Friday, October 23, 2009

Higher Education

I would like to take this opportunity and say a very big thank you to the educational system.
See, I spent most (actually, all) of my childhood being taught at. From kindergarten to twelfth grade I was sitting in boring little rooms, some with cheerful pictures of letters, being lectured at by stern men and women.
Some of the classes were boring, some were interesting. Some of the teachers hated us (the kids) and most of us hated most of them (there was always one kid who loved his/her teacher. Fact of life: there's a freak in every crowd).
I worked hard at some subjects (the interesting ones) and slacked off the rest. I goofed off at recess and played pranks on others (teachers and students alike).
Tangent: One of the funniest things we did in eleventh grade.
See, the school had added on a new floor, on top of the building because we needed more classes. The seniors were never there anyway, so we were the first to move into the new classrooms.
These classes were now four stories up, and had nice big windows. To prevent us from falling (jumping?) out there were three, sturdy metal bars running the length of the windows, covering about half. We very quickly took to sitting on the window ledge, with our feet dangling four stories up and our arms resting comfortably on the bars.
One day my friend came to school with like, 10 rolls of Scotch tape. I'm still not sure why. Anyway, we wanted to see how strong Scotch tape is (tell me you've never wondered about this). So, we preformed experiments using the tape, a series of increasing weights and the convenient bars on the windows.
Our first weight was the empty plastic garbage can from our class. It was full, but we took care of that.
We attached the tape to the garbage can and pushed it out the window. We slowly unspooled the tape until the can was a nice height above the parking lot, and then wrapped it a few time around one of the metal bars and cut it.
It held.
We left it there for a few days, to see if there was any fatigue in the tape. There was none.
We then proceeded more quickly. We tried a full garbage can (that upended on the way down, too bad) and quickly arrived at chairs.
We decided that those heavy metal chairs with the plastic seats and backs were the limit, so we started hanging out as many as we could.
From outside the building it looked pretty cool. Six or seven chairs suspended at random heights, supported, apparently, by nothing (the scotch tape was clear).
One of the staff would come periodically to the classroom and tells us to take them down, and we did, but put them back promptly enough.
And then, one fateful day one of tape strands broke and the chair plummeted to the ground.
That chair was hanging fairly low, just outside the teachers' lounge window on the first floor, so it only fell like 5 feet. But it landed on the hood of the principal's car.
No actual damage to the car, just some scratched paint, but we got into a hell of a lot of trouble. Also, one guy almost fell out the window laughing.
Back on topic now.
Anyway, one of the most important things I got from school was not a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn (I got that from Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, Wired, Discover Magazine and the like) but a high school degree. This meant I could go to university.
And that meant that I could learn all kinds of cool stuff and important life skills.
Like, for example, this week I learned about port mapping, SVN, proxies and VPNs
See, the public wifi broadcast by the university blocks most ports, and they only open the ones they think about. So torrents is (of course) blocked, but that doesn't bother me too much.
What bothers me is that IRC clients are blocked. Therefore I had a real incentive to learn about this stuff and fix the problem.
So, I would like to thank the school system. If it weren't for them I would never have tried to hack a network.
Also, if my principal is reading this, I'm sorry about your car, but it's your fault for instilling curiosity about the natural world by making the classes so boring.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of Gods and Men

Before I start, I am not being sexist, it's just that the title "Of Gods and Goddesses and Men and Women" doesn't sound right.
Also, this is a sorta serious post.
I just finished reading The Iliad. You know, the epic book by Homer? Back before 'epic' meant 3 million Youtube views. Anyway, I had a few thoughts on the subject, and I decided to share them with all three and a half people who read this blog.
So, my first thought on the subject is how stupid the ancient Greeks were.
I mean, they were clever, but also stupid. See, the whole story takes place in the bronze age. All the weapons are made of bronze, as evidenced many times in the narrative. "Pitiless bronze" "sharp-edged bronze" "as the sun rising over the sea glints off the waves so too did the gleam of the bronze spear points reflect back the sunlight".
Anyway, making weapons out of bronze is smart. Bronze is a relatively light and hard metal, and is good for making a sharp edge. Not as good as steel, but better than iron (easier to work with and not as heavy).
What was not so clever was that they made their armor out of gold! I mean, it looks nice and everything, but gold is very heavy, and very soft. No wonder so many of them died.
My second thought on the subject is how civilized their wars were.
Oh, they were bloody and gruesome and violent beyond measure, but they were also civilized.
I think this may be because all of the battles were fought face to face and up close and personal.
For example we can take the first battle depicted in The Iliad.
In the middle of the battle, people are killing each other left and right, they call a time out. Everybody sits down (both armies) and they watch as two champions (one from each army) decide to kill each other mortal-combat style. That will decide who wins the war.
It didn't work, but that is another matter. The gods screwed that one up.
Another example is two people approach each other and are about to throw their spears in a wholehearted attempt to kill each other. Suddenly, Diomedes (from the Greeks' side) recognizes the Trojan he is trying to kill. It turns out he's a dear friend of the family. They both make long speeches about the joy and sanctity of friendship (while there is a battle raging on around them) then they shake hands and part in friendship. Each goes off to kill other people now.
I mean, how civilized is that?
I did enjoy The Iliad very much.
The parallelism between man's struggles and the gods' little feuds, the contrast between the futility of war that must end in death and the gods' little squabbles that end peacefully. The constant meddling of the gods for their own amusement. The long speeches which counteract (and sometimes intersect) the gruesome battle scenes.
Also, the characters are always saying how they are ruled by the gods and fate, and nothing that they themselves do is of any singular importance. On the other hand, the reader gets the impression that the war is so much more important than whatever little shenanigans the gods get up to.
I also very much like how this was the tale of a 10 year long war, and all that is told here is about a month and a half, towards the end. But not the end of the war (no wooden horse). That is because the poet decided to focus on the human content of the war. His heroes are portrayed as real people with emotions, and the last few chapters, dealing with death of some of our favorite characters, are quite moving.
I read The Iliad for my own enjoyment, and strongly recommend that you do as well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Driving People

I think people can learn a lot from cars.
In fact, I think people should be more like cars.
I will try to explain (but first point out that each line so far has started with the letter 'I', not something I planned. Cool, huh?).
You know how when a lot of people are leaving a room at the same time, say, a movie, a class, the gym locker room after somebody dropped a particularly heavy load? Anyway, I bet you noticed how traffic can sometimes get seriously backed up. A couple of people just stop right there in the doorway and need to talk. Completely disregarding the fact they are holding up up dozens of (possibly naked) people in a hurry.
Doesn't that just piss you off? Didn't you wish you had a horn so you could honk at them irritably? I mean, if a car had suddenly stopped for no reason and completely blocked the intersection, you'd honk. Right?
Another example. I'm walking down the street, in a bit of a hurry, and suddenly the woman in front of does an abrupt about-face and heads straight for me! Due to relative speeds and reaction time (not to mention the fact that I was pretty close behind her, getting ready to pass on the left) we had a head-on collision. Now, something like that wouldn't have happened if she had checked her rear-view mirror. But did she? NO! Because she didn't have one!
So, so far we established the fact that people need horns and a rear-view mirror.
Actually, a couple of side-view mirrors would help too.
I'm a pretty strong young man, and I help my friends and family schlep heavy, and often bulky, stuff. It's really hard to maneuver through doors and down stairs when you can't really see where you're going.
So, until we have these things installed, please try to be a considerate pedestrian and be aware of your surroundings. Anticipate what the person next to you (or in front of you) is going to do. Don't surprise the other pedestrians, and don't block the intersection!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment to have a couple of blinkers installed on my shoulders. I can't run them yet, but when I finish writing the code for them I'll upload it via the USB port in my navel.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It made my day

I am not an evil person, in fact, I'm not even moderately mean. But I do enjoy watching somebody else making a total ass clown of himself. And it's even better if I can help them along in any way.
See, what happened was this: I was driving on a three lane highway in the middle lane. This was fine because I wasn't going too slow, nor too fast. I wasn't in any particular hurry, so I was driving precisely the speed limit. I'm driving a little Toyota (my parents' car) and this huge, gleaming white SUV with a custom hood ornament starts tailgating me and flashing his brights in my rear-view mirror (it's angled just right so that the glare goes straight to my eyes).
I look back and there's this major douchebag behind the wheel making motions for me to go faster.
I don't understand his problem. There's an empty lane to the left, there's an empty lane to the right. There's even a notorious speed trap around the bend, and as I previously said, I was going exactly the speed limit. So to annoy him I slow down a little bit. Nothing noticeable, maybe 3 mph, but this guy is so close he almost rear-ended me. Now he starts to honk. I make a big show of ignoring him (easy to do while facing forward and wearing sunglasses).
Well, he pulls into the left lane and speeds ahead, giving me the finger as he speeds by.
I'm a little pissed off, but not much, he's a moron and a jerk and taking it out on the world. Not my problem.
Anyway, a few miles ahead the traffic slowed to a crawl. The three lanes were funneling down to two because of some kind of roadwork.
Well, Mr. SUV passed me on the left, and I saw him stuck there ahead of me. His lane wasn't moving and mine was. So, he of course pulled into my lane ahead of me. I beeped the horn friendly-like and when he looked up I smiled and waved at him, as if we were best buddies.
I swear the guy turned scarlet. I mean, there is nothing worse than acting all friendly to these jerks, it really gets to them.
By now our lane had stopped moving and now the right lane was moving again, so he pulled into the right lane and took off.
Ten minutes went by, and I kept creeping along in traffic. I didn't mind, it was air-conditioned and I had some good tunes with me. Needless to say, Mr. SUV was long gone.
Finally I get to the obstruction, and I see that the right lane was blocked off. There weren't any cops to direct the traffic, there was just a huge sign saying that the lane ends because of road work. The people just merged the best they could.
Well, I saw that there was a familiar looking SUV stuck in the right lane behind the orange road-work sign, trying desperately to merge with the middle lane. But since traffic was at a near standstill, everybody was close up against the car in front of them. There was nowhere to merge.
I laughed out loud, and when I drove by I beeped my horn again and waved at him.
Man, was he pissed! He jerked the wheel to the left and slammed the gas, trying to cut me off.
Unfortunately he forgot how close he was to the warning sign.
He drove straight into it and the thing fell over and smashed his hood. His custom hood ornament was destroyed, and the whole hood was scratched beyond belief. No actual damage to him or his car, just his poor, over-inflated ego.
It made my day.