Friday, October 31, 2008

Metric Sized Paper

I wish, I wish, I wish we used the metric system.  Sure, the whole gram to kilogram and meter to kilometer thing is nice, but then you start getting things like this, and the genius of it just starts smacking you in the face.  Hard.  With a frying pan. Laughing. Because it knows it's better than you are. And it knows you know it too.

I Don't Get Text

It's true. My cell phone account has text messages disabled. It's a cost vs benifit decision. The problem is that when people send me text messages, usually it just disappears. There's no bounce message, no error, just... nothing.

The worst part is that many people inherently assume that text messages aren't lossy. I've "gotten" so many critical text messages before, it's not even funny. I love him so much. People need to learn that if you get no response, the other person has probably not gotten your text.

So I've been thinking about how to solve this problem for quite a while. The solution I came up with is actually something that is used in amateur radio circles. In amateur radio, there is three different levels of license, technician, general, and extra. Each level increases privileges, so that you can transmit on more frequencies. The thing is, when you first upgrade your license, the FCC database isn't going to show that you're upgraded for several days to several weeks. To make sure everyone else knows that you aren't breaking the law, when using new priviledges, you're required to sign your callsign ending with /AG or /AE until the website becomes up-to-date.

Every time I ever write down my phone number for someone else, I'm going to end it with /NT, for No Text.
ie: (408) 555-1000 /NT.
They'll have to ask me what it means, and the interaction will hopefully be memorable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NOVA on Fractals

I've always had an appreciation for fractals. The concept of infinite detail being defined in a finite formula (usually mindblowingly small) has always been appealing to me. Unfortunately, the last time I got around to putting a lot of cycles into it, I still lacked much of the mathematics required to understand the mechanics behind them. (It has something to do with distances in the complex plane, I'm too tired to look it up right now...)

So it looks like for the first time in about 4 years, NOVA has pulled its head out of its ass and done a show on actually science. I've been getting really tired of their overdramatized scienceNOW! shows. Don't make the show appealing to Joe the Plumber, you're PBS, make it apealing to the technical crowd who is actually going to watch this show anyways.

As a sign that PBS is staying with the times, you can watch this episode online. Thanks PBS, we appreciate you!

UPDATE (10/29/80: After watching it, I can safely say that it was good. There was at least three "holy crap!" moments while watching it as they presented a really cool concept that seemed obvious once you heard it. At the same time, I was disappointed by PBS' failure to keep with the times: The entire episode was split between 5 quicktime/wmv clips. FAIL.
Hands down the coolest thing in the episode was Nathan Cohen (W1YW) mentioning his early experiments with fractal based antennas in the late 80s/early 90s. You think about it, and this concept is utterly genius. Fractals are defined as shaped with self similarity, which means it is the same on several orders of magnitude, which means it'll resonate at several orders of magnitude! Frustratingly enough, there is little information on anyone's experiments in this subject. The one link everyone mentions points to Fractal Antenna Systems retarded infomercial of a website, which at some point had a page on amateur experiments, but was so kindly taken down. Best I've found so far is a few diagrams (with no measurements) and an article that at least explains the advantages of them in non-salesman mode.
Super annoying to see such a cool concept be completely watered down because it's proprietary.

UPDATE (11/2/08): I emailed Fractal Antenna Systems on 10/29 requesting that they make available an old page in their domain that gave information about experimenting with fractal antennas for hams which has been taken down. No response at all. Don't get me wrong, I never expected anything to come of it anyways. I've been debating whether to email Nathan Cohen directly.

UPDATE (11/3/08): Thanks to Greg KG6SJT for finding a web page which reinterprets the Fractenna page, which means this information is no longer lost.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winter Classes

Tomorrow is my first pass for classes.  MY schedule isn't as good as this quarter random-half-hour-gap wise, but it's about as good as I can hope for.
  • ENL3 - Intro to Literature
    • CRN: 32328, 27-30 backup
  • MAT22A - Linear Algebra
    • CRN: 40206
  • PHY9C - Electricity and Magnetism
    • 46486 & 46476
  • ENG35 - Statics
    • 32279
  • IST94-2 - Intro to Undergraduate Research
    • 39328
For a grand total of 16 units.  Not too usreasonable.  CRNs supplied so all my adoring fans can make sure to be in the same disc as me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fountain Pen Maintenance

It's one of those things that you always mean to do, but put off from one day to the next, month over month.  Every time my pen gets empty (1-2 weeks), I mean to clean it, but figure that leaving it alone for another 2 weeks won't hurt.  Up to the point where I haven't cleaned it now since Spring quarter (~6 months).  My pen's performance showed it.  So this is a friendly reminder: CLEAN YOUR PENS EVERY MONTH!!!
It made all the difference.  It's writing like new again.

The 10 Tips for a Good Maintenance of your Fountain Pen
Fountain Pen Maintenance
General guide to using fountain pen

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Starting Moleskine Two

Finally got down the first page in my new Moleskine. The first page is always the hardest. The notebook has unlimited possibilities until you write something in it. I've now constrainted the notebook to being in some way tangentally related to that first page. No more dreaming of writing an entire book through the one Moleskine. No more only putting in wonderful creative ideas, or sketches, or anything else.

Looks like the subject matter is going to be much like my last notebook. I am planning on making an effort to contrain it to the more future-proof subjects (less pages of todo lists and driving directions, that's what 3x5 index cards that fit in the back pocket are for). Flipping through my old notebook is nice, but would be so much better if it was really just my ideas and notes, not how to drive to... somewhere... (I'd often leave off the last few turns, since once I'm close it's obvious, which leaves me with directions ending southbound on 1 with no idea where it was to)

This post prompted by Wifely Steps.

Finally, Good Notebook Blogs

I broke into the network; All it takes is one blogroll, and you're in.  Add four or five blogs to Google Reader, and then it thinks you're in, and pushes you the rest of the way.  From there, it's simply a matter of running down the trees of links and trimming back the insanity until it's manageable again.  The cream of the crop.

Just last week I was bemoaning the lack of good notebook blogs.  All it took was the careful selection of the right keywords to find the first blog and bootstrap the notebook community.  Here's what I found:
Notebooks seems to be a passing theme, but I also loved Wifely Steps' post on her Moleskine.  That's what it's all about, people.

Any other killer notebook blogs I left off the list?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Good Reads

I got an email invite from my mother for Good Reads last week.  I reflexively ignored it, based mainly on the fact that websites that send out email invites tend to be rather spammy and annoying.  This weekend my sister was visiting me in Davis, and Good Reads and Mom's invite came up in conversation.  Between the two of us and Alison, plus Robert and Devin through IM, we made the decision to spontaneously create the critical mass needed for any social network to be useful.

So what is Good Reads? A social network for books.  You can adds books to your lists of books read, books you're reading, and books you want to read.  Your friends can also see what books you're reading, and through the rating system, can see what books you liked.  I've already found a few books from other people's lists (mainly Robert's and Devin's) that I'd like to read at some point, so it's already useful.  Having this online list of books I want to read will be super useful, since now I know that I won't forget about books I always meant to read, and being able to access it from the library will also be super conveinient.

I was amazed by the thoroughness of the database.  I was trying to add textbooks from the 60s and it was pulling up a list of every edition, along with covers for many of them.

This certainly isn't a total online game changer for me like Google Reader or Read it Later, but it will be useful.  My Good Reads profile.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Artist's Trading Cards

Continuing my theme from my last post of collecting cards, this evening I was reading through and Lightable mentioned Artist's Trading Cards. I had never heard of these before, but apparently you make a little piece of art on a 2.5"x3.5" and trade it. A more thorough introduction from cedarseed. This is totally the same thing! It'd be awesome to gather a miniature collection of everyone's art that I could just pull out and flip through. The organized exchanges don't seem quite as appealing. There needs to be a story and a relationship behind each one, yeah?

I actually tried to do something of the like last year in my art class. We had to make 7 pieces for the final (read: art show), and for one of them, I had a block of wood with a key glued to it, tons of blank cards, and a plea for viewers to make another drawing of the key and add it to the tack board. Unfortunately, the show got rescheduled at the last moment, so attendance was probably thinner that it could have been. By the end of the show, the board wasn't even half covered, and few came across as serious.

Too bad my native format is 2.5"x3", though my 1kBWC decks are bordering pretty close on this to begin with.

Where's the Office Pron?

Dude.  Where did all the good office pron blogs go?  I loved drooling over the latest Moleskine notebook hack or some crazy use for index cards.  Someone's review of some top of the line pen, or even a hack to make that above the top of the line pen atainable for the common man.  Merlin Mann got over it, that's fine, but why can't I find any other good blogs to replace his?

On the bright side, I have been enjoying having my own buisness cards.  I got them from Vista Print, which as far as I can tell is the scum of the online printing community, so as long as you can deal with telling them that you in fact do NOT want: matching retrun address labels, matching pens, matching letterhead, again matching return address labels, a buisness card holder, another 250 cards for only $7.49, postcards, and for a third time matching return address labels, they're a perfectly fine company.  I got a coupon code from Amazon for 250 premium cards for only shipping, which comes out to $5-7.  Embarrassingly enough, I happened to use the brown design with the swirls that is currently featured on the landing page.

On some level I've enjoyed the game of trading buisness cards with others.  I'm collecting this fun little pile of people's phone numbers and their selected artwork.  I guess this bodes well for my QSL card collection, eh?

For now, I'm just going to have to browse through Office Depot's site to get my fill of office supplies...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And so it Begins...

(format t "Hello, World!~%")

I'll let you know when the entire world drops into place and it all starts making sense.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Good News from the FCC

According to the FCC, in February when all the old-hat analog TV stations, that actually work, go offline, the digital stations might increase power.

My excuse of an antenna is looking better all the time.  I watch TV maybe once a week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Strange Union Pacific Power

Alison and I were walking to Ace yesterday, and as we were walking out of my apartment complex, across the street I saw this:

I can't identify either's model (even with my spotter's guide, which only goes up to GP-20 era) It's a GP39-2 and a SW1500 (Thanks Don!), but what I found extremely interesting was the switcher on the right. Granted I've seen plenty of switcher engines in my day, but never one in revenue service before. They were both gone by the time we got back.
Let me reemphasize one thing: This is what I see across the street from my apartment. How awesome is that? Nothing covers the sounds of annoying upstairs neighbors better than a good heavy freight train.

For those who want to know: These photos were taken from Olive Dr, across from the intersection of 2nd and L St in Davis, CA on October 11th, 2008 at 12:10 PM.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Super Cheap Eggs

Damn you Davis.  I'm never going to be able to buy a dozen eggs from Safeway again in my life.
In case you can't tell, that is a flat of 30 eggs (minus one broken one) for the ungodly price of $2.50.  That works out to be 8.6 cents per egg!  WTF!?!  Thank you Davis Meat Lab.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Three Minute DTV Wonder

When I moved into my apartment, I ordered a digital antenna from Amazon for my new TV (In the sense of preowned) and digital converter box.  Unfortunately, 10 days later, Amazon was kind enough to cancel my order due to the specific antenna I want being back ordered.  This irritated me somewhat, because I got a good deal (25% off), and having TV was of little more value to me than the $18 + $7 shipping I was about to spend on it, so if it meant waiting 2 months for it to come, I'd wait two months for it to come.  Canceling my order wouldn't make it come any faster, but I'm a really squirrely customer...

The second problem was that I am now, indefinitely, without an antenna for a perfectly good TV + converter box combo.  To add insult to the situation, I have my General amateur license.

What radio amateur, worth the paper his license was printed on, wouldn't be able to get TV reception 10 miles from Sacramento of all places?  Not me, if that's what you'rer thinking.

I present to you...
The Three Minute DTV Wonder!

Last year, I got a really nice bag of ten 24 inch long wires with alligator clips on both ends.  Super convenient for working on electronics, or building antennas...
I simply plugged the coax that came with the converter box into the antenna port, and taped it to the wall.  I then clipped one lead to the center pin (very carefully) and the other to the outer shield, and taped the two wires to the wall in a flat dipole configuration.

Obviously, this didn't work very well, since doing the math wouldn't have left very many of the 3 minutes to actually put it together, and it probably wouldn't have helped much anyways, seeing as how antenna building is a black art anyways.  I then started moving the wires up inch by inch, testing the reception until it peaked, and left it there.  This took some time, since the reception while you're working on it gives no indication of reality.  When you're standing next to it, you're part of the antenna and detuning it from what it'll be when you're sitting on the couch, so after each adjustment, I had to walk across the room to test it.


For what it is, and what it was made of, it works pretty well.  The initial channel scan picked up some dozen stations, and of those, at least NBC and CBS are mostly watchable.  Granted, those that aren't watchable, are really not watchable.  Unlike analog TV, when the signal is marginal, it just doesn't work (This is why I hate DTV, in case you were wondering).

Unfortunately, even the reception of NBC and CBS are pretty marginal, so if we have any kind of adverse weather for propagation, the signal drops in and out.

I would like to point out that the antenna is also poorly aimed.  It is about 15 degress clockwise of East-West, so it's pretty much perpedicular to Sacramento.  This was simply a matter of convenience, since the other wall was a little too far away, and the expectation was it was going to be used for 3-5 buisness days.  At some point, if I get suffiently frustrated with it, I might get around to rotating it, but still, for what it is, it works pretty damn well.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Holy Crap it's Windy

I just got reminded the downside to living in Davis: it gets really freakin windy here.

I still freak out some times when I look out at the horizon, and see nothing.  "WTF, where did the mountains go? Oh yeah, not in the Silicon Valley anymore..."

Tip of the Day - Carry CAT5 All the Time

One of my professors just assumed he could get wireless in our classroom, but when it came time to give the presentation, there was no internet to be found.

What totally sucks is that I normally always carry a piece of CAT5 with me, but just happened to have removed it from my backpack before this quarter.

Mark my words, you'll never find me in class without, at the lease, a three foot long piece of CAT5 cable to save the day with.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Success at YARS

Last night I went to the monthly Yolo Amateur Radio Society's meeting.  It's "just" down 5th Street (read: 20 minutes, and 3.2 miles), so I rode my bike.

The meeting didn't have a posted agenda, but on the net Monday (which I finally remember to check into after forgetting about for two weeks), someone mentioned that they were going to do a presentation on Foxhunting.  Foxhunting is a game where someone hides a transmitter, and everyone else uses their radios and antennas to find it.  The transmitter is about the size of a stick of gum, plus a 9 volt battery and two pieces of wire for an antenna.

The meeting started out rather slow, with people telling stories about some bike event they worked last weekend, or how they got such-and-such power supply for free from some e-waste bin, and how great it was because it was a $100 piece of equipment.  The stories were still pretty interesting, so no big loss.

After the talk on how to foxhunt and how to build your own foxhunting antenna, the speaker showed us his setup, and asked if anyone would like to try and find the transmitter he hid around the building.  No one else jumped on it, but dude, did I want to get in on this action.  It was a commercial 3 element yagi, fed through an active attenuator (which makes the signal quieter, thus easier to tell where the peak is).

It was relatively simple: Every 20 seconds, the transmiter beeped, and I swung the antenna around and saw where the signal peaked.  Then we moved over a few dozen yards, and waited for another beep to get another heading.  At one point I got confused because I got turned around and started getting headings that triangulated the transmiter in the middle of a field, but this turned out to be because the back of a yagi is another lobe of gain, so I was getting the right headings, just off by 180 degrees.  We finally narrowed the thing down to one bush, so we all broke out flashlights, and someone finally found it.  It was in a Nesquik tub with a hook on it.

It was a really good meeting, and I learned a few things I didn't know before about direction finding equipment, attenuators, etc, but really the most valueable part of the meeting was afterwards when I hung around and talked with the rest of the guys for half an hour.

As anyone who has been reading my blog lately might have picked up, VHF has been a little frustrating for me.  FM is notoriously short ranged, and when I eventually do manage to find someone on the local repeater, it seems like three times out of four they're not very fun to talk to.  My concern has been how much of that is just that I'm on 2 meters, and how much of it is just ham radio in general.  Part of me wants to think about getting another radio, yet another half wants to just stick with the one and do little more than public service.

These guys pointed out that if you look in the right places, there are a lot of very technical people out there.  They asked me about what parts of amateur radio really interest me (building my equipment, and casual contesting), and made a lot of really good recomendations.

They refered me to two of the guys in the club who are big into contesting.  One of them, Tom, lives out on a farm and has enough equipment that he'd be able to accomidate me if I asked to join him for a contest.  They also offered to have me over to use their rig to really test the waters (other than field day, which is almost as bad as the Steve Jobs reality distortion field).  Then at the end, the gold nugget of references.  They pointed out that the club has an Icom HF rig, complete with power supply and tuner, that the club would be able to loan to me for a few months!!!

Getting it up and running in an apartment would be super hard (read: secretly stringing wire through the trees in the dead of night), but getting to burn the tubes in my own personal space for a month or two before buying my own rig would be invalueable.

Getting to talk to other amateurs who really knew what they were talking about (not to mention not calling computers new fangled confusing things), really reaffirmed my interest in this hobby.  It had almost lost me there for a few weeks...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Finished my First Moleskine

If anything were to be used as one's membership card in the blogosphere, it would have to be a Moleskine notebook.  I got mine as a gift from my girlfriend last October when we first started going out (51 weeks, OH SNAP!).  Being the minimalist I am, of course the original plain pocket-size notebook is the most appealing to me.  192 pages, but since I single-side it, it ends up being 98? (Their math failure, not mine...)  But anyways, so October 5th, I finally finish filling my Moleskine.  Of course I had ordered my second one months in advance, so I was ready.

I've often had others flip through my notebook and comment on how wide spread the content is.  Keep in mind: this is my notebook for life.  Just as one should take notes for physics and chemisty, they should take notes for life.  Most normal people would call this a diary, but that has, like so many English terms, collected a conotation with it that is generally unappealing.
  • I am not a teenage girl.
  • There is no sob stories in this notebook.
  • There is actually very little having to do with my RL.
  • There is no commitment to write in it every day.
    • Unlike this blog, apparently...
  • There isn't anything secret in it.
So what does that leave?
  • 2 pages complete chaos
    • IP addresses, phone numbers, my dorm addresses, account numbers, office numbers, etc
  • 23 pages of lists
    • Ranged from things to remember from home, to shopping lists, to lists of people I know
  • 16 lists of ideas
    • Lists of small projects to work on, first drafts of designs that were little more than lists
  • 11 driving directions
    • Some of them, I was even nice enough to leave off things like the address, since it was obvious where I was going 6 months ago...
  • 5 Sketches
  •  27 Algorithm designs
    • This is where carrying the notebook around really helped.  Read a Project Euler problem, roll it over for a week or two, and you'll have the solution in an instant (case in point, solving #67 in the shower).
    • Most of these pages are taken up by flowcharts of the algorithms, which I enjoy writing.  Trying to draw flowcharts of recursive algorithms is a challenge in itself, and really shows that you understand it.
  • 4 pages of C code
  • 11 pages of miscellanea
So now I've been carrying my second Moleskine around for a month, and have yet to write anything in it other than my name and phone number.  I can't believe I still suffer from fear-of-ruining-the-first-page-of-a-new-notebook syndrome.

What do you think you'd put in your notebook?  Would it be a Moleskine?  (And don't pay full price for a Moleskine, buy it from Chronicle Books and use coupon code "parents" for 30% off and free shipping)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Trains of Thought vs Stories of Action

Being in college leaves markedly less time to work on RL projects, as seen by the Great 2 Week Hiatus of 2008. This means that this blog will need to subtly change course (Wait, this blog had direction to start with?).

I'm going to try making more of these trains of thought posts like the last two, with links out to research results and my thoughts.

I don't see blogging so much as an excuse to create content (some of my early readers can vouch for how bad that is), so much as harnessing the content of one's life. A lack of content implies a lack of activity or change in my life, or so much activity and change that I'm overwhelmed and don't have time to wear my goggles and cape.

I digest such a phenomenal number of articles every day, figure I may as well harness it...

Note: In the last 30 days, I've read 5,061 RSS feed items, some of which are pictures, many of which are reddit links out to full length articles. Not to mention my Wikipedia trips. God damn!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Composting in my Apartment

Closing in on a month in my new apartment, I've been doing pretty well. Been feeding myself, not feeling like a *complete* idiot at the grocery store, doing my homework 1+ day ahead of time. It's been worse.

One of my gripes with living in an apartment is the lack of our houses compost. It's one of those stupid little things that is a trained reflex, but I never really expect to use.

What I already know:
Composing *should* be a smell free activity. The only reason why composts start smelling bad is because there is too much moisture and it has turned anaerobic. Your plum tree just dropped all its fruit? Don't compost it. That much fresh fruit has way too much water in it; it'll ruin your pile.

I've also gotten quite good training on what is and isn't compostable. Most surprising for me: egg shells. Go refresh what you can put in a compost.

What I want to know:
How small can you really scale down compost? You could argue that it could go as small as you wanted, it just wouldn't be very resistant to getting filled before it got a chance of getting started...

Composting Indoors - They say bare minimum is 10-20 gallons. That's pretty big for sitting in our apartment. Probably what I was the happiest with that this setup which consists of two 5 gallon buckets. That seems like a nice middle ground between big and small, yet is still non-free.

So for now I've cut the top off a 2L soda bottle I had sitting around. I've pretty much completely filled it with one afternoon of waste, but if all else I can just ignore it until it reduces some... we'll see how completely this falls on its face.

UPDATE: Oh shiza! Less than 24 hours into it, we got a fruit fly outbreak, that we're still suffering from several days later. New plan: 5 gallon bucket on the porch, with lid.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Last Three Hours of my Life

In the interest of helping you, my loyal reader, understand what I usually do with my life (ie, the last two weeks when I haven't posted anything), I'm posting a list of the major points of interest in the last three hours of my life, since I ate dinner.

  • In the Beginning was the Command Line - A good, yet overly long, story of a guy's view on the differences of operating systems, and how Linux's creation was supported by Bill Gates, surprisingly enough.  I wouldn't commit to have read more than about 60% of this article.  Linked to from Jeff's
  • Beej's Guide to Network Programming - The defacto guide on networking for C.  This is the only thing I really gave up moving from Java to C, and really need to trudge through this article a few more times to really get it down.  Linked from some random Stack Overflow question.
  • A SELF-STUDY COURSE IN BLOCK-CIPHER CRYPTANALYSIS - I more drooled over than read.  You start getting into such real world math applications as cryptography, and it starts getting a lot cooler than calculus in the classroom.
  • Mapping the Universe at 30 TB a Night - Linked from reddit/programming, who's RSS feed I am, in fact, subscribed to, in its 48.5 articles/day goodness.
  • Demj.jpg - Again touching on the cool factor of mathematics.  Luckily this picture includes the C source to generate it.  Sime time spent studying it, more time spent trying to hack it to generate more than the one image.  Little to no success.  Partly due to segmentation fault in stopmotion, which I was unable to track down, because Ubuntu's apt-get build-dep fell completely on its face.
So, keeping in mind that this was only in the last three hours of my life, I hope you can understand how I can keep myself entertained without having anything interesting to post here.  I would like to note that the last two weeks have been a special case due to a work flow change, which I will post about soon.

Fixed my Bike

I've been plagued with problems last few weeks with my bike. My front gear shift was randomly dropping gears on me, and when I coast, the chain bunches up and falls off the gears.

Fixing the shifter problem was pretty simple. There was a bolt that held the wire to the shifter, loosened it, moved the wire, tightened it, fixed!

The coasting problem was a different beast. I knew that this problem had something to do with the plastic disc between my gears and my back wheel, which was very brittle and had cracked enough to no stay centered. I happened to be in a bike shop this week (they're like Starbucks in Davis), and asked the clerk how hard it was to replace the disc. He was nice enough to point out that the plastic disc doesn't actually do anything, and offered to remove it for me. This disc is so far gone, I didn't even need to disassemble the bike, but simply cracked it in half with my hands.

Bam. Bike fixed.

Timm[ie], you suck.