Monthly Archives: October 2005

Flour in the rough

As of 12:30am central time tonight/this morning, Roe Sellery B unofficially began its winter hall decoration festivities. One pissed off house fellow and a giant bag of flour later, the festivities were brought to a halt, though the taste of flour still hangs in the mens’ bathroom air. Hurrah for pissing off the house fellow three days before Halloween, at the so-called “#1 Party School in the country“…

Here’s a glimpse of the pre-winter excitement: (click on the pics for higher-res)

And the best for last; the door on our left is our house fellow’s room. Someone wrote that note up on her board earlier tonight, in an unrelated plea for a more festive hall. I suppose you could call the decoration which was soon to follow “ironic”…


(Witte, for those who aren’t familiar, is another residence hall at UW-Madison.)

Weekend Review

What has Colin been up to this weekend?

Well, Friday night saw him beat Jared at racquetball for this first time this semester (Not the whole match, just 1 game of 3…). Came off the blocks strong with a 13-1 lead, but somehow only ended up beating him 15-12. Tough break on the failed come back there, Jared… The other two games were a lot more typical, scorewise, though I played better than I ever have before, and Jared took a pretty good beating trying to stay ahead.

Later that evening we also caught a showing of A History of Violence. Definitely a different sort of movie. Pretty mellow throughout, though gruesome fight scenes when such did take place. I was disappointed by the lack of a soundtrack for the majority of the movie. A couple people behind us walked out, it was dragging on so long in the middle, but overall, pretty decent. My movie recommendation: Rent, don’t watch in theater or buy on DVD. Not intended for immature audiences.

Saturday was, of course, dominated by Wisconsin football. They gave us all these free towels (much more impressive when we were all holding them up- this picture doesn’t do justice) courtesy of U.S. Cellular, which, incidentally, is Cellcom’s partner carrier in the Madison area. The game was good in the second half, though the first half looked a bit rough. Tied at half time 10-10, the badgers caught some lucky breaks (like interceptions returned for points) that turned the game around to win it 31-20. After the game and a Toppers pizza, I headed back to the dorm for some programming practice.

Said practice being for Sunday’s main event: an ICPC practice team competition. My teammates, Ray Wong and Brian Byrne, and I worked for 5 hours on a set of 8 problems. We solved 3 completely with our answers accepted, a 4th was nearly accepted, except for a few test cases that the graders (our coaches) weren’t sure if our program was in error or the test case, so that 4th program was questionable at the time, and a 5th which we nearly completed by the end of the event, but which didn’t compile : (. It took about half an hour of more work afterward for me to get it to run correctly- we had made both typos and logic errors in our last second effort to get the program written. So we solved 3 and nearly solved 5, which I think is pretty good, seeing as we’d never programmed together before, and the “1st” team from Madison solved 4, nearly 5. A cool technical trivia note on why I think our 4th problem didn’t match up in all cases: the numbers involved in calculating the answer were on the scale of 9^8 (9 to the 8th power), which is greater than 2^32 (which is greater than 2 billion). The datatype we were using in our program could only store unique integers through 2^31. Thus, in the most complex test cases, if the appropriate inputs were given (way up in the corner of a really huge [2 billion subdivisions per side] graph), our program would encounter a nasty error known as integer overflow. What’s (2^32 -1) + 1 to a computer? -(2^32-1). It wraps around… Gah…

Anyway, that was my weekend, in more detail than you probably cared for. Now I need to find time to complete statistics and reading assignments for tomorrow, a circuit analysis assignment for wednesday, and study for two midterms for thursday. Busy, busy, busy.

Not Adding Up

Madison is, I hear, the most selective school in the University of Wisconsin system. They take the highest average GPAs, the highest average ACT/SAT scores, or, generally, the brightest students, on average. This year’s freshman class at UW-Madison is insanely smart. For instance, 426 of the 6,142 new students (nearly 7%!) are number 1 in their high school class. That’s simply astounding. Plus, over 63% of the incoming freshmen came from the top 10% of their high school classes. Wow.

That being said, something in this situation doesn’t add up. My gripe today: bicycles. If there are so many smart people at this school, how is it that nobody understands how to ride a bike? Allow me to elaborate (aka “rant”):

  1. Bike racks. You would think we were a school for the mentally handicapped if you ever took a look at our bike racks. Honestly people. Yes, I know the bike racks can be crowded, but for real, learn to use the damn rack the right way, and they would all fit fine. Don’t put the bike in from the wrong side, Don’t lean your bike against it crosswise, and Don’t put your bike on top of someone else’s. Please.
  2. Traffic Laws. Obey them. As a bike, you have the same rights and rules as a car. Don’t run red lights. You’ll get hit and you’ll hit pedestrians. Don’t make changes to your riding path without warning, especially don’t stop without warning, and most especially, don’t stop in the damn bike lane, ever. Get out of the way so we don’t hit you from behind. Don’t ride the wrong direction in the narrow bike lanes. They’re one way. For a reason. This is not rocket science. Oh, and don’t ride full speed in crosswalks either. Technically I don’t think you’re allowed to ride in crosswalks at all, but definitely don’t ride full out. Pedestrians will die, and hate you.
  3. Helmets. Wear them. Without these we will be a school of mentally handicapped. It’s your life. (And if you’ve ever tried to cross Park St in the east-bound bike lane of University, you’ll understand that cars Do Not Watch out for you.) Do the odds, and then buy a helmet.

I think that’s all I have to rant about bikes today. There’s other things about the masses at Madison that tick me off, and generally fail to meet the purportedly high academic calliber of the UW-Madison student, but I’ll save those for another time.

Bill Gates comes to town

Another item for me to catch up on: Last week Wednesday (Oct. 12), Bill Gates, the Chief Software Architect of Microsoft (who, I think, needs no further introduction) paid a visit to the UW-Madison campus. He was scheduled to give a talk to about 200 students in the afternoon, and also dropped in on an introductory level Computer Science class as a guest speaker. That “Stand In” lecture was filmed by mtvU, and will be broadcast on October 25, for any who are interested.

I’m no longer at the right level of Computer Science courses to have been in the class that got to meet Mr. Gates, though the person in the front row of this picture looks quite a bit like me… enough that two different people called to ask if it actually was. Too bad I don’t own a red sweater, then I could claim I sat 3 feet from Bill Gates. As it was, he actually passed me in the aisle, which was 2 seats farther to my right. That was as close as I got to meeting him.

The afternoon presentation was very interesting. Gates talked about the origins of Microsoft, the vision that he had then, and has now for the company and for computing in the world, and about the importance of developing future Computer Scientists to continue that work. Briefly, he founded Microsoft on the vision that computing hardware would become cheap enough and pervasive enough for the masses to benefit. The company today is still driven by the goal of pervasive computing, and “creating software that enables people to meet their full potential”, as their mission statement says. As long as they stay true to that mission statement, I think Microsoft has some very good ideas in mind and can take computing to even higher heights.

Gates also demoed some new Microsoft products, including the upcoming XBox 360. Very impressive demos; I hope that the released product will live up to the hype. One of the cool features of the new Xbox 360 is that it will allow you to connect an MP3 player or camera directly to it via USB, and let you browse the devices to play songs and/or view photo slideshows with a minimum of hassle. Seeing that in action during Gates’s demo was very cool.

The final part of the presentation, Gates answered questions from the audience. I didn’t, unfortunately, get to ask him anything, but some of the questions raised were pretty interesting. I was very impressed by how quickly Gates came up with answers to the questions asked of him, as well as how easily he was able to steer his answers toward a point that he, personally, wanted to make. One of the interesting questions raised was how Gates perceived the commercial software market shifting as Free and Open Source Software came to the forefront, and I thought Gates gave a solid answer, both from his company’s perspective, and from the end user’s perspective. Gates’s answer was that Microsoft’s solutions are not at risk in the software market, because of two key factors. Firstly, Microsoft provides, I believe Gates said, 24/7 support for their products. By this, I am assuming that he refers to business customers, as I don’t recall ever having received any free support with my copies of Windows or Office. Secondly, Microsoft’s products, being all developed “under one roof”, so to speak, provide the advantage of tight integration that many open source programs/suites lack, due to their development by different groups of programmers. I think that both of these points are very valid, and should be considered when making software purchasing decisions. This is not to say that there aren’t downsides to Microsoft’s solutions, and significant positives to alternatives. As you probably know, I am a strong supporter of the alternatives as well.

All in all, it was an excellent experience, made more so by the opportunity to meet the Campus Recruiter for UW-Madison, as well as our area’s Academic Developer Evangelist, at dinner on State Street. We ate at Chautara, and if anyone is looking for a new cuisine to try, I highly recommend them. The food is Nepali, and the salmon, chicken dishes, lamb, goat, and beef that I sampled were all delicious. The restaurant is more formal than most college-oriented State Street dives, however, so expect entrees at $16+ and wear something nice.

Lesson Learned. 1 billion times.

I learned a valuable lesson today. Specifically, one billion is a huge number that should never be considered as an acceptable dataset size to do a sequential search on. Possibly the most retarded thing I’ve done this week was decide that it would be a good idea to look through a billion pieces of data one by one to solve a computer program. To get an idea for how infernally stupid that was, pick a number from zero to 1 billion. I am now going to guess your number in the same fashion as my retarded program.

Is it one?
Is it two?
Is it three?

Is it four million, three hundred-twenty-four thousand, six hundred and
five?

You see the idiocy? Now consider the smart way. I bet you I can guess your number in 30 questions or less. (Pretend we picked 103,456)

Is it greater or less than…
1: 500 million? less
2: 250 million? less
3: 125 million? less
4: 62,500,000? less
5: 31,250,000? less
6: 15,625,000? less
7: 7,812,500? less
8: 3,906,250? less
9: 1,953,125? less
10: 976,562? less
11: 488,281? less
12: 244,140? less
13: 122,070? less
14: 61,035? greater
15: 91,553? greater
16: 106,812? less
17: 99,182? greater
18: 102,966? greater
19: 104,904? less
20: 103,934? less
21: 103,449? greater
22: 103,692? less
23: 103,570? less
24: 103,509? less
25: 103,479? less
26: 103,464? less
27: 103,456? equal

That definitely seems to be an improvement. My program agreed. Last time, it ran for 15 minutes before I gave up and killed it, far from an answer. This time it took 1.042 seconds.

Lesson Learned.

In other news

Looks like crackers are finally starting to turn their sights on Mozilla Firefox. A DoS vulnerability has been discovered which causes Firefox to crash simply by browsing to a malformed website. Note that this particular security flaw does not allow a cracker to gain any sort of control over your computer, nor does it allow him/her to access any of your information. It just crashes your browser, forcing you to manually terminate and reopen in order to view more websites. If you want to see this in action, I’ve copied the demo code at the aforementioned site to mine. You can crash your copy of Firefox (< = 1.0.7) here.

Beats the heck out of my mom's Trek

Seeing as I just started this, I’ve got a bit of catch up to do. Here’s one item I definitely need to bring up. My dad bought a new (used) motorcycle. It’s a BMW R1150R. I haven’t been home long enough since he got it to get a ride on it yet (plus we only have one helmet that fits me, and it’s my dads… I don’t have a motorcycle license), but my mom and dad have been riding it a fair amount, all over Wisconsin. This past weekend they took a trip around Lake Winnebago, stopping in Fond du Lac to visit my aunt and uncle.

Looks pretty sweet!

./blog

I decided it’s time for me to have a blog. Jared has a blog, Scott has a blog, even my own sister created a blog before me. And I’m supposedly the geek in the family. It seems I’m late. So, here it is. A blog. At the moment, this blog is powered by Blogger (though it’s web editor is a pain as far as generating appropriate HTML). I don’t really plan on keeping this setup, since it’d be much geekier to write my own blogging software, even though it’s reinventing the wheel, probably won’t run well, and will look like crap inevitably. We’ll see…

What’s in a name?

Among the first questions Blogger’s relatively painless setup utility asked was, “What do you want to name your blog?” Well, that poses an interesting question. What do I want to name it? If I were witty, I’d think of some wisecrack to put up as a title, but thus far I haven’t come up with anything more original than <geek>, which is utterly unoriginal. For some reason the lyrics to Eve 6’s “Inside Out” came to mind, specifically “SoCal is where my mind states.” Perhaps I would use Where my Mind States, but that didn’t quite appeal to me either. Casting about aimlessly in the depths of memory, my brain contemplated other lyrics, then decided to consider how lyrics are like poetry. My brain first made that link in Ms. VandeHei’s 7th grade writing class, when Jake LaSota and I interpreted the lyrics of “When You Believe”, featured in The Prince of Egypt. Jumping from that 7th grade connection to the more recent past, I lighted upon some of the most important words I, personally, have ever read:

Scratch through the diamond shelter of ambiguity, to discover calm within unity.
We have never truly been left behind.

To the author, who knows well who he is, I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently, for the verses, and for everything. For everyone else, suffice to say that those words are the source of my blog’s current title.

In other news, this post’s school archive content brought to you by:
   davfs [davfs.sourceforge.net]
   UW-Madison’s My WebSpace [mywebspace.wisc.edu]
   Gentoo linux [www.gentoo.org]