Archive for the ‘life’ Category

The Case of the Crazy Driver

09 Dec

I often work nights at Grooveshark, which means I also drive home very late or very early, depending on your perspective.

A few times on my way home, I’ve noticed somebody driving in a fashion that can only be summed up as ‘crazy.’ From a distance it looks like they start to pull up into somebody’s driveway, then turn onto the sidewalk, then back onto the road, and then back up onto the sidewalk again, until I or some other car gets near, then they zoom off down some side street.

Tonight I saw that again and I was on my scooter, so I decided to follow the car down the side street. It didn’t take them long to realize they were being followed, so they started driving even more crazily, speeding and running stop signs, turning off on even more side streets, but still sometimes pulling up onto the sidewalk and then veering off. I started to get freaked out at how freaked out this person was, and how crazy they were driving, afraid that they would decide to try to run me over or something, so I gave up. I turned around and took off, but not before looking back. And at that moment the car I had been following was pulled onto the sidewalk again, and I finally saw the detail I had been missing before. What I saw was a newspaper flying out the window of the car. My crazy driver was just a person delivering papers.

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Pizza Hack

23 Aug

Although I know I shouldn’t, I love Stouffer’s french bread pizza.
What I don’t love is the 30 minute cooking time in the oven, or how it comes out all soggy and gross after the recommended 5 minutes in the microwave.

The solution? 1 minute in the microwave, 10 in the toaster oven. The result? Crunchy pizza perfection, in just about 1/3rd of he time.

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The Old Man of the Woods

10 Jul

Well it’s out of the bag now that I am interested in collecting mushrooms, and so far I haven’t had to venture beyond my own yard to find many interesting specimens!

I am very new to mycology and still learning a lot about identification, and a positive identification is extremely exciting. Fortunately, my most recent mushroom discovery is an easy one to identify: The Old Man of the Woods (also hanging out with the creepy field of spiders). Not only is this one not deadly, but apparently quite edible!
Correctly identifying this mushroom also helped me to identify another one I had recently collected: The Other Old Man Of The Woods.

Don’t worry, though, I have no interest in eating mushrooms of any kind, so even if I am certain I have positively identified something, I am in no danger if I turn out to be wrong.

It’s becoming apparent that I need to get my hands on a decent quality microscope for help with identification of species, and to that end Chris Bates (one of our newest interns, who’s also helping us make Autoplay better) is letting me borrow one, and longer term I am on the lookout for a deal like this.

For anyone else interested in mushroom identification, this Key to Major Groups of Mushrooms — a sort of choose your own adventure guide for mushroom identification — is an amazing resource. As I did with real choose your own adventure books as a kid, I like to cheat and follow multiple paths simultaneously, because I’m not always sure how to answer some of the questions yet and I like to hedge my bets. Some day, I think it would be neat to build an expert system to help newcomers like myself identify mushrooms by providing their observations and then answering questions (accompanied by pictures wherever possible) and assigning a confidence to those answers. I will of course need time, and access to several experts in order to build such a system, and I am in a severe shortage of both (although is aptly named.)


Glimmering spider eyes

06 Jul

This is either creepy, awesome, or a weird combination of the two, but it would appear that I have hundreds of smallish wolf spiders living in my yard.

I occasionally go out at night with a flashlight hunting for mushrooms in my yard (most recent discovery: destroying angel or a close relative). On one such occasion I noticed a strange glimmer reflecting from where I shone my light, almost like a dew drop but different…more colorful. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a small wolf spider. I saw a couple more of those glimmers that evening and every time it was another wolf spider.

Last night I went out, and virtually the entire yard is glimmering in the same way. I looked at quite a few and found wolf spiders every time, so I can only assume that I have hundreds of wolf spiders in my yard right now.

I might be slightly more creeped out by this fact if I didn’t live in Florida, but since I do I know they must be feasting on all the palmetto bugs that have made a happy home of this entire state, so I certainly can’t complain. :)

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Pretty soon they’ll have to let gays marry

19 Feb

I’m taking a minor diversion from the normal theme of my posts, and my implicit policy of leaving controversial topics for my personal blog, because what I’m about to talk about should not be controversial, but I’m sure it will be.

One of the sillier arguments I have heard against allowing gay marriage is that it is a slippery slope, ultimately leading us to be forced to accept, among other things, marriage to animals.

Well, recently in eastern India, a boy was married to a dog in order to “ward off tigers.” Does the hypothetical slippery slope work both ways? Will the members of his tribe soon be accepting gay marriages?

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Why I Drove a 19-Year-Old Car

23 Jan

Get Rich Slowly has a blog post entitled why I drive a 13-year-old car, which I recommend reading.

I followed a similar strategy until recently. I bought a 1989 Pontiac 6000 LE station wagon a few years ago, paid cash, somewhere between $600-800 for it, and vowed to drive it until it would not go anymore. It was hideously ugly, did not have heat or air conditioning, the electric windows sometimes stuck, and the electric locks would sometimes fail to unlock, but it was super cheap, and insurance was even cheaper. I was able to set aside $250/month as a “car payment” to myself.

When I got rid of that car, it wasn’t even because it needed repairs, it was just as junky as ever, no better, no worse. The problem was that I needed to be able to drive to Orlando frequently, and although the car was great for my in town driving, I didn’t feel entirely safe taking it on the highway that frequently, not to mention the relatively lousy gas mileage of an older heavy car. By then I had saved up enough to buy a “newish” car, but my need wasn’t urgent so I waited until I spotted a great deal. I found a solar yellow 2005 Scion xB that the owner had been having difficulty selling due to the nature of how ugly solar yellow is, but that type of ugly was still a few steps up from my old car, and I was able to talk them down to $2,000 below blue book.

I’m happy with my decision, it’s an extremely utilitarian car which gets very good gas mileage, and it’s a tolerable sort of ugly. I still put aside “car payments” even though I don’t have any, so I’ll be set if anything happens. I think the main thing to take away from the article is that you can save a lot of money by simply owning your car, so that’s my goal: to never have a car loan again. If you start out with a car you can pay cash for and make the same payments as you would otherwise, at the end you have the cash to pay for a new car (plus interest). If you do it the traditional way and buy a car with a loan, at the end you have an old car that may not be worth much anymore. If the circumstances allow it, I highly recommend buying no more car than you can afford with cash.

Then, when you have cash and wheels, you’ll have the ability to save even more money because you have more negotiating power with cash, and the ability walk away from any deal that’s not an awesome one.

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Grooveshark is growing!

14 Jan

I’m probably not at liberty to speak about specific numbers, but I have to share my elation at Grooveshark’s current growth rate.
Last month I predicted that given our current growth rate, we should double our total number of users every 3.6 months.

We are one day away from hitting a big round number, so I thought I’d look back and see how long ago we were at half of that. What do you know, 3.5 months ago. A growth rate slightly better than I had projected.

This, my friends, is exponential growth, and it turns out that when you have exponential growth it is insanely easy to calculate how long it will take to double your numbers. It’s called the rule of 72 and it basically states that you simply divide 72 by your growth rate to get your doubling time. For example, 72/(20% per month) = 3.6 months.

I must credit Dr. Albert Bartlett for teaching me about the rule of 72. According to Dr. Albert Bartlett, “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function,” and I highly recommend watching his lecture on the topic. (sorry, it’s a .ram file. here is an alternate version on google video, which I haven’t watched)



15 Oct

It’s almost as if Tuesday never happened…

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On being a DJ

18 Aug

When I was in college (oh so long ago…) I was a DJ for our radio station, and then I was a music director. I loved being a DJ: having lots of new, interesting and unreleased music on tap, from Smashing Pumpkins to Underwater Boxer; having a channel to share that music with other people; being able to make a small band’s day by playing their stuff and reporting it to CMJ. Well, there was one part I didn’t care for so much: talking on the radio. I’m a bit shy, which is why although I loved being a DJ and music director at Eckerd College, I knew it wasn’t ever going to be a career path for me.

It’s interesting, then, that I work at Grooveshark where much of that dream is being fulfilled by participating in this movement. The one piece that is missing is having a channel to share music with other people and subsequently helping small bands by making them more discoverable. Well, now with the release of Autoplay in Grooveshark Lite, it’s kind of like I get to be everybody’s DJ. Of course a computer scientist would write a DJing program rather than doing the manual labor of DJing.

As Professor Fishman, the best professor who ever lived, was fond of saying in our classes, a computer scientist isn’t satisfied with just using computers to put other people out of a job, they won’t settle until they manage to put themselves out of a job too. To be fair, he usually talked about that in the context of AI and specifically programming languages such as LISP, where the program can rewrite itself, but I think it applies here as well.

Now I get to be everyone’s DJ, but with everyone’s help too. If the system is currently a bad DJ, keep giving it feedback and it will learn. Imagine if you got to call up your local radio station and yell at them every time they played something you didn’t like, and congratulate them every time they played something you liked. If they didn’t block your phone number, you’d end up with the ultimate radio station for you, and that’s what Grooveshark aims to be, although we admit it will take some time to get there.

Check out Autoplay, and let me know what you think.


Is that a wig?

14 Aug

This evening, while sitting down with Chris Suter trying to work out the finer details of an algorithm over a pint, I was approached by a woman who asked: “This is probably an offensive question, but is that a wig?” in reference to my hair.

For the record, my hair is real, as unlikely as that may seem at first glance.

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