Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Distributed Science on the Cheap

Buried in this post on O'Reilly Radar is the idea of doing large-scale, distributed scientific studies using consumers' hand-held devices. I can imagine health and human services releasing a mobile phone app that lets you measure, for instance, radon gas levels ... and then all the individual data sets getting uploaded to a central server that can look for larger trends.

Printable electronics are getting so easy ... they could print the sensor on postcards that you cut-out and wedge in your phone's USB port. How about a lead sensor on a postcard? How about water quality? Grassroots campaigns could print sensors and hand them out in neighborhoods they want to mobilize.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Learning Basic HTML

Kris is getting into the innards of social networks, lately, and she wants to know some HTML. Even though I use dreamweaver for my day-to-day junk, I switch in and out of code-view. And here on blogger, I enter text in the WYSIWYG view, but I'll switch over to the HTML mode if something isn't looking how I like.

A little HTML is very useful. But damned if you can find a simple primer on the web that gives you just enough to understand code, tweak it a little bit, and know what pieces to copy and paste when you wanna borrow something from somewhere else. And she really doesn't need an O'Reilly book.

Closest I could come was this simple page from Philip Greenspun. And maybe skim over this page and its neighbor. Anyone got a better one?

Magic Mouse

I've been wishing, for some time, that Apple would make an external trackpad so I can use all my lovely gestures on a desktop machine. I thought the Magic Mouse was gonna do that for me, but it actually doesn't do full on multi-touch. Nonetheless it's an awfully pretty mouse, and it's bluetoof, so it makes a nice companion to the MacBook Air.

Making Golems

This was somewhere in Nature, I think. I liked it. It's apt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Field for MacOS X

A couple of sources mentioned Field, today.  It's mostly an interactive art development environment.  And it's mostly python and java.  But it seems to really be about "improvisational coding" if that makes sense.  You know, like when you're playing with some fun code and you keep frotzing knobs and tweaking codes and tuning multipliers ... except that Field purports to keep running your code live while you play, rather than interrupting your groove to hit "compile and run" after every single change.

The IDE itself has the sort of futuristic look you'd expect from Media Lab freaks.  And it interconnects will all sorts of sweet stuff.  As a nod to the pioneers, it supports any Processing library you might like to borrow.  It uses Apple's Core Image framework, so output is all OpenGL (or PDF) and pretty.  It connects to Max/MSP if you desire, and supports OpenSound Control for getting audio, instruments and gestures in and out of your creations.  As a bonus, it understands the new OpenCL bits in Snow Leopard.  (It even juliennes!)

I've been trying to find time to really pay attention to my Processing books, but now I'm torn.  Perhaps I'll skim them for information theory, and give Field some of my practice.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Yep. That's what a handful of Dual Shock controllers looks like.  Bet I'd lose my grip if they all rumbled, though.


Scanning through a copy of h+, there's an interview with Andrew Newberg.  He mentions that part of many spiritual experiences involves the parietal lobes of your brain, which are responsible for distinguishing between self and other.  So if you messed with that section of the brain enough, your mind might have no choice *but* to conclude that you are one with everything.  Zen mind, short circuited mind? ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Facebook Scaling Talk by Rothschild

I watched a presentation by Jeff Rothschild about how they scaled Facebook up to its current preposterous size.  There's a lot of interesting stuff about optimizing things in here and it was definitely worth putting on in the background when I was rotating passwords the other day.  I stopped it right as we was about to take Q & A, at the middle of the video.  Here are the things that were interesting enough that I jotted something down:
  • They optimized image requests from involving 10 disk IOs to just 1.
  • Scribe sounds interesting, a fault-tolerant read-write system. (used to handle syslog flood)
  • You need to "operate in RAM speeds" for most internet interactions today.
  • They have neato memcache tricks.  "It really is the core of the site."
  • The "multiget hole" is an interesting problem.  Backup and listen when he gets to it.
  • "Avoid shared architectures when possible."
  • "Don't put data in a central database."
  • Move fast; don't be afraid.
The "hackathon" is a really neat idea.  Apparently you get to think up some project that can't be anything that's been assigned to you.  If you donut have something in mind, you can help other teams.  Their last one was three days long, and from his description, some of the best features of the facebook site are the result of hackathon projects.  I could totally go for some of that, here.

Friend Experiment: Progress Report

Having friends is such a pain in the ass. They always want your attention, or they want you to join them somewhere, or they want to tell you about what they're doing. As if texts and IMs and email weren't annoying enough, then they make you read their damned notes they leave on your stupid desk.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Re-prioritizing, in layers

After about three weeks, my big to-do list on the whiteboard (blurred in this photo, because it's seekrit) isn't so useful. Mostly it's because I know which parts of it I'm trying to ignore every time I glance at it.  Humans are really good at ignoring unwanted visual queues.

So I rebuild it.  I snap a picture of everything, then I erase it all and transcribe it back in a different form that makes sense at the time.  Some times you group by application type, other times it's customer groups, other times it's products that group things.  This lets me organize the constellations, and it also reminds me of the things I've been avoiding.  Plus, it lets me cross off things that are in the nice-idea-never-gonna-happen category.

Next, I go through all my scraps of jotted notes (textedit files, reminders emailed to myself, and stickies files) and assign tickets to myself.  Anything that stays "jotted" for more than a couple weeks is in danger of neglect ... so a ticket means I think it's important enough that it should get done.

Then, I sweep through and re-prioritize all my tickets to reflect the current state of customer-panic and looming deadlines.  And finally I take my current ticket list and make sure that there's a reference to each task on my big whiteboard to-do list.

If you're keeping count, that's actually two lists with a lot of overlap, between the whiteboard and the ticket queue.  It seems like duplicated work, but it's necessary for my workflow.  You see, when I "wanna" do some new task, I tend to look at the whiteboard to see what jumps out.  But when I "hafta" do things, I look at the ticket queue and the top priority gets worked on next.

You always hear productivity people say "make a list" but I don't think I've ever heard one say "make two overlapping lists."  Odd.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Personal Branding

Magically, our netapp sales rep managed to perfectly match her outfit to her Starbucks beverage. Look closely to see her bracelet, which is the same color as the green straw in the drink. Now *that's* personal identification with a brand.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Semantic MediaWiki

Like so many places, our company wiki has pages describing the owner/admin of various systems and databases and filer mounts and whatnot.  But try to get a list of all the systems that someone admins, and you have to wade through all the (often unrelated and unmaintained) pages that a MediaWiki search returns.  And that's just one f'r'instance.

So I'm more than a little interested in Semantic MediaWiki extensions.  Skeptical, but interested.  And skeptical.  But interested.

The dream I'm shooting for is a wiki markup language that lets me do simple key-value lookups (and write updates, in version 2) on a federated data source.  For instance, why do I have to keep updating the "volume sizes" column on a page about storage, when an SNMP oid can tell me what the size is right this second?

If the computer is so darned smart, why can't it tell me who currently admins a particular system?  It's right there in puppet!  You go look it up -- I'll show you how.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day Off

This was from a day off that I took a couple weeks ago.

Just a Small Software Update

This is why people don't trust IT. We said there'd be a small policy change on the Blackberries and instead this is what we get. This is my Blackberry, bluescreened. I can only imagine how the non-technical people feel about this sort of thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ops and latency

This is the view from my desktop the other day. I'm watching operations per second, and transactions' latency, so that I can tell another department which pieces of their storage are safe to move to "slow" disks.

This is one of those times where I suddenly realize just how much I've learned in the past few years.

Short Slices of Focus

Every week I have a recurring meeting with a department that only shows up for the meeting when they need something. So every week I get this wonderful fifteen minute break, in a quiet conference room, where I can do whatever I like. Maybe some day I'll actually have a desk this big, in an office this size, with these minimal distractions. Focus is nice. Maybe I should try sequestering myself for ten minutes here or there as part of my official routine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eyeballs R Noms

Google bought reCaptcha.  For the technology or for the click-trails?  After all, they already know all the "monetized" blogs you visit and how long you spend there, because the "Ads by Google" hits tell them.  But what about those pesky free-lovin', non-advertising, un-google-hosted blogs that don't generate hits on google servers?  Thanks to the ubiquity of comment-spam, now those hits will phone home to the googlemind, too!

This could be fun ... I'm imagining smart-ads following my pheromone trail, trying to cross it with similar ones, hoping to steer me gently toward familiar-smelling products and services.  And I've got a python script pretending to be me that's randomly generating hits to some totally nutty interests ... as if it's firing flares and chaff out of my fleeing browser.  And now two bots are having a completely meaningless conversation because they don't understand real human behavior.  Wait, now I've gone full-circle. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chad Hagen's Nonsensical Infographics

In a field where every screen is full of information to be parsed and processed, sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy pretty graphics that mean absolutely nothing.

I wish I was more plugged-in to the San Diego art community. I miss attending Anon salon events. I wonder if there's anything similar down here. I'll have to start looking!

Destruction Project

This is a fifteen dollar, waterproof, flexible, rubber keyboard. I don't know yet what it wants to be when it grows up, but I'll bet you can do some cool stuff with 104 on/off switches and some Processing code.

ModNation Beta Code

I got this present, the other day. I'm looking forward to the ModNation game, mostly because anyone can make and share a track with the world. There are jillions of "beginners' minds" who see possibilities that a seasoned level-creator-person has learned to discard outright.

In LittleBigPlanet the popular UGC pieces were cars and rockets ... so what will we get when the pre-fab pieces *are* cars.

Monday, September 14, 2009

White Rabbit

I'm tired of running late, and it's been my habit lately. Gonna get a grip on this. So far this week I'm running 100% on-time, but I'd like to get myself running a little early, since it's nice to arrive and still have time to compose and orient myself.

Favorite Things

I've added this post-it to my page full of professional goals and things. It seems that my favorite projects have one of these things involved. They're customer facing, or I'm working with artists, or people consider the solution "clever." Good to know. Thanks, me!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ride Route : Sept 6, 2009

We started at Pizza Port, for a salad and a slice of pizza.  We went down the coast through Point Loma.  We swung through downtown, and looped north to stop at Extraordinary Desserts for some coffee.  We swung past my place, and then I showed Scott how I can get to his place on surface streets.
View Motorcycle Ride, Sept. 6, 2009 in a larger map

Monday, September 7, 2009

Google Reader

You should now be able to have google reader (or whatever you prefer) track this blog for you, so you donut have to check it by hand.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Career Development

This is the head of a Netapp Filer, without its brain. Its partner has taken over the cluster and the customers have no idea one half is down. I'm adding a fibre card without any downtime. This is pretty kewl stuff!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yelp Seer

Does Yelp have enough of an API that I can tell who (even if it's anonymized) is giving what reviews to which places? See my problem is that I find bars and spots that I like, but invariably the word gets out and they get too popular to find a seat in. It's like deja vu all over again.

I want to have an app that lets me chart back from the (now overrun with people) places that I used to like going to, and figure out which "connectors" are the people who made the places so popular and crowded. Then I can go to the connectors' new kewl and undiscovered places while they're still new and undiscovered.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Making stuff makes me happy. I pulled apart a couple dozen broken PlayStation 2 controllers, for the five volt motors that they make their "rumble" effect with. But then I had the rest of the parts left over.

So, I superglued earring posts onto the buttons. They're a little big to really look right -- pro'ly need a 5/8 scale reproduction for them to really look right. Fun trying anyways tho!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There, on the podium, is yet another MacBook that's running windows. It's the new fad for the corporate types, they get a MacBook and then install windows on it. Then they come over and ask for help with it, because they thought "Macs just work" or they're "supposed to be more reliable" or something. Hey, maybe run the OS that came with it, silly. Problem fixed.

It's the fricken fake Gucci bag of the modern office-dweller.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I have no idea why the appeal to me, but I seem to enjoy the fields of HPC and Media/Entertainment industries. I could try one as my next career. Maybe it's the sheer volume of data they deal with ... or that they're creating things ... dunno. Or it could be the scientists and artists involved. I wonder. Maybe it's just that both play with "what ifs" and visualize them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wearable Computers and Permit Requirements

It struck me the other day that here I am taking the MSF course and the only skills they can really test you on are things that someone standing still with a clipboard in-hand can see. They can't really see how you do at speed.

So I thought of this ... will wearable computing, or other persistent computing resources, allow the DMV to do permits differently in the future? The DMV waives the riding part of the M1 license, because in the class I've now had some practice with turns and stops and things. But imagine if they issued a key-fob that tracked me for a while and watched me practice on my own. Perhaps a web site would show me how to do quick stops, then the key-fob would track me as I practice in an approved off-street area. And perhaps it'd track the number of "smooth turns" I've completed and count down until I've done enough of them that they consider me to've passed my permit "test."

Just a thought.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Getting Around to It

This is my new bike. It's an '09 Suzuki Gladius. Scott and I took the MSF course over the weekend and we're almost legal to ride after dark and on freeways. Until then we'll take the long way to work.

I've been meaning to get a motorcycle since I was sixteen. It's resource efficient, and easy to park. It's funny how you can take so long to get around to doing something like this that you've been thinking about for a while. I wonder what other junk I've never gotten around to.

Pub Night

Nate showed up for pub night! Then Adam showed up! We had a remarkably social pub night and it was lots of fun. This is what the "talk with more people" and "connect people" stuff is all about.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Guy!

The new guy started, today! There's been a really good O'Reilly book on my desk about Windows 2008 Server administration, and it's really interesting stuff, and a good read, but I am *oh* so glad our new SeƱor Windows Admin started today. It's nice to learn things because you wanna help out, rather than being on a crash course.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Musical Prehistory

These are flutes, dug up in southwestern Germany, which I was reading about last weekend. They're more than thirty-five thousand years old. Thirty. Five. Thousand. That predates beer by five thousand years (in Europe at least, though not Sumer).
Thanks to Hollywood, we think of early descendants of apes banging on percussion instruments in their spare time, when not preoccupied with food and sex. We smacked bones against rocks, sticks against logs, then finally bumbled into skin stretched over tree trunks. It took Modern Science (tm) to make "real" music.
But what if we're so innately, tonally musical, that some of our first "survival" tools were sophisticated musical instruments?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tyranny of Process

I'm so meticulous about how I deploy systems and get things done, and yet I can't stand "official processes" for some reason. Odd. It's been on my mind since reading this blog post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happiness Report

I'm participating in a harvard student's study on happiness. So far I seem to be happiest when I'm working on something that requires concentration. So far.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Weeked Arduino Workshop

Here's a close-up of the stuff I crammed into a breadboard at a weekend Arduino workshop. I had been playing with LEDs to start, then I added in the on/off button and learned digital inputs ... then I added that photoresistor and learned about analog sensors. This is exactly what I meant by "play."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I have the word "travel" somewhere on my doodley-professional-development thing .. or "travel more." That's what I'm doing this week, I've been babysitting some installation techs who are putting in a bunch of disks. They aren't being as tidy or prompt as I'd like .. but you know my definition of "tidy."

There's something about business travel that seems to be beneficial to my professional development, but I don't know exactly what. Two things come to mind though. One is that when I travel I've got just one computer and just one book and some minor accoutrements ... which focuses me. The other is that travel exposes me to how *other* people do stuff in other places ... for instance the surfer vibe is absent in tech up here in LA, but so is the geek (I do this for fun) vibe.

More travel seems like a good idea, at least when it's just a couple days here or there.

Equinix El Segundo, Day Two

I have no idea why some colo employees refer to me as "mister clean."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Play Time

Devin was showing off the half-width HP blades. It was really fun to take a look inside, but it was also very satisfying to see some grumpy geeks take a break from "work" to play with a machine.

I wonder if this is part of the "using your hands" thing. If it is, I really like it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Focus Part Two

Hrm. The focus on "growth" wasn't working well ... just ended up going in circles. Let's see if there's anything I can do about the "play" side of my chart. If I play enough, will work be more enjoyable? I don't mean screwing off, I mean approaching systems as if they have simple rules, not a lot of heavy implications, and that they present a fun diversion of some sort, even if they're really boring at first look.
That didn't quite come out right. That's what I'll ponder tho.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I think I'll try to focus on the portion of my little map about personal and professional growth. Since I seem to look at it several times a day, what I'm gonna do it just snap a picture and set it as my ifone wallpaper. Fun twist on "mindfulness," eh?

The way I drew it (which mindfulness may revise, you never know) is that the "growth" I feel I'm missing comes from two sides, the personal and the professional. On the professional side I feel that to "lead" more would satisfy me. On the personal side I feel that to "relax" more would satisfy me.

This should be interesting to ponder.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Sharing Space

We really should have thought of this earlier ... sharing space with Scott works very well. My current thought is that if we can wrangle a large three-person office (by chopping the QA lab in half) then me and scott and the newb can have a nice "center of excellence."
I'd forgotten how nice collaboration is when you have competent peers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New cubicle

So here's the new cubicle; it's actually not bad. Rather than that flimsy cloth-over-foam-and-chrome junk that most folks get, this stuff has panels and things that dampen the acoustics noticeably.

This'll make a fine little Elba for the next six months. Plus it puts me next to Scott and the Noob, which I think is going to turn out to be good.

SAS Team Meetings

These SAS team meetings always make me feel good. I would like to figure out what it is about 'em that works and bring it to the larger meetings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Studio K with Scott

I stayed later than I expected tonight, and would've stayed later if I didn't have a nice "fuck it" moment. Rather than just head home and drink, I went next door to Studio K with Scott. We talked about work .. lots.

It's funny, we interviewed a really promising candidate today and I'd pointed out that everyone has a PS3 on their desk. But as Scott and I were walking over to Studio K, Scott reminded me that none of us has played friday afternoon games in a few months.

All work and no play is making jack(s) a dull boy. Let's fix that.

I declare war.

I was in a "team meeting," when the pondering of the past few days came and wrote itself on paper. This is the piece of paper.

I'm hoping to use this to remind myself to ponder and think.

I need to refocus myself to have some more professional growth and personal satisfaction.