emails a month that are incorrectly flagged as spam, but I don't care so much about that, because if you're sending me an email with tons of capital letters or lots of exclamation points or something in it, I probably don't want to read it, anyway. On the other hand, Debra's flight information to Washington ended up in my spam box a few days ago, but I think that's because she attached some HTML that was almost entirely images, and I have that flagged as a Bad Thing. I also hate HTML email.

In other news, I bought a much-needed 1 GB RAM upgrade for my laptop yesterday, which will bring its total memory up to 1280 MB. Running all my engineering stuff, plus a web browser, plus OpenOffice, made it take about four minutes to close a spreadsheet. Swapping to disk is bad, bad, bad. This is also cool because it means none of my computers will have less than 1 GB of RAM. Nerd.

I also finally finished my nearly 20-hour VLSI CAD homework at 3:30 this morning, and I only didn't know how to do one tiny bit of problem #3, which was about creating conflict graphs for a DPLL SAT thinger. I believe that was covered in the class I missed when I was feeling exceptionally crappy.

Debra would like everyone to know her address is 1234 Dodgy Street #60, Denton, TX, 76203, and her phone number is 972 555 9928, and her social security number is 111 11 1111. That is all.

October 10, 2005

Let's Trade

Do you like free stuff? This may just be your opportunity to become the envy of all your friends.

All you have to do is buy me a new server to put in parallel with my server in Los Angeles.

Why, you ask? Well, there are several reasons.

  • Most importantly, I'll have redundancy for the web sites I host. If one hard drive dies, the other computer's drive system will act as an identical backup until the dead drive is replaced.
  • Almost as importantly, if I screw up the configuration of something on one server, and if that mistake affects network connectivity, I'll be able to use the other server to log into the broken server via serial cable.
  • If I update software on one server, and if that update is not compatible with its current configuration, it'll be simple to roll back the changes using the other server's configuration.

What do you get out of it?

  • Free web hosting for the rest of your life.
  • Free redundant DNS, free email, free FTP hosting, free whatever other Internet services you want.
  • I'll set up a fully customizable blog like this one for you, for free.
  • I'll tell all my friends you're a great person and that they should all buy you a few drinks.

Of course, the server needs to be pretty decent in terms of current computing power standards. A PDP-11 just won't cut it, though that would be pretty cool to have, anyway.

Here's what I want in the server.

  • 1U rackmount form factor.
  • 1+ GHz processor.
  • 1+ GB ECC RAM.
  • Two gigabit ethernet controllers.
  • One remote terminal serial port.
  • One CD-ROM drive.
  • At least one 40+ GB hard drive.
  • A RAID controller would be nice.
  • Blinky lights.

I don't care whether it's used or new or refurbished or really dusty; I'll fix anything that's wrong with it when it gets here. Just as long as it gets here.

So, leave a comment, tell me you're going to ship a new server to me, and when it arrives, your rise to fame will be so quick you'll have no idea what happened.

Bit Flipper

I've been wondering something for a long time and have never bothered to research the answer. It's a really useful trick in computer programming, though from an application programming standpoint, there are other ways to do it that are just as good (the Assembly XCHG operator on most machines these days, for example). It's also a really useful thing to know if you're about to walk into an interview for a programming position.

The question is this: given two integers, how do you swap their values without using temporary storage?

The answer is this: xor the second into the first, xor the first into the second, then xor the second into the first again.

I wrote a little C program to make sure it worked. :)

#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
int a = 123456;
int b = 654321;

a ^= b;
b ^= a;
a ^= b;

/* output: 654321 123456 */
printf("%i %i\n", a, b);

return 0;

Technically, this works because of the symmetric difference property of the logical exclusive disjunction. The symmetric difference property also does other interesting things about which I already knew, like making an xor operation look exactly like an addition modulo 2 and like being the only reason RAID 6 maintains parity integrity.

I came across this while looking for ways to express the xor function in boolean algebra other than the normal way, (a' b) + (a b'). The expression I ended up using, by the way, is (a' + b')(a + b). It is already in conjunctive normal form, which is what I need for my application.

Wow, wasn't that an exciting post?

It's definitely leftover Thai red curry time.

October 09, 2005


As the title suggests, I'm just taking a break from my VLSI CAD homework to write this entry. I like this class because it has a very obvious "real world" application, and it seems at some point during every lecture, I think to myself, "hey, I could use that to do this one thing that would ordinarily take, like, a week, and shorten it to five minutes."

Oddly, I'm finding my lecture notes from UTD's EE2310 class coming in handy as reference material, as well. By lecture notes, I mean Powerpoint slides I downloaded from the professor's web site; I only actually attended one EE2310 class: the first one. Thank you, Dr. Dodge, for letting me skip the final exam and giving me an A for the class, even though I never did any of your homeworks or quizzes, because now, your notes are useful, and I like useful things.

In other news, it looks like there may be a fair bit of travel in my relatively near future. My parents, sister, aunt, and uncle are coming here for Thanksgiving. The weekend after that, I'll be in Washington. The weekend after that, Tamara is graduating with her Ph.D. in Dallas, but I haven't decided whether I'm going to attend that, yet. The weekend after that, I may be starting a week of skiing in a very cold, as yet unpublicized location (I'm not going public with this until I confirm my plans.). Then, I'll be heading to Houston for Christmas. As Virgin Atlantic says: Go Jet Set, Go!

I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli about an hour ago, and I feel like dying. Ugh. If I can do an appreciable amount of the rest of this homework (I'm about 32% finished now) soon, I'll be joining Katy for dinner at her house, and hopefully, that will ease my stomach a bit. Then, I'll come back home and work on homework again. At least I have a cool, new draftsman's lamp to dispel the darkness.

This is Walter Cronkite. Wait, no, it's not. Good night.

October 07, 2005

What Is Your World View?

You scored as Materialist. Materialism stresses the essence of fundamental particles. Everything that exists is purely physical matter and there is no special force that holds life together. You believe that anything can be explained by breaking it up into its pieces. i.e. the big picture can be understood by its smaller elements.





Cultural Creative












What is Your World View? (updated)

The HTML generated by that quiz for this entry really sucks.

That's it for today. :)

October 05, 2005

Interesting Interests: Part Deux

In my previous entry, I briefly mentioned, in the context of a complaint, the fact that Little Bush's current nomination for the Supreme Court has no experience as a judge. Having reread it, I believe it's a bit harsh to let that go without historical qualification. I'd just like to note that something like 35 of the 110-ish justices that have ever served on our highest court also had no experience as a judge prior to their terms. So, it's not unprecedented, but I still don't like it.

Now, I forget the other thing I was going to write. Hmmmph.

Oh, well, this isn't it, but it's something else that's sort of interesting. Debra wants me to meet her in Washington, D.C., from December 2 to December 4, as she'll be there for some anthropology thinger-or-other. I called Amtrak, and they have a Capitol Express from Pittsburgh that costs $39 and leaves here at 4:15 AM. The bad news is the train takes nearly eight freakin' hours to get there. If I go, I'll fly, but I need to think on this a bit more. That weekend is immediately before my final exams, after all.

Also, I bought new running shoes last Friday and have run twice since then. They've been reasonably short runs, though, as I don't want to kill my feet with new shoes. It feels quite good to stretch the old leg muscles again. It's refreshing to note how many other runners I see while I'm running, as well; I probably come across about one other runner per minute.

Kari says the 2005 Portland Marathon is this Sunday. Apparently, Pittsburgh had an annual marathon until a few years ago, when they decided they were too poor to fund it. Sad.

It's leftover pizza time.

October 04, 2005

Interesting Interests

Here's just a quick news update, as I found more than a couple particularly interesting things in the news today.

First, Vancouver has been rated the best place to live, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The top ten cities include three from Canada, four from Australia, two from Switzerland, and one from Austria. The bottom ten cities include places like Tehran, Karachi, and Dhaka: probably nice places to visit if you know what you're doing but definitely not high on my list of spectacular locales.

Also, in a succession to the X-Prize, which SpaceShipOne and its team won about a year ago, Peter Diamandis, who bootstrapped the X-Prize, has started a new venture called the Rocket Racing League. This looks really cool and certainly has the potential to press aviation in the same way the X-Prize did.

In other news, don't you think a Supreme Court justice should have at least some experience as a judge?

Right-o. That's all for now.