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Journal Journal: Numb3rs

So is anybody besides me watching Numb3rs, the new crime drama about the math geek who helps his FBI brother (Rob Morrow) solve crimes? The plots are not exactly rocket science, but thus far I'm finding the show entertaining enough to hope it sticks around.

One plot, for instance, found another mathematician (played by Doogie Howser) nearing a solution to the $1million Riemann prize when his daughter is kidnapped. That's actually a perfectly valid plotline combining FBI and math geeks. When it's determined that his solution is not correct, and Rob Morrow asks if his brother can't help out, he replies "You just asked me to solve a 150yr old math problem in a couple of hours." So they're being realistic about the tasks, too.

When the FBI brother is injured on duty, math brother (David Krumholtz, btw) retreats to his garage which he covers wall to wall (and ceiling) with chalkboards and begins working on unsolvable problems. "Please understand that I can't always work on what I want...sometimes I have to work on what's in my head" was the quote of that episode. Been there.

When I asked my math geek friend to watch it her primary complaint was that it is unrealistic to believe that a single math savant can each week demonstrate his genius is seemingly random areas of math. One week he was predicting the pattern of serial killers, the next he was doing structural integrity of skyscrapers, the one after that he was doing the spread of a disease. So she's got a point there. The only defense they've come up with so far is to make him a genius at "applied mathematics" so they have at least a basic excuse for why they can use him all over the place.

The writing is fun. Krumholtz's character manages to keep a great semi-smug expression on his face whenever trying to explain math to mere mortals. Sometimes he does it as if he really does want them to learn. On the subject of predicting the serial killers next move he said, "Imagine a lawn sprinkler. I can't predict where each drop of water will fall, it's impossible. Too many variables. But give me the location of enough drops, and I can tell you the location of the sprinkler."

Other times it comes off like he is treating them as 2yr olds. After discovering that 36 was a significant number in a code, somebody else spotted a 37 and declared that it must be connected to 36, since they were similar. "37 is prime," says Krumholtz, "36 is not. How could they be similar?"

Hey, I know it's not very deep stuff. But given that all primetime tv these days can be divided up into: fatguyhotwife sitcom, reality show, law and order spinoff, CSI spinoff, I have to say I'm finding it refreshing.

User Journal

Journal Journal: New life for old geek toys

Like all good geeks I'm something of a packrat when it comes to my "obsolete" stuff. But I'm not as hardcore as some, I rarely find the time to hack the things in new and interesting ways (though I always seem to find the time to read the articles about other people that do). Recently I've found a new use for my old toys. I let my 2.5yr old daughter play with them.
  • Our old Thinkpad 600 whose battery died now sits in the family room (plugged into the wall forever onward) with the almost sole purpose of playing flash-based games on I also stuck an email reader on there so my wife can check her mail if she wants, but we hardly ever use that.
  • Bought one of those "key chain" cameras that are about 2inches square but never used it because the picture quality was so poor. So now my daughter carries it around and takes pictures of people. She never asks to see them developed, she just likes pushing the button and hearing it beep.
  • Most recently I let her use my old MP3 player. Since I got a 20gig iPod this 128Meg one has just been sitting around. So I ripped a bunch of her Sesame Street CDs and stuck them all on there. Since it has its own speaker she doesnt need headphones. She now has her own personal jukebox.

Next I want to setup the old scanner that's sitting in the closet so she can send her drawings to her grandparents.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Geek jokes you don't get to use every day 3

Last night's dinner conversation...

"So my doctor saw something on my tonsils she didn't like and sent me to an E N T."

"She sent you to one of those giant tree creatures from Lord of the Rings? That's cool."

User Journal

Journal Journal: Today's Meditation Trick

I've found that, when meditating, the "watch the inside of your eyelids" trick tends to work for me. That is, try to get your brain to get past the "I have my eyes closed, therefore I see nothing" stage and into thinking that you see what's there. Articulate it -- "I see a spiky purple circle surrounded by yellow with perfect black in the center. It's floating from right to left." Kinda neat, and it gives your brain something to do instead of constantly saying "Doodley doo, here I am sitting with my eyes closed."

Different one. Across my bedroom is the cable box, which has an LED display. So in a pitch dark room I close my eyes until I can see only the LED and nothing else. Then I just focus on it.

First thing that happens is I see two of them. Fair enough, that's just my eyes unfocusing.

Then they both keep trying to drop, quickly but smoothly, to the bottom of my field of vision. I'm intrigued by this. After all, the light is a constant. Therefore I must be witnessing my eyes rolling back in my head. Fascinating. Each time I become aware of it, the lights come back up to the center where they belong - but only deliberately, when I will them to. I can let them stay down there if they want.

Then, they begin to move independently. This is a little weird. They get farther apart, then closer together, like two little spaceships floating around my field of vision. I wonder if my eyes are supposed to be doing that, and since I'm not sure if it's bad for my vision, I give up on this little exercise.

I have to try that again. It was definitely unexpected and very close to the state I was aiming for, since I would periodically become aware that I was no longer looking at an otherwise blank room, but rather that my awareness had come to be focused entirely on the lights, and the surrounding area was not just dark, but nothing at all.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Somebody alert the Vatican

My daughter (2yrd old) gets the concept of Jesus and God's house, because my wife takes her to church and explains it to her. She also is working on the concept of Buddha, because I'm explaining it to her.

So the other day at the dinner table she says "There's Jesus! There's Jesus right there!" and begins pointing. We're trying to figure out what she's looking at, moving things closer to her pointing finger. Finally I found it.

My daughter is seeing Jesus in the Land o Lakes Butter. This is the one with a female indian sitting crosslegged as the logo.

I thought this was hysterical, because now I could say things like "Daddy put Jesus back in the refrigerator now" and have her say things like "Bye bye Jesus, Jesus go in fridge."

Yesterday at dinner she reached for the butter and said "Katherine hold Jesus." At that point we decided that a joke's a joke, but it was getting a little silly. So I tried to explain that it's not Jesus, it's an Indian. At which point I think the joke was on me, because the conversation for the next five minutes was:

Finally I put it away and said "Indian going back in the fridge now" and she said "Jesus going back in the fridge now." I think she's playing with me.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Bush and the Almighty 5

So yesterday on this conservative republican radio show I hear a bumper of Bush saying that "Freedom is not the United States' gift to the world, it's the Almighty's, and it's our job to see it accomplished" (although I am likely misquoting that last part).

Ummmm.....HOLY SHIT? How does that *not* make him a religious fucking psycho who is basically sending our troops to die in his own personal crusade?

It's one thing to not be a fan of Bush and look for reasons to slam him. But somebody dissect what exactly he meant by that sentence and how it could be anything other than bad? We don't have a single government mandated religion in this country. Therefore he can only possibly be speaking about his own interpretation according to his own belief in what God wants. If I grabbed 100 random people said "Excuse me, but does God want Iraq to be a democracy?" I'm sure I would not get 100 "Absolutely!" answers.

Bush then admits to taking the country in a direction based on that.

Isn't our government supposed to follow the will of the people, rather than the will of the voices in the president's head?

User Journal

Journal Journal: The B Student Philosophy

I was always a B student in school, despite the usual acing of standard exams that all geeks accomplish. I couldn't stand the straight A kids and would take pleasure in explaining to them a concept that they never really grokked -- if you always succeed, then you're not challenging yourself enough.

Take the analogy of the bathroom scale. Say you weigh 150lb. But your scale only goes up to 100. So when you step on it and it says 100, what does that mean? That 100 is an accurate measure of your weight? Or that this particular device is incapable of measuring what you're trying to measure?

I just thought of this recently as we drive toward our latest project launch. It's late. I'm pissed off. But at the same time I'm thinking, you know what? If we had picked a date and hit that date with time to spare I would have been *more* pissed, because it'd feel like we took the easy road. What I do is not rocket science -- I can definitely concur that space shuttle programmers should NOT follow my philosophy ("Sorry we missed our window, maybe next time") -- so where's the harm in biting off just a bit more than you can chew? Aim high and then adjust your goals as the deadline looms, I say.

OR, is this just the hindsight justification of a B student looking for a reason for missing his deadlines?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Kids n Legos

My 16month old daughter just got her first set of baby Legos ("MegaBlocks"). She calls the whole bag "house" -- anything we make out of it, by extension, is a house.

How long do you think it took before I was down on the floor with her, pulling bricks out of her hand and saying "Nono, sweetheart, let me see that...Daddy's building something....damnit, daddy needs another yellow one..."


User Journal

Journal Journal: Tivo and Kids Today

My 15month old daughter Katherine groks Tivo. When she wants to watch Sesame Street she will seek out the remote control, differentiating it from the DVD one, and bring it to the nearest adult. She is not happy until she hears the familar chirpy noise and sees the green menu come up. Once this happens she will happily plop herself down in the middle of the family room floor, knowing that the show is about to start. God help anybody who wants to watch something when she is in the room, because if she sees that menu and Sesame Street does NOT come on, she gets pissed.

The best part is that if I pause the show she will get up, come over and press the yellow pause button to start it up again, and go sit back down. (It's actually become a very nice "drink your milk" compromise -- pause, come get a few sips from sippy cup, resume show). It's gotta be the fact that the button is yellow. Because she cannot differentiate all the other buttons yet. Likes to push them, but has no clue what they do.

It's got me wondering how different tv watching will be for her as she grows up. When I was a kid, shows were on at a certain time and if you missed it you were out of luck until tomorrow (or next week). Her introduction to tv has been that she can have a show whenever she wants.


User Journal

Journal Journal: Phish, always cutting edge

So perhaps people have heard the story by now that the bassplayer for Phish was at a Grateful Dead concert when he decided to take the 9yr old daughter of a Hell's Angel off to a secluded spot for some 'art photos.' Reports are saying that the Hell's Angels got to him before the cops did and were "not kind to certain sensitive areas of his body." Ouch.

What not every report is mentioning (I think I found this in the NY Post) is that he apparently enticed the girl to go with him by taking her for a ride on his Segway transporter.



Journal Journal: Microsoft Interview Questions 8

Finally got to interview at a place with an ex-Microsoft guy. Here are the the questions I got:
  • You have one room with 3 incandescent lights, all off. You have another room with three light switches. Starting in the room with the switches, how many times do you have to go in the room with the lights in order to determine which switch controls which light? (Assume all the obvious stuff like you can't see the light through the door, and so on). There is an easy answer, which I got, and a harder one, which I got with a hint.
  • You have a block of cheese. You wish to cut a smaller cube of cheese from the middle. How many cuts does it take. I got this one.
  • Write "string reverse" on a char array, in place (i.e. without cloning the array). I wasn't happy with my answer to this one, I overthought it.
  • Insert into a binary tree. (Not sure why he put this one in there, it seemed kinda easy. Maybe it was to see if I knew how to answer a recursion question.)
  • Reverse a singly-linked list. Annoying pointer math.
  • Count the set bits in an unsigned int. I gave him an answer he called "a good, brute force answer." This bugged me so much that the next day I emailed him a better answer. I even wrote "You probably don't care but my head will explode if I don't write this down."
  • You have randomly distributed numbers from 1-n in an array of size n-1. In other words, one of the numbers in the range 1-n is missing. Determine which one. When I gave him a standard answer (since I knew this one) of "While iterating through the array once, make separate sums of i and a[i]. The difference at the end is your answer" he said "That's a good, optimal answer. Now give me a different one." That really threw me. Even when he showed me the answer he was thinking of I tried to optimize it for him (and couldn't).

Journal Journal: A Java Rant

Pardon me while I rant. My new consulting gig is still standardized on Java1.3 because of their app server. They give me a project to work on which is about 80% separate from everything else so I work it standalone on my laptop, using Java1.4 and deliberately staying away from 1.4's new features. I thought. Today I put it back onto 1.3 and it crashes miserably. Turns out that Calendar.getTimeInMillis() is available in 1.4 but protected in 1.3. Why? How should I know? The only subclass of Calendar, GregorianCalendar, does not make it public. And I'm not about to go throwing a new subclass of Calendar around strictly so I can get at the time. That's stupid. They must know it's stupid, that's why it's not protected anymore. But there are always workarounds. Calendar has the getTime() method, which returns a Date object. Forget about how silly I find this (why is it not called getDate()?), but let's remember at this point that Date is 99% deprecated and pretty much exists only to be a placeholder for "current system time". Sure enough, Date *also* has a getTime() method, this one returning a long representing the number of milliseconds. Fine. Perfect. So if you're ever looking at my code and a line like cal.getTime().getTime() causes you to pause and look at it funny, don't blame me.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Am I a Bad Person?

So for Memorial Day my wife and I went away for our first vacation with the baby (Katherine, 10 months). Friday night our waitress was on her first day. She demonstrated the extent of her training by dropping a beer (Sam Adams Light) on my daughter. Not the bottle itself (luckily) but it tumbled down right next to her and drenched my child in beer. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the waitress who ran to the back room and yelled, "I just dropped a beer on a baby, am I a bad person?"

But everybody's fine, bottle didn't hit her, she didn't seem to be phased by it in the least. A quick bath later and everybody happy.


Journal Journal: Can you project a scrolling LED display?

I've become intrigued with the idea of combining a projection clock ( like this ) with a scrolling message display like this). There is apparently a big hacker market for scrolling LED displays, but I want to go one step farther and have the same concept without the big ugly hardware hanging on the wall.

Can't quite find the combination of parts I need to start. I have to figure out what the technology is behind the projection aspect (i.e. can I make it project anything or just segmented LED?), and then whether it can be applied to a scrolling display (I assume that if I have n-char LED display and can refresh at a good rate I can scroll). There's a zillion kits that will show you how to drive an LED display from the serial or parallel port (such as a recent slashdot article shows). After that it should be easy. :)

Anybody got any suggestions?

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Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984