Five TV shows this season that I don't miss
Tue, Nov. 13th, 2007, 11:08 pm
TV shows are something that I haven't really been concerned about much lately, but there is still a great number of shows out there that are very good, ad some surprising shows from the new season which are very good. I'm sad that much of this good work may be negated in the coming months by the writer's strike, but I understand the side of the argument for the writers and agree mostly with them. That said, these are the top five shows that I will never miss throughout a week of TV (thanks TiVo)!

  • Chuck - it's on on Monday nights right before Heroes, which makes it get good ratings no matter what. It also helps that the protagonist is a geek and has been thrown into a situation that he's unfamiliar with. This creates a kind of coming-of-age story in which he slowly learns about his newfound powers and abilities. I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so it was a hit for me to begin with. "Greatness thrust upon them", I say, is more interesting. It also has an excellent soundtrack and wonderful opening sequence which is just a joy to watch. If you haven't seen this show yet, I highly recommend. Added bonus, it has Adam Baldwin in it.

  • Heroes - wow, big surprise. This show continues to impress, creating a very good story continuing through this season. I like how the seasons themselves stand pretty much alone, with some references to old seasons. I also quite enjoy the comic book like writing of the show, as it fits with the supernatural nature of the characters. Still a top contender.

  • Pushing Daisies - this is Diana's favorite show of this season. This most recent show by Brian Fuller doesn't fail to impress - if you're not familiar with Wonderfalls or Dead Like Me, they come highly suggested just as this does. The wonderful stylings which are reminiscent of any Tim Burton filmwork is enough to keep me glued to the screen even without the wonderful premise. The protagonist is someone who has a strange power, which lets him bring people and things back from the dead. Unfortunately, there are a few rules on the power he has - the first is that if he touches the reanimated ever again, he/she/it dies again, and the second is if he doesn't kill he/she/it again within a minute, something of similar "worth" dies nearby. We don't know quite all the rules on the powers yet, but it makes for very interesting storytelling, especially with lovely thematic kitch thrown in. This show is really a triumph of the artform if you ask me, and everyone should be watching it.

  • The Soup - it's on cable, and it's brain candy. Joel McHale takes everything that I wouldn't watch on TV because it's completely horrible and depraved, and mocks it lovilingly in The Soup. The humor is not to be understated, and the subjects deserve the humor tossed at them to boot. Definitely a half hour that is worth the TiVo.

  • How I Met Your Mother - I started watching the show because it had a hook - Neil Patrick Harris. Honestly, NPH was enough to be the hook not only for one cheezy funny movie, but a SEQUEL TO THAT CHEEZY MOVIE. The show is set as one gigantic flashback, with the main character telling his kids how he met their mother. We haven't met fabled mother yet (and the kids in the future are getting pretty bored after a season and a half), but the premise actually kindof works as a gimmick. That said, the characters are actually good, and the actors are nothing to shake a stick at either. I still think that Allison Hannigan has great comedic timing. I can only hope that this show doesn't go down the crap with the writers strike.

  • There are a bunch of other shows that I catch when I have the time or am bored. Diana is really the media junkie in the household, and uses the TiVo much more than I do. I have been trying to cut back on TV so as to make more time for other things such as editing my thesis proposal. However, it is important to lay back and enjoy some quality tele every once in a while.
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On happiness
Tue, Nov. 13th, 2007, 10:44 pm
I was viewing one of my most favorite speakers today, Lawrence Lessig, talk about copyright, giving a speech that is very similar to one that I have heard a few times online, but Lessig presents it so well that I end up watching it over and over again. This particular speech was given at TED. The nice thing about coming across a TED talk is that it is almost always enlightening in some way. Lessig's speech is enlightening enough, and it reminded me that I should watch something of his since he has switched to fighting corruption instead of copyright.

Another nice thing about the TED talks is that they are all sitting on the same site - so they are all interlinked with similar topics and they also include the new videos which are being posted fairly often. Sometimes I don't have time to watch more than one talk, but today I was blessed with a dearth of time, so I clicked on another link which interested me. This talk was from Dan Gilbert and was coarsely about happiness, and more importantly synthetic happiness and how our brains work. It started with talk about the foundation of our evolved brains, of which the most important fact was considered the Impact Bias. Gilbert talked about the Impact bias as a primary result of the evolution of the mind from earlier man to modern man - it is the ability of our mind to predict the future without actually trying it. It is the reason why you have an aversion to a food that you haven't even eaten or don't think you will like a movie that isn't even released, or the opposite. I believe that the impact bias is very important to the psychology of human beings - while it may not actually be very important to the state of the world that you eat a pastrami sandwich today instead of a salad, it must mean something to you, or your life will end up seeming meaningless and insignificant. Gilbert focuses on the impact bias in the dual - that choices that we are given to make ourselves will eventually have an effect on our overall happiness. The experiments explained in the video show that, if a choice has been made, the user is more likely to be happy with that choice later, especially if the choice is an irreversible decision. In the talk he talks about simulated happiness and actual happiness, and that the mind is incredible at simulating happiness when placed in a situation where it did not come out for the better - some famous examples include people who are in jail for long times feeling that they are better for their incarceration after being released (or even while incarcerated). One important part which I think wasn't really touched upon by Gilbert was the fact that while the mind can produce synthetic happiness, in the long run the difference between synthetic and "real" happiness is actually rather small - over the long run all the happiness produced tends to even out, and the mind doesn't distinguish about really being happy or not. For a third point, it is a very interesting conclusion (and probably a significant jump) that most people strive to be happy overall, and most people succeed. This means that even though there are people in many different levels of happiness from an outside perspective, it is worthless to look at someone who is rich and happy and someone who is poor and happy and say that one must be happier than the other because they have more of the "real" and less of the synthetic happiness. Happiness is not a zero-sum game - everyone can be happy all of the time, and noone loses out. This may be an interesting ideal to reach for and may seem impossible to achieve considering all of the hate and rage which exists in the world today, but I believe that it is even possible yet - especially considering this "Happiness Bias" which seems to exist within everyone.

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How long until we have laptops with no moving parts?
Mon, Nov. 12th, 2007, 08:38 pm
Today I was reminded about a thought I was having earlier this year by a twitter from Garrick Van Buren about the new ultra-thin MacBooks. It seems altogether likely that the next laptop computer that I buy will have no moving parts. Currently the only moving parts in the MacBook that I have now are in the optical drive, the fan, and the hard drive. This is of course not counting the moving parts which I move myself - the buttons to actually interact with it and the lid. Apparently the optical drive in the laptop is going the way of the floppy drive in laptops, so there is only the fan for the CPU and the hard drive. Hard drives are also heading toward the realm of non-moving parts with solid state drives gaining acceptance and size. You can now get a 32GB solid state flash drive for pretty cheap, and they are sure to go in the direction all storage goes - faster, larger, and cheaper. That only leaves the fan which cools the CPU. It is not impossible to run a high-end computer without a fan nowadays, but unfortunately the heatsinks required in order to keep the most crucial part of the computer without burning up. The OLPC hardware is already in some ways the wave of the future - there are no moving parts at all. Unfortunately it is also completely underpowered and it's not possible to run a ton of programs on it. I'm not sure that a solid-state laptop for the general public will ever be possible with the general increase in computing power, but if it happens, I would bet it happens in the next 5 years.

People will be pointing out that the optical drive being missing is a new and novel concept and that Apple is pushing the boundaries of laptops, but they are hardly the first ones to ship a laptop without a optical drive. The world of sub notebooks have been taking out the optical drive in their smaller models for a while now. One model that I've seen around quite a bit is the Sony PictureBook which got quite a lot of press because it featured the Transmeta Crusoe chip. There are also a number of other sub notebooks which don't have a drive. However, I don't believe that the drives will be replaced by flash drives or network installs - there will always be a need for boot media for completely broken computers. The common solution in the sub notebook world is to just have a drive which attaches when it's needed, in the mode of the first drives. The solution which uses flash drives is not likely to happen anytime soon - software isn't getting any smaller, and the cost of flash media isn't falling quickly enough to catch up with the cost-effectiveness of pressing CDs.

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Writing and keeping at things.
Sun, Nov. 4th, 2007, 09:05 pm
Life for me lately is a constant struggle between things that I want to do and things that I have to do - then again, this has been the truth for much of my life. The current thing that I have to do is edit my thesis proposal. Some of you may remember that I had a plan to write my thesis proposal over the last two months, and then I would use these last two months of the year to finish some actual pre-thesis work and edit the proposal down to size. I didn't have a problem writing the thing - the work went quickly and spreading it out over two months was definitely the way to go. However, now I have a 18,000 word thesis proposal breathing down my neck, waiting for me to do more research on it and edit it down to a more reasonable 12,000 to 15,000 words. I also need to come up with a good schedule which is reasonable and doable. I get the feeling that I am going to have to tone down my actual thesis work as it would probably take me more than a year to complete what is actually proposed in the thesis. I also feel like I will be at school doing lots of work over the next couple of months getting it edited to just the right amount - I feel like editing is a job which is never done, and I could actually work on getting it just right for a long time.

November, while also being NaNoWriMo, is NaBloWriMo, which is focused on people writing in their blogs. I like this idea because it's much more casual and easier to do. Writing my thesis has shown me that it's pretty easy to write 500 words a day, and I feel like that's about the perfect size for a blog post, so I will probably try to keep each post around 500 words, without pastes and pictures and the like. So look to see a bunch more posts from me - I already need to catch up, I'm 4 posts behind. Diana is also doing the NaBloWriMo, but she is actually doing it on both of her blogs: Magickal Realism, the one for her business, and Fat Chic, her fashion blog. I hope she can get her posts written, and it works out okay.

In the past I have tried to post once every other day, and that didn't work out very well, even though I had a bunch of ideas which were floating around waiting for a blog post. After a while I figured that I just only had a certain amount of writing in me per day, so while I was trying to power out my 500 words a day for the thesis, I couldn't really blog. It was a pretty bad excuse, but it worked for me because honestly the blog is less important than the thesis. It might happen again, especially if I am spending a lot of time honing the thesis down to the bare minimum. That would be okay though, it'll just be the norm for a NaNoWriMo attempt - a strong start and then not much useful at the end, and at least I'd be working hard on things that are important.

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Hey hey hey it's magic, you know..
Wed, Oct. 31st, 2007, 01:37 pm
Life is pretty hectic around here with multiple jobs and consulting gigs, as well as personal research to do. I find it's pretty much a requirement to have something to go home to and relax and take some time off. In the past I've used lots of different games in order to accomplish that, but recently one of my labmates reminded me about Magic: The Gathering, the most popular CCG on the planet basically which I used to play a lot. I went to a local shop and played a draft, which was a lot of fun, but a huge hassle. Then I remembered that I still had an account on the online version of the same game. After some confusion over which email I had used to sign up for the service, I re-logged into the account to find that I still had a few cards left, and the game was pretty much just as I left it two years prior. Lately I have been playing it and amassing another collection of cards. Some people are concerned about paying for virtual objects, but I don't have such qualms, as I've paid for virtual objects before (ever buy software?) and the fact that my account was still around so long after I had originally used it and with all the same cards intact is quite a good sign. I also have a small deal going where I am a minor dealer in the game, buying low and selling for slightly less low, making some tickets (the de-facto currency of MTGO) in order to fund my habit. So far I have made back the money that I initially put into the game and have a bunch more cards.

Soon after I started playing the game again, I discovered that there was a new client and server being developed. You see, the Magic: The Gathering Online servers have a problem - they don't hold up to pressure very well. From what I have gleaned from the forums (which the developers actually read and respond sometimes) the architecture currently in use looks like the diagram here.

Anyone notice a scalability problem? Would it help to point out that every single client is connected to the "main" server, and absolutely everything that doesn't involve logging in or gameplay is done through that server? This includes trading, chatting, and just navigating to other games. Apparently the previous company who created this server structure didn't think it would grow too large, or they were using it as some type of insurance. Because of this horribleness, the servers crash a lot - sometimes close to daily. The developers at Wizards of the Coast have been working on stability lately and the uptimes have improved. Still, lag is horrendous when using the main server -- at least it doesn't affect games. I'm glad that they're replacing this bad server design with something that is better. I've been playing in the beta the last few weeks, and the new servers held up to a stress test with a large number of actual users -- around 700-800, depending on who you ask -- and a bunch of bots which were simulating a much larger load than a normal user. There wasn't even a blip on my radar. It gives me some hope for the future of the game.

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A leaf on the wind.
Thu, Sep. 13th, 2007, 09:36 am
It's meme Friday, which I'm bringing back from.. never doing it. And it isn't Friday.

You scored as Hoban 'Wash' Washburne, The Pilot. You are a leaf on the wind, see how you soar. You have a good job, and a stunning wife who loves you (and can kill people). Life is good, which is why you can't help smiling. Now if you can just get people to actually listen to your opinion things would be perfect.


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


Kaylee (Kaywinnet Lee) Frye


The Operative


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


Shepherd Derrial Book


Simon Tam


River Tam


Inara Serra


Capt. Mal Reynolds


Jayne Cobb


Which Serenity character are you?
created with

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Other Twitter Bots that I use
Tue, Sep. 4th, 2007, 11:35 pm
Earlier this year I blogged about using the twitter bot for Remember the Milk. I still use it fairly well, even though the SMS messages from the RTM come late a bit. It's working for me in order to get a good chain going for the thesis proposal. There are a couple other bots that I'm using which are on twitter as well.

The first bot that I use is the bot at timer. The timer bot will let you set a timer (surprisingly). You only need to send it a direct message with the amount of minutes as well as a reminder for you about what it was set for. For example, if you want to remember to plug the meter before it runs out in 40 minutes, just twitter 'd timer 38 plug the meter' to timer and in 38 minutes it will inform you that your timer is up. You can have multiple timers running at once, which is useful if you are perhaps having tea at a coffee shop while you are parked on the street.

Another bot I use is the gcal. Gcal is a connection to your google calendar through twitter. You can set up new appointments by messaging the gcal bot with something like 'd gcal Pick up joe at 7pm' or 'd gcal set up web application for judy tomorrow' and it will

add it to your calendar. I use it in the morning to track my weight. I just pull out my phone while I am at the scale and SMS 'd gcal my weight is XXX', and it adds the event as a day event on the day it was sent.

The last bot I will go over today is the mymm bot. It is slightly more complicated but still useful. When you're at the pump, you can direct message mymm a little info and get back the MPG that you have done since the last fillup. It helps me keep a tab on how good or bad I'm driving, which is a good thing. The car we drive usually gets about 24 MPG, but I learned through this that when I'm carrying a bunch of crap in the back, the MPG drops 3-4, so it's better for me to have an empty trunk.

I'm sure there are a bunch of other useful bots out there (ququoo is one, which I may cover in another post), but these are the most useful that I've found so far. Twitter is turning out to be much more useful than just random status updates.

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Editing sentences and code
Mon, Sep. 3rd, 2007, 04:43 pm
I've spent the last week on editing the past week for a major paper, and I realized that I am horrible at editing. I can't edit myself worth a damn - I miss every mistake that I've written, and I am horrible at cutting pieces of text. Wishing that I could have a good method for editing like I do for debugging. I suppose it's probably because I do debugging more than I do editing. It may also be because editing doesn't really have a defined end - when you're debugging, when it passes all the tests, it's done.

This one had a defined end date set by a deadline, and beings me to a point. I believe that it is the reason that I tend to put writing projects off until later in the process, almost too late. I end up writing up to the point where I need to ask someone else to do the proofing and editing for me. When I am set by a deadline, I tend to get the writing done even if it's a crunch. It's not the same with coding projects, which will be short-cutted and work worse when I let them go to the last minute. The coding style that I've developed allows for progress in short chunks, a little at a time, incrementally improving. Editing, I understand, should happen the same way, but it is something that I don't really have enough practice about.

This week I start on my progress on my thesis proposal, on the writing part. The writing part is the easy part for me at least. For the next couple months I'll be slowly writing the proposal and then the hard part will occur in the editing. Hopefully a bit of hard work and more time than I usually have for editing will make it work.

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In my own head consume, I sit down in my room
Thu, Aug. 30th, 2007, 07:19 am
Lately I have been tasked with a lot of writing to do. I'm writing a chapter for a book on the field that my research is in, which is a good thing for me to get done, but I started it quite late. I had to finish a 9,000-12,000 word chapter in 2 weeks. Here's how I set it up:

  1. For the first week, write 2,000 words each day.

  2. For the second week, edit the words already written.

The first half of the schedule was easier than I thought it would be. In general, writing in my field doesn't usually happen that fast, but the subject is something I'm pretty versed in, so it was not too hard to get 2,000 words out. I had a clear defined goal for each day that once I met, I could feel okay about not working on the project for the rest of the day. I also only had to write 6 days, and I was able to take the seventh day off. Both of these combined made it a lot easier to not feel guilty about being behind.

Editing is a bit more abstract and ongoing than the writing part, so it's hard to tell how well it's really going. There are some easy parts like fixing grammar and proofreading to make sure you don't repeat yourself, but there are also a good portion of hard parts as well, like which sections to cut a bunch of words in, and which word choice should be made in a particular spot. I'm at the point where some things NEED to be cut because the document is too long, so I have to make some hard choices.

I also met with my advisor last week and we discussed my progress toward finishing my Ph. D. I had been thinking about this problem for a while now and was glad that it was also on his mind as well. We agreed that I would set the goal for having my orals done by the end of this year (christmas). I am thinking I will use a similar tactic to the chapter that I am writing, but on a much slower schedule, so next week I will start writing 500 words a day, and do that for a couple months. This will leave me with 30,000 words that I will then edit down by quite a bit, reducing it by almost half. Hopefully this will make the process easier as it has for the chapter.

If writing my thesis proposal works well this way, I hope I can use a chunk of it for the final thesis, which I want to finish one year after my orals, putting me on track for graduating at the end of 2009. I'm looking forward to that.
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Movie: Hairspray
Sat, Aug. 25th, 2007, 10:22 pm
AMC Southdale 16 8/11/2007

Score: 7

We were actually hoping to see Stardust when we went to the movie theater. It was about 2 hours after we showed up, so we decided to see Hairspray instead. I think we still would have rather seen Stardust. Hairspray is a classic musical movie, similar to Grease or West Side Story in some ways.

People are singing with somewhat no reason, and others don't notice. That is the way of musicals however, and this one is pretty good.

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