New desktop, try 2

After doing yet more research on benchmarks and prices, I’ve backed away from my revolutionary stance on Intel processors. The Athlon 64 X2 represents a fair approximation, and the CPU and motherboard combo I’ve chosen will save me about $150 off of the Intel alternative. Here’s what I’m ordering tonight:

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA780G-UD3H (780G chipset, ATI Radeon HD 3200 on-board, although I won’t be using it) CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600 (Dual 2.9GHz cores, 2x512K L2, 65W) Video card: Radeon HD 4870 1GB (My first PCIe x16 card! Note that this is actually a bump over the previous plan) Memory: G.SKILL 4GB DDR2 (1066 MHz, dual-channel, CAS 5. A tiny upgrade in speed) Hard drive: Western Digital Caviar WD6400AAKS (640GB, 7200 RPM, this hasn’t changed)

Add in an HDMI cable (my screen and current video card support it, but for some reason I never got around to buying one) and one of the best reviewed AM2 heatsinks on the market, and it all adds up to just over $550 including shipping. Even cheaper than I was expecting.

The savings will probably go towards an HTPC build from the old hardware. Details to come! Maybe!

The earliest news events I remember

The first five news events I actually remember (and my corresponding ages) were:

  1. 1986-01-28: Challenger explosion (6 years, 1 month)
  2. 1986-02-09: Halley's Comet passes Earth (6 years, 2 months)
  3. 1986-10-27: Mets win the World Series (6 years, 10 months)
  4. 1987-10-19: Stock market crash on Black Monday (7 years, 10 months)
  5. 1988-11-08: Bush defeats Dukakis (8 years, 10 months)

One of the most interesting things I learned while looking up these events is how close together the Challenger disaster and the Halley’s Comet perihelion were. In fact, the Shuttle mission (STS-51-L) and the following scheduled mission (STS-61-E) had apparently been scheduled to observe the comet up close. In my mind, those two events were far apart. Along the same lines, the Mets won the World Series just a couple of months after my family moved to Connecticut, but somehow I suddenly became a Mets fan.

New desktop specs

I’ve got my new desktop birthday gift essentially planned at this point. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Tom’s Hardware and Ars Technica, and both of them are pointing at Intel for solid mid-range desktops nowadays. There’s some disagreement over whether the Core i7 (Quad-core on one die! Triple-channel DDR3!) is worth the price premium over the Core 2 Duo. I’ve decided that, for me, it’s not. I don’t do enough video gaming anymore for four cores to be effectively utilized. Even two cores feels like a bit of a waste.

We’re still deciding on a case (although I really like everything Lian Li, like the PC-7B plus II) since the case is a part that I feel that M should have a say in. But the guts are going to be as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 (Dual core, 3.16GHz)
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3P (Intel P45 Northbridge. X48 was tempting, but I don't need that much PCIe, and I probably never will.)
  • Video card: Radeon HD 4850 512MB (This was a hard decision. The HD 4870 1GB would be so much faster, but in the end I don't game as much as I used to, and another $100 for the performance is too much.)
  • Memory: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) (DDR2 800, Dual Channel, CAS 5. The Motherboard has four slots, so if when I need more memory, it'll be simple.)
  • Hard drive: Western Digital Caviar 640GB (7200 RPM, SATA 3.0Gb. I'm a hard drive miser. I could splurge for a 1TB drive, but I've never even filled my current 160GB disk.)
  • Optical drive: I'll move the NEC ND-3550A DVD-RW from my current desktop. It's still solid.

Update, Mar 3: I just ordered the parts, but not before a whole bunch of stuff changed.

Passwords in email

Dear web sites:

Please do not send me my password in plain-text in an email. My email is not necessarily secure. The protocols by which email is sent through the Internet are unencrypted. When you send me an email with my password in it, I delete it immediately. phpBB does it. So does Geni. Movember did it, too. There are only two cases when you should send me a plain-text password in an email:

  1. When I create an account, and you generate a password for me.
  2. When I tell you I forgot my password, and you generate a new password for me.

The fact that you even can tell me my password in plain-text indicates to me that your database is insecure. Anyone with access to it would be able to get everyone’s plain-text usernames and passwords. Please change your database schema to use a one-way hash to store passwords.

2008 Oscars Scoresheet

It’s that time of year again: Oscar nominations! The 81st Academy Awards nominees were announced today, and here’s my scoresheet:

Category # seen
Best Picture 1 2
Best Actor 0 1
Best Actress 0
Best Director 1 2
Best Screenplay 1
Best Adapted Screenplay 1 2

Another banner year here at for seeing movies in the theaters. I’ve seen the entertaining but overrated Slumdog Millionaire and the fantastic and completely deserving WALL-E. If (as I hope) I see The Wrestler and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in the next month, that’ll give me 5 more points.

How’d you do?

Update Jan 26: I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button this weekend. I have to say, neither of the Best Picture nominees I’ve seen have really blown me away. Both this and Slumdog Millionaire were good movies, but I don’t think they’d have made the cut if they were made last year.

Logo tricks

Lots of people know about the hidden arrow between the E and the x in the FedEx logo. Did you also know:

Mostly taken from reddit.

1234567890 seconds after the epoch

On Friday, February 13, at 23:31:30 UTC (6:31:30pm EST), Unix time (the number of seconds since New Year’s 1970) will hit 1,234,567,890. I will be visiting several nerd friends in Philadelphia that evening. What drink should we have to celebrate?

  1. A power hour, starting at 5:31pm. (Dangerous, sickening, and probably too early in the evening.)
  2. 1ml of rum, 2ml of vodka, 3ml of whiskey, etc. (Adds up to almost exactly one nasty-tasting shot.)
  3. A single reasonable beer. (YAWN)
  4. ...?

2008 in books

I thought that looking back on my list of books this year, I was going to feel somewhat disappointed. My late-fall reading list was thin. But actually looking on the list, I’m having a hard time picking out my favorites. Here’s the list of the books, along with some notes on the books I particularly enjoyed.

See also by book lists for 2007, 2006, and 2005.

Will my new desktop be an HTPC?

It’s been several years since microATX motherboards became commonplace, kicking the Home Theater PC movement into high gear. While researching hardware to build a new desktop computer, I ran into an interesting question: Can it be an HTPC? The “HT” part of the quotient would require it to be able to connect to my television, which is currently in a different room than my desktop, and I want to be able to still sit down at the computer. I don’t want heavy VGA running from the machine down the hallway. So it seems like I’ve only got a couple of options:

  1. Run cables down the hallway, and hope M doesn't notice. (Good luck).
  2. Wireless video. Half junk, half expensive vapor.
  3. A thin client like a Sun Ray on my desktop.
  4. Give up and pick either a new desktop, or an HTPC.

Right now, option 3 sounds the most promising. There are a handful of people who have talked about hooking high-end thin clients up to their TV to act as a home theater interface, but I’ve found no discussion of doing it the other way, as far as I can tell. I’ll be investigating this deeper over the next few weeks. But experimentation might be too expensive; I might just end up going for option 4.

Lessons learned from Film Addict

It’s been a week since I posted Film Addict. It got posted to, Slashfilm,, and became a Twitter and Facebook meme on some level. At this point, it has received 100,000 pageviews, and it was filled out 37,000 times (peaking at a rate of over 1000 per hour, but at this point still about once a minute).

Lessons learned:

  • If I use strict and warnings, I should keep an eye on the Apache error log. I generated 10GB of errors in the first 24 hours, filling up /var on my webhost, which resulted in 8 hours of downtime during the Slashfilm surge.
  • Google Adsense now allows "personal" domains. I tried to sign up in 2004, when Weboggle was all the rage, and I was turned down because it lived under I'm not sure when the policy changed, but I applied this week and was approved on Thursday.
  • Google ads don't really make you much money. At this point, the ads on the Film Addict page have made me $2.90, but even if I had had them from day one, I'd only have made about $15.
  • I sleep fine at night, even after creating something clearly intended to be meme-fodder.
  • With enough data, you can get awesome bell curves. Histogram of number of movies seen:

It didn’t end up going much of anywhere on Digg or Reddit or Delicious. I’m not sure why, but I think part of it might have been the individual nature of the form. You could compare your list against your friends', but there was no community interest. Another factor (especially on Delicious) was the unique id in every posted URL; there could never be enough posts of a single URL to get any momentum.

Film Addict

A couple friends of mine posted one of those lame Facebook chain note things today. It was a list of a couple hundred movies, mostly 18-25-year-old targeted franchises from the past decade or so (think Scream, Saw, American Pie, etc) with some others (mostly very popular) thrown in. “Copy this list to your profile and check off the ones you’ve seen”. The list’s arbitrary inclusion criteria angered me, so I decided to make my own, with a better inteface than “copy and paste it yourself”. The list is IMDB’s top 250.

I posted it to MetaFilter Projects. Pretty much immediately, Mathowie Twittered it. At this point, more than 200 people have taken it already. Give it a try, compare your list to mine.

I Approve This Snowclone

A new, occasionally very visible phrase entered the lexicon in 2003, after the McCain-Feingold Act passed into law. The law itself says: “Any communication … which is transmitted through television shall include … a statement that identifies the candidate and states that the candidate has approved the communication.” I’m certain you’ve heard the simplest form of the statement a hundred times in the past week: “I’m __________ and I approve this message”.

When a statement is repeated so frequently in public, it’s inevitable that it will become a subject of parody and ridicule. Here’s just a few examples that I’ve found while searching through the web:

Politics-relatedlawmessiahass kickingunbiased, factual messagemoronic messagedeceptionpiece of racist garbagethird place race baiting washout

Web-relatedweb pagetimestampsignatureblock

Otherdress codepoodleflycastingInstructablecream

Astronomy Biathalon


SPORT NAME: Astronomy Biathlon SUMMARY: Each competitor must run from the starting line, following a predefined route of approximately 1600 meters carrying a telescope of their choice. The route will end at a Sighting Area. The competitor must set up the telescope in the Sighting Area and accurately find and identify three (3) astronomical objects listed on a list provided. Then he or she will break down the telescope, and run the next route to the next Sighting Area. There will be five (5) Sighting Areas in all, followed by a final 1600 meter run to the finish line. Sixty (60) seconds will be added to a competitor’s time for each object not correctly identified. The competitor with the shortest final time will be the winner. Mixed genders.

POSSIBLE VARIATIONS: 4x1600 Astronomy Biathlon relay; Astronomy Biathlon medley (galaxies at first Sighting Area, binary star systems at second, etc); Astronomy Triathlon (routes alternate 1600m runs with 5km biking)

Lyme Disease

Over Fourth of July weekend, I went up to Maine to M’s family’s lakeside camp. We went running one day, and stopped to pick wild raspberries on the side of the road. When we were done, I noticed a large dog tick climbing up my leg. I squashed it, checked the rest of my body, and found no more.

Several days later, I found a deer tick in my hip. It was removed by a licensed professional, and I didn’t worry too much about it. The next weekend, I suffered what I hoped was a summer cold: congestion, coughing, aches, and general crappy-feeling. The alternative was that the B. burgdorferi bacteria was coursing through my body. It went away, and I almost forgot about the episode. Last night, I discovered a large, red bullseye rash at the location of my bite, the classic Lyme disease symptom.

The good news: early diagnosis equals a very good prognosis. Three weeks of twice-daily antibiotics will almost certainly result in no long-term effects other than a boring medical story.

Uncle Wes's waffles

In case you’re wondering whether my propensity to being pleased by the appearance of puzzles and mathematics in everyday life is learned or genetic, I present you with the following story from my Uncle Wes:

I was mixing up a batch of waffles when I made a mistake. I thought the recipe was 1 cup of mix to 2/3 cup of water. After stirring in the water, the batter looked too thick. Sure enough, upon checking the recipe I saw that I was supposed to use 3/4 cup of water.

I briefly panicked. 3/4 minus 2/3?!! That’s not easy! Where was I going to find a measuring cup that was calibrated in 12ths?

You’ve probably already figured out what I did to fix the problem.

My grandpa

My grandfather was inventive; he built his own lawnmower using, in part, the transmission from a $50 junked car – and then sold the remainder of the car for a profit. He was a practical joker; he somehow once tricked my cousin into putting the seeded end of grass between her teeth, and then he yanked out the stalk. He was hard working; he built the house that my dad and his brothers grew up in, and even made his own cinder blocks for the job. He was handy; he built a car engine from two diesel-powered refrigerators, harvested a transmission from a pickup truck, and made a custom two-seater Maverick that, in his words, “could pull a Mack truck up a brick wall at 60mph”.

I can see a little of him in me, and he was everything I wish I was. He was independent and sometimes stubborn; and he fell off his roof last week, while fixing his TV antenna. At the age of 82. I’ll miss him.


I got a promotion yesterday. Effective more or less immediately, I am the manager of one of two teams of developers. I’ll have two great developers reporting directly to me – one of whom is on vacation and is probably going to learn of this change while reading this very blog entry when he comes back next week. Hi, Bryan! – and my very first task is to hire a third. The first thing I learned about being a manager is that there are a hell of a lot more things to think about when you’re the crux of a hiring decision than when you’re just another interviewer voice.

I’ve told a couple people about this already, and there have been two repeated questions: First, “Are you still going to be able to do technical work?” Absolutely. In fact, it was one of my requirements for accepting. This is where I’ve always wanted to go with my career – hence my dual BS in Computer Science and Management – but I never (ever) (EVER) want to stop coding or playing with new technology. With such a small (and, I believe, low-maintenance) team, I expect to spend at least three-quarters of my time doing exactly what I did last week.

Second, “Did you pursue this, or did your boss just offer it out of the blue?” I think it was a fortuitous combination. The company is growing (we had 4 developers when I started here, we now have 8, plus 2 interns, and hope to add 3 more before the end of the calendar year), and the manager of the development team was having a harder and harder job keeping everything planned. At the same time, I’m one of the most senior developers here, and I believe I’ve had an unofficial leadership position here for a while. I mentioned in my annual review last month that I was interested in more responsibility, and I think that just solidified thoughts my manager had already been having.

This transition will be easier than it could be, otherwise. In fact, these are probably the ideal conditions. There’s no seniority clash. There’s not really anything Broken about the culture in the development group or at the company as a whole. I sincerely enjoy the people I’m working with, and I think they’re all smart and hard working without being jerks or workaholics. I don’t feel the need to change a lot, organizationally, since it’s all working very well. I’ll be able to ease into this new role with some hiring and planning (and soon, budgeting for fiscal ‘09).

I’m scared, but excited. It’s like the clickety-clack part of the roller coaster ride. You know what I mean.

Update 6/5: The new group has a name, although it’s possibly temporary: “Publishing Technology”. We wanted to steer clear of words like “internal” (since we’ll do publisher-facing apps), “tools” (which implies smaller utilities than what we work on), and “workflow” (that’s just a small fraction of our purview). The other half of development is very simply the “Products” group.

White wine tip

Here’s a somewhat random but ingenious white wine tip we picked up in the Finger Lakes. Freeze some grapes. The next time you bring home a bottle that’s not chilled, but want to drink it right away, throw them in the glass. They won’t water down the wine like ice will, and it’s about one-third as tacky.

Rainslick Precipices

I just paid the low low price of $20 for the brand new Penny-Arcade videogame, On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One. After playing the ten-minute demo, I’ve decided it was a bargain. Features: great art (both 2D and 3D, including seamless transitions between the two), absurd situations, fun and simple RPG-like gameplay, and a black sense of humor without equal.

Support webcomickry in all its forms, buy a copy for yourself. Available right now for PC Windows, Mac, Linux and on XBLA.

Update: I realized that I didn’t make it clear enough that (at least in Windows) you can do things in this order: 1) Download, 2) Enjoy the demo, 3) Pay, 4) Enjoy the remainder. And no downloading is necessary between steps three and four.

Low-carb diets

Low-carbohydrate diets predate Robert Atkins' eponymous phenomenon by more than one hundred years. The theory behind the diets goes like this: Food contains starches, which your body very quickly converts to glucose. When glucose levels spike right after a meal, in order to prevent blood sugar levels from getting too high, you convert them into triglycerides for storage (usually in fat). When your blood sugar gets very low, said fat stores (ideally) get converted to ketones, which your body can use like glucose. Low-carb diets work on the theory that the modern American diet never allows blood sugar to fall low enough for step 2 to occur.

On a whim, M and I are trying a one-week low-carb diet. Lunch and dinner we can handle. But what do you eat for breakfast when cereal and fruit and bagels are off limits? I can only eat so many hard boiled eggs before I go nuts.

A Decade of Comic Book Movies

There have been 34 movies based on DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse comic books released in the past decade (9 by DC, 17 by Marvel, 8 by Dark Horse). If you put any stock in Rotten Tomatoes’s raw percentage, the worst of them was Son of the Mask (5%), and the best is Iron Man (94% and currently in theaters). 2007 was an especially unremarkable year for comic book movies: only Spider-Man 3 and 300 scored at least a 60%, and both just barely. There are at least four more such films slated for release before the end of 2008, and based on my totally unbiased guesses, The Dark Knight will be highly rated, The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy II will be mediocre, and the sequel to The Punisher will be junk.

My brief unscientific survey showed that most people believe that Marvel would have the highest average rating. The Daredevils and Elektras would be more than balanced out by the consistent high-quality of the X-Men and Spiderman series. In truth, DC edges out Marvel by a pedestrian 58 to 54%. Dark Horse does worse, with a dismal 37%.

I’d really like to revisit these numbers in another ten years. Iron Man will certainly have sequels, as will Superman Returns and the burgeoning Batman franchise.

Blade (1998)
Virus (1998)
Mystery Men (1999)
X-Men (2000)
Road to Perdition (2002)
Blade II (2002)
Spider-Man (2002)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Daredevil (2003)
X2 (2003)
Hulk (2003)
Catwoman (2004)
The Punisher (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Blade: Trinity (2004)
Hellboy (2004)
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Constantine (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)
A History of Violence (2005)
Elektra (2005)
Fantastic Four (2005)
Son of the Mask (2005)
V for Vendetta (2006)
The Fountain (2006)
Superman Returns (2006)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Splinter (2006)
Ghost Rider (2007)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
30 Days of Night (2007)
300 (2007)
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Iron Man (2008)

CPR: As Seen on TV

One of M’s co-workers is giving an interesting sounding talk this week. If it wasn’t in the middle of a work day, I might try to wrangle my way into it:

"Have you ever watched a cardiac arrest on TV and thought 'That is not how we do it'? Do you remember seeing Dr. Carter shocking asystole and wondering why the cast of ER did not follow ACLS guidelines? Has a patient's family member ever said to you 'Meredith Grey was coded for four hours and was fine. What do you mean there might be neurological damage?' All these questions and more will be addressed this coming Thursday during my Senior Talk entitled CPR: As Seen on TV."

Update: This reminds me a bit of the so-called CSI Effect, where juries are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to physical evidence in trials.

Brunch bets

We could tell that the waitress serving the next table had a tattoo, but only about a quarter-inch of it extended beyond the bottom of her shirt sleeve. What was visible wasn’t complex. It just looked like the bottom of a plain square. “I think that it’s a Polaroid picture.” Maybe it was temporal proximity; just the day before, Brian had made me stuff his exposed Polaroids into my purse. “No way. There is no way anyone would get that tattoo. Not in a million years.” I thought it was a pretty good idea for a tattoo. Simple, inoffensive to everyone, and you could even get strangers to draw in it with washable markers as an ice breaker. “In fact, I’ll bet you one hundred dollars that it’s not.”

Why did I take the bet? I’m not sure. Did I think he would pull his hand away at the last moment before shaking? Is it because he offered me 10:1 odds? Was I really sure that it was, indeed, a Polaroid photo? No, it was definitely not that last one.

After Brian handed me my winnings, I told him what I was going to do with it: I was going to buy Polaroid film. I still have no idea what I’m going to use the ten packages of lightly-expired professional-quality 779 for, but buying something thematic makes me feel a little less like I’m stealing from my friend.

M's Draft Application List

The following is M’s current draft list for where she’s applying for residencies. In most cases, I don’t know the actual hospitals or programs, so this is just a list of the cities. Farmington, CT; New Haven, CT; Boston, MA; Providence, RI; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and Portland, OR. Possibly also on the list are San Francisco, CA and Rochester, NY.

Update: Oh yeah, I forgot Baltimore, MD.

Update, 9 Oct: We She applied today. Rochester, NY was on the final list, but not San Francisco or Baltimore.