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March 29, 2005

The New York Times has a story called Trading Places: Real Estate Instead of Dot-Coms that brings the real estate bubble to light. I think if I had a bunch of speculative real estate right now, I'd be dumping it. This is the canary in the coal mine. Key quotes: "It just seems like everyone is doing it," "a totally new economic model," "But in the short term, why not profit from it?", "I look at this as a short-term investment, and plan to unload it as soon as things look dangerous." Yeah. Just dump all your stock as soon as the market crashes. Sell your house just as soon as nobody wants to buy it. Good plan! The problem is that when everybody is thinking the same way, a teeny downturn turns into a selling frenzy and all of a sudden there are no buyers and prices plummet. Here's a hint: the New York frickin Times is running an article on the real estate bubble. There's your danger sign. Hasn't anybody noticed that the people pumping up this market are the same ones who pumped up the last one? "But the salesperson told me it was a good deal" isn't exactly savvy investing.

Last weekend we went skiing at Alpine Meadows and Northstar at Tahoe with Jason and Carla. This was our first trip in about a year. I've been biking recently; it's been raining almost every day for the last few months which is typical for San Francisco but lately it's been clear enough that I can make runs to Rainbow Grocery or the beach or REI. Still, I haven't had enough time to build up much stamina in my quads. Skiing on Saturday really wore me out. I think there were some additional issues, like bad form because it had been so long since I had skied, and ill-fitting boots. (We're still renting all our equipment and I think we've decided it's time to buy carefully selected and custom fit boots like sane people who don't like pain.) Jason and Carla are pretty new to snowboarding so they were kind of beat up too. On Sunday we decided to take a half day and then leave, which worked out well because the wind was severe and several resorts had to partially close because it was too dangerous. I was pretty beat and only skied for 3 hours. All that time spent in bad boots (tight around the calf, loose on the foot) and my rusty form meant I was working too hard to flex my feet. My calves are really, really tight. Yes, I stretched after skiing. A lot. I stretched yesterday. I'm going to start doing proper leg exercises (outside of a cardio exercise like cycling) Real Soon Now.

(From Joel on Software) Katie Lucas says:

Unfortunately, the outcome of RUP is that you end up with extremely well documented TERRIBLE designs. Unless you have a good OO designer to start with. In which case they'd have come up with a good design anyway, but on less paper.

Starbucks gets a lot of grief for being big and successful and everywhere. But should it? Just as success doesn't prove virtue, it doesn't prove evil either (though that article is just a bunch of anecdotes).

If you didn't know that the Goo Goo Dolls were total wuss-rock based on singer Johnny Rzeznik's Meg Ryan hairdo, now you know: they covered a Supertramp song (iTunes music store link).

Luke Chueh paints very cute, very depressing and disturbed things.

Funny: Hot Man on Sandwich Action. Look, Miami got its tongue pierced. How shocking. High School Biology Textbook. Send zombies! Samurai Domo-kun.

March 20, 2005

There's something about Tiger that I just learned recently, that I think most Mac folks aren't thinking about. Most of what Apple has announced to end-users is new functionality. But one thing that I think people with reasonably recent Macs will really like is part of Quartz 2D Extreme. Sure, it'll probably be a lot faster than Panther's Quartz Extreme graphics, because Tiger will move even more UI stuff onto the graphics card and off of the CPU, allowing the GPU's monstrously parallel architecture to attack "embarassingly parallel" graphics tasks. But there's a second benefit: less main memory use for window backing stores. Apple gets a lot of flack for offering only 256MB of RAM on their low end computers. Critics say that it's impossible to get anything done with that amount of memory, which is an exaggeration, but is true for power users or even users who don't want to have to think about how many big apps they're running at the same time. I had 640MB which was fine until I wanted to run several large applications for work (hundreds of megabytes each), at which time my system slowed to a crawl as it swapped data in and out of physical memory. 1.25GB is great. Part of this issue is caused by a Mac OS X architectural decision: every pixel of every window on the screen is stored at least twice if not three times in your computer, and window regions that are overlapped are stored at least once if not twice or more. The "frame buffer" on the video card holds a copy of the pixel data, and that's what gets turned into a signal going to your display. You can't really get away from that; that's basically the bare minimum unless you're using an old-school vector display like Asteroids. The OS also holds a copy of every window's contents (even the overlapped parts) called a "backing store". That's great for performance because you can move the windows around or re-stack them on the screen and the app doesn't have to know about it. I'm pretty sure that Classic MacOS and Windows and X11 require a redraw by the application in this case, which is slower but eliminates the memory overhead of keeping a copy of the window's contents around. Finally, the app itself probably keeps a copy of the image bitmaps, textures, and text resources that make up the window. If you're looking at a web page with a JPEG image on it, chances are that the web browser, the OS, and the video card all have copies of that image's bitmap. Yikes. Multiply this by dozens of windows that are each maybe 800x800 pixels in size on average and are on a 32-bit-per-pixel display and you're talking 50+ MB that's sitting in physical memory, just for the window backing stores. I guess it can get swapped out to disk but ugh, that would be trading disk performance to swap it in again for CPU performance to draw the window again. Is that data pinned in physical memory? I don't know. My guess is that it's not, other than by actual usage just like any other VM backed data.

Tiger will move the backing store to the video card's RAM and out of main memory. That means that you'd better have a bunch of memory on the video card, but 64MB or 128MB of RAM on the video card is becoming common, and Tiger will require a modern video card to enable this anyway. But what's interesting to me about this is that you'll probably get 32-64MB of physical main memory back just by upgrading to Tiger, provided you have a fairly recent Mac. That may not seem like a lot in these days of 1 or 2GB of main memory for a power user's beefy desktop or high-end laptop, but for new low-end Macs with relatively limited RAM (256-512MB) and a brand new video card (meaning, it'll support this feature), it'll make a big difference in performance. I think it'll make a big difference in system responsiveness even on the high end since high end folks work with lots of open windows and probably have high-end video cards (so more window backing stores will be shoved onto the video card, and will fit) and that'll leave more space for active apps to stay in physical memory, or for file system cache, or for multiple semi-active apps to be available without VM swapping to bring them back in.

March 19, 2005

It's tax season. That means it's time to wonder what the heck things like the California Rice Straw Tax Credit is. If not for all the strange deductions and credits, doing taxes wouldn't be quite so enjoyable. *cough*

If you want to make a Mac web browser kiosk, wKiosk looks pretty cool. It might be easier than setting up a PC kiosk and then trying to keep viruses and spyware and the like from self-installing on your kiosk.

It's been well documented that the gap between the rich and poor in the US (and the rest of the developed world) is widening. The Progress Paradox claims that if you elminate first-generation immigrants from the calculation, the poor are getting richer also. (The assertion is that while the poor in the U.S. are getting richer, they are outweighed by immigrating poorer people in larger numbers.) If that's true, then it doesn't really matter that much whether the gap is widening; what matters is whether the standard of living is increasing. Why it is hard to share the wealth examines other motivating factors in the widening of the income gap. "It also suggests that if you save more you are more likely to end up rich, although there are no guarantees." Well, duh. That's the first, most important thing that people should know about personal finance. Interest exists. If you have a pile of money, it tends to grow; if you don't, you not only need to borrow money but you have to pay back more than you borrowed. That clearly favors the wealthy at the expense of the poor, but it's worth it because it enables poor people to turn human capital into real cash for a small fee. The real problem comes when people become too superficial and try to elevate their status through conspicuous consumption funded by consumer debt. I don't mean that it's purely external, either; people need to impress themselves with how well they're doing. The image that people have of a middle class lifestyle now was considered opulent wealth just a few decades ago. If you're college educated, married with dual incomes, have kids, have a white collar job, etc. etc., you may feel the need to have a McMansion and several luxury sport utility vehicles in order to fit in with the modern middle class. But that fancy house and the cars and the furnishings aren't paid for in cash. They're debts. The HDTV, the new kitchen, it's all debt. It's considered impolite to talk about money, so we don't know how deep in debt our friends are; we just know that their new gas range and fridge are awesome and we deserve to have things that are just as good. Debt is the new dirty little secret that everyone knows everyone else has. Nobody knows exactly how screwed their friends and family are. The new arms race is out-borrowing everyone else, and we're all really just making ourselves poorer in an attempt to prove how rich we are. I think some simple education is the way to help people. Bring on Suze. Or, maybe it's time to talk openly about our wages and debts? But it feels like a dick size comparison. I'm not sure if this is a good idea or a really bad idea.

I do know that this is a really bad idea: Eigenradio. The idea is to do audio analysis on popular music radio stations, pick out the statistical anomalies in real time, and mash it together into a single audio stream of "optimal" music. It works, in that some audio comes out. But it fails utterly to produce anything listenable. Compare this to a project that averaged human faces, and found that average faces aren't judged more attractive than unusual faces. Certain anomalies are attractive; averages aren't attractive. What works for faces doesn't work for music. The face researchers had an idea of what the desirable attributes were, and were able to refine this set of attributes through testing. Maybe Eigenradio should measure and adapt, taking listener feedback into account. I wonder what the faces would look like if the statistical outliers were enhanced, with no bias toward a predetermined set of "good" attributes. Perhaps we'd get incredibly ugly synthetic faces, like the awful Eigenradio output. I thought that 20th century classical music was the most annoying music possible, but Eigenradio has proven me wrong. It's awful. I think they meant to do that. I wish they would continue and see if they can improve on that idea.

Funny: The Onion's Irish-Heritage Timeline

March 12, 2005

Yesterday's weather was fantastic. Actually, Thursday was pretty nice too but I was in the office so I only got a taste of it during lunchtime, and it was diminished by the fact that I was downtown walking around on pavement and inhaling smelly exhaust. But yesterday I was at school. I went to class and noticed that, surprise surprise, about half of the students chose to skip. I practiced with Anthony and Paul for our nascent jazz combo, which was the first time I'd used my MTD fretless other than for practice at home, and it worked pretty well. The bossa nova kitch sound of Las Lycras Del Avila [iTunes Music Store sample] sound really good with a fretless bass. I had a chat with a few students who were sitting outside in the sun but who agreed that basically none of us have clothing appropriate to this kind of weather. Nobody I talked to has a decent pair of shorts. Seriously. There's just no need for 'em here, except for about 2 weeks in late September or early October.

The weather was so excellent that I was dying to rush home and bike to the beach. Just then, I got a phone call. Problem at work. Needs my immediate attention. OK, I'm on the way home. The Muni streetcar took about 45 minutes to show up, which of course meant it was packed; fortunately there was a second one right behind it. I got home just in time to find out that the problem at work was already fixed. So, I ran around the house (literally) getting changed and ready for a bike ride as quickly as possible. I managed to get out of the house around 4:30pm (2 hours of daylight left) and hauled ass towards Golden Gate Park. By about 5:10pm I was at the beach. There were about a bazillion people there. The funny thing is that (and you non-SF folks might not know this) but most of the time, the water at the beach in San Francisco is cold. This is no Malibu. The water temperature ranges from 40-60 degrees and there are rip currents that drown people. We as a populace aren't really prepared for a day at the beach. So when I got there, having thought carefully about whether I wanted to bike uphill for six miles with soaking wet underwear (I didn't bring anything because I was in such a hurry just to get going before it was too late), I decided to just ride up and down the beach sidewalk and see if I saw anybody I knew, and then ride back. Somebody did call out a name that sounded like mine, and nobody around me waved, so maybe it was somebody I know? I couldn't see them because they were backlit by the sunset, and I don't think that with a bike helmet and sunglasses I could be recognized from 50 yards away anyway. Probably just somebody yelling "David" and I couldn't hear them clearly. Anyway, it was really funny seeing hundreds of people who weren't really sure what to do when they got to the beach. Got a beach chair? No. 'Cuz the beach is usually cold and foggy. Got a towel? Got flip-flops? Nope, same reason. Some people did have wetsuits and surfboards and were going for it. There were hundreds and hundreds of people on the beach, which is the most I've ever seen except for at the end of the Bay to Breakers race when runners jump into the surf to cool off and then jump out and go home. It was like one of those pictures of a place that actually has a credible beach for suntanning and swimming, where there are lots of people there all the time. I left and rode back, and got home at exactly 6pm. I really expected it to take about 2 1/2 hours but it didn't. I guess I was in such a hurry to get to the beach that I rode faster than normal. It's about a 6 mile ride, so I must have been going about 9mph on average to get there in 40 minutes. Not bad, considering the stoplights and uphill parts, and the fact that on the downhill parts I slow down because I'm not really too confident in my ability to go very fast safely. I probably went about half that fast on the way back, since it's almost all uphill going back from the beach through the park to the end of the panhandle.

I got home and immediately craved water and fruit. I think that diet + exercise changes work better than diet changes because if you're a lump, your body isn't screaming out for electrolytes and water and light food. I think if I had tried to eat a Big Mac or steak or something I would have thrown up at that point because it was so far from what my body wanted. Pineapple slices (sliced off of the pineapple by Kim a few days ago and sitting in Tupperware in water) and some strange but yummy unfiltered apple juice totally hit the spot. I was laughing because they were so good. Yes! Pineapples! Hahahahaha mmph chomp. And yes, that thing about exercise making you more energetic is true. You're hyper is more accurate. I didn't want to sit down when I got home.

Good times. Good times.

March 9, 2005

School is going well. I got back my Diatonic test from Friday. 101 out of 100, baby. Gotta love the extra credit. I made one mistake but the extra credit put me over the top. Sweet. I'm sure you're shocked that a left-brainer like me seems to be having an easy time with the formal, mathematical, rule-oriented side of music. It's a cliche, but I guess it's true. This course is easier than Counterpoint was, and certainly less time consuming, but that's probably because (a) I'm much better at reading music and thinking about intervals now, chiefly because of all the work I had to do for Counterpoint, and (b) because Caltabiano is one of those instructors who is so smart and moves so quickly and works his students so hard that you know that if you can just keep up, you'll learn a ton. Damien and I used to spend two hours or more at a single sitting just trying to get the homework done for each class. Ouch. I always felt like I must have been the dumbest student in that class because I had such a hard time with the staff reading and intervals, but I got an A anyway. There must have been a curve in effect, or something, 'cuz I can remember several times when I would turn in work I knew was incorrect because I just couldn't make myself spend another 30 minutes trying to rewrite a whole exercise that didn't quite satisfy all the rules. And oh yes, there are many, many rules in Species Counterpoint. I remember that the grading system was particularly interesting in that class, too: mistakes had point values which weren't necessarily related to a total number of things done correctly. Picture a page-long English composition assignment where every spelling error is 5 points off, grammar errors are 1-5 points off, and higher level compositional problems are 1-10 points off. Yes. A few mistakes and you're suddenly in F territory. I don't think I got an F on any assignment in that class, because naturally you look for the most egregious errors first to save yourself from major red-ink pain, but there were some cases where I missed one and oh no, I just lost a whole letter grade because of a dissonant leap. I talked to a classmate last week after the test in Diatonic and he said that on at least one occasion he got back Counterpoint assignments with negative grades. Damn. So, homework is graded on a scale of -350 to 100? From boring-but-correct (species counterpoint is ultra formal and thus doesn't lend itself to interesting or exciting compositions), to holy crap, your composition makes my ears bleed and I wonder how you got into this major to begin with. I'm not complaining, exactly; I'm in school to learn, not to get an easy A. But I was surprised to feel like the class was kicking my ass and find that I got an A in it. I guess he was feeling merciful or something. This semester is different - normal grading, less fear of death by dissonant outline, and although the homework still takes me 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get through, at least at the end I know it's right. Caltabiano was right: checking your answers by playing them on the piano, though extremely slow for me since my skill at four-voice piano sight reading is so undeveloped, really does make the errors jump out at you.

In other news: "1 person recommended Farberware Kitchen Ease Nonstick Aluminum Triple Pack instead of The Best of Parliament: Give Up the Funk". Riiiight.

Free Enterprise 2: The Passion of the Shatner? let's hope so. (via Alaina)

The Crackers will keep you company if you miss The Gates already. (via Kim)

March 5, 2005

Metallica has definitely softened over the years, but not enough to do Beatles covers. That's why there's Beatallica, with gems like "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice" and "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band". I hope to see them at next year's Super Bowl halftime show.

San Francisco Bay Area Housing Crash Continues is fascinating. There's even a Housing Crash blog.

A tabla player might say "taketaketaketa taketaketaketa taketaketa taketaketa". Garaj Mahal says it this way: Poodle poodle factory, poodle poodle factory, poodle factory, poodle factory.

Corny t-shirt: Buffalo Once Roamed the Plains in Large Numbers.

Looking for a Captain Jack Sparrow talking action figure? Or Beatrix Kiddo in that awesome yellow outfit? (best part: "Base connects with Crazy 88 bases to form the 'House of Blue Leaves' Diorama") Then trundle your browser over to The National Entertainment Collectibles Association. Don't miss their awesomely random collection of head knockers.

March 2, 2005

I didn't know the Super Friends worked at Initech (9.9MB QuickTime movie). I didn't know how cute and cuddly the Great Old One, bringer of madness and doom, could be. I didn't know autobots could get cancer.

I didn't know that superstring theory was anything other than some really freaky n-dimensional crapola designed to try and explain some stuff that we really don't understand the mechanism of. To be honest, atomic theory makes good sense to me (thank you Mr. Truscott) but quarks are where it all starts to sound like nobody has a friggin' clue what they're talking about. Superstring theory is so bizarre that it strikes me as, well, nuts. Crazytalk. It's nice to see that somebody has an idea of how to maybe measure this stuff in a way that doesn't involve a chalkboard and a whole lot of hand-waving.

I didn't know that Kentucky law was so fucking stupid that a story about zombies constitutes a felony.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; send these, the homeless tempest-tossed, to me; I shall tag those mofos so they can't hide from us when we decide to deport 'em.