Experimental Data

We have some data that is supposed to be quadratic in nature. What does it looks like?

Great parabola to start with, but what happens? An interesting new phenomenon? Oh, nope, just a crappy cable.

Sometimes I hate you, science. Could you make pursuing you a little easier? You don't have to be such a @#*$( about random crap ruining good data, you know?


From the Department of "Brings Tears to My Eyes"

A man laments the good old days he had with a BSD box:
...but I always kept a screen(1) session running with you.



I just got screwed by a metastability issue. I thought it was a bunch of non-sense to scare second year undergraduates. I guess when you're looking at lots of events (more than 10^15 or 2^50 in my case), one synchronizing flip-flop is not enough. Especially when you're feeding a wide adder in high temperatures. Sigh.

-10 engineering points



I'm running a campaign of long experiments (4 days or more per experiment) at work that require my laptop, and I won't be able to access my laptop. Anyways, I probably will be absent for a small amount of time.

(No, really, I'm not going on a bender, I just really have to use my laptop)

(Yes, I am going to be without access to the internet at home for over a week)

(Yes, everything is fine)

(No, I'm not seeing things. What frog? What are you talking about?)

What I've Been Reading

Fruitless Fall: Honeybees are fascinating little creatures, and this book discusses their recent trials and triumphs. The book follows the attempts at diagnosing colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the honeybees of North America. The book goes on to talk about the difficulties of scaling complex, biological systems to meet our food requirements. Overall, I found it an interesting examination of several complex systems and organisms, and would suggest this book to any engineer or scientist. Or anyone who wants motivation to buy fancy honey.

Pride and Prejudice: I never had to read this book in high school, but figured I should probably pick it up at some point. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the story was, but I was disappointed in how little Austen examined Darcy's motives. Also, very few of the main characters perform any sort of work, they just seem to talk, think and feel a whole lot. Overall it was worth the read, but I don't see myself reading it again. I think Wuthering Heights has better stood the test of time.

Reaper Man: Terry Pratchett's Death is one of my favorite (dare I say favourite) personifications. I love reading his novels on airplanes, the humor is enough to keep me focused during the distracting flights. In between hilarious stories involving wizards chasing shopping carts and an undead support group, Pratchett manages to make a point about humans misinterpreting the natural force of death. If you want some light reading with serious undertones, a good read. If you're looking for something a shade darker, there is always Soul Music from the same author.

I'm excited about lots of books in my unread queue, though they're all non-fiction. I'm looking forward the most to The Big Necessity, which discusses the history of human waste and sewage.


Quick Hits: Old Unix Feature Hits the Big Time in Windows 7

A new feature in Windows 7 is that when another program prevents you from moving a file, you receive the name of the program. This feature has been in *nix as the "lsof" command since, well, probably around the time I was born. Though it isn't as pretty as the 7 version will be, it is just as functional:

root@hammer:~# lsof /rainbows
cat 14484 liamliam 1w REG 8,1 227082240 9723906 /rainbows

There is an lsof in BSD, but I'm not sure about Mac OS X.

EDIT: BlogSpot, you break my heart by clipping pre-formatted text which is bigger than your box. You break my heart.

EDIT: I upped the window size. I apologize to any readers with an 800-pixel wide screen.


What is It?

I came across a strange object on Google Maps. Ketelmeer (Kettle Lake in English) is the surrounding body of water. Any ideas of what it is?


Tale of the Dueling Bugs

One of the things I love about software is the completely bizarre cause and effect chains. I recently found one of these chains when I inherited a data acquisition system. The system consisted of firmware sitting on a custom printed circuit board (PCB), and PC software which reads out the data from the motherboard. The firmware had a known defect in it, so the first thing I did when I inherited the firmware was to fix the defect. Most people call defects "bugs," but I do not like the word "bug." Bugs are cute. Defects are not cute.

Anyways, I fixed the firmware problem and all went back to being okay in the world. I didn't see the communication timeouts and corrupt data from the defect. However, I couldn't get the data from the previous experiments out of my mind. The issues with the data didn't quite match the conditions of the defect, which occurred randomly and independently. The data had holes at regular intervals. These multi-day experiment have a lot of data, and when something looks wrong to me in a lot of data I have a hard time explaining what looks wrong. I have to play around with data to figure out what looks wrong. So I graphed it, and then I made some histograms, and then I did crazy things like graph every other sample.

Indeed, it turns out there was *another* defect, but this one was in the C++ software. This defect cropped every half hour, and it caused continuous communications issues, different from the firmware defect. I immediately tried running with the new firmware. The system didn't work at all after half an hour, right when the C++ defect cropped up.

Suddenly what had happened came into focus. The firmware defect occurs randomly, but it would always be an isolated incident. However, after half an hour of standard operation, the C++ defect occurred and continued to occur. The communication would be completely messed up until the firmware defect randomly occurred. This would reset the C++ code, and the system would go on as normal until the cycle repeated in half an hour.

I asked if anyone had performed a control experiment or a long-running test, and no one had. While I look on this incident as additional evidence for the importance of testing, I think it also displays the importance of running control experiments. If someone had run a control experiment, they would have discovered the issues before it ruined a portion of the data.

The person who wrote the software is no longer here, but he was a very hard worker. He worked a lot of really late nights, usually troubleshooting issues with the code. I think this is an example of how a Puritan attitude is a bad thing in a programmer. Lazy people constantly ask themselves if there is a better way - spending a day thinking about a month's worth of work is reasonable to me. Or maybe he made the right decision, which was to get enough data to graduate and leave the problems to the next guy.


Your Device Can Perform Faster

Thank you, Windows Vista. You've made my day.

Closed on the Sabbath

I've never heard of a web-site being "closed" on the Sabbath, but apparently the Dutch political party SGP has a site that is only open during the days of work. Crazy. Anyone know of other websites with similar quirks?

The SGP was involved with Islamic oaths (or rather the lack thereof) for Dutch public officials.


Reddit Round-up: Space Elevator Disasters, TV Personalities, and Apple to Offer DRM-Free Music

From a recent Apple press release:
iTunes offers customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of previously purchased songs to the higher quality DRM-free iTunes Plus format for just 30 cents per song or 30 percent of the album price.

Check out what happens if a space elevator were to snap.

Obama wants CNN's Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general. Dr. Gupta believes that medical reasons are sufficient cause to keep marijuana criminalized. I wonder if he feels the same way about tobacco?


Accesibility Technology Helps Immigrants, Too

A recent NYTimes article on accessibility technology is correct about this technology helping more than just disabled people. While video subtitles allow deaf people to watch TV, they also help immigrants learn the language. Multiple people have told me that foreign TV with subtitles helped them learn a language. I haven't found an internet source of Dutch video with subtitles.

I've been putting off the inevitable, but I think I'm going to buy a TV and hook it up to cable. -5 indie points.


NYTimes Requiring Subscriptions Again?

I can't access any of the articles without a subscription. Did the Times go back to requiring a subscription? I didn't see any news on this - does anyone know what is going on?



One of my favorite web-comics, Unshelved, has a request out to transcribe the archived comics. I love the strip and decided to transcribe a few. Transcribing ruined the humor in the first strips I attempted, but some of the comics are still funny.

[[Dewey sits, reading at a computer. Mel approaches.]]
Mel: I don't recognize that comic.
Dewey: /Penny Arcade/. It's how I keep up on the gaming zeitgeist.

[[Mel peers closer at the computer screen.]]

Mel: That's ... that's the most offensive thing I've ever read.
Dewey: Only because you didn't see Monday's.

Charcoal + Sulfur + Saltpeter = ?

I should try to carry charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter on a transcontinental flight and see what happens:
It was in three separate jars: one of charcoal, one of sulphur, and one of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Each jar was labeled: Charcoal, Sulphur, Saltpetre.

Via Schneier on Security. The three chemicals make gunpowder.