I have been a professional software engineer for over 10 years.
I have written many kinds of software, but my particular strengths are interactive graphics applications,
compilers and interpreters, and algorithms.
I also enjoy writing,
Thursday, September 28, 2000
A little while back I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't find something I've come to call "ReplayRadio" - a device that provides the same functionality as ReplayTV, but for radio. Well, I'm still looking for a stand-alone device, but I found an FM tuner that attaches to your PC, whose accompanying software can record from the radio at a set time.
I'm trying to port some code to some platforms other than my development platform. However, I'm too lazy to actually set up a build environment on those platforms. Thus, I find myself checking the emailed errors from the nightly builds, making a few changes, and then waiting for the build email the next day and repeating the process from there. Batch programming, just like in the bad old days when we used punchcards!
Wednesday, September 27, 2000
Why is it that the Olympic coverage covers sports like shot-put and Greco-Roman wrestling, which as far as I know no-one really watches, and covers every insignificant qualifying heat of track and swimming, and broadcasts 15-minute-long biographies of obscure American athletes, while there is zero coverage of the sports that I'd really like to see, such as fencing, table tennis, and martial arts? (After reading today's excellent Slate article, add to that list Korfball; we played a very similar game in high-school gym class, which I believe the teacher called "fungo-ball".)
Day before yesterday, I looked down at the clock in my car and it read 3:60. I stared at it, puzzling whether there was some way it could show these numbers if it was displaying the CD counter or a radio frequency, but after a few seconds it switched over to 4:00. Now I find myself wondering whether it has always done this or just recently, and whether it happens every hour or just at 4:00 - and I find myself staring at it when the hour changes, trying to catch it happening again. (I was looking at it when it went from 8:59 to 9:00 yesterday morning, which it did without passing through 8:60.)
Tuesday, September 19, 2000
Grrrr. You would think, in this age of relative maturity of e-commerce, that it would be possible
to search for a product using a simple boolean query. But no, not one of the couple of dozen
e-tailers I've checked today (including comparison sites like mySimon)
can find me 2-line phones with caller ID. 2-line, yes. Caller ID, no problem. But searching only
for phones with both is impossible. Furthermore, on Amazon, if I ask for just multi-line phones, and then look
for "similar items," I get multi-line phones that weren't in the original list.
Get with it, folks.
By the way, I just got Uniden EXS9966, which I
love, but I need two more and was hoping to get somewhat cheaper models. Sadly, I have a couple of nice 2-line phones without
caller ID, but a 2-line caller ID box is $65, and I can replace the phones for less than that!
Monday, September 18, 2000
Jeanne Marie Laskas's column this week was about having a bat in her
house, which reminded me of my own bat experience in college.
A bat somehow found its way into our dorm, and presently was flying up and down my hall. As you might
imagine, a dorm-hall full of guys thought this was highly amusing, and a number of them were chasing it
around. It found its way into the stairwell, and apparently the door into the next floor down, which was
populated by women (our dorm was coed by floor) had been propped open. We knew this because, as
perfectly as if it had been choreographed, seconds after the bat left our floor, we heard a perfect cascade
of shreik! - SLAM - shreik! - SLAM - shreik! - SLAM - ... progressing down the hallway below ours
as the bat made its way down the hall, and the ladies slammed their doors to keep it out of their rooms.
Eventually the bat found its way outside without harm to itself or anyone else.
My favorite radio show, TechRadio,
airs on Saturday afternoon, when I am never listening to the
radio. I looked, but have been unable to find, a device that will timed-record from the
radio, as a VCR does for TV. Surely they must exist, and I haven't looked that hard
yet, but it surprised me that I couldn't just find one right away. Taking this idea
further, it seems like you could make a Tivo/ReplayTV-type
device for radio, a lot more cheaply than for TV (since audio data is so much smaller than video).
An MP3 player can store 4 hours of voice, so one should be able to get (almost?) that much
talk radio in a solid-state device. Indeed, many portable MP3 players contain a radio tuner, and so I would
hope you can record radio, so all that's lacking is the timer. Perhaps I could hack
this design to add a radio tuner and a timer.
Friday, September 08, 2000
Now that's clever: a one-time-use credit card for making online
purchases. (Though I still insist that the risk of your credit card number getting stolen online are no higher than the
risk of it getting stolen by some surly waiter or retail employee.)
Thursday, September 07, 2000
Shopping for satellite TV for our new house.
No way I'm giving Cox any more of my money for their 20-year-old two-cable technology.
Anyway, shopping for satellite is a pain in the ass: two providers and thirty different receivers, many
of which I can't differentiate from one another. It's like it was in 1995, trying to decide which of the
twenty or so available Macintoshes to buy. Update 9-18-2000: Let's hear it for technology
momentum: I gave up and got cable after all. The fact is, I just couldn't find the value-added of
satellite over cable (even Cox's sorry cable system), and the price is just about the same.
Still more on Stephen King and his e-publishing experiment The Plant. Firstly, the publicity surrounding
this has prompted me to revisit some of his older work that I've
already enjoyed before (currently reading
and Dreamscapes, with
The Dead Zone on deck).
Secondly, though, I just saw this recent note
on his web site about the future of The Plant. Specifically, quote:
Installments one, two and three are going to be available for $1. Further installments up to 8 will be available for $2 each. In other words, you complete financial liability for the first 8 installments of this story will be $13 or about the cost of a trade paperback or a hardcover novel offered at 40% discount in a chain bookstore.
Give me a break. When I buy his books, I don't buy the hardback or trade paper versions; I buy the mass-market paperback
for $7. Furthermore, I rarely buy books; typically I get them from the library. Also, consider that whatever margin
the publisher typically skims off is going right in his pocket. In other words, there's no way I'm paying $13 for this book. I love the idea of publishing electronically, but I'm afraid I
consider $13 for the electronic version of a novel outrageous.
Wednesday, September 06, 2000
Kevin Fox's AOLiza
sets up the old Eliza program to talk with unsuspecting bozos over AIM.
I'd like to hook that up to a speech synthesizer and have it answer the phone when telemarketers call.
"What would it mean to you if MCI was my long distance carrier?" Hey, maybe I'll just simulate Eliza
myself when they call. Or better yet, Racter.
I'm not much of a fan of any of the mainstream sports, but I
just love ESPN-2. Right now they're
showing a Magic: The Gathering
tournament. Yesterday it was a poker tournament. Plus, of course, the X-Games.
All sorts of wacky stuff; too cool.
A friend of mine just returned from NYC with a bottle of
Now, I love coffee, but this just scares the hell out of me.
My WuName is "Curly-Haired Slacker,"
and my Metal Gear Name
is "Hydrogen Scorpion." Somehow I don't see either of those catching on.
I always wished I had a nickname. For a while in college, a lot of the
guys on my hall were calling me "Cujo,"
but it never quite reached critical mass. And, of course, you can't
give yourself one, alas.
Tuesday, September 05, 2000
Clearing a bunch of backlog:
- Andrew Glassner. Lots of cool stuff.
including some excellent Celtic knotwork.
- RoShamBo [Rock, Paper, Scissors] Programming Competition.
- TechRadio, my favorite radio show.
- Blasts from the past: Emulators for extinct web browsers,
screen snaps of extinct versions of Micros~1 Windows,
and the Vintage Computer Festival.
- 405, a very cool 3-minute movie produced by a couple of guys in their spare
A while back a guy who had read some of my writing on this site emailed me asking my advice
about a job offer he had gotten from a company in Silicon Valley (he currently lives near his
family someplace in Michigan). We swapped a few emails, with him explaining his background
and priorities in life and me giving my opinions on how those priorities fit (or in this case, didn't
fit) Silicon Valley. Some time later, I got an email informing me of his decision (he stayed in
Michigan) and thanking me for my advice, with a $15 Amazon.com
gift certificate. How cool is that?!?
My four-year-old was sitting in my lap, and we were
perusing the NickJr web site. We had a few
moments of confusion, which I figured out after a few moments were due to her expectation
that we could go watch the Dora the Explorer
TV show right there on the web site. It occurred to me what a natural thing it is to expect
that when you don't understand the limitations of the technology, and it also occurred to me
that for her children, it'll probably work just that way. That is, while the medium may
not bear a recognizable resemblance to either TV or the web, it seems certain that the
services those two media provide will ultimately be unified.
I had a movie idea the other day. The movie
Crossroads was a great, if not
especially original, story that was made into a very mediocre movie. The basic plot is a quest (the specifics not overly
important) which culminates in a blues-guitar competition between the protagonist and a representative of Satan, with the stakes
(of course) being the protagonist's soul. The idea is to make a movie with this same basic plot, except that the musical
genré is rap. The obvious choice for Satan's rap star is Eminem. I'm too long out of touch with rap to have a good suggestion for
Monday, September 04, 2000
Like many geeks, I am a long-time fan of Eric Harshbarger's
The desk that got him his
most recent notoriety is cool,
but the coolest has to be the clock.
I mean, sculpting in LEGOs is an accomplishment in itself, but making a working clock mechanism out
of LEGOs is in a whole different level of accomplishment.
Very cool online history of the genesis
of the Macintosh.
Sunday, September 03, 2000
There was an article in the August 13 New York Times Magazine about Stephen King, and in it
he indicated that he wanted to be considered a "real" writer of literature, an achievement of which he is
robbed simply because he writes horror. This struck me as interesting, because I've always seen it sort
of the other way around: he has the potential -- sometimes realized, sometimes not -- to be a great
author, but frequently lets the supernatural aspects of a story take over from the more basic human aspects
that make for great literature. The best example of this is
This begins as a fairly straightforward story in which a newcomer to town pits the townspeople against one
another by playing their distrusts against one another. This wonderfully addressed some
themes of trust, betrayal, and revenge among citizens of a small town, much like Stephen Dobyns's excellent
The Church of Dead Girls.
(Incidentally, I know King is a big fan of Dobyns, and of this book in particular.)
However, rather than follow these themes further, the book degenerates into the usual King-style festival
of horrors, with the bad guy being exposed as some sort of demon, and all manner of occult action ensuing.
King is a great writer, and a great author, but too often falls back on horrific action instead of pursuing the human
element of the story. My favorites of King's are those where he avoids this pitfall -- those with minimal (or no) supernatural element:
The Dead Zone,
and even Roadwork,
to name a few.
I hardly think King needs writing advice from me, and he has said many times how he has little choice as to what he
is inspired to write about, but his work would be so much better if he could avoid that horror crutch; or at least, avoid
letting it completely overcome the rest of the story as it often does in his work.