Saturday, November 27, 2010


Where I dropped my iPhone in Barton Creek.
So I kinda dropped my iPhone in Barton Creek today. I have had a migraine since Wednesday but I said to hell with it, I'm going outside anyway, so I headed down the big hill to the creek. When I got down there my head hurt pretty bad so I climbed out on this rock to think about going back home. I took out my phone to see if I could take a picture of the rock I was sitting on and the neat rock wall background at the same time. I took some pictures then I wanted to wipe the screen off because it had some greasy marks from my last round of Angry Birds. I had on these new arm warmers I got that cover up the back half of my hands. I  just rubbed the phone on my pants like I usually do, but the arm warmers made by grip different than usual and the phone just SHOT out of my hands and went PluNk! into the water.

I looked down and saw it down there with the last picture I took shining up at me. Maybe it was the migraine that made me so calm. I didn't even cuss. I considered getting out my other camera to take a picture of it, but I decided that it was more important to get it out of the water as soon as possible. I climbed down off the rock and took off my shoes and socks and my backpack and the stupid arm warmers and waded out there and got my phone.

Where I got in the water
I realized I was going to have to go all the way in when I got up in waist deep so I took off my hat and glasses and put them up on the rock. And I just bent over and picked up my phone. I came up and flung my hair out of my face and immediately pushed the OFF button. But off is tricky. You hold the button then you have to slide a thing but I couldn't see because of the water in my eyes and I couldn't tell what it was really doing. I climbed out of the water, took the case off and dried the phone on the arm warmers and put it on the rock while I dealt with being soaking wet on a 50° F day. There was a man and his two toddler sized girls up on the waterfall about 30 yards away but they hadn't notice me. So I kinda crouched down behind the rock and stripped off my shirt and put on the dry jacket in my backpack. Then I climbed back up on the rock to get my hat and glasses and put my socks and shoes back on. Only then did I get out my camera and take some shoddy pictures of the whole scene. I was not in my best form today and my art suffered for it. I apologize.
The wet place my butt made on the rock while I was
putting my shoes back on

I went quickly back up the hill to get in my car to go home and dry out my phone and myself. It's a 300' hill in less than a third of a mile, so I didn't get cold except for my butt. These Mountain Hardwear pants I have are amazing in their ability to shed water. Apparently they do it by channelling all the wetness to the butt. My butt was absolutely freezing by the time I got up to the top of the hill.

I was thinking the whole time about how I was going to dry out the phone and hoping no water got to hot circuitry before I got it turned off. When I was within sight of my car I heard a little bwooo noise. WTF? I have MAIL? It's not even OFF?! Crap! I got it out and pushed the power on/off button again and it didn't do anything. That means the display is crapped out and other parts are still working. Not good. Not good at all. I hurried home and put all my wet clothes in the washer and got on my laptop and made an appointment with the Genius Bar before I even took a hot shower. Next opening was at 5pm. Gave me an hour to get dried off and over to the mall. The mall the weekend after Thanksgiving. Gawdhepus.

I got to the Apple Store 10 minutes before my appointment. I checked in and stood like a statue amid the milling masses. Right at 5 Megan came and said she would help me. I gave her my phone with the visibly fogged camera lens and she went in back to open it up. She came back and said there was water all around the battery. She said it was a goner. What happens in that case is they sell you a whole new phone. But it's the same price I paid in June when I got a new 2 year contract. It doesn't re-up the contract or change my upgrade options later. It's just a straight up $199 and I just pretend it's my same phone with the remainder of my original warranty and AT&T contract and everything. That's not bad. I mean, I did basically throw it in the creek. I should expect to have to buy a new one. Apparently it is important that you give them the old one though. I don't know if you get that deal if you just LOSE your phone. So as far as dropping my phone in the water goes, that was actually pretty lucky.

Downtown view from my kayak on Town Lake
I had my iPhone out last Sunday kayaking on Town Lake and if I'd dropped it right here there would've been no getting it back. I have a wrist strap on my camera. Maybe I need a special sport case for my phone with the same kind of countermeasures. I'm going to work on that.

So I was out of the mall by 5:20 and on my way home with my new phone. Megan said it was a 4.1 phone so I would have to upgrade it to 4.2 and then right click the icon to restore from backup. I was a little nervous about Angry Birds. Would I have to start all over?! I was up to level 6-13! I got home and plugged it into the Macbook Pro.

Looks like Megan knew what she was talking about. iTunes wouldn't let me restore my old phone setting until after I updated the firmware. I renamed the phone "Into Oblivion" and set it up as new, then did the upgrade to 4.2.

Once I had it finished setting itself up I right clicked on Into Oblivion and selected Restore from Backup and went to make a cup of tea and get a slice of apple pie.

When it finished it was Into a Deep Sleep again. I anxiously started up Angry Birds and it asked me if I wanted to log in as me or start a new game. Log in! Log in! I put in my Apple password and it restored my game the way it was when I charged my phone at 12:45 this afternoon. Whew! I only lost one level! And it wasn't that hard. I can totally do it again. 

So all in all dropping my phone in the creek was a good exercise in how well Apple's back up and restore works. All my notes are in there with Helvetica defined as the font, my desktop pictures were put back the way I had them. Not only are my contacts there, even the list of recent calls is accurate. Everything is exactly the way it was at 12:45 this afternoon! It even put the pictures that were taken on the phone back in the default folder. (Which I'm not sure is the right way to do it because it takes too long to download when it has to reject duplicates. I need to delete those and sync a different folder. Anybody have tips on that?)

Now that it's glove weather everybody be careful with your phones! They're slipperier than you think!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Helvetica for Notes!

I wasn't in a rush to upgrade to iOS 4.2, but when I plugged my iPhone into my lappy and the upgrade window came up and outlined some of the changes I squealed with joy! New Fonts for Notes! Oh, yeah baby! Download that thing!

Helvetica is SO much nicer for a grocery list than Marker Felt. The writing on an iPhone Note is tiny, like 7 point. It's idiotic for it to simulate what you might write on a white board. I am SOO HAPPYYYYY to be able to change it to Helvetica.

You can pick from three fonts now in Settings -- Chalkboard, Helvetica, and Marker Felt. Chalkboard is at least better than Marker Felt, but Helvetica is the real deal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Fate of the Universe Depends on a Shoe Box Diorama

Today's Calvin and Hobbes was the one where Calvin reflects on the fit his mom threw over a missed assignment. He just wanted a shoe box to make a desert scene diorama that was already due today. So it's one day late? So what?
Calvin: It's not as if lives hang in the balance, right? The fate of the universe doesn't depend on turning in a shoe box desert scene on time! 
 Hobbes: That's keeping things in perspective.
Calvin: Even if lives did hang in the balance it would depend on whose they were.
Things have been really stressful at my job recently. And I'm constantly mystified why my coworkers are burning the candle at both ends like they are. Lives do NOT hang in the balance with our product. Not even a little bit. It is completely imagined stress they have imposed on themselves compounded by the customers also inflating the importance of what they do.

I blame elementary school. We were trained from a young age that a deadline is a deadline even if it's totally arbitrary and of no consequence whatsoever. I guess as adults we try to make our career seem important even if it's just not. But since I've only been doing my job for 6 months and I'm not that invested in it as part of my personality I guess I have more perspective. I have had lots of jobs where I really busted my ass, like that 115 billable hours during the first week of the Atlanta Olympics. I mean it was happening RIGHT THEN and I had to take care of stuff RIGHT THEN! But this job? It's all about getting insurance companies to pay for medical services. And the insurance companies have a firm policy to just not pay. If we miss a deadline with this software what's going to happen? An insurance company is going to NOT PAY for another day? THEY NEVER PAY! I checked online and saw that my doctor still hasn't been paid for my annual exam in June. Humana has sent me 5 letters asking for information about my previous insurance. I have told them I didn't have any, and they concede that their computer shows that, but they can't stop the automatic mailing. And they can't make her get paid. It's just idiotic. I am really not motivated to bust my ass over something involved in that whole medical insurance fiasco. I am happy to work on it 40 hours a week, maybe two Saturdays a month, but unlike the Olympics I am not billing my hourly consulting rate that was 3 times what I make now. And there is no televised coverage with international implications for my hometown if we come off looking like a bunch of noobs.

Which reminds me of my old days working on the first digital television systems. It was a frantic business to kludge prototypes together to get them into the field for testing by the deadline promised by some lying salesman. (They liked to tell the customers the engineers already invented something that we hadn't even considered and then we had 3 months to make it. They denied that it was lying, they said they were telling a "future truth.")

So one day one of my coworkers in the lab told his wife on the phone that he'd be home around 8:00, unless there was an emergency. This puzzled her as she was a nurse. "An emergency? Like what? Somebody can't watch TV?" She had perspective.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that makes a lot less money solving technological problems than I used to. I wish that in light of our diminished value we could adjust our response to pressure and stress. What if all of us engineers and scientists could just imagine our little career world as a diorama in a shoe box? We could step back and look at it in the context of the wider world and decide that it's just sand and glue in a stupid box that smells like a Chinese shoe factory and it just doesn't really matter. And that's ok. We all still need a job so we can get some of that fabulous American health insurance. But we better have something else going on in our life to get some balance. Even if something else is just playing video games, at least you're not giving all your talent away for a fraction of its value. Keep some back for yourself.

I know it's an engineer's nature to work on something right up until the last minute. Tag line of the sports car club at Georgia Tech -- Designing Tomorrow the Night Before. That's fine if you're creating something fabulous. But for those of us with demeaning or meaningless jobs, let's try to foster an environment where we can have some perspective. Be innovative and diligent for 8 hours and then GO OUTSIDE.

I am particularly annoyed by how seriously people take their jobs because of how NOT seriously they take their life AFTER work. Yesterday was my birthday and I couldn't get ANYBODY to make plans to hang out with me. I got one tentative agreement to go to a movie then a text 30 minutes beforehand saying he wasn't in the mood to go out. Then the movie turned out to be sold out anyway. I salvaged the evening by finding a Facebook friend I haven't seen in three years who happened to be in Austin for a conference. He met me out for a beer, but I'm still taking the night as an example of how unreliable people are these days. I have another friend who just moved to California and he's astonished by how flakey people are there, so I know it's not just me. (There are exceptions. I have one friend in Tallahassee who is a man of his word. Just that one that I can think of right now though.)

Lives hang in the balance. Our own. And they are not balanced. Let's get some perspective. And don't be a flake.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contrails and cocktails*

Today I was reminded of an old Cary Grant/Leslie Caron movie from the '60s called Father Goose. It's set during the war in the Pacific on a tropical Island. Leslie Caron steps off the bank of a creek and gets bitten by a snake. She and her student rush back to Cary Grant and she starts drinking to dull the pain of dying of snake bite. When she continues to not die while getting increasingly drunk and maudlin the student finally goes down to the creek to see what kind of snake bit her. (Spoiler alert) It was a stick. She brings back the stick with thorns on it to show it to Cary Grant and he says, "That's not a snake." And the little girl says, "But it looks like a snake!" and Cary Grant tilts his head and squints at it and says, "That looks like a snake!" And Leslie Caron doesn't die and just has a hangover instead. Now I have to tell you that when I watched this movie I was extremely bothered by the fact that nobody questioned the presence of a poisonous snake on that island. I knew the story of the invasion of the brown tree snake on Guam and was skeptical that there were any poisonous snakes at all in fresh water on small isolated Pacific Islands during World War II. The brown tree snake wasn't accidentally introduced to all those little islands until AFTER World War II. And it's venomous, but not deadly. But anyway, that was the plot. Overreacting that a stick was a snake when any herpetologist could have told them there are no snakes.

There wasn't a missile launched off the coast of California yesterday. And there wasn't a lot of press about a missile in the world news. But there was a lot of buzz around the US about a contrail a news helicopter filmed around sunset yesterday. He thought it looked like a missile launch. The Navy said they didn't fire a missile. The Air Force said they didn't see any missiles on radar. And no oceanographers came forward to claim a mystery missile splashed down in the Pacific disturbing the great garbage patch.

I read the progression of news on IEEE Spectrum, which I tend to trust as a more scientific source than most others. I follow them on Twitter. They post links to new stories when something is going on. (I used to fork over $105 a year dues to be a member of the IEEE so I know it's actually a funded institute with paid writers. That's the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in case you wondered. It's one of the largest professional organizations in the world. And yes, they let physicists in too if you are working as an electronics engineer and have a member vouch for you. I notice Dr. Ian O'Neil cites the IEEE in his article too.) They started out with "Whose Missile Was Launched 35 miles West of Los Angeles?" But they quickly realized that "whose missile?" was the wrong question. One of the first things the author did was check to see if there were any official warnings to mariners and pilots to watch out for something shooting up through their airspace. There was nothing. The Navy doesn't just shoot stuff into space without making sure everybody is cleared out of the way. One of the commenters in an early IEEE story said the same thing I was wondering, where's it supposed to have come down? Seems important but nobody really addressed it in any of the stories I read.  So it was pretty easy to eliminate a missile as the source of this trail in the sky at sunset. The right question was "what makes this contrail look like a missile launch?" Then it was just  question of finding an expert in contrails to see if what was unusual to our untrained eyes was normal to them. Yep. Normal. Just an airplane.

Conveniently enough I just happened to reread an old Bad Astronomy article earlier today explaning why the moon looks so big on the horizon. Apparently our brains suck at judging size and distance in the sky. So I was primed for the thorough explanation by the contrail specialist. Good day for the critical thought process.

Contrail from the Atlas V Rocket that launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Why is it so squiggly?  Because the engines are moving around to keep the rocket going straight? I don't know enough about rockets or  the atmosphere to really say. This contrail appeared in the hot moist air on top of a cold dry layer -- evidenced by the sundog. The conditions right for a contrail were only in that one layer. Which makes me think a real missile would be more likely to exhibit a limited contrail and not a continuous one like you'd get if a jet just flew along in that same layer horizontally. Which is what the news footage of the supposed missile launch showed -- a very long contrail.
Contrails at sunset can look like a lot of things they aren't. These aren't meteors.

*Somebody should make up a cocktail called The Contrail. It could be huge in bars in LA this week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Blood Pressure Goes to 11

I'm having one of those days where things that have NOTHING to do with me fill me with UNSPEAKABLE RAGE! And then I get on here and type it so it becomes unreadable rage. I have figured out that I have some kind of abnormal emotional reaction to shit that has nothing to do with me. It's why I cry when I watch TV shows and absolutely can't watch horror films. So here's what happened and what I found out about it scientifically.

While I was waiting for a doctor's appointment this morning I was scrolling though my Twitter feed and read this:

@Sheril_ Sheril Kirshenbaum
In Indianapolis, Sci-Tech mags are clearly 'men's interest.' Business too. 'Women's interest' on separate wall.

I opened the picture and she's not kidding. Two signs reading "Men's Interest" bracket "Science and Technology" and "Business." What the FUCK? What if I'm interested in those things? Am I a man now? What the hell is in the Women's Interest section? No wait, I already know. I'm waiting in a fucking gynecologist's office. There's nothing in there but magazines with beaming pregnant women and toddlers on the cover and headlines like "How to Teach Good Manners: No More Biting, Kicking, or Hair Pulling." I would give my left ovary to have them throw in a MacWorld, Discover, Astronomy, Popular Photography, or Car and Driver, all magazines I can see in Sheril's picture.

Then they called me into the exam room and took my blood pressure. 110/90 the nurse said. What? I was just there the week before and it was 110/60. Why'd it go up so much? Just because I got all mad about that sex-role-stereotype-promoting bookstore? That's so weird.

After my doctor's appointment I shot off an email to my mom giving her an update on the doctor thing and I told her about the bookstore. When I got home from work I had an email back from her saying maybe it was overreacting to the insult (I'm sure I am. I'm not normal) so I went to look for the picture on Twitter so I could send it to her. That's when I saw this.

@astroengine Dr. Ian O'Neill
WTF @CNN? Asking the "As a member of the public, why should I care?" question during the #NASA #EPOXI mission conference is horribly trite.

"As a member of the public, why should I care?" FUCK YOU, CNN! You can kiss my public ass, you incredible bastard. Who the FUCK would say that? Didn't your mama ever read the magazines in the goddam gynecologist's office? I shot off a reply to @astroengine to see if he could count how many people flipped off that reporter. If I had been there I would have hollered, "BITE ME!" without being able to stop myself. (Dr. Ian O'Neill is the person that made my rocket video go viral. We've never corresponded though. I just read his articles at Discovery and his blog. I don't know Sheril Kirshenbaum either. She believes we're in for a war against science and I think it's already started.)

Now I didn't really give a damn about Juan Williams. I don't care about Fox News or what they pay people to say on there. I let people go on about it and kept my mouth shut. But THIS, pisses me OFF! I don't want to see this CNN person fired or anything. They clearly don't have a grain of respect for anybody who is interested in something they aren't interested in, so they couldn't possibly be worried they they would insult us. I don't expect they asked the question to be malicious, they probably weren't raised with any exposure to scientists. They are just a smart-blind nincompoop who doesn't realize their own incompetence. I accept that 99% of the people in the world are not like me and I try to not be a dick. But I've had just about e-fucking-nough of this bullshit. If I can sit in an office full of baby-centric propaganda and be polite about it then you, CNN reporter, can sit quietly in a press conference your boss accidentally sent you to thinking you had a grain of competence and professionalism and wouldn't make an ass out of an entire news organization. I bet your boss won't make that mistake again.

So anyway, I read Ian's tweet and I got incensed and I started to write this blog then I realized I had an opportunity to do some science. So I jumped in the car and went to the grocery store to use the blood pressure machine.

Well will you look at that shit? 149/86?!! I did it again and it was 143/91, so it's not all that repeatable, but I'd wager it's 149 plus or minus 10 over 86 plus or minus 10. Which still doesn't get me anywhere near my normal blood pressure of 110/60. I asked the pharmacist if they ever had it calibrated and he said no. But it's probably not off by THAT much. My blood pressure shot up something like 40% just because some CNN ass clown insulted my entire profession? That's AMAZING! I really didn't know there was such a strong physical correlation to emotional reactions. Want to bet that reporter doesn't care about this little discovery either?

As for the reporter's actual question, there is just a fundamental problem in the asking. If the rest of the public doesn't care, they can just ignore the thrill of a spacecraft being repurposed to fly by Hartley II. We -- scientists -- understand that not everybody is equally interested in things. I work with hard-core computer engineers and I don't think even they would be that excited about this asteroid data even though I'm really thrilled by it. I didn't mention it to them. When I stop working Friday afternoon to watch the shuttle launch I don't expect them to watch it with me. But I do think they'll understand enough to let me take a break to follow it. But for somebody to come to a NASA press conference and blatantly demean our excitement by saying this giant step of exploration doesn't interest you?! And you want us to justify ourselves by lowering our accomplishment to terms so simple your rudimentary brain can grok it? What were you thinking they were going to say? "Well just look at it! It's so SHINY! And it's shaped like a peanut!" Somebody colorize it green and we'll say it makes you horny. Dub some 8-bit music on that video and make a line art triangle shoot dots at it and disappear off the top of the screen and reappear at the bottom. But you have to give us a minute to make it mainstream. We're still having fun with the actual science.

There are things people care about that other people just don't get. I don't ask people why they care about procreating. I just don't get it, am never going to get it. I don't want a baby. I am uncomfortable with the whole concept. So I won't go to baby showers and that CNN reporter can call that NASA mission conference their last.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

w00tstock 2.9

Adam Savage threw up a tweet yesterday saying there was still time to get tickets to w00tstock 2.9 in Austin, Tuesday Nov 2. Well it was the first of the month and I was flush with cash so I busted out the debit card and reserved a seat. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect at w00tstock. People watching YouTube videos together? Sounds like what I do anyway with my IM friends sending me links off Reddit. So I might as well go do that in public.

The venue was the Paramount, an old movie palace like the Fox in Atlanta. I worked on the house sound system at the Fox with Dr. Patronis so I wanted to see how it compares. And the neighborhood isn't completely unfamiliar to me. It's only 6 blocks from my doctor's office. Coincidentally the ticket was the same price as my insurance copay, but w00tstock was a hell of a lot more fun than a pelvic exam.

About 5:30 this afternoon it started raining. This threw off my whole plan. The traffic was snarled the way I planned to go so I went another way, found the theater ok, but couldn't find a place to park. Finally I found the Alamo Drafthouse parking structure and walked quickly and randomly three blocks to the theater in the rain. Will Call handed over my ticket. Paul and Storm had just gotten started when I got to my seat.

The Paramount struck me as a fetal Fox. It has a close family resemblance to the Fox, but it's just a tiny version of it. The Fox seats over 4600. The Paramount doesn't even give their seating capacity on the web site. They don't have the Moorish theme going on like the Fox, but the Paramount has it's own style of gaudy plasterworks and a grand proscenium. Seating is arranged like the Fox with orchestra, mezzanine (called the loge at the Fox. Same definition in the dictionary), and balcony. I got the back row of the mezzanine because I like not having people kick the back of my seat.

The stage was set up pretty simply with 4 mics and monitors across the apron and a screen in back that was presumably a projector connected to somebody's Macbook Pro. I felt right at home, like I was in front of my own computer, right down to the custom icons. Somebody downloaded the OSX icons from too. They had Homestar as their hard drive icon where I have Marshie. Renaming my computer parts after characters from Earth Girls are Easy is all me, though, I guess. Theirs was still Macintosh HD or whatever boring default name it has. (I  diverged from my Earth Girls naming pattern when I named my iPhone "Into a Deep Sleep" because it cracks me up when iTunes says "Syncing Into a Deep Sleep.")

Paul and Storm did a song about the inventor of the chicken nugget and then one about a nun wrestling league featuring the Assaulter from the Altar, the Nundertaker and other aptly named contenders. It was my favorite kind of fun with words.

The sound reinforcement was pretty good. The space was acoustically very easy to work with I think. Lots of things sticking out here and there to prevent nasty reverb. The house sound has small front clusters and lots of small speakers on the sides that were properly delayed so everything was very understandable.

In addition to the loudspeakers they had two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters up front. They had a LOT of fun with these guys. I enjoyed watching the signers, particularly because one of them was an incredibly good looking man. They signed out all the song lyrics no matter how fast Paul and Storm sang and they did all the stories, including spelling out elephant spunk in a Neil Gaiman story, which required using all the letters. When Adam Savage said cocksucker there was a single gesture for that. Towards the end of the show they took great delight in making them spell out elephant spunk about 20 times, but even Adam Savage was too polite to make them do cocksucker but about three more times.

I was glad I'd done a little internet work before the show so I knew what was expected of me. This pirate song video went a long way to helping me keep up with the last number which they stretched out over 20 minutes with "[blank] is the name of my [blank] tribute band" jokes. For example, Adam Savage might end a story with "...sometimes a cable tie will do, but sometimes you just have to have a hose clamp." And Neil Gaiman would pipe up with, "Hose Clamp is the name of my '80s metal cover band." (Only funnier. I made that one up but the actual ones were better. My eyes were streaming with laughter.)


After the show I went onto the cold streets and tried to go back to the parking deck a different way than I came, thinking I went out of the way before. I confess to walking around a few blocks before getting out my iPhone to study the aerials on Google Maps to find the Alamo Drafthouse with the nearby parking garage. When I got to my car I found I'd left it unlocked. Way to go! Glad I parked in an attended lot within sight of the guy in the little booth. I am really out of practice with this going out in public thing.

I have to get up tomorrow and figure out how to set up Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Remote Desktop Licensing so I should stop writing. I considered taking a sign with me to w00tstock that said "Rumplestiltskin, where are you?" to try to find me an IT guru who could spin this straw into gold for me but I know myself too well. With the exception of the girl in the Will Call window I didn't say a word to anybody. Well, I hollered, "FAKE! GAY!" at the Red vs. Blue guys, Rooster Teeth, when they said they are more comfortable with YouTube comments than an actual audience. (I like people to feel at ease.) And I'm pretty sure nobody made eye contact with me over the course of a 4 hour show.

What do you get when you fill a theater with introverts? w00tstock!