danvk.org » personal http://www.danvk.org/wp Keepin' static like wool fabric since 2006 Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:59:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 2012 Highlights http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-12-31/2012-highlights/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-12-31/2012-highlights/#comments Mon, 31 Dec 2012 18:54:26 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=949 A few personal highlights from 2012:

I traveled all over the place this year. Some highlights:

I took a three-month sabbatical from work during May, June and July. Some highlights from that:

I also spent a lot of time working on personal projects this year. A few highlights:

Books I read in 2012:

And a few other miscellaneous things:

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9/11 Journal http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-09-11/911-journal/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-09-11/911-journal/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 00:22:24 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=937 9/11 LightsWhile looking through some old journals last night, I found my entry from 9/11/2001. There are some bits that I remember (my French teacher deciding to finish class and not tell us, hearing about what had happened by my locker) and many that I had forgotten (all the misinformation—“10,000 dead”—and the standardized test which prevented any school-wide announcements).

Here it is:

Wow, what a crazy day. Mrs. Miller came into our French class around 8:40 and told Mrs. Sullivan what happened. Mrs. Sullivan didn’t say anything and just went on with class, which I find mind-boggling. Then in the hall I saw a bunch of people, including Jen Keber around Eileen’s locker telling her something, so I knew something had happened. I asked what, and Colin Walsh said “They blew up both World Trade Towers and the Pentagon”. I thought he was joking, but boy was I surprised. We listened some on the radio in Mr. Gerencher’s room, then went to the cafeteria for a few periods, and watched various stations for the rest of the day in all our classes. There was some confusion at the start because the sophomores were taking ISTEPs and Mrs. Ratliff didn’t want them to know. Then when they were done she came on the PA and said what had happened. Then we had a mass after school led by Fr. Bly and I had tennis as usual.

It still seems like something that couldn’t really happen. Everyone kept saying that the images we were seeing looked like they were straight out of a movie, and they’re right. The whole of New York City was completely covered in a giant smoke-cloud. The most amazing thing though was the videos that actually showed the second plane curving in and hitting the South Tower. I think my mom found it the most troubling that they sent in rescue teams, and then the towers collapsed, killing about half of New York’s fire fighters (about 200 dead they think now). Right now they’re saying that about 10,000 are presumed dead from the tower, 266 from the planes, and a few dozen from the pentagon. At one point Brother Robert said that they had bombed the supreme court too, but that turned out to be wrong. It really did strike me though, since it seems like buildings like that have been there forever—they’re really icons of our civilization. I suppose something like the Pentagon or the World Trade Towers are too, but those were built in the last fifty years or so. Tina said that Nate’s roommate’s girlfriend was flying from Boston to LA today, so she was pretty shaken by the whole thing. Apparently it’s the first time in history that they’ve closed down all American flights. It was quite a moment when we knew what had happened and tons of reports, both true and false were coming in from everywhere. Apparently, the White House, the Supreme Court, the USA Today building, the Defense Department and a bunch of other places were suppposedly bombed, but none of those actually happened. It really must be hard to sort truth from rumor in those sorts of cases.

They’ve had continuous coverage for almost 15 hours now, and I don’t see it stopping. We missed Bush’s speech to go to the Prayer Service at Church, and I think I’ll keep the bulletin—it’s an interesting piece of history. I guess today is a pretty significant piece of history too. It’s just absolutely insane.

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OhLife http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-07-01/ohlife/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-07-01/ohlife/#comments Sun, 01 Jul 2012 14:00:12 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=917 My friend April recently introduced me to OhLife, a dead-simple daily journaling service. You get an email each day with a previous journal entry. At first it’s yesterday’s entry, then last week’s, last month’s and last year’s. You respond to the email with today’s journal entry.

The thing I really love about this is how it subtly encourages good journaling habits. It took many years of journal-writing for me to learn these two important truths:

  1. Whenever you write, you should have a reader in mind. For a journal, the reader is your future self. Future You is the only person who will ever care to read this.
  2. The only way to become a better journaler is to read your old journals. Put another way: you won’t write boring entries for months on end if you’re forced to read them!

By sending you a past journal entry with each prompt, OhLife nails both of these.

Another journaling trap is to make each entry a list of the things you did today. This will be quite dull for your future self to read. What’s more interesting is the internal stuff: what are you looking forward to? how do you feel about other people and events? You’re likely to forget how you felt in the past as new information comes in.

How could OhLife discourage thing-listing? Perhaps by including content from Timehop. If your year-ago journal entry automatically included all your Foursquare check-ins and your texts, you’d be less tempted to list them out in today’s journal entry.

If journaling is your cup of tea, I would highly recommend OhLife!

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Reading ClarisWorks 3 Documents in Mac OS X http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-05-21/reading-clarisworks-3-documents-in-mac-os-x/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-05-21/reading-clarisworks-3-documents-in-mac-os-x/#comments Mon, 21 May 2012 21:45:45 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=886 I recently found a disk image I made from an old, circa 1997 hard drive. Back then we used ClarisWorks for all of our word processing needs. I quickly ran into my own version of the Digital Dark Age: how to read these ancient files? I spent enough time figuring this out that I owe it to the web to write up the process.

Here was the message I got when I double-clicked one of my Claris Works docs:

This gives a clue to the solution. The dialog doesn’t say that no program can read the file. It says that my computer cannot run ClarisWorks. This means that it’s found the ClarisWorks application on my old hard disk, but the program is so ancient that it cannot be run (Apple has gone through two CPU changes and one complete OS rewrite since ClarisWorks 3 was written).

The answer, then, is to run an old Mac emulator! There are several 68k Mac emulators out there, but I had my best luck with BasiliskII. Setting it up was not easy. Here were the steps that worked for me. Hopefully they’ll work for you, too:

Since I was working with a disk image, I had to convert it from .dmg format to a .img format. I did so with this command line (citation):

hdiutil convert Performa\ 640\ HD.dmg -format RdWr -o ~/Desktop/Performa.img

If you just have a few files, put them in a folder and tell BasiliskIIGui to share that. Here’s what my configuration looked like:

Hit “Save”, then “Start”. With any luck, you’ll see the emulator boot up and display a screen something like this:

You can now open the documents in ClarisWorks inside of the emulator. Unfortunately, ClarisWorks is unable to export in any format:

My solution was to download a PDF printer driver for Classic Mac OS:

I expanded it into my shared folder and installed like so:

Then select “PrintToPDF” in the Chooser (Apple → Chooser):

Open your document in ClarisWorks and do File → Print…. Hit “Preferences” and configure PrintToPDF like so:

I created a special output directory for PDFs, but you can do as you wish. Hit “Print” and you’re good to go!

In case anyone needs a copy of ClarisWorks, here it is (1.3MB download). If anyone objects to that link, I’ll happily take it down.

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The Sunrise/Sunset Onebox, Now in Many Languages http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-04-10/the-sunrisesunset-onebox-now-in-many-languages/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-04-10/the-sunrisesunset-onebox-now-in-many-languages/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2012 19:14:48 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=842 Nearly two years ago, I wrote about launching the Sunrise/Sunset Onebox, which tells you when the sun will rise or set in any location.

You trigger it in English by search for [sunset nyc] or even just [sunset] to get times for your current location.

Over the weekend, I launched the onebox in 30+ new languages. It’s pretty cool to see your work in a language that you don’t understand. Here are a few examples:

Arabic: [غروب الشمس في المدينة المنورة] = [sunset in medina]

Onebox triggering for [sunset in medina] in Arabic

Or in Vietnamese: [mặt trời mọc Hà Nội] = [sunrise in Hanoi]

Onebox triggering for "sunset in hanoi"

Or in French: [coucher de soleil paris] = [sunset paris]

Onebox trigger for sunset in paris

The translated onebox is proving particularly popular in Arabic-speaking countries, where the sunrise is important for prayer times. It will be interesting to see whether there’s a spike in Hebrew queries on Friday, when Israel observes the sabbath beginning at sundown.

This launch has been more of a slog than I ever would have expected, so it’s gratifying to see it out there in the wild, being used. The world’s languages are a baffling mix of left-to-right and right-to-left. Arabic gets a special shout-out here for its plural forms. It has different word endings for quantities of 1, 2-10 and 11+!

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Robert Moses, Getting Things Done http://www.danvk.org/wp/2011-08-19/robert-moses-getting-things-done/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2011-08-19/robert-moses-getting-things-done/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2011 23:19:55 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=758 I recently finished The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s critically-acclaimed biography of New York Master Builder Robert Moses. At 1200 pages, it’s an undertaking. But I’d highly recommend it if you live in the New York area.

One passage about Moses’ daily routine struck me:

A third feature of Moses’ office was his desk. It wasn’t a desk but rather a large table. The reason was simple: Moses did not like to let problems pile up. If there was one on his desk, he wanted it disposed of immediately. Similarly, when he arrived at his desk in the morning, he disposed of the stacks of mail awaiting him by calling in secretaries and going through the stacks, letter by letter, before he went on to anything else. Having a table instead of a desk was an insurance that this procedure would be followed. Since a table has no drawers, there was no place to hide papers; there was no escape from a nagging problem or a difficult-to-answer letter except to get rid of it in one way or another. And there was another advantage: when your desk was a table, you could have conferences at it without even getting up. (p. 268)

Moses’ approach to snail mail sounds a lot like the “Getting Things Done” approach to email: make your inbox a to-do list and keep it empty. Moses wouldn’t do anything until his mail was cleared. He wouldn’t let tasks pile up, so he always had a clean plate every day. He even tailored his office to enforce this workflow.

I’ve been trying the Moses technique on my work inbox recently. When I arrive in the morning, I deal with all the emails waiting for me. No excuses. No starring and leaving the message as a “to-do” in the bottom of my inbox. There are many emails/tasks that I’d prefer to ignore, but it turns out that most of them only require ten minutes of work to deal with completely.

So far, this is working well for me. But will I be able to keep it up? Robert Moses did for forty years, so there’s hope!

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Crosscountry Crosswords http://www.danvk.org/wp/2011-03-27/crosscountry-crosswords/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2011-03-27/crosscountry-crosswords/#comments Sun, 27 Mar 2011 21:07:05 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=749 logoIt’s been almost a year since I introduced lmnowave, the collaborative crossword puzzle gadget for Google Wave. A lot has happened in that past year, not least the cancelation of Wave.

First, to clear up some confusion. It’s not “I’m no wave”, it’s “L-M-N-O-Wave”, which is a play on “L-M-N-O-Puz”, aka lmnopuz, the software on which my collaborative crossword system is based. Only a few dozen people ever saw lmnopuz, so no one got the joke. And I realized after releasing it that, by changing ‘puz’ -> ‘wave’, I’d taken away any hint of what my wave gadget actually did. A bad name. Oh well.

In August, Google announced that Wave was canceled. This seemed to be the end of lmnowave. Sure, Wave was still usable. But the life had been sucked out of the project. This was quite disappointing to me, since I’d spent a fair bit of my own time developing the crossword gadget.

Then, in mid-December, Douwe Osinga introduced the oddly-named Google Shared Spaces. It’s an attempt to salvage the Wave gadget code, to let it live outside of Wave.

For lmnopuz, it’s perfect. Here’s the lmnowave shared space. You can use it to collaborate on crosswords with your friends, just like you could with lmnowave. In some ways, it’s even better, since the Wave UI is stripped away and you can focus on your puzzle. To do crosscountry crosswords, my friend and I open up a shared space and call each other on Skype. The combination works really well.

What does the future hold for lmnowave? It’s a bit unclear. I may turn it into a Facebook game, or perhaps use it to learn how to write applications for the Mac App store.


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Sunrise/Sunset Onebox http://www.danvk.org/wp/2010-06-28/sunrisesunset-onebox/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2010-06-28/sunrisesunset-onebox/#comments Tue, 29 Jun 2010 01:45:25 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=708 If you try searching for [sunrise san francisco] on Google, you’ll see a special display in the results:

This is known as a “onebox”. It’s designed to get you answers quickly. Other examples include the calculator (e.g. [2*2]), weather ([weather 94110]) and time ([time italy]) oneboxes.

The sunrise/sunset onebox is a project that I worked on in my spare time and recently launched. You can read more about it on the Official Google Blog. I first had the idea for this onebox about two years ago, so it’s very gratifying to see it finally launch!

A few features which are worth calling out:

  • The sunrise and sunset times are calculated when you perform your query. They are a function of latitude, longitude and the current time. The algorithm is based on the one used by NOAA.
  • In most places, you can just search for [sunrise] or [sunset] to get results for your current location. Google figures this out based on your IP.
  • This onebox works on mobile phones, too, so you can search for sunset times when you’re out on a hike.

There’s a wrinkle to the sunrise/sunset calculation that non-astronomers don’t typically think about. The sun starts to behave strangely once you get north of the arctic circle or south of the antarctic circle. If you’re north of the arctic circle, then there will be at least one day during the summer when the site never sets. And there will be at least one day during the winter when it never rises. This is truly a special case for the onebox! Here’s what it looks like:

I feel bad for those Barrowans — hopefully they’ll be able to fall asleep sometime in the next 34 days!

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Books I Read in 2009 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-12-30/books-i-read-in-2009/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-12-30/books-i-read-in-2009/#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2009 17:00:59 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=639 As part of my 2009 year-in-review, I tried to make a list of all the books I’d read. Give it a shot for yourself, this is hard to do! I can remember what I’ve read in the last few months, but my memory starts to fade as I get towards summer. I found a few books from the start of the year via Amazon receipts and library records, but I’m sure there are many I missed.

Here’s the list, with a few thoughts about each.

oracle-bonesOracle Bones, Peter Hessler
A follow-up to River Town, this book chronicles Hessler’s time in China as a journalist. Both books offer a great impression of life in China, though this one started to drag on a bit towards the end. Highlights: his discussion of the alphabetization of Chinese and his interactions with Polat, the Uighur trader who wants to emigrate to America.

betterBetter: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande
This book fits neatly in the “find six interesting stories and give them a catchy one-word title” genre pioneered by books like Freakonomics. But the stories here are very interesting! And the thesis is, too. In medicine (and presumably elsewhere), there are huge gains to made through non-technological means. Apgar scores reduced child mortality by making it easier to test the efficacy of treatments and changing perceptions about which babies could live. Changed expectations and the sharing of case histories had dramatic effects on the life expectancy of Cystic Fibrosis patients.

Guns, Germs, Steel, Jered Diamond
My thoughts on why this is a really bad book are documented in another blog post.

botanyThe Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
As always, Michael Pollan treads that fine line between greatness and wishy-washiness. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was great. In Defense of Food was not. This book is somewhere in between. At least Michael Pollan is always honest, a welcome change after reading Jered Diamond. His researches into Johnny Appleseed were particularly fun to read. I’d never thought about this historical figure.

copernicusThe Book Nobody Read, Owen Gingerich
After reading Koestler describe Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus as “the book that nobody read”, Gingerich sets out to find every extant copy and document the marginalia — evidence of who read the book and what they thought. Part of what makes this book fun is just what a quintessential academic Gingerich is. The one thing lacking is any discussion of where Copernicus got his ideas from. This book also implicitly makes a strong argument for digitizing books: think how easy his quest would have been if he’d had search!

The watershed; a biography of Johannes Kepler, Arthur Koestler
A 250-page excerpt from the book with which Gingerich took issue. I’d always though of Kepler as the first astronomer who really “got it”. His three laws cleared away millenia of intellectual baggage. If nothing else, this book rid me of that delusion. Kepler is a really frustrating figure. He is spectacularly modern in some senses, but frustratingly medieval in others. He certainly did not consider the three laws for which we remember him his most significant contribution to science. Koestler clearly has an agenda, but I didn’t find it too distracting.

scourgeScourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox, Jonathon Tucker
A really fun read. The eradication of smallpox was one of the most significant technological feats of the 20th century, and yet I’d never heard/read anything about it before. There are many great stories in the final steps towards eradication. I learned a lot about disease and pathogens from this book.

parisParis from the Ground Up, James H. S. McGregor
I read this on the way to Paris. It gave me a great sense of the city: where things were, what the significant sights were, why they were significant, etc. It follows a bizarre chronological cross thematic progression as you read which I found confusing at first, but ultimately enjoyed. If you’re going to Paris and want to have to have some context for what you’ll be seeing, this is a great book to read!

crowded-universeThe Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets, Alan Boss
This book chronicles the hunt for extra-solar planets between 1998 and 2008, a time during which this area exploded. It reads like a blog, with dated entries any time something interesting occurred. I wrote the author and suggested he start a blog, but he didn’t want to lose the potential revenue from another book ten years from now. NASA does not come across well in this book. The trials and tribulations of what became the Kepler Mission span the whole time frame.

asset-allocatorThe Intelligent Asset Allocator, William Bernstein
This is really close to the ideal personal finance book that I’d like to read. Whereas A Random Walk Down Wall Street explains why you should index, this book talks about how you should allocate assets between bonds, stocks, real estate, etc. It’s not particularly prescriptive — it won’t say “you should be 75% stocks and 25% bonds” — but at least it gives a good background on the issues involved. Basic upshot: some diversification is always a good idea.

long-emergencyThe Long Emergency, James Kunstler
This book is bad, bad, bad. Kunstler’s argument is that our society is so deeply dependent on oil that, once we run out, the effects will be completely catastrophic. Large swaths of the United States will become uninhabitable. Much of modern agriculture is dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizers, so billions of people will starve to death as earth’s carrying capacity plummets. Kunstler loves laying out doom and gloom scenarios. The problem is that he can’t be bothered to explain why they’re inevitable. There are zero charts or tables in this book, and his dismissal of technological solutions as cornucopianism is infuriating. See my thoughts on Guns, Germs, Steel for what it’s like to read a non-fiction book where you feel actively mislead.

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Healdsburg Half Marathon http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-11-01/healdsburg-half-marathon/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-11-01/healdsburg-half-marathon/#comments Sun, 01 Nov 2009 20:25:27 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=607 I ran my first half marathon this weekend, the Healdsburg Half in scenic California wine country. The race was held on Halloween, and no small number of runners came in costume. This is a nice twist on the usual “what should I be for Halloween” dilemma. Instead, it’s “what should I be that I can sweat in for 13 miles?”

My first goal was to finish. My second goal was to finish in under two hours. And I did! Final time was 1:54:33.1 (they are apparently very precise about these things!)

A race like this is a field day for data junkies like me, especially when you jog with an iPhone app like RunKeeper. I had it going for the first 10 miles, before my phone ran out of batteries. Here’s the track and mile splits:

mi pace
1 9:40
2 9:43
3 8:54
4 8:21
5 8:57
6 9:10
7 8:57
8 8:40
9 8:21
10 8:20

I must have picked it up after that — my pace over the remaining non-iPhone miles was 8:14/mile.

Some more stats and thoughts on what to do differently next time:

  • My co-worker Jeremy suggested that a good goal for a first half marathon would be a “reverse split”: running the second half faster than the first. I did that, too! The first 6.6 miles took 61 minutes, so the second must have taken 53. I guess I should have run the first half faster!
  • I should have charged my iPhone the previous night! More important than recording a track, it let me know exactly how far I’d gone: “6.34 miles” instead of “a few minutes past that six mile marker”.
  • I should have brought a jacket with me to the start. The race started before dawn and it was very cold! They even transported stuff to the end of the race for the runners. Something to remember for next time.
  • Running with a friend is great and can be good motivation. I ran most of the race with my friend Erica, who shaved a full 20 minutes off her previous half marathon time!
  • Erica’s dentist (a former marathoner) told her that she should take a drink at every water station. This was good advice. The only drink station I skipped was the one serving wine samples!

The Healdsburg Half was very well-organized. They had full results (PDF) posted the day of the race. I finished 396/1438 overall, 234/496 amongst men and 40/76 amongst 25-29 men.

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