• Not Like Other People

    Subtitle: So many people want me to do “cute,” but I don’t want to.

    1. That online shopping service that sends you a box of clothes and you send back the ones that you don’t want. I tried them, and I didn’t like the clothes. They want me to try again, and they send me flyers in the mail and email with pictures of clothes. The clothes are all terrible. Rather, the clothes are all cute.

    2. Once upon a time I lived in a colony of feral mathematicians, and it was wonderful.

    3. Even when I got really into shopping and having a whole bunch of nice clothes, they were not cute. I forget how many black skirts I had. I don’t really have to sort my laundry because everything I own is darks.

    4. Just the idea of the cute clothes makes me sort of anxious and panicked.

    5. The dentist keeps trying to talk me into getting braces, but I really and truly like the way that one of my front teeth crosses one in front of the other.

    6. My coworkers criticize my choice of editor. They all favor the sorts of dark backgrounds that remind me of the Apple ][+ or the VT100. I use minimally syntax-colored text on a white background with an editor with very few features.

    7. Sadly, it’s been too long since I used emacs on a regular basis. I may need to brush up on that if people keep complaining about my choice of editor. The combination of emacs with the Dvorak key layout will make it impossible for most people to do anything on my computer.

  • Homemade Decor from the Cats

    Cat: Did you see that felted wool garlands are all the rage this holiday season?

    Me: Felted wool garlands?

    Cat: Little globs of felt on a string.


    Cat: Because if you were looking for something like that made out of partially digested cat fur, I think I could hook you up.

  • Telephone Meets Twenty Questions

    Jim mentioned that one of his colleagues was at jury duty about a week and a half ago, and she met someone who knows me from a summer camp that I used to work at. Jim doesn’t actually know who it is, though.

    1. Is he a radiologist? One of my students is now a radiologist at UCSD.
    2. Oh, wait, do you need to be a US citizen to be called for jury duty?
    3. Is [the radiologist] the student from [name of country] whose mother is from Ohio?
    4. Maybe some other doctor at UCSD? I think I know a gastroenterologist? [My summer camp friend on the east coast] says we know an ENT.
    5. Not a doctor?
    6. Postdoc doing biotech stuff? Has a Scandinavian-sounding name?
    7. Does he work in embedded systems? Writes software for a company that manufactures a toilet snake that runs Linux?
    8. Have some sort of generic white-guy name that starts with M? Matt, Martin, Mark? Something like that?
    9. OH! I know who it must be. He works at the same place as [the spouses of a few other people who we work with]!

    For being a city with over a million people, San Diego is almost as much of a small town as Knoxville was. And math is a small world.

  • We Bought a Car Today

    Jim was sick of running the risk of getting stuck in the sand when he drives to the desert. So he bought a Subaru Forester. I had to stop by the dealership on the way home from work so that I could sign my share of the paperwork.

    In unrelated news, I have learned how to knit the “waffle” (thermal underwear) stitch. It’s kind of like one-color brioche stitch if you are very bad at following directions and do everything out of order.

  • Social Media Discourse about NorCal Power Outages

    Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility company that serves much of northern California, has been shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of people lately in order to prevent their poorly maintained infrastructure from producing sparks that cause wildfires. This, of course, is an absurd state of events, but have you been watching the way that people talk about this on social media!?!?!?

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire: Wind howls across the silent landscape. The sun glows an eerie red. My body grows weak from hauling supplies to my home, as my children cower in the dark. We are cut off from our community, and we huddle in our home afraid of the darkness. The ripe avocados go bad because we can not put them in the refrigerator. I can not charge my Tesla.

    People in Africa and India: Cool story, bro.

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire: You don’t understand! This is the United States! This should not happen here!

    People in Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico: Oh, really? Tell us more!

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire (who made his money from exercising stock options from some ethically-challenged tech company): This is different! Hurricanes are natural disasters! This is happening because PG&E was maximizing shareholder value without regard for the societal implications of its actions!

  • Day of the Dead

    In San Diego we celebrate Day of the Dead. My understanding is that this holiday is called “Día de Muertos” in Spanish and “Día de los Muertos” in Spanglish. We had a Day of the Dead street festival about five blocks from my apartment this past Saturday, so I went and took some pictures. Sorry to those who follow my social media accounts and who have already seen this photo.

    girl dancing some mexican folkdance

    Also noteworthy around here is that Saturday it was everything-is-going-to-catch-on-fire weather. Hot, clear, and sunny (which helped the photograph a lot because I have neither Photoshop nor the skills to use it). Everyone at the festival was downing aguas frescas, and many of the costumed people who went out to the local bars on Saturday night were not wearing a lot of clothes.

    But on Sunday all that changed. All of a sudden, it became winter. We are all wearing hoodies and scarves and mittens. It might even rain.

  • Tales from the Workplace

    Task, dated six months ago, originally assigned to someone else.

    The task becomes mine; it is marked low priority. Eventually it works its way up to the top of my to-do list.

    Like so many of my tasks, the end result is a web page that displays some information as a chart, table, or graph. Like so many tasks, there are ambiguities in the spec. Does the “date” column in the chart represent the date that the initial event happened? The date that the situtaion started to change? Or the date that the change was fully realized? That’s OK, as the table that contains most of the information has at least three different columns for dates, so if one doesn’t work, we can try another.

    We want this information on a page because there isn’t an easy way to get at it. Sure, someone could write an ad hoc database query every time this information was needed, but what if it’s needed by someone who doesn’t have database access? Based on the current state of the universe, I expect that this is actually a pretty uncommon use case: The one person who would most want to know this information does have database access.

    Fun fact: The information that would populate this chart is emailed to the third parties to whom it applies. But we do not send copies of the emails to ourselves. If we had been bcc’ing ourselves on those automated emails, we could just search our email instead of looking things up in a chart. Sometimes it’s nice to look at things on a chart! I understand. I am planning on adopting much of the code that generates the email and using it to populate my chart.

    Secret: I am pretty sure that one of the requested columns for this chart is impossible. So far I have not found any trace of that information in the database. I have read through the code that does all the things that relate to this chart, and not one single function has a variable representing this information.

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