Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I once went to a lecture by Richard Hamming in which he talked about what it takes to be a great scientist. One of his points was that to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack you have to be very precise about you're saying, because even the average professional scientist has an incomplete understanding of the meaning of the terms and symbols of his or her field.

I was reminded of that today when a group of otherwise intelligent people at my place of work were trying to remember which of the symbols on a power switch meant off and which meant on. Here is the correct answer, for the sake of reference.

This arrangement makes some sense in retrospect, but there were numerous hypotheses about which symbol meant what. One, which is probably correct, is that the line represents 1 (or on) and the circle is 0 (or off). For the boolean-aware, that makes sense. However, i also heard that the circle represents a completed circuit (hence on); and i heard the converse, that a line represents a closed switch while the circle indicates an open switch.

What's interesting though is that these symbols don't have an obvious meaning for everyone, so you basically just have to know which symbol corresponds to which state. For me, this begs the question: Are these symbols really an improvement over the words "On" and "Off"? (or the equivalent words in some other language). At least those symbols are unambiguous for some portion of the population.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Song of Fire and Ice on HBO

A coworker told me this past weekend that HBO has bought the rights to George R.R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice so that they can turn it into a series. I've never had HBO, so i've missed out on Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Deadwood with nary a regret. This, however, will probably get me to subscribe. This could be for TV what the Lord of the Rings movies were for cinema, which i regard to be a good thing. It'll be interesting to see what they can get away with in the show, since there are some fairly taboo subjects in the books, even by HBO standards. Incest, for example, figures significantly into the plot, and one of the main characters is a girl who is wed (and impregnated) at age 14. But, hey, they handled Rome well enough, or so i've heard.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Vast Superiority of Yahoo! Search

I've never made any attempt to promote my blog, knowing that i'm the only person who reads it regularly. But i figured that the name would be odd enough that it would still show up fairly high on search engines. As it turns out, on Google search i don't find a reference to this blog until the 6th page! With Yahoo! search on the other hand, it shows up within the first 10 links. Yes, i work for Yahoo! and might have some small bias here, but surely this must show some fundamental flaw in PageRank (is there a "facetious" emoticon?).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nope. 3:02

Didn't quite make it under 3 hours at the Carlsbad Marathon. I ran 3:02.36, good for 20th place over-all and 3rd in my age group. I was pretty close. I was at 6:46 pace through 20 miles, but i really struggled through the last couple (3:02 is 6:58 pace). The course was fairly tough (a bit hilly and windy), but what really got me was nausea. I had to slow down considerably over the last couple of miles to keep from puking. Can't decide if it would have been better to puke and then go for it, but it seemed like a bad idea at the time.

Apparently, the course was tough for everybody, as reports are that they had the slowest marathon time in 17 years. The headwind in the home stretch apparently slowed everybody down, so that gives me a bit of consolation.

Update: Got my name in the "paper":

Friday, January 19, 2007

Evicted from the Bridge

I found this to be a fascinating story:

2:54 p.m. January 18, 2007

JOHN GIBBINS / Union-Tribune
Ruben Alexander Lopez removes belongings from a living space inside the Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park.
SAN DIEGO – A group of homeless people living within the Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park was ordered out by police and park rangers late Thursday morning.

If you've ever been to San Diego, you've probably seen the Cabrillo Bridge that spans the 63 freeway from Balboa Park. In fact, it might be our most recognizable landmark. What most people don't know is that the bridge supports are like buildings, with rooms and floors, etc. Local news reported that the people living in the bridge had plans to expand upward and turn the place into a sort of hotel. Not sure if that's true, but it makes a good story.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Window on the Sole

Eww, sorry for the bad pun. I've never posted a picture of myself here, but i liked this one:

It's not because it's especially flattering, but because i'm making this face which is so expressive of the way i was feeling at that moment. This picture was taken near the finish of the Silver Strand half marathon. Imagine that you are in pain and also nauseous, and this is the face that you'll make. This is my "please let me get to the finish before i puke" face.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Not long ago i finished Michael Chabon's book The Final Solution. I picked it up on the bargain table at the Barnes and Noble for $4.99. I had no idea what it was about, but i like Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay so much that i bought it based on the author alone. It turns out that the story is about an elderly detective's final case (and yes there is a connection to the Nazis). The detective, though never named, is clearly meant to be Sherlock Holmes.

Upon finishing the book i decided to put it in the bookcase next to Kavalier and Clay. When i looked for that book, here's where i found it:

I love coincidences like this. They remind me of why human beings tend to believe so strongly in things that are so unlikely. I haven't really analyzed what the probability is that i would have put Chabon's novel on the shelf next to Conan Doyle. I've got maybe 1500 books, but there are also conditions to consider such as that the books are roughly the same size and both are fiction. I don't follow any conventional filing system so the fact that the authors' names end in 'C' is not relevant (notice that the book next to Chabon is Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, so filed because it also has a comic-book related theme).

Game Time

In just under a week, i'm going to attempt the most difficult athletic endeavor of my life so far: trying to break the 3-hour mark in the marathon. This rather mundane feat would not impress many people, but i know it'll be hard for me. Even though my training for the event has gone well and i feel very fit and i've managed all of my intermediate goals (including a 1:24 half); i get butterflies just thinking about the last 6 miles of this marathon. I know that i can run 6:50 pace for 20 miles, but sustaining that pace over the final 10k is gonna hurt. On the other hand i know that, barring unfortunate weather or sickness, i can do it. The barrier between what's possible and what's comfortable is what makes racing interesting.

When i talk about running with non-runners, most are impressed that i'm able to get in 60-70 miles a week while still having kids, a full-time job, and another avocation that requires regular training. But i find that fitting in a 15-mile run on a Wednesday before work is considerably less difficult than keeping my focus on family and work during race week. In the week before a race i usually try to increase my intake of carbohydrates and to drink lots of fluids, but it's also important to stay in a fairly regular routine so that it's possible to sleep at night and not be overwhelmed by anxiety. But it's really hard to keep my mind off the race. Even though it really isn't a competitive event in the sense that i'm not trying to win, place, or show; i get the same pre-game jitters that i had in high school before an important basketball game.

I'm finding the news of Ryan Hall's sub hour half marathon in Houston to be inspiring. That's a phenomenal run.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Code Monkey

This is fun:

Monday, January 01, 2007

Stuff From 2006 That Didn't Especially Suck

The most depressing trend in my musical taste last year was an overarching wimpiness. Good lord, i occasionally even found myself listening to The Fray. It got so bad that at one point in the year i facetiously made a "Music Most Likely to be Featured on Grey's Anatomy" play list. Whatever. It's not like i'm listening to Ray Conniff or Barbara Streisand or something, but i developed a taste for more folky, indie-rock, poppy stuff. In a word, wimpy. So here's the music that i listened to this year that i enjoyed, though note that not all of it was released this year.
  • Richard Buckner - Meadow: Buckner has a distinctive voice and an amazing sense of melody.
  • Tool - 10000 Days - I like Tool. Get over it.
  • The Decemberists - Crane Wife - The Decemberists are the most improbable rock band in recent memory, and this is the most compulsively listenable concept album ever made on the basis of a Japanese folk tail.
  • Rise Against - The Sufferer and the Witness - As a rule pop punk sucks, but this one had a bit of an edge. You know when you're in your car and you want to crank it up and sing along that it's good stuff.
  • Greg Laswell - Through Toledo - Laswell's a San Diego home-boy with an amazing voice and some catchy tunes. One of those albums that makes you feel good about being melancholy.
  • The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow - From 2004, but this is my favorite album that i discovered this year. I'm really looking forward to the Shins new album later this month.
  • Snow Patrol - Eyes Open - I told you: wimpy. Chasing Cars was abso-freakin'-lutely everywhere this year, but i still liked this album. Snow Patrol owns the anthemic love-song like no band ever.
  • Pete Yorn - Nightcrawler - Not as good as Music for the Morning After, but i still spent a lot of time listening to it.
  • Mike Park - North Hangook Falling - From 2005. One of the best albums with an overtly political message that i've heard in ages.
I read far fewer books this year than normal, in part because i was sucked into George R.R. Martin's fantasy world, which accounted for 4 books and maybe 3000 pages. Read it, you'll like it even if you don't care for fantasy fiction.

The most memorable non-fiction i read this year was probably Eric Blehm's book The Last Season, about the search for missing back country ranger Randy Morgenson. I think the book would have been interesting had it only documented the search and rescue process, but the parallel story of Morgenson's life made the book an almost philosophical study about self discovery.

My favorite novel that i read this year was Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. It was written in the 1920s and 30s, but still holds up well, especially if you had any experience with Soviet Russia. It's a comical, farcical novel, with a very modern style and structure that basically turns Faust on its head.

Movies? I saw none of the supposedly good films this year, not even Borat. By default, my favorite film of the year is probably Talladega Nights, because it was funny and wasn't animated.

My favorite things on the Intarwebs this year were mostly web comics. None of that Web 2.0 bullshit impressed me much, except for the preposterous amount of unwarranted hype it generates. But i'm totally addicted to Diesel Sweeties and Scary Go Round and Mouse Wax, none of which require me to have a profile or contact anyone or write a blog.