Archive for June, 2007

.clickBOOM

Ah, ceiling, we meet again.

Details of the last couple weeks to follow when I can find time to write them.

In brief:

  • Trigger pulled. It’s officially too late to back out now. WTF am I smoking.
  • It sounds like HAL is, most likely, hired and moving out here. Quite possibly coming to live with me. It’ll be just like college all over again. Like college? WTF am I smoking.
  • I think I’m actually tired of beef. This is me we’re talking about here, so this is guaranteed to be temporary. But still. WTF am I smoking.

wtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtfwtf…

Beat

Quick update: HAL, a friend and former college roommate from Back Home (or close), is going to be in Boston this weekend for a job interview on Friday. I’d like to drag him around the city a bit and introduce him to my friends. What are people doing this weekend?

Looks like I have a very slight reprieve (Monday) to decide just what I’m doing about that whole homeowning thing; full-stop closing date would be july 18 at latest (rate lock expires).

The last couple days have been the Days from Hell. Maybe not the 7th circle of hell, reserved for child molesters and encyclopedia salesmen, but the more temperate outside fringe, where habitual porn surfers and serial jaywalkers are condemned to rig up micropower demos for energy harvesting applications (hardware and firmware) on zero notice, all the while being interrupted every 15 seconds to help them out with wiring, coding, come up with a reliable demo-quality adjustable disturbance source (Rezu! Yes, my company is now demoing cutting-edge research using vibrator parts), driver installs, fix the demos after they break them during while machining their enclosures, have long chats with customers, fish through email to forward some contacts to said customer, or immediately tackle some other subcrisis.

“Yeah, we need this stuff ready in like 3 days (1.5 of which are already taken up by your existing projects with immediate deadlines). We could have come to you with this last week, but, ah, didn’t. Did you used to have any plans tonight?”

Between all this stuff and 4am-still-staring-at-the-ceiling mortgage thought, I’m pretty fuckin’ beat.

Micro-update

Yeah, so I’m probably buying a house in a couple weeks.

“I…wait, what?”

Yeah, that’s what I said this morning too.

Anyway, as some of you know, one of my best friends in Boston, GJM, is pulling up anchor less than 2 weeks from now, moving to Tejas, and putting his place on the market. What was it…last week or so it feels like, I found out about the move for sure.

So he named a price, and I somewhat tentatively took it, saying “ok, lemme see if I can afford this” (talk to mortgage guy and see what my monthly cost will be, look at bank statements and current vs. expected expenses and see if the number in is bigger than the number out). Next thing I know I’ve coughed up 250 bones to a mortgage guy to lock in that day’s rate (they’re going crazy lately, in a bad way), and mortgage guy’s got an appraiser coming in, and I’ve got lawyers and inspectors on the phone. Meanwhile, mortgage guy has documents-to-sign 2-day-Fedexing to my office tomorrow (today), wanting a signed P&S (purchase and sales agreement) (being drafted now-ish, it sounds like) by Friday to get things rolling ASAP. Somewhere along the line I need to have a lawyer (who I don’t have yet) actually look at that stuff….you know, preferably before I sign it. It’s probably a good idea to let the appraisals and inspections complete BEFORE signing “I Do” as well. Sometimes processes with a known runtime can be paralleled as part of a Clever Optimization, but this is not one of those times.

This all is happening way too fast.

Now that I had time to put in a bit of research, even the buddy price looks a ways above market value. (bought at $x, selling at $x+$20k, meanwhile, the housing market in Suffolk County (mean valuations) has dropped by not less than $10k, if the graphs are to be believed.)

I like the idea of owning my own, single-family place. My own mini lab in the basement, my own backyard and garden, tighter control of who’s living there (I’d be renting out 2 bedrooms*, but for the love of Craigslist, no more StinkDudes), and only having to go through the whole messy process once (i.e. a clear migration path if I ever meet Ms. Right and that whole family thing happens). It’s a nice place, and in good shape. With two renters at >= $500 a month each, the total Poof Money** would be less than my current rent, even though the actual monthly payment will be huge (some of it’s going toward paying off the house). In any event though, I’ll be the bank’s bitch for the next 30 years.

You know what they say about trusting your gut? Right now my guts are going “OMGWTF, change!? Noooo! Go back to your room! Close the door! This is not happening!” Funny, that’s the same thing they said in the days and weeks leading up to my move to New England. I think I dropped a good 10 lbs in the process. I’ve learned not to really trust my guts for the most part, but be advised that they’re doing somersaults at the moment and telling me I’m a blistering idiot for considering a single-family at my age, income and level of romantic involvement (bachelor, 0th base), because a multi-family stack (even if a shithole) would turn a profit (this won’t), and I’m still going to have housemates. In effect I’ll be paying a lot more for effectively the same lifestyle I have now, but with the additional hassles of being a landlord, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, home repairs, and having to deal with it personally if someone trashes the place or some dispute breaks out.

If I back out within the next couple days I’m only out $250 for the mortgage/appraisal people, and probably some points on a friendship (going this far and then backing out). On or before Friday, it gets more serious than that.

What the hell do I do now.

* limited by a stinky Medford restriction on the number of unrelated people who can live together. That, and who would actually rent the tiny 4th bedroom, and whether 4 people would want to fight over a single bathroom.

** Poof Money: the amount that simply goes “poof!” at the end of the month. For the rental situation, this is rent. For homeowning, this is the property taxes, insurance and interest (not principal) on the mortgage, which alone I estimate at $1300-1600 a month, depending on the final size of the loan(s) I’d have to take out.

Das Blinkenlichten

[Clicky here for big photo album]

Heh, yeah, a little late writing this one. I was meaning to write this up…like, a couple months ago, right after the “public beta”, but didn’t get around to it.

So some friends and I had tickets to the Boston leg of the VNV Nation Judgment tour, April 18. Of course no electronica concert is complete without things that blink and blue LEDs, handheld spinny balls, etc. So my friend JR and I hacked together a wearable demo of Das Blinkenlichten, triggered by a microphone and envelope detector, which she wanted to wear at the show.

At probably midnight the night before, assembly was finished. I only had a handful of working nodes (or ones I thought were working…); she made wrist and neck bands out of some flexible clear rubbery sheeting we found in the lab, mounted LED nodes into each piece, and ran a long wire for each terminating in a 3-pin header. Two on each wristband and 3 on the neck; they looked good. The controller was stuffed into an acrylic folding case that once housed some free electronics samples, but was just the right depth (with some coaxing) to accommodate a 9V battery.

Next question…how are we getting a package of nearly naked electronics…with a microphone…through security at a concert where they’re confiscating recording devices…in Boston. It doesn’t even have somebody on it giving the finger.

Sure enough, at the doors security pulls me aside and wants to know what this electronics package is. One asks (jokingly), “That’s not a bomb, is it?” …the other, maybe not getting the joke, replies straight faced that it’s too small to be a bomb. I was eventually let through with my hoax device bag intact, though the mini-screwdriver set (for adjusting the gain pots) was confiscated as Sharp Objects. (Had to track down a security guy and got them back upon leaving.)

Read on, and on and on and on…

Hey, hey, hey, I’m quilty / And you’re quilty too

Yes, another toilet related, potty post :-P. Some time ago I mentioned my housemates and their toilet paper management strategies (or lack thereof). Today, I found out just how deep the rabbit hole goes! Sometime Sunday or so, I finished the (quilted) roll downstairs and, ever conscientious, went back upstairs to fetch a replacement, only to discover that we are again down to zero spare rolls. In a pinch (no pun intended), I restocked it with my Nose Blowin’ Roll* from my room, taken from that last big brick I bought. That batch was of about average quality…not the el-cheapo commercial single-ply sandpaper**, but the way these housemates go through the stuff and don’t replace it, I also didn’t splurge on the fancy, quilted scented flavored floral-patterned fluffy puff stuff either.

Today I go in there to find my downstairs housemate has actually removed this roll, planted it on the upstairs toilet tank and replaced it with a quilted roll from his secret stash. I guess it’s marginally excusable since he has a girlfriend that comes over, but I think now I’ve seen everything!

* ok, I suppose that sort of makes me a TP hoarder too…but my hoard is limited to a single, publicly viewable roll that’s just there for practical nose-honking purposes.

** TP aimed at the commercial or public facility market, with brand names such as “Executive Choice”, featuring a box with a fat red checkmark in it (like something you might see on an expense report spreadsheet) as a logo. As executives are often graded on bottom-line performance, not the public’s posterior happiness, this sounds to me like a similar warning label to “Contractor Grade” on hardware store products such as duct tape and garbage bags, selling at half the price of the regular ones. Might as well just market this under the brand name Lowest Bidder(tm) and be done with it. (If the guy coming to work on your house shows up with Contractor Grade anything, you might want to invest in some smoke alarms.)

Wicked Smaht idea of the day – re: sucky office suites

AutoCrossreference

So I’m at the office writing up some BS in MS Word and I’ve just typed “(blah blah blah) as shown in Figure…”, because I’m about to refer to a figure. Now to make a crossreference. I select crossreference, the window pops up and defaults to “Table”. WTF? With a modern computer’s gigahertz of processing at its disposal, is it really so hard to recognize that the last six letters I typed were F-I-G-U-R-E, and do something remotely smart with this information?

Beyond that, I should be able to define, and store in my template, a list of standard crossreference-able items (Figure, Table, Section, Task, Claim, etc.). Then, every time I type something in a paragraph that matches one of these patterns ( e.g. “Figure 1”), it should turn gray and (if it exists) automatically become a cross-reference to that item. Alternatively, I should be able to right-click on the “Figure 1” I just typed and select ‘AutoCrossreference’. Or simply type Figure, right-click on it and have a popup box of Figures (and of course, NOT Tables, Claims, etc.) appear.

Pissy

I’ve been in a pissy mood for a while. I guess it just kind of happens from time to time, for reasons not entirely known. It’s that state of bored and aimless, non-productive, irritable and wanting to stay in bed avoiding people. Probably more of a random-emotional-state thing, but here are some specific things that pissed me off lately:

Getting out of the shower, toweling off and discovering that StinkDude has decided to use MY GODDAMN TOWEL to wipe off all the Brillo dust after shaving his head, and now I look like a Chia pet. Gawd, I hope that was only head hair. Had to shower all over again, and pull an old towel out of my dirty laundry pile.

Finding that one or more housemates (quite possibly the same) has been using my toiletries, including, but not limited to, toothpaste, Axe spray deodorant, and my electric shaver. Again, hopefully on head-hair only.

General state of not getting jack shit worth of actual Work done at work (you know, on the projects I actually manage and such) because every 5 minutes, someone is coming in to ask stupid computer questions or have me put out some fire or another. Right now it’s another proposal round anyway, so nobody’s getting jack shit done, and I don’t have any hours on proposal-writing, other-peoples’-proposals proofreading, spare router fixing, production router fixing, computer fixing, project server reinstalling, intern babysitting, Senior Engineer babysitting, mechie intern babysitting, parts ordering, Project Review viewgraph making, stupid customer question answering, Commercialization Strategy bullshitting, strategic partner meeting, NDA signing, purchase order raising, or other-peoples’-experiments jerry rigging.

My web host sent out an email yesterday morning saying my account (and thousands of other customers just like it) was hacked thanks to a security flaw in their web panel. I guess I should be glad that they actually admitted it, rather than quietly reload everything from last week’s backup tapes and claim a disk crashed or something. Still, that meant being up til 4am yesterday changing passwords, cleaning out all the spam and exploit links the h4x0r inserted into my files, and performing a complete audit of the account to make sure all of them were gotten. In the course of investigating the breach, I found the h4x0r’s site containing a 4MB zipfile of credit card numbers and keylogger results triggered by certain banking sites I’d never heard of, e.g. moneybookers.com (only found this out after downloading and opening it). Not sure what to do with this, since it was on a Russian site (I don’t speak Russian) and their enforcement against this sort of activity seems to be rather…lax. Need sleep…

One of my best buddies in Boston is pulling up stakes and leaving town, moving to Texas at the end of the month.

One of my housemates is leaving at the end of June, too…since the leases aren’t up until August, he has to find a replacement. Tonight my landlord calls up pissing and moaning, saying that a prospective tenant was in today, but apparently disappeared after making some comments about the place’s cleanliness. Now, we ain’t running a hospital or anything here, but the place is in pretty decent shape – certainly cleaner than when I moved in, and we’re making specific efforts to keep the common areas tidy. Anyway, here he calls trying to get me to authorize bringing a maid service in, and splitting the cost among us. Yeah, of course I can authorize something like that without talking first (I was on the road, on the way to dinner plans) to any of the other people living here that would be footing this bill. Nevermind that if I’m going to have someone moving in with me, I might actually like to meet this person first, unlike the last two new members here (a random Tufts stoner and StinkDude). I get the feeling that putting on a false air of immaculacy to get neatniks in here is just going to cause trouble down the road; besides the correlation I’ve tended to notice between neatnikicity and other forms of neurosis, our existing crew is probably not that compatible with neatniks. Might as well bring in a couple militant vegans while you’re at it (hide the two grills sitting out back for a day). I don’t even want to think about the fur that’s going to fly when said neatnik finds StinkDude borrowing his toothbrush (ok, slightly exaggerating…I sincerely hope…).

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Looks like I have a new project for next week, once this weeks messy proposals nastiness is out of the way. A staffer at a Russian ISP tipped me off to an old malware company learning a new trick, with essentially a distributed, keyboard-watching spy network turning your typos into gold in the form of misspelled domain registrations leading to portal-potties full of ad-trash. First step is figuring out their program’s nuisance-grade request obfuscation (calling it “encryption” would be like calling a McDonald’s trainee a chef, but I haven’t gotten around to decoding it yet); next step is flooding it with statistically significant bogus requests and seeing if they take the bait. Third step, as you know, is profit! publishing the findings for peer-review, and retaining a lawyer*.

PS. VMWare Player kicks ass. This is free (as in beer) virtual machine software that runs on Windoze, Linux and probably a couple others. Free as in catch did you say? Of course there is a catch: it won’t let you create your own virtual machine images (officially…), only download and run pre-made ones. However, here is also a great article on creating your own custom images using QEmu, an open-source virtualization program that can write image files in VMWare player’s format. The easiest way to set up a dodgy-software sandbox is create a blank IDE (or SCSI, etc.) drive image using Qemu, start it inside VMWare Player, pop in your favorite** OS install CD, and close VMWare & make a copy of the image files when the OS finishes installing. Viola, you now have a perpetually clean OS copy to run dangerous crap on! When finished, simply close VMWare again and overwrite the now dirty copy with your saved clean one.

*for when theirs inevitably find out that said findings have been published, and raises a hissy. Or, move to Finland and simply thumb nose at malware vendor…

** as measured by the remaining thickness of the install CD (you reinstalled Windows HOW many times? Gosh, you must love it!).

Toilettesitz nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumbkopfen

Found this on ye olde slashdot today:
The Social Norm of Leaving the Toilet Seat Down: A Game Theoretic Analysis

Nothing I haven’t said before of course, but their version invokes game theory and your calculator.

Now, I have some questions:
1) Does anyone actually make a big issue of toilet seat state (i.e. the yelling factor)?
2) Isn’t it the slightest bit incongruous in our modern era of equality (post-1920) to specifically impose one over another?
3) Do people actually “fall in”? (or for the man-specific case, pee in pitch darkness without first checking the state of the seat and/or lid and make a huge mess?)
3a) Is this due to inability to work a terlet seat, or inablility to work a light switch?

Please advise…