Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's Unofficial: I'm Faster Than I Am Old

Yes, for the first time ever in about a half dozen tries, I've run faster than my age in the Bolder Boulder. That means that my finish time in minutes for the Memorial Day 10K running race was less than my age in years. Unfortunately, I have no proof.

It seems that the officials of the second largest running race in the country decided to test out a new electronic timing system this year. And, oh, the servers weren't big enough, insufficient bandwidth, incompatible formats, some such excuse. Around 50,000 people (they still can't figure out exactly how many) finished the race, and none of those folks can get their results. Those results do exist somewhere, never fear, and we will get them eventually.

The missing results, by the way, should include the new Guinness world record for hula hooping. Congratulations to our own Betty Hoops, who hooped the course in about an hour and a half! I'm betting that Betty's abs are stronger (and more sore) than the belly dancers who entertained (as they always do) along the course.

I don't mean to cast aspersions on the race director or officials. By and large the race is very well run. Waiting a couple of days to get your results is not as bad as, say, what happened to Jack Lowe. He collapsed of massive heart failure halfway into the race. Even though the paramedics were to him within two minutes, there was nothing they could do. So, I suggest that those of us who are waiting impatiently for our mile splits think about Jack Lowe. We should also remember the races held before the Internet, when if we were lucky we could ask the race director to send us the final results in the mail.

Speaking of the new timing system, I have a suggestion for the folks in charge of the professional race. I sat in the stands and watched the elite women's race. The Channel 4 broadcast was shown on the stadium video monitor. However, the audio couldn't be heard well in the stands, and the video seemed to spend almost all of the time focused on the race lead with no explanatory information. For next year, how about putting up the names, teams, and most recent mile splits of the runners on the scoreboard? That way, those of us watching the race live will have some idea of what is happening.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Futilities Department

For a while now, I've had a problem with the City of Boulder's Utilities Department, as led by Ned Williams. But the latest fiasco with the City's new water budgeting system may just get him the kind of attention he doesn't want.

Whether you agree with the new rate structure or not, you have to admit that it was implemented extremely poorly. The idea of the plan was to charge a higher rate for water as people and businesses use more. Conserve water and pay a low rate. Waste water and pay more per gallon.

After the system was implemented, the first question was obviously going to be, "So, how much water are we saving?" But apparently when creating the new billing system they didn't think to create any reports to provide this fundamental information, or even the ability to quickly create such reports. I've been in the software business for many years, and such a blunder is inexcusable.

On top of that, one of the city's meter readers misread the water meter at an apartment building and sent out a bill for about $1.5 million. Then they announced that revenues were up by 50%. Again, inexcusable. Any system that relies on human data entry must have safeguards to check for such major errors. This one would have been easy: Any water bill with more than 6 digits to the left of the decimal point should be examined by a person before being sent out. Not hard. Again, go back to your Freshman computer science class and reread the textbook.

But Ned Williams and his gang of turf-building cronies have been haunting Boulder for a while. I first experienced them via my ownership of water rights in the Silver Lake Ditch and Reservoir Company. This is a group of folks who own rights to irrigation water in Boulder's watershed, and who still use that ditch water to irrigate their residential and business properties. Unfortunately, Mr. Williams didn't like that we owned water rights that he couldn't control. So, he sent the City Attorneys and the Planning Department after the ditch owners and literally started bullying them to relinquish their water rights to the city for a tiny fraction of what they are worth.

Fortunately, calmer heads at the City (City Manager Frank Bruno) forced him to temporarily stop the bullying. However, Ned's gang has been in negotiations with the ditch company for almost two years, and they have still been unable to resolve the differences. I'm not involved in the negotiations and don't know their current status, but I know that the City's going in position was that they didn't have to do anything, because they already owned the water rights (contrary to all of the written agreements).

In another case (in which I have no vested interest), the City has gone to court to force farmers in central Colorado in the South Platte River Valley to stop taking water from their wells. It seems that by pumping water from their wells the farmers are using water that belongs to someone downstream from them, and when those downstream users demand the water they can force the City to give up its more junior rights. Water rights in Colorado are very complex, but it seems to me that putting farmers out of business is not in the best interest of the City. There has to be another solution to this problem.

Back in the 80s, the city constructed Goose Creek, kind of an ugly channel for flood control purposes. What really mattered was the most efficient conveyance of water. Put a bike path next to it and call it a greenway. Well, Mr. Williams finally got religion and discovered some federal money that could be used to upgrade Goose Creek to a "real" creek. You know, make it look more natural, with realistic looking artificial rocks, pools for any goose fish that could figure out how to swim upstream from Boulder Creek, trees to keep the cyclist cool, etc. (Not that the cyclists aren't already cool.) It may not be the most efficient way to get water from here to there, but with all that extra Silver Lake and South Platte River water you're going to be getting any day now, it won't really matter.

Oh, by the way, the City recently announced that there is plenty of water in its reservoirs and snow pack this year, and there will be no watering restrictions. Just watch your water budget.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

President Carter Calls It

Jimmy Carter once said that "Falwell can go straight to hell!" And now it has finally come true.

Jerry Falwell is dead. I'm sure that, if there is a hell, he is there. This is the founder of the Immoral Minority -- a group of folks so bloated in their own importance that they are willing to forget what this country is really about.

That's right. The founders of this country were so worried that one group would try to impose their religious beliefs on others that they wrote in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights that it would not be tolerated. And yet it is.

Being pro-life, I can't celebrate anybody's death. But, as they say, "he will not be missed."

There is a picture in my mind of a special section in hell for Dr. Falwell. (Little known fact: Falwell's three honorary doctorates qualified him to perform abortions on demand.) In this special section, at every moment Jerry is forced to do the bidding of the likes of Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Teletubby Tinky Winky, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Larry Flynt, Desmond Tutu, the ACLU, Jews, homosexuals, and people like me.

Mr. Falwell, I hope you enjoy your stay in hell. Eternity can seem like such a long time, but I'm sure you'll get used to it. And I'll be sure to look you up when I get there.

Jerry Falwell contemplates the "marital aids" that Tinky Winky had in that purse.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Shake, Rattler and Roll

It was almost right on cue, a little over a year since I reported seeing a rattler on Eagle Trail near Boulder, and in almost exactly the same location. In fact, today on my long run I was keeping my eye out, but it still surprised me. The hissing when I went past caught my attention. I circled back, careful to stay on the other side of the trail. There it was, just off the trail, watching me closely. I stood and watched it for a minute or two, but it didn't move, just watched me back.

The rattlers seem to stay just off the main trail -- out of the way of the fairly heavy foot/bike/dog/horse traffic, but close enough to at least startle anyone near the edge (where I often tend to run).

As I ran off, I came upon three women on horses heading towards the snake. I warned them to control their horses. Lots of folks also let their dogs run off leash in that area. I hope that they and their dogs are prepared for an unexpected encounter with a territorial rattlesnake!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What Sort of Sort?

I've heard that interviews at Google are tough. In fact, Senator John McCain was recently interviewed at Google, and he was indeed stumped by the opening question, which was about as geeky as you can imagine.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt asked "How do you determine good ways of sorting 1 million 32-bit integers in two megabytes of RAM?" McCain laughed it off as good natured fun at his expense. However, he missed out on a great opportunity to show those Googlers that they're not as smart as they would have us believe they are.

[Full disclosure. This log is hosted by Blogger, which is owned by Google. So, if this post never shows up in any Google searches, I think I'll know why.]

Oh, but if I were John McCain. Perhaps his days as a Vietnam POW softened him up to the vagaries of badly worded questions. The first thing I would say is, Eric, I would expect you, as the leader of one of the biggest computing companies in the world, to at least be able to ask a non-ambiguous question.

Do you mean, how would I find some ways that are good for sorting said integers in said limited memory platform? Or did you mean how would I decide on the goodness among various presented algorithms for sorting under these conditions? And, whatever do you mean by "good"? Do you mean the fastest? Least disk thrashing? Fewest license fees? Or, are you asking for my definition of good? When you say I get 2 megabytes of RAM, I guessing you'll also give me some disk space, and perhaps a bit of extra memory to put my hypothetical code into. Or maybe my code will fit in the space differential between two megabytes and two million bytes (almost 95K).

Suppose good old Eric laughed at my friendly jab, and clarified his question. Don't you think that the correct answer to the question would be, well, given that my college textbooks are long gone, along with all the textbook sorting algorithms therein, my first shot at finding a good algorithm would be, what else, Google. As in, type "memory constrained sorting algorithm" into my Google toolbar and see where it takes me. What do you want to bet it would take me straight to Wikipedia, and a catalog of all popular sorting algorithms?

What would I find there? Not sure. But I'm going to guess that my best bet for a fast sort would be to throw the first half of the integers into my limited memory and sort them using whatever fast sort is in fashion these days and save them, throw the second half into the same memory and sort them similarly, and then merge the two sorted lists.

Or perhaps I'd try something cute (in a geeky cute kind of way). I'd sort only the upper 16 bits of each integer. Then when I was done I'd only have to re-sort the small subset in which the upper 2 bytes were the same. Maybe I'd get a win there, but probably I'd just waste alot of time trying to figure it out.

So, how would I determine the goodness of the algorithms I came up with? Well, classically I'd count how many loops and nested loops there were, and use that to figure out how well they scale up. But since I have a very specific problem to solve (one file of one million numbers, two megabytes of memory), I'd really only have to know one measurement. I'd probably end up creating an Excel spreadsheet, put in 200 numbers, 2,000 numbers, 20,000 numbers. Then I'd write some freaky-looking set of formulas that implement my kooky algorithm and get out my stopwatch.

But only if I were a geek.

Senator McCain, any thoughts?

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Friday, May 04, 2007

All Just Bricks

Is this a great country, or what? Penn and Teller, in their Showtime series Bullshit!, get paid large sums of money to make fun of people and their silly ideas.

In a recent episode, they investigated the current furor over illegal immigration.

Using their classic sense of irony, Penn and Teller hired a crew of six illegal aliens to build a 12 length of fence. This fence was as close in design as they could get to the 700 miles of fencing currently being planned along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Well, it took the crew of six a full eight hours to build this section of fence. Then, the crew was divided into three pairs. One pair went over the fence, one went under, and one went through the fence. In about three minutes. The pair that went through was fastest, but the others weren't far behind.

A graphic example of what a colossal waste of money this fence is going to be.

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