Archive for Life bits

My godfather is a Markov model

Before the memory is completely lost in the dust of time, I’d like to document how I ended up with this domain name. It all started last summer, when I decided to start a personal site. Of course, both my first and last names were already taken, even in TLDs I’d never heard of before.  But using my name would have been too easy anyway.  Challenge is good.

Politically-correct and totally un-sarcastic as I am, I originally wanted to go with some combination of “principled anarchy”.  Now, that was available! Apparently, nobody wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole, not even cybersquatters; which kind of gave me a hint.  Wouldn’t want to, say, end up in a three-letter-agency watchlist, at least not while in the US on H1B.  They might not share my sense of humor.

So, armed with online thesauri, dictionaries, the internet anagram server, and things like that, I set out on a name quest.  I don’t remember anymore what I tried; “coredump” (which, in case you didn’t know, has “code rump” as an anagram—still available, if you’re interested), “segfault”, “brainfart”, “farout”, and pretty much anything else I could think of: all taken.   Even these names as well as these are taken (thank god!).

At some point I was naïve enough to hope that a Tolkien name would be free.  No luck of course, anything semi-pronnounceable was taken.  You’d have to go as far as, say,  “gulduin” (which, by the way, means “magic river” in Elvish) to find something available. Good luck getting people to remember that!  Oh well, at least I had a reason to actually read some of the Silmarillion; if you’ve tried this and you’re not a religiously devoted Tolkien fan, you know what I’m talking about.

After the first week of searching, I think I even got temporarily banned from Yahoo! whois search. In desperation, I finally turned to one of many domain name generators.  I asked omniscient Google to give me one and, as always, it obliged.  By now I had decided that I wanted a name as free of any connotations as possible (say, like Google or Slashdot, not like Facebook or YouTube).  I went through things like “fractors”, “naphead”, “magnarchy”, “aniarchy”, “mallock”, “hexndex”, “squilt”, “terable”, and so on. It’s amazing how several weeks of searching in frustration temper one’s standards of quality. Anyway, one day “bitquill” popped up: neutral, inoffensive, bland, unusual, and a composite which is short and almost pronnounceable!  I couldn’t ask for much more, so I registered it.  

That, and “clusterhack”.  Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.

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Back again…


After coming back from Seoul, New York seemed even dinkier than the last time I returned from a trip. As I was boarding the plane at Incheon, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal (Asian edition). I had enough time to read almost all of it, as KAL arrived into Narita early, but Continental was six hours late. It might as well have been called “The GM Journal”, since about two thirds of the stories were about GM and Chrysler, and how the US government is trying to save them from doom due to chronic mis-management and exorbitant legacy costs.  

My wife, who has a far more sensitive nose than me, jokes that the first thing you smell upon disembarking the plane is cigarette smoke in Greece, and garlic in Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


“Life is pointless” ??

That’s what you get when you use colorful tags like “life bits” and “pointless“, especially if you use them together:  Google thinks your website is highly relevant to the query “life is pointless”.

Google Webmaster Tools for, February 2009

I’m now experimenting with a separate tumblelog to post most random thoughts but, in the meantime, here you go Google: one more post about “pointless life (bits)”!

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Randy Pausch in CACM

The September issue of CACM has a one-page, seven-question interview with Randy Pausch. It is definitely worth reading, so I’ll give you a sneak peek (unfortunately, CACM is not “open access”):

What about advice for CS teachers and professors?

That it’s time for us to start being more honest with ourselves about what our field is and how we should approach teaching it. Personally, I think that if we had named the field “Information Engineering” as opposed to “Computer Science,” we would have had a better culture for the discipline. For example, CS departments are notorious for not instilling concepts like testing and validation the way many other engineering disciplines do.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you before you began your own studies?

Just that being technically strong is only one aspect of an education.


Alice has proven phenomenally successful at teaching young women, in particular, to program. What else should we be doing to get more women engaged in computer science?

Well, it’s important to note that Alice works for both women and men. I think female-specific “approaches” can be dangerous for lots of reasons, but approaches like Alice, which focus on activities like storytelling, work across gender, age, and cultural background. It’s something very fundamental to want to tell stories. And Caitlin Kelleher’s dissertation did a fantastic job of showing just how powerful that approach is.

The interview was conducted a few weeks before his death. I’ll just say that, somehow, I suspect someone not in his position would never have said at least one of these things.  It’s a sad thought, but Randy’s message is, as always, positive.


We’ve moved!

Early this week we moved from White Plains to Manhattan.  So far, we’ve decorated the apartment using organic landscape elements, in harmony with the surrounding environment.  Here is what I mean:

Urban decoration

On the left is the view outside the window and on the right is what you see inside.

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NYC initiation: rental application

We recently signed a lease to rent in UES. Besides the usual credit check, most places in NYC ask for a slew of personal information: bank statements (with balances and account numbers), federal tax return and W-2 copies, letter of employment stating yearly salary, and three character reference letters.  (As for the landlord, I only know her name)

I’m told that managed buildings may skip some of these, but the apartment we found is in a condominium. Even though the landlord had already approved us, our broker prepared all the paperwork to a tee for the upcoming condo board review.

He even sent us some anonymized character reference letter samples.  Some were quite amusing.  For example (emphasis mine):

[…] I have always found him to be serious and responsible about his works [sic] and his private life. His home life is extremely quiet, and I would think ideal for his neighbors. Virtually all of his social gatherings are conducted in restaurants. He travels throughout nine months of the year and would probably be at home for only short periods of time between those trips. And quite frankly, his time at home is usually spent resting as part of his recovery from his traveling and preparation for his next trip. He is just the kind of quiet, unobtrusive neighbor that I would like to have.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many boards went through letters like this one. For a moment or two, I entertained the thought of asking a friend to write a pithy one-liner instead:

Spiros = corpse – odor + money    ⇒    Spiros = dream tenant !

but I eventually decided that the “⇒” notation might be too much and dropped the idea altogether.

I just hope those sample letters do not really reflect life in NYC!

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Bad planning

Some visions do not really translate into plans.  Becoming rich, established or happy, for example.  It’s like saying “I want to be a superhero!” How do you go about that?

How to become Spiderman

Nope.  Not much of a plan.

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A dog’s life

I recently returned from two weeks in Greece, which included four days in Santorini.  Even the dogs sunbathe, enjoying the scenery.  For the most part, I gladly followed their example.

Dog\'s life in Santorini

Upon coming back to New York, somewhat to my surprise, it was the US that felt comparatively dinky.  A few years ago, it used to be the other way around.  However, the contrast between new developments around the 2004 Olympics and New York’s crumbling infrastructure was at least noticeable this time.

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