Joe Ganley
Writing code since 1979
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, woodworking, and home improvement. Also this.


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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Information overload

I'm setting up a new site, and went to look at
GoDaddy for registration and hosting. They are certainly cheap, and seem to be fairly well spoken of, but I was momentarily stunned by the amount of information on that first page.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004


  • Hilarious yet pointed War Sim wish list.
  • Long Now Foundation seminars.
  • Rands In Repose's web site redesign toolkit.
  • Bit-twiddling code tricks: one and two.

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    Wednesday, May 26, 2004

    The fine line between parody and idiocy

    A friend of mine in college was visited by a friend from his hometown, who happened to say "dude" every fourth or fifth word he spoke. Each time he would visit, we would parody him for days, saying "dude" near-constantly. And each time, we would stop after realizing that somewhere along the way we had sort of forgotten that we were making fun of this guy and had just become people who said "dude" too much. A life lesson: It's very easy to slip from parodying someone to being just like them.

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    Friday, May 21, 2004

    Absences that I miss

    It struck me the other day that there have been significant periods of my adult life in which I didn't own a car (1996-2000), didn't own a computer (1992-1995), or didn't own a TV (1991-1992). I remember each of those absences fondly. (Confession: During the car-free period, we had a single car for my entire family, which people who truly don't own a car would consider cheating.)

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    Make your web site fabulous

    Design Eye for the Usability Guy. What a joy it is to watch talented people at work.

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    Idle hands bang my keyboard

    oreomonkey I have a variety of games and tchotchkes on my desk, to give the kids something other than my computer to play with when they're sitting in my lap. Two of the best are the Oreo Matchin' Middles game and the classic Barrel of Monkeys. I like playing with the toy oreos myself too; they're very tactilely entertaining. (As an aside, "Oreo" is perhaps my all-time favorite brand name; I love how the word echoes the structure of the cookie, with the O's on either end.)

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    Thursday, May 20, 2004

    pdf2txt and the dawn of the intranet

    This PDF to text converter reminded me of a consulting job I did for HP back in 1995, where I wrote code to do exactly the same task. PDF was pretty new, and HP was striving to put all of their internal documents on their intranet (though I'm not sure that word had been coined yet) in PDF and plaintext, and my wife was among those running that effort. It's funny to think what a radical idea that was in 1995, how futuristic it seemed to propose that people in any HP office would be able to access these documents on demand instead of having to request that a person send them by email or hardcopy.

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    Sunday, May 16, 2004

    Shakespeare doth these titles bequeath

    I'm reading the novel Kings of Infinite Space, and got to thinking about other books, movies, etc. whose titles were lifted from Shakespeare but are otherwise non-Shakespearean. I'm sure there are a million of them, but this is all I've got so far:
  • Brave New World
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Infinite Jest
  • Outrageous Fortune
  • What Dreams May Come
    Can anyone suggest others? Near-misses, such as The Name of the Rose, don't count. (Update: I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, but it sort of got silly after that. Read The Chronicles of Doodah instead.)

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    Friday, May 14, 2004

    Prior comments have left the building

    Now that Blogger supports comments on its own, I've abandoned Haloscan, so the handful of prior comments are gone. Sorry about that.

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    Webby goes for looks

    The Webby award winners have been announced. I found it interesting (for lack of a better word) that three of the five nominees (including the winner) in the Personal category were very pretty but severely usability-impaired flashfests of exactly the sort that I find highly annoying. Oh well.

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    I am very difficult to startle, but... [via random($foo).]

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    Have you seen this phone?

    Cordless phones should have an emergency battery backup for the "page/find" feature. As I do about monthly, I've lost one of mine, and it's been lost long enough that its battery is dead, so I can't page it. I'm sure it'll turn up eventually.

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    Thursday, May 13, 2004

    The economics of Peapod

    I received a huge delivery today from Peapod, a grocery-delivery service run by Giant. Peapod has been a topic of some discussion in our neighborhood, and people ask us lots of questions about it, but few seem to use it. I don't know if the reason is economic or something else, but I'm convinced that from a strictly economic standpoint, Peapod makes sense to use. Peapod makes their delivery overhead by charging a delivery charge, but moreso, by not reducing the prices of sale items nearly as much, nor having as many sale items, as the actual Giant store does. I'm pretty savvy about how much groceries cost, and I estimate I pay a premium of roughly 5% for getting groceries from Peapod. So, for a load the size of today's, that's about $25. This saves me a 2+-hour trip to the store, and a trip that long would have to be made with no children along. The value of kid-free time is clearly at least $8/hour, because that is what we pay babysitters when we go out. So, including transit time, Peapod is roughly a break-even in economic terms. On the other hand, people don't function in strictly rational economic terms. Hiring a lawn service probably also makes sense economically, but I won't do it because I enjoy mowing the lawn, or at least my dislike for it is low enough that the amount I would pay to eliminate that chore is smaller than I'll pay to eliminate grocery shopping. Peapod has some other advantages, though: They bring the groceries to your kitchen, so they're doing the gathering, loading, and unloading for you. The produce is much fresher than what you find in the store, because it comes straight from the warehouse without the day-or-two delay of shipping it to the store, stocking it, and having it sit in the produce section until you pick it up. We're much less likely to forget something, since we have days to make up a list at our leisure, often with a cookbook in front of us (and note, if I forget something critical and have to go back, that's another hour wasted -- the nearest store is ~20 minutes away). The way it usually ends up is, I actually make small trips to the store a few times a month, with the kids. We go to Costco about once a month. And five or six times a year, we get a really huge load from Peapod. If you live in a Peapod delivery area, try it out. And if you say I referred you, we both get a credit; just tell them the referrer's email address is "," but with only one "d". (The email you would get if I sent you a referral looks like this.)

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    Wednesday, May 12, 2004

    I'm not really sure why, but I really love this Randompixel photo. It almost feels like you're there, though I'm not sure if that's the photo or simply the fact that I (like most of us) have spent so much time behind the wheel of a car that it's easy to imagine.

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    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    I love it when people recognize that low(er)-tech solutions can be the right solutions for many markets, especially in developing parts of the world. This time, a company is deploying a relatively antiquated wireless phone system that is just right for the needs of much of China.

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    Monday, May 10, 2004

    The TV in our bedroom, a Magnavox from five years back or so, has a sleep timer, like most late-model TVs. We use this feature pretty much every night. What I especially like about the sleep timer on this particular TV is that when it reaches a minute until shutoff time, a message appears on the screen, "SLEEP TIMER ... 60 SECONDS." The time counts down until, at about three seconds left, it changes to "SLEEP TIMER ... GOOD NIGHT." I love that someone paid enough attention to detail to add that little conditional to implement a feature that, by definition, most people will never see, and which, frankly, no-one would miss if it weren't there. Bravo, Magnavox, it's good to see that somewhere you have (or, at least, had) an engineer who takes pride in his or her work.

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    Saturday, May 08, 2004

    It startled me a little bit to see the word "blogger" in a Washington Post headline a couple of days ago ("Media's Most Wanted Today Is Blogger From Iraqi Prison," front page of the Business section). I wonder if that word is in the OED yet?

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    Friday, May 07, 2004

    Hoppers gameThinkFun (formerly Binary Arts) is positively my favorite company in the entire world. Every toy/game/puzzle of theirs I've ever owned is just wonderful. Our latest is the Hoppers puzzle we bought our daughter. She also likes Rush Hour a lot. They're well-made, fun yet challenging, and best of all, they come with a whole bunch of cards with initial configurations ranging from easy to really hard, so they aren't like most puzzles where you solve it and you're done forever. (BTW, embarassingly enough, she's better at both of these than I am!) My all-time favorite was Top-Spin, which doesn't appear to be made any more.

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    Long ago I reminisced about the old Infocom adventures. I just learned that you can play a bunch of them through your web browser. [via]

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    3M Ergonomic Mouse I highly recommend the 3M Ergonomic Mouse. I am having tendon problems in my "mouse button finger," and was told to get a mouse with the button on the thumb instead of the index finger. At a co-worker's recommendation, I got this one, which is shaped sort of like a joystick. The pitch is that your hand is in a more normal "handshake" position, which reduces stress on the nerves and tendons on the bottom of your wrist. It takes a little getting used to, but two days later I'm finding it very comfortable; I like that my wrist now rests on its side instead of on its bottom. It comes in large and small/medium sizes, and there is a sizing chart to help you choose.

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    Tuesday, May 04, 2004

    Gas prices, of course, are higher than they've been since I started driving. A couple of days ago I had my first-ever over-$30 fill-up. However, we can always be happy we don't live in Europe. I remember going to London in 1994, and walking past a gas station and seeing an amount on the sign that looked about the same as what I was used to back home; say, 1.35. A few steps later I realized, holy crap, that's not dollars, it's pounds, which meant about $2.30. A few steps more, I realized, that's per liter! So, almost US$10.00 per gallon. I bet that would make a dent in your driving habits.

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    My mother sent me another of those "guess your number" tricks, but this one was a little less obvious than they usually are. The way this one works is that the result of subtracting a number from its scramble is always divisible by 9, and thus the sum of its digits is a multiple of 9. So, when you enter your number with one digit removed, it computes the sum of the digits you entered and subtracts that from the next higher multiple of 9 (which must be the sum of the digits in your original number) to get the digit you removed. That is why it forbids you from picking 0, as otherwise when the sum of the digits you entered was an even multiple of 9, it wouldn't be able to distinguish whether the digit you removed was 0 or 9.

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    Monday, May 03, 2004

    A new set of family pictures are up.

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    Ned Batchelder makes an analogy that I like, between software engineering and diamond cutting.

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    CicadaWhere I live, we're due for the emergence of 17-year cicadas this year, featuring swarms "of biblical proportions," as in hundreds of insects per square foot. There is a great article in today's Washington Post about cicadas, which answered several questions I've always had about them:
  • It is important that they emerge simultaneously because their only defense mechanism is their sheer numbers. Other cicadas with shorter cycles have evolved other defense mechanisms, such as camouflage or speed, but the long-cycle cicadas rely simply on producing more cicadas than their predators can possibly eat.
  • The successful cycles are prime (13 and 17 are two of the biggest) so as to minimize the frequency with which multiple cycles emerge in the same year. Simultaneity is undesirable because the mongrel offspring of cicadas with different cycles will have cycles somewhere between their parents. This will reduce the number who emerge in sync with the next brood, thus reducing the defense mechanism mentioned above.
  • The successful cycles are long because this makes them more robust against emerging during a summer too cold to successfully reproduce (this was apparently common in the Pleistocene when these things evolved).
  • It is believed that the larvae time their emergence by counting the flowering cycles of the trees to whose roots they are attached.

  • The only of my questions that they didn't answer is, if longer cycles are better, why aren't there 23-year cicadas, or 29-year, or 37-year, or whatever? Cathy thinks 17 might just be the limit of their lifespan, just as the limit of humans' lifespan is 120 or so. Monte carlo optimization (such as evolution by natural selection) produces some strange solutions, doesn't it? I mean, sure, staying near-dormant underground for 99.8% of your life is great for survival, but how much fun is it?

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    Saturday, May 01, 2004

    I saw a chunk of Tomb Raider on TV last night. It was horrible, as if someone said, "Hey, let's make a movie just like Raiders of the Lost Ark, except really stupid." Even the action scenes were boring, at least to my Yuen Woo-ping-spoiled brain.

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    Copyright (c) 1988-2004 by Joseph L. Ganley. All rights reserved except where otherwise noted.