Archive for the ‘Just text’ category

Two insightful articles

March 14th, 2011

In the midst of all the idiots clamoring for every nuclear power plant in the world to be dismantled in favor of smoldering coal plants, I thought I’d post some sanity. Both of these articles were written by engineers. An engineer is a person who deals with fact and reason on a regular basis. Dealing with reality means that engineers have to understand and plan for Murphy’s Law, and in fact expect things to go wrong. Considering that all the people who actually plan for* and expect disasters are engineers, they’re much more qualified to talk about it than most people. When we say something, we’re trying to inform. Your garden-variety news hack, on the other hand, is motivated by a desire to stir up a mess of emotion, because that’s what draws eyeballs. A “news story” is designed to be read in a minute or two, which rules out anything resembling an intelligent explanation of the relevant facts. This leads to ignorant discussion from the peanut gallery. And that in turn leads to public policy written and voted on by people barely competent to pilot an automobile, let alone grasp the inner workings of a nuclear power plant.

Read, and be informed:

Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors

Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake

*Planning is a stage BEFORE the tragedy actually happens. Contrast with politicians, who react.

Finding furniture

November 15th, 2010

I’m not sure if it’s like this for anyone else, but three months out I still have a house with plastic tubs of stuff stacked in rooms and very little furniture. Most people’s reaction to this is, “Well go to Target and buy a kitchen table, it isn’t that hard.” Is everyone else really content to buy the fiberboard crap that comes out of those stores? The stuff is ugly as hell, and as soon as you bump or kick it the stuff starts flaking apart. Oh sure, it’s functional, barely. But it’s not attractive by any stretch.

I decided when I moved in that I wouldn’t waste my money on that stuff. I want some actual real furniture, made out of solid pieces of wood and not sawdust superglued together. So over the past few months I’ve been slowly accumulating things that don’t make my house look like a dormitory. The bed set was one. A couple of decent sofas was another. And a few days ago I finally bought a real writing desk. Not something to put my computer on, but something used to hold papers and pencils. This is a desk from when they actually knew how to make desks. No idiotic sliding tray to bang and scrape your knees on, no stupid plastic-covered hole in the middle. Genuine stained and finished mahogany, dings and scratches and all. This thing has character, it has panache. Someone was probably writing on this thing when you were in diapers. Damn, son, but that’s a real desk.


August 22nd, 2010

Let’s see, what’s happened this week of note?

I have internet. Finally. Problems with the way the cable was originally run meant that the tech wasn’t even able to pull the raw cable out of wherever it was stapled to the inside of the wall. (Normally, when houses are built by intelligent species, about a foot of coax cable is looped inside the junction box We destroyed the junction box and a good chunk of drywall trying to get enough slack to splice in a connector. Why the hell didn’t they just put the connector in when they built the house? Not my problem, though, since it’s still under warranty and someone will fix it.

I bought a table from a church thrift store in the war zone (which the locals were more than happy to help me move into my garage) and a nice office chair to go with it. My computer is finally put together, and the whole setup is chucked next to the wall closest to the cable jack. It works. Don’t knock it.

Went on a hike today, on the La Luz Trail. Google it. I’ll wait.

So yeah, the trailhead starts at 7000 feet (2150 m). From there, it goes up. And up. And up. Six miles later it’s at 10,000 feet, and then clings to a cliff face for another two miles before stopping at the top of the world’s longest tramway. It’s one of the tougher hikes in the area, and originally our group of four had planned on a shorter hike. But for some reason we went on this hellraiser instead. I think they call it “La Luz” because it’s like the light you supposedly see at the end of a tunnel right before you die from exhaustion. But the views from up top are certainly beautiful.

My camera is still in storage, so no photos for you yet. Give it a few more weeks.

migration patterns

August 10th, 2010

Second day on the job. Still no computer access, so I’m resorting to coffee shops to update. Going back to Winning was out of the question, since they kicked everyone out promptly at 10pm… right after I had posted that I found somewhere to use the net. The stingy bastards even shut down the wireless point five minutes before closing.

Right now I’m sitting in Satellite Coffee by the university. Not as bad as I’d originally thought. Before that I parked on a nearby street and asked the owner of a small bookshop whether they checked the meters after 6. She replied that no, they didn’t, and on a whim I went inside. “The Book Case,” as it’s called, is one of those beautifully, chaotically cramped used bookstores which is impossible to navigate while carrying a backpack or other bag, which I suppose is one way to cut down on incidental theft. I think the name may be based on “basket case” or “nut case”. It’s fantastic.

Then went to a cute little place called “Frontier Restaurant.” Apparently a staple of local college students, it serves anything from green chile burritos to cheeseburgers cafeteria style.

Still looking for furniture for my new place. I did get a very nice bed set at a consignment store; the seller told me it was “mission style.” I told her I wasn’t interested in the Kama Sutra, but that I’d buy the furniture anyway. There were some other interesting pieces at some other shops, but most are quite a bit more expensive than I’d expected. Even a basic sofa and loveseat set is over a thousand bucks. Looks like I’ll be blowing my first few paychecks on getting this place furnished. But I did find an artisan carpenter who makes some fantastic handcrafted wood furniture. The guy really knows what he’s doing, and some of his stuff is actually cheaper than the mass-produced crap in all the stores. Problem is that it takes him several weeks to make things. There are a few things in his warehouse, but since they’re made to order I’d have to buy an existing style of table or chair if I want anything now.

First update from abq

August 9th, 2010

I’m finally getting my coffee fix and my internet fix after having arrived at my new place on Saturday afternoon. Starbucks failed when they closed at 8pm. Then en route to Borders I get there just as their cafe is shutting down at 9. The place I’m in, Winning Cafe, isn’t even usually open past 5 during the summer, but since there’s live music they’re open. Right now I hear drums, a keyboard, a guitar, a trumpet, a bassoon, and chanting. Perhaps I should put the word music in quotation marks. It’s more like atmospheric rock jazz instrumental native alien fusion. Must be from Roswell.

Seeing as how Comcast still sucks quite hard, they won’t even be around to think about looking at whether or not I can even GET cable at my place until the end of this week. I’ll likely be incommunicado for at least two weeks. Almost everything is still in plastic totes stacked in my living room. I bought a bed/endtable/dresser set, which should arrive tomorrow so that I don’t have to sleep on the mattresses on the floor. But I have no other furniture. No couch, no table, no chairs. No computer desk. No real office at work. No clue what I’m doing yet. But at least I have found a good cup of coffee.

Catching up

October 24th, 2009

I need to post here about all the stuff that’s happened in the last… long while. Okay, where do I start…

There was the fantastic trip to the San Francisco area to visit Joey and Monica. We went to this distillery called Hangar One for a tasting. By far my favorite was their spiced pear vodka, but they also have raspberry liqueurs and weird citrus or kaffir lime hard liquor. Monica drove Joey and me up to Sonoma where we sampled the local wines and chocolates. We even got a chance to hit up a concert, and I got to see Monica’s laboratory with the subterranean-industrial-evil-genius plasma whatsit. Very chic, I’ll have to put one of those in my underground lair someday.

I got a girlfriend. She was having lunch with a friend in this kinda hippie cafe place where I was reading a book and having some coffee. She got up, I started talking to her friend, and then wound up spending the afternoon with them at the local street fair. It turns out she went to my high school, and her older sister and I were in the band together for all 4 years. Since then I was invited to the older sister’s wedding. Fun, interesting, and yet very bizarre.

The end of the semester brought quite a bit of chaos as everyone threw parties for everyone else, and because my undirected graph of friends is well-connected, there were n squared parties in the span of a week. This in concert with the unexpected 40 hours per week expected time in for my summer research job had worn my sanity rather thin. Meanwhile my girlfriend had been wondering why I’m so goddamn busy. So we decided to just eschew work for a bit and go camping. That was its own adventure.

Meanwhile I’ve written a paper with lots of help from my professor and submitted it to a conference. If it gets accepted, I might have a chance to go to Europe and present it.

That’s all I can remember for now. I’m going to drag my camera a couple places and hope to get inspired. My lenses and equipment are fine, I just need to take them out of the bag and take some photos with them.

grad school

February 23rd, 2009

I think I’ve almost settled into grad school. I really enjoy tossing ideas back and forth with my fellow students, though at times I feel out of place: about half are from India, half from China, and there a handful of white guys like me hanging in there. I still feel ahead of the curve, but only slightly. My friend Monica says I should have gone to Berkeley, where coincidentally much of the current ECE research is being done, and perhaps she’s right. But I’m not sure if I’d be able to keep up there. Maybe for a PhD, someday, when I can think up clever things to write papers about. I need to prove myself first, prove that I really do belong. But school certainly makes a lot more sense now than it ever did as an undergrad. I needed those years in Japan to get my motivation straight, to allow me to really extract the most from my university experience. It’s like an idea bakery here, all the smells of genius and burnt failure mingling together in an inseparable melange. But when it all comes to a head in a couple years, spending the rest of my life locked away in industry is still no more appealing than it was five years ago.

Most days I feel as if I’m in the right place, but every once in awhile, like today, I’ll look back at things and it seems as if my soul is in a thousand pieces, scattered to the four winds. I took a swig of liquid courage and made a phone call back to the board of education to take care of some paperwork, and chatting with native speakers brought me right back to that point in my life… minus a few forgotten words here and there. I didn’t stutter too much. But days like this make me wonder if there are two people fighting inside my skull for control of my life. One wants to follow the logical path of my strengths as an engineer, while the other says I should give that up and go do something, anything in Japan. I’m in my element here, I’m in my element there. The real world says I have to pick one or the other. Maybe I need a door number three.

This work by Jeff Hiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.