Thunder and Lightning

Actually, that’s in the wrong order, isn’t it?

My flights were uneventful, but the drive from the airport to the Poconos was exciting — big thunderstorms, starting as soon as I crossed the border into Pennsylvania. It’s fun driving in the rain with trucks playing tag.

More later, perhaps; 10 of us are sharing a phone line, and on-line editing is somewhat tacky in this environment.

Much to my surprise, the hotel (Silver Birches Resort in Hawley, PA), has changed their phone system since last year, and I can get connected from here just fine.

The weather continues to be noisy and bright, though it is calming down a bit; they’re predicting more of the same for tomorrow afternoon, which may play havoc with our traditional after-work boating session. We’ll see….

Where Techno Comes From

There are two kinds of days. There are days like yesterday when nothing much happens, and there are those days when Everything Happens. Today was one of the second kind.

The morning was its usual summertime day camp semi-frantic self (contrasted with the frantic pace during the school year, or the almost-relaxed pace on summer days when Jeffrey only has to go to Alta Vista), so I left the house a few minutes after 8. My pager had already gone off once, for a call I could return once I got to work, and I needed to stop at the doctor’s to pick up an MRI referral for a follow-up to the CT scans I had done in Montréal after my concussion — the doctor in the ER saw something on the other side of my head from the concussion which may or may not actually exist and which may or may not mean anything, so he recommended I have an MRI within the next couple of months. While pulling into the doctor’s lot, my pager went off again (it’s tied to my office voicemail; most of the time, I think this is a good thing), and it was someone I’d been exchanging messages with for a week. So I called him back and left more voicemail.

I got to the office, returned my first call, actually reached the second person, and as I was finishing that call, noticed that my pocket was vibrating. It was my cellphone; the air-conditioning folks had finally called me back (our attic exhaust fan died on Sunday, announcing its failure to the entire neighborhood with loud noises; I had to turn off the breaker to stop it. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything else critical on the circuit with the fan, though I bet the maid service will be surprised when they have to use different outlets to vacuum on Thursday). The signal isn’t strong enough in my office to actually carry on a conversation, or even for the cellphone to ring, but when Sprint put the “voicemail” flag on, the phone did detect it and notified me. Technology is wonderful when it works.

So I called the A/C folks, who told me that the average life of an attic fan is about 3 years and that the fan has to be replaced, not repaired — they said they could do it or I could do it. It took me several dozen microseconds to decide; they should be here on Friday (they have to come out fairly early in the day so that they can work in the attic without being knocked over by the heat).

Then I called the MRI people, expecting to have to set up the session for July sometime, but to my delight (I guess that’s the word), they had an opening this morning. So off I went.

One of the forms at the MRI place asked if I’d had previous CT scans or X-rays for this problem, and I suddenly remembered that I had the CT scans from the hospital at home, so I dashed to the house and back to grab them; then I had to wait a few minutes (so I was glad I had had something constructive to do with my time) before being ushered into the back for the MRI.

I’d never had (or even seen) an MRI before; I was lucky, since they only had to image my brain, and therefore they didn’t have to put much of me into the machine. It’s a cylinder, with only a few inches of space between your body and the walls — but in my case, everything from my neck down was outside the cylinder, and so I only felt about as constrained as in a typical non-reclining middle seat in coach. But I would have felt much worse if they’d had to put more of me in the cylinder, I’m sure.

The MRI process itself is painless (though they did have to inject me with something to add contrast for two scans). But it is very noisy — the technician described it as sounding like a jackhammer, and she wasn’t far wrong. But I thought it sounded more like a 2400-baud modem, just louder and continuing for several minutes. There were sounds overlaid on the basic tone, and during some of the scans, the tone stopped and started in various rhythms; the first scan reminded me of the last few minutes of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (before they start introducing the instruments). The second scan had an interesting rhythm — five taps, followed by six bursts of tone, over and over and over again. The other scans were less interesting, but they reminded me of the techno music I’ve heard occasionally.

The tech told me they should have the results to my doctor in a couple of days. I got to look at one scan on their display — of course, I had no idea at all what I was looking at, but I certainly liked the display (a 21-inch NEC LCD display — I’d love to have one, but I suspect the price is a bit out of my ballpark).

Then it was home to finish out the workday, with two more calls already awaiting, and piles of e-mail to deal with (so what else is new?).

Tomorrow, I’m off to my department’s planning retreat for the rest of the week. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get any reasonable access to the Internet while I’m there — last year, the hotel had a bizarre, non-data-friendly phone system, and I doubt they’ve changed it, since it’s a vacation hotel, not a business-oriented place.

Happy summer, one and all!

A small site redesign

How does it look? I tried to let you use more of the screen for text, rather than inflicting whitespace. I also changed fonts and added a little color.

Father's Day

This morning, Jeffrey watched yesterday’s Mystery Science Theatre 3000; this time, it was a real stinker,
The Thing that Couldn’t Die. I watched a few minutes off-and-on, and I have to say that I’ve seen better acting in home movies.

Some members of our havurah at temple hosted a Father’s Day BBQ and swim party this afternoon; the food was great, but none of my family got in the water (the other kids there did seem to be enjoying themselves in the water, though).

On the way home, we stopped at REI so I could look at GPS units (anyone with advice, please e-mail or post an item in the discussion here — I want something to use in the car, not in the back country), and we also looked at aquariums at Petco. There didn’t seem to be any actual human beings at Petco, and they didn’t bother posting prices, so we left with very little more information than we arrived with, and no aquarium.

Then we came home, watched the original 1931 version of
Frankenstein (which Jeffrey didn’t find very scary; I’m afraid 10-year-olds are more sophisticated moviegoers these days than adult audiences were in 1931), called Diane’s father to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and now it’s time for dinner.

Slide Rules Rule!

Slide Rule Universe. I remember asking my grandparents to buy me a good slide rule while I was in junior high school and promising that it would last me through college (at least). They agreed and bought me a K&E Deci-Lon (model 68-1100), which probably cost around $30. I still have it, though I don’t use it very often any more — it did last me through college, though; I didn’t buy my first calculator until after I had graduated (I didn’t need a calculator much after junior year, and they were still too expensive then (I had a friend with an HP-35, which I lusted after; she was willing to lend it to me for Economics tests, and that was sufficient for my needs)).

My grandparents also bought me the big CRC Handbook of Tables for Mathematics, 3rd Edition; that, too, is still in my possession, though somewhat underused (I couldn’t remember where I had put it and had to search several rooms to be sure of the title!). I notice that CRC Press doesn’t publish that title any more, though they still do publish the
Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.

Jeffrey is out in the family room watching Saturday morning cartoons and I’m on his computer (since it was already booted up, unlike mine). I managed to avoid hearing the (dangerously catchy) songs from Monster Ranchers, but while he was watching the show, I checked the Web and, sure enough, found the lyrics online, so now I finally understand what I’ve been hearing at breakfast on Saturdays for weeks!

And since I am updating my page today, I can be timely and say Happy Birthday, Cliff!

Software is Bizarre

So I decided to look at the latest updated Userland sites (looking to see if a friend’s site had shown up yet) and pointed my browser (MSIE) at Then I picked a site, read it, and used Alt-leftarrow to go back to the updates page. But, for no apparent reason, the updates page that MSIE chose to display was from two hours ago; hitting “Refresh” fixed it, but the same thing happened the when I returned from the next page, and the next, and the next….I have no idea how this can be happening, but then again, I didn’t decide to make the browser an integral part of the OS.

Whew! Rebooting seems to have solved the problem, at least for now. I was afraid I’d have to reinstall the OS, or maybe buy a new computer (isn’t that the usual fix for a Windows problem?) or perhaps do something even more drastic.

If it was Thursday, I must have been in Berkeley…

…visiting the Computer Science department at UC Berkeley and finding myself completely without connectivity. There were Ethernet outlets everywhere, but they were all turned off (“…we don’t trust the students not to start sniffing the Ethernet…”, or so I was told). But it was an interesting day anyway, seeing what’s happening in the Iceberg and Endeavour projects and meeting enthusiastic graduate students. Made me feel old, though — these folks can crank out more code in one afternoon than I can do in a month these days! I’m also impressed at the relevance of their projects, compared to what we did back in the mid-70’s at RPI (my Master’s project was a self-hosted compiler for a toy language (a subset of Pascal) — to call it useless would be to give it far too much praise; one of the projects I saw yesterday dealt with making it safe to deal with financial sites from untrusted environments like public Web kiosks).

I am so glad that I don’t have to go to Berkeley very often, though — the trip there took nearly 2 hours. I stayed for dinner and so rush hour was over by the time I came home, but I was still on the road for an hour. And people make that trip every day…but not me if I can avoid it! At least it was 20 degrees cooler in Berkeley than at home.

Today has been a quiet day; Jeffrey’s school year ended yesterday, and summer day camp/child care doesn’t start until Monday, so I stayed home with him. We spent the morning fiddling about the house (he decided he’d like to watch Some Like It Hot again after hearing that it was number 1 on the
American Film Institute‘s
“100 funniest films” list), mid-day getting his passport renewed (and visiting the library), and now we’re home again on our computers. I had thought we might go to see
Titan AE
, but Jeffrey doesn’t seem to be terribly interested, and the review I read in today’s Merc wasn’t very promising. Fortunately, it’s cooler today than Wednesday (we were lucky on Wednesday that we never lost power; the map in yesterday’s Merc indicated that our area was one of the areas hit by rolling blackouts, but the clocks all had the right time, so I guess we were spared), and so it’s not unpleasant to be home or even out and about.

I did fix one long-standing problem on his computer — one of the games he likes is Star Trek: Starship Creator, but it would never save his work, so he had to start from scratch every time. This, as you can imagine, was not a satisfactory state of affairs. I tried reinstalling the game and installing a new version of QuickTime, but that didn’t help; eventually, I noticed that the icon he was using to start the game pointed to the CD and had the CD’s root directory as its working directory. I changed it to use the installed directory as the working directory, and lo and behold, suddenly the game saved its state automagically! The programmers had never bothered to test whether they were able to write to the disk, or if they had tested, they didn’t bother to issue error messages. “Not caring” is endemic in the industry, I’m afraid.

I’m hoping for a quiet weekend with as little time spent on the computers as possible, so I’d better plan ahead and say Happy Birthday, Cliff! now instead of being late.

How do they do that?

It was pointed out to me that the link to my letter in the online version of Business Week doesn’t work (at least not from MSIE; it seems to work from Netscape). But in Netscape, I get a different URL than I get in MSIE. I am confused. So I’ll exercise my moral rights as the author of the letter in question and print it here (I don’t know who holds the actual copyright at this point, me or Business Week, but I think this is also fair use).

Basic Nutrition for Just Peanuts

After reading ”It ain’t exactly Julia Child” (Up Front, May 1) on the Stigler Diet, I now
know where the airlines get their menu ideas for coach-class meals. Thanks for clarifying
one of life’s least-appetizing mysteries.

Software I like

I feel almost compelled to put in a plug for Cerious Systems’ Thumbs Plus, which I’ve used to edit the pictures on the site. It’s shareware; I found it well worth the registration fee ($75). It may not be as fancy as Photoshop or even PhotoDeluxe, but it makes simple operations (like cropping) simple, and that’s a win in my book.

The heat goes on

It was hot again today. We have the air conditioner on, and hope that PG&E won’t find it necessary to include us in their rolling blackouts. Lots of people had problems commuting today because pavements buckled, rails buckled, and traffic lights were out — I didn’t run into much of that, but tomorrow, I have to go to UC Berkeley for a meeting, and I’m not looking forward to it. I was advised, in all seriousness, to go there this evening and take a hotel room, so that I could make the 60-mile trip in an hour instead of 2.5 hours at rush hour. I decided I’d rather stay home and get up early — I don’t have to be there until 10am, so maybe I have a chance.

Would somebody bring back the fog?

It’s warm outside. Hot, by Bay Area standards. Normally, I would have telecommuted on a day like today, but it was also the day of a friend’s going-away luncheon, and so since I had to fire up the car anyway, I decided to come into the office and enjoy the free air-conditioning. :-)

More later, if there’s anything interesting to write about.

Extreme Blue

I finally got around to visiting the Extreme Blue crew this afternoon; it’s good to see so many enthusiastic faces, hard at work on interesting problems. Especially after attending a farewell luncheon, filled with old, no longer enthusiastic faces.

I hope to spend a lot of time in the Extreme Blue lab this summer.