Monthly Archives: November 2005

Not Adding Up (Vol. 2)


I will admit, the elevators in Sellery Hall were programmed by a retard who clearly couldn’t make any efficient decisions about traffic flow. Nevertheless.

Dumb people in my residence hall: learn to use elevators. It’s embarassing to stand next to you.

When you are in the hall, and want to go, say, down, you press the down button. The little LED in the button lights up to let you know that the elevator is being called. Now you wait for the doors to open. Meanwhile, you can watch on the little 7-segment display (+ two arrows) and see where the elevator is right now. When it gets to your floor, the doors open, and one of two things should happen next. 1) You get in, the doors close, and you descend. 2) You wait in the hall, the doors close, and the elevator goes farther up before coming back to get you.

I don’t think it gets much easier than that. So, alright, there’s the question of “Should I get in, or not?” Well, lets observe all the indicators and see if we can make an informed decision.
1) If the elevator is going to go down, the little arrow in the 7-segment floor number display will point, guess what?, DOWN. If it’s going to go up, the little arrow will point ::gasp:: UP.
2) If the elevator is going to go in the direction that you want it to, then the little LED inside the button you pressed turns off, because the elevator is here for you. If the little light stays lit, then this elevator is not answering your call.

Did that seem confusing to anyone? It’s just an elevator. You’ve all used them. SO WHY ON EARTH CAN PEOPLE NOT FIGURE THIS OUT? Stop getting in the elevator when you know it’s going to go the wrong way, and then complaining about it. Look before you make a fool of yourself, and waste our time.

Please. I could have taught my cats to do this. (I’m not kidding… they knew how to open doors, just couldn’t grip the handles tightly enough with their paws)

Intelligent Design? The Vatican thinks not.

I’ve believed this for a long time, and am glad that the Vatican agrees, even if I am not a Catholic.

“The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim,” [Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture] said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that “the universe didn’t make itself and had a creator”. [link]

I wish fundamentalist Christians, especially those who feel compelled to force their views onto the political scene, would read this, coming from the heads of their own faith, and accept the fact that the Bible is not a literally-translated be-all and end-all. The Vatican says that it is the message that is important, not the precise details. They are in no way denying or even hinting at the absence of a Creator. They simply, and intelligently, leave the details of implementation up to science, putting an end to the fundamentalist notion that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for the creation of all that is, down to the most minute detail.

Thank you, Vatican, and thank you to all Christians (and, for that matter, followers of any religion) who live by the ideals of their faith, but are not unthinkingly blinded by it.

Unthinking faith is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind.
-Joan A. Hutchinson

Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
-Albert Einstein


Saw this on slashdot today: History’s 10 Worst Software Bugs

Very interesting and sobering read. Brings a renewed perspective on writing clean code, you could say.

On a side note- we are now down to at least 3rd place in the programming contest, pending a further review of one of the contest problems. I hadn’t been working on the problem in question, and so was less aware of what was going on, but apparently about an hour into the contest, one of the problems was changed due to some issues with how it was originally worded. This change caused much confusion and wasted a lot of time, throwing the rest of the contest results into a bit of question. We’ll have to wait and see how it all works out as far as us going to the World Finals.

The year of the road trip

It seems this is to be Colin’s year-of-the-road-trip. Earlier this year, Microsoft flew me out to Seattle, WA, for a weekend, which I have just realized I never remembered to blog about. Hopefully I will in a bit. In more recent news, the Amphisbaena team from UW-Madison, composed of Ray Wong, Brian Byrne and myself, has (conditionally, pending any appeals by other teams) advanced to the World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, sponsored by IBM (So Scott, tell your uncle thanks). At the contest at UW-Parkside today, we competed against approximately 186 other teams from the North-Central North America region. The joke for me, personally, is that before the contest, I told my dad that we would at least try to beat South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (his alma mater), and as it turned out, they were the only team to beat us. So, we’ll be up against them again at the World Finals, held in San Antonio, TX, next April, along with teams from every corner of the globe.

How did we get here? Well, after a very intense 5-hour problem-solving session today, we came away tied for the maximum number of problems solved (5 of 9), and 2nd in minimum accumulated time required to solve them (580 minutes). To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t expected us to solve more than maybe 3 of the problems, and I certainly hadn’t expected us to place higher than untitled.cpp, another team from UW-Madison. My best to untitled.cpp, especially Jesse and Piramanayagam, who won’t have another shot at the finals. I wish that things could have worked out better for you guys. In truth, the problems on the contest came as a surprise to all of us. We had been practicing with problems from previous years’ world finals, and expecting somewhat easier problems for the regional competition, but we certainly did not expect the problems to be as easy as they were. Those who know anything about algorithms may understand what I mean when I say that none of the problems actually required any. They all had some sort of brute force or recursive solution, or at most involved the construction of a simple tree. We had anticipated more complicated problems, involving graphs or greedy or dynamic programming approaches, which is why I had not expected to perform very well; I’ve never studied these things before practicing for this contest. Since the problems were so much easier & different, however, they were far more in my range of ability & familiarity as an engineer, and we were able to solve problems at a pretty good rate. I was impressed by how well we worked together as a team; I think this aided our unexpected results to a large degree as well.

With that, I wish us luck at the World Finals, (and also that the regional judges don’t end up bumping us down due to other appeals…. :/ )

Spacesuits and 2000 B.C.

Got a chance tonight to do one of the coolest things I think I have ever done. As part of joining Tau Beta Pi, a national Engineering Honor Society, we spent a few hours today at the UW-Madison Foundry casting bronze bents. A bent is the symbol of Tau Beta Pi (see the upper left-hand corner of their homepage). The foundry was very cool. I don’t remember the year that it was founded, but it’s been around since long before there was a Materials Science & Engineering program. We spent much of the afternoon packing an oily sand into molds around the forms of our bents, and then extracting the form to leave a hole for the bronze. I understand, in a very vague, naive way, why blacksmiths are as strong as they are. Just smashing sand into a metal frame was pretty tiring on the arms. By the end of the night though, the main event. We melted down a bunch of old bronze (partly flawed castings from previous years, partly bronze scraps) in this big induction furnace thing, which resulted in boiling bronze that glowed very brightly yellow. Definitely something you should see sometime: molten metal. To be perfectly accurate, I shouldn’t say “we” melted down the bronze. One of the three (or so) grad students who run the foundry was doing the actual melting, though the VP of TBP helped him with pouring the metal into the molds.

Here, roughly is the scene:
On a worn brick area in the middle of the shop floor there are 4 metal frames sitting, full of compressed oily black sand. In the middle of the sand are gaps in the shape of TBP bents. To reach those gaps with bronze there is a hole that we cut out, as well as a bit of a funnel-like lip that we carved into the upper surface of the black sand. At the far side of the room, a giant circular heating/furnace element has just been lifted off of a crucible containing molten bronze. Two men in space suits (or close enough… bright aluminum heat suits including helmet/face shield/cape, jacket, pants, and boots) grab the crucible with a distinctly medieval-looking clamp device, and carry it to another yoke with a single handle on one end, and two on the other. They then lift the second yoke, with the brightly glowing crucible several feet from each of them in the middle, and begin pouring bronze into the molds. The bronze flows out like water, at first, bright orange with flashes of even brighter yellow, and then bubbles up when it has filled the mold and oozes just like you would expect lava to once it has begun to cool. After filling our 4 molds, the remainder of the molten bronze is dumped into an iron frame to cool & be stored, and the overflow from this looks just like Hollywood magma… bright orange glowing metal dripping slowly until it cools.

Definitely an awesome experience; it felt like a cross between the middle ages (or even 2000 BC, which is apparently when bronze was discovered) and landing on the moon, what with the spacesuits and all.

The Moral of the Past 3 Days Is…

Never start a 3-week project 3 days before it is due. No matter how easy it seems like it will be.

I can honestly say that I have spent more time in front of a computer on the Engineering campus in the past 3 days than I have spent sleeping, eating, and in other classes combined. No joke. Take tonight for example. By the time I get my retarded self off this computer and back to my dorm, it will be 4 am. I have class at 8:25 that I can’t miss, because I have to hand this project in then. So I’m planning on about 3.75 hours of sleep tonight. And I spent 5pm to 7pm + 9pm to 3:30am ( = 8.5 hours ) working on this project today alone (well, this sleep cycle alone… hasn’t been the same day in hours.)

For anyone who wants to know what kept me up this late, my completed report is located here (2.5 MB PDF, you’ve been warned). It probably won’t make sense without the problem description, but I’m too lazy to find the link to that right now. Oh, and if you do actually read it for some obscure reason, I apologize for the 8 scanned-in pages that are huge and nasty-looking. That was the last thing I did tonight, just in case the TA loses my paper or something; I’m not doing this again.

So don’t be like me. Do your work when you’re intended to. You’ll be happier. And sleep more. And babble less.