Saturday, January 31, 2009

Phone post

Testing... 1 2 3
Sitting, bored, in Panera, I thought I'd have a go at posting from my phone. It's not great, but might work in a pinch.

In other phone news...

Got a call from my mother who has just moved to Tennessee. She seems to be doing well.

Called the Good Earth people. They will deliver soil on a day's notice, and COD. Very cool. Got the strawberry bush and crossvine planted today, so maybe next weekend will be the time to do the raised bed. I don't seem to be able to post images from here, so I will do so when I get home.


I had a dream last night. What was the dream about? No idea. I never remember my dreams. But it's a good thing when I have them -- it means I've actually slept reasonably well. Hoping for another one tonight :)

Thinking of heading to Brazos Bend park tomorrow. Got to get my time in before it starts getting hot. There are already mosquitos on the path by Keith's. Will get the new plants in the ground before going. I really hope they grow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Planting humility

Well, so far, so good pretty much. The onions are amazing, partly because unlink the other stuff I've grown from seed they don't put out little leaves first -- they just sort of unroll a stalk, and then the stalk gets thicker. Not seeing too much from the impatiens or the peppers yet. The coleus are doing great.

The crossvine (left) and strawberry bush (right) arrived today by mail. I'm really impressed. This is the second time I've ordered from people on Ebay, and both times I've been very happy with the results. This place is especially good with great prices and a specialization in native plants (actually, Florida natives, but there's a lot of crossover with the Texas Gulf Coast).

Despite not getting much sleep lately, I'm feeling pretty good. It always helps me to have a hands-on project going, whether that's woodworking, or garden, or something else. I don't think I was meant to shuttle back and forth between home and work and do nothing else. Having said that, work is good. I feel like I'm doing something of value to people outside me and Keith. And class is good, too. I had a great conversation after class yesterday with one of my professors. I appreciated that though he has been a professor for many years, and a background in industry before that, he is still curious to learn, and humble enough to learn from someone with far less experience. The right kind of humility seems to be a common factor in people I admire, the type of humility that is not the doormat I used to be, nor self-defensive, as I feel myself to be now, but honest and open and genuine. Humility of being. Math makes most people who do it at a high level humble. It very quickly shows you your own fallibility. Gardening does that for me too. I hope I can learn well from these and other teachers.

Well, better sleep before I'm tempted to look into the segfault on my Bayes code.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I've been doing a bit of thinking about the concept of using simulations for performance analysis introduced in class. The motivating example used was comparing two types of RPC: one blocking, the other non-blocking. In introducing the idea of simulation, it's obviously necessary to abstract some elements of the system so you don't have to do something ridiculous like worry about where the disk head is at any given point in time. The question then has to be: what do you abstract, and how, and what must you simulate, and to what degree? For example:
1) Maybe you do need the disk involved, but only at a high level. E.g. if the RPC call blocks, and the process has pages swapped to disk, then performance will, in part, depend on things like whether you have a disk cache in place.
2) How much of the OS do you simulate? For network stuff, surely it's important how efficiently the network driver handles different-sized packets. This can change even with point releases to an OS, or if you change out a network card. In which case, the simulation is only good for version X of this OS with Y hardware, and is not really about just the RPC code.
3) What about chaos? I don't mean Windows. Actually, I have a new level of respect for Windows now that I've had to develop on a Mac for a bit (yuck). I mean situations where the equations blow up due to inherent unpredictability (sensitive dependence on initial conditions). You can use simplifying assumptions, and control load, but then how realistic is your sim?

I'm not sure yet whether I like the textbook for the class, but I did like this one quote: "The complexities of interactions among various system components and user programs often surpass our ability to readily identify what system and algorithmic variables are really significant, and in what functional form these variables are related to a chosen measure of performance" (16). The book advises that in order to figure out what is significant, you either need to see the system in production, or do a really detailed sim.

When I started this class, I thought "simulations are simulations." I expected that performance simulations would be similar to the software simulations I used on the job before to verify interfaces and programming logic. I now see that a performance analysis sim is potentially much more complex. There's also something interesting that sims say about the nature of time. In a sim, time is quantized and turned into a sequence of steps that are, given suitable control on inputs, deterministic. A sim can be fast-forwarded or run double-speed, or checkpointed and restored later. You might go to work in the morning and have the sim run through a year's worth of processing by 5:00. I find this sense of creating time to control it poetic. There's a certainty and absoluteness that reminds me of what I like about Math: I prove a theorem and it's proved forever, and the proof has a life of itself, independent of me -- a proof is the creation of something infinite, something that transcends time. This is probably not what T.S. Eliot meant when he wrote "Only through time, time is conquered," but there's a resonance in there somewhere, at least for me.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Got this picture with some of the concrete blocks roughly placed. The shape and unevenness of the blocks made me think of the old observation about the teeth of American versus British actresses. I like the way it's shaping up. Maybe I should have an inconsistent border.

Meanwhile, back under the fluorescents, I'm already seeing the first signs of life! I'm really surprised -- I wasn't expecting anything for another 5 days. Might have to get in some soil faster than I expectd. The pic is a bit blurry because it's taken though the plastic top.

I saw a comment on a forum asking why anyone would go to the trouble to raise plants from seed when it's really not cost-effective (not to mention the heartbreak of putting in effort only to see the plants go leggy or die). For me, the reason is the wonder of seeing something come from a tiny brown blob that I stuck in some moist soil. This is what makes it all worth it. Maybe it's like reliving the wonder of childhood experience -- seeing a lightbulb light from a battery-powered circuit, or making a stink bomb from iron filings, or the strange experience of snow burning your hands after playing out in it too long. There is a way that the world is, and it's endlessly fascinating and worth learning about. If any of these plants reach maturity and survive the transition to the garden I'll be thrilled. But if not, I don't think it will stop me from trying again. And in this climate, I won't even need to wait until next year.

Burn's Day

Today (well, yesterday, the 25th) was Burn's Night in Scotland, a celebration of the most famous of Scots poets, Robert Burns. Scots the world over celebrate with a traditional "Burn's Night Supper" of haggis, neaps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Outside of Scotland, Burns is best known as the songwriter of "Auld Lang Syne." Inside Scotland, he's probably more appreciated for his poetry, like "A Man's a Man For A' That," which comments on the fundamental equality of human beings regardless of class; "Tam O'Shanter," which tells the story of a drunken reveller coming back home through a graveyard, and "Holy Willie's Prayer," a satire on the hypocrisy of one of the religious figures in his area. His poems have a witty earthiness that somehow goes with the Scots character, the kind of earthiness you might also find in a good single malt. Due to the time I spent getting in the concrete blocks, I had to settle for what we had in the cupboard -- a cheap sherry, not worthy of his memory. But tomorrow, I might pass by Spec's on the way home and grab a dram of something better. Pity there'll be no haggis to go with it.


Found out that Home Depot in Clear Lake is relocating and has everything 40-60% off. Not much is left, but I did manage to get a couple of power cords and a pile of 8"x8"x4" concrete blocks (90!) to make a couple of good-sized raised beds in the garden behind the shed. It took two car trips to get them home with the weight in the trunk depressing the back of the car perilously close to the wheels. Kathryn helped me get the second load in, which was really good of her. Concrete's not my favorite choice, but at 70 cents per block this was too good a deal to turn down, and each block has a hole through the middle that I could use to plant something small. It was too late to get pictures last night, but I'll try to put some up tomorrow. I spent a bit of time getting used to Wings3D in the hope that I can make a 3D model of how the garden will look. I might or might not have the patience to carry this out, but it's fun to play. Next thing will be to get a big delivery of soil.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I had a great walk at Brazos Bend park last Saturday. It feels, and has always felt, so natural for me to be out in the woods. I think smell has a lot to do with it, and that's also why I like gardening. But it's also the sight of the path bending and disappearing into the trees and brush and wondering where it might lead. And the way that everything just is the way it is -- sometimes tangled, sometimes straight, grains of soil and huge oaks coexisting in a single system by being themselves. Nobody says to the grass "you should be shorter and more uniform in height," or to the trees, "you shouldn't shed leaves on the path." Very Tao.
On the path, there was a bench with a plaque in someone's memory. I don't know why it stood out to me so strongly. Maybe it was because we lost Maggie a few weeks ago, and Keith was up in Austin at a funeral. It struck me that if I could pick my own way to be remembered, that I couldn't do better than this. To be a bench, in a state park, to be remembered through an object of use to people who never knew me in a place like this -- what could be better? It made me want to write a poem for the first time in forever. I still might, but I need to get this thought out in case I don't. I can't express the depth of being there, but at least I can say it was deep.

Something new

"Something new" seems like a good title for the first post of a blog. New blog. New year. New job (well, fairly new). New class. New thesis. New stuff on the horizon. I have an itch to plant. This year I'm starting two trays of plants from seed. It was only going to be one, but Kim kindly lent me her spiffy seed light, so now there are two trays of about-to-grow seeds on the bedroom floor tucked away in the corner.
On the left side... scarlet impatiens and a coleus mix.
On the right side... onions and yellow peppers.
At the moment, I'm running the lights on them 24/7. Should see results in a couple of weeks. I've also ordered a strawberry bush plant and a crossvine for use in the garden behind the shed. I'm rather attached to that garden, despite the fact that nothing wants to grow there except weeds. It's just such a lovely corner, shady and out of the way. It's not the corner's fault that it's the plant equivalent of the "dead zone" in the Verizon commercials. I'm thinking of putting in raised beds. On the other hand, there's part of me that says, "no, just get the right plants." So I'm pursuing that angle too. Crossvine just rocks. Sun? No problem. Shade? Easy. Bad drainage? It eats that for breakfast, and drought for dessert. What a great plant. And all those lovely flowers! Maybe I'll save the raised beds for the veggies. They could probably use them.