garote: (programmer)
[personal profile] garote

I made a list like this about 7 years ago. Today I wondered: What's changed?

A lot less is honestly impressive now, so I've rearranged the entries, and added some new stuff (the items in green).

Totally unsurprising:

  1. Call people on the phone.
  2. Keep an address book that is synchronized online.
  3. Keep appointments with a calendar that is synchronized online.
  4. Set alarms and timers, including vibrating alarms.
  5. Do basic math.
  6. Type and sync unformatted notes.
  7. Send and receive emails, text messages, instant-messages, twitter alerts, et cetera.
  8. Record, play back, and sync voice memos.
  9. Use as a portable hard-drive (Air-Sharing, FileMagnet).
  10. Estimate currency conversions using up-to-date ratios (Currency).
  11. Take photos with GPS tags embedded, and post them online or send them to people immediately.
  12. Make international telephone calls at a discount (Skype, etc).
  13. Get local and remote weather forecasts.
  14. Watch movies in a tiny screen (Netflix).
  15. Purchase and read e-books and music.
  16. Pair with a physical keyboard for easier data-entry.
  17. Subscribe to video/audio podcasts, play them, and download current episodes.
  18. Scrawl pictures with my finger and save them (Scribble).
  19. Download and install enhancements to the device (App Store).
  20. Record a track of my physical location, and play it back later.
  21. Remotely view and crudely interact with the screen of my desktop or laptop (VNC, WinAdmin)
  22. Search on a map for services of all kinds, and call them up on the phone with one button.
  23. See a view of my living room, from a wifi camera attached to the wall, in real time, from across the country.
  24. Take a picture of a document and have it automatically read all the text on the document and turn it into a PDF.

Somewhat impressive or surprising:

  1. Mark areas of poor signal coverage and automatically report them to my provider.
  2. Connect to a television and present movie and slide shows.
  3. Calculate resistor color codes (OhmEE, ResistorCC).
  4. Record and do minor edits to a video, then place it online or send it to someone immediately.
  5. View and manage my bank accounts fairly recurely
  6. Locate the nearest movie theaters, see their schedules, and book tickets (Fandango, Flixster).
  7. Lose all my money in the stock market (E*TRADE Mobile Pro).
  8. Listen to a continuous mix of new music that the device thinks I will like, based on an ongoing analysis of my selections (Pandora)
  9. Wirelessly control nearby lighting fixtures, dimmers, and consoles (Luminair (DMX lighting control)).
  10. Display a number pad, and pair it with a nearby computer keyboard that lacks a number pad (NumberKey).
  11. Spot tornadoes and get advance warnings with weather graphs (Radar Scope).
  12. Browse my home music collection on it and play music through speakers in different rooms of my house (Remote with an AirPort Express).
  13. Track plane flight status, with real-time departure info, gate delays, and flight locations (FlightTrack, Live Flight Tracker).
  14. Attach a thumb-sized credit card reader and conduct business transactions (Square).
  15. Have a two-way video chat with someone in another country.
  16. Get a map, satellite view, or street view, all over the world, see my present location, and calculate walking or driving directions.
  17. Ask basic math questions out loud, and get the answer spoken back to me, e.g. "What's the square root of 1207?" "The answer is approximately 34.7419."
  18. Automatically grab photos and videos from my Canon DSLR camera, as I take them, and perform a variety of scripted actions on them. (ShutterSnitch)
  19. Poke a button in my chat history with a person, and see their exact location (assuming they're with their phone) on a map, accurate to within the last 5 seconds.
  20. Learn a new language 15 minutes at a time, on an app that speaks the language back to me.
  21. Attach a cardboard sleeve to the phone, with a pair of lenses in it, turning it into a 3D VR headset that can play back videos I record with my 360-degree handheld recorder.
  22. Track packages and get a notification seconds after they're placed on my doorstep.

Impressive or surprising:

  1. Mine a database of real-estate listings, including purchase and tax histories. (ZipRealty).
  2. Search for and then book international flights and hotels across multiple airlines (KAYAK HD).
  3. Carry and use a reference for how to recognize various animal tracks (MyNature Animal Tracks).
  4. Carry and use a reference for how to tie various knots, with video and written tutorials (Knot Guide).
  5. Scan barcodes of almost any product, accessing a worldwide database of products to both identify the item scanned and provide comparative pricing and locating (RedLaser).
  6. Control the presentation of slideshows (Keynote Remote).
  7. Tune my guitar (Guitar Toolkit, OmniTuner, TyroTuner).
  8. Record my voice as I sing along to music, measure my accuracy, and apply automatic pitch correction and harmony (Glee Karaoke).
  9. Measure the level and slope of flat objects and sides (Clinometer).
  10. Make a surprisingly accurate guess at the title of whatever music is playing in the environment (Shazam).
  11. Strum a mathematically emulated guitar (Twang).
  12. Mine and cache a real-time database of plane preflight information, including icing forecasts, wind mappings, radar and satellite images, flight rule and terminal procedure listings, approach plates, VFR and IFR charts, etc (ForeFlight).
  13. Act as a crude and uncalibrated seismometer (Seismometer).
  14. Hold the phone up to the sky and get a map of what constellations should be visible in that direction (Starmap, Star Walk).
  15. Remotely lock, unlock, and start my automobile (Viper Remote Start System, Mercedes-Benz mbrace).
  16. Record the amount of tossing and turning done in bed, and use the data to time a wakeup alarm to avoid REM sleep (Sleep Cycle).
  17. Automatically report back to the public works department when I hit a pothole in the road, so the accumulated data can be used to dispatch repairs (Street Bump).
  18. Get an automatic announcement about which lane I need to move to as I approach an interchange on the freeway.
  19. Shoot video that is processed to look like an ink sketch on paper, in real-time, at 60 frames a second.
  20. Secure my phone with my fingerprint, scanned fast enough that it unlocks the phone in less than a quarter of a second.
  21. Have my photos automatically organized by who's in each one ... including photos of my cat.
  22. Attach it to a wireless controller, and fly a drone with it, showing and recording its location and everything it sees. (DJI Go 4)
  23. Hold it up to a sign written in a foreign language, and have the translation appear in the picture as though it's written on the sign. (Translate)
  24. Rent a bicycle from a kiosk downtown. (Zagster)

Very impressive or surprising:

  1. Locate and reserve a nearby rental car, and when you get to it, unlock it (Zipcar).
  2. Explore 3D recreations of large cities around the world, at 60 frames a second, so detailed that I can see into the windows of my own car parked on the street.
  3. Summon a person to my door, driving their own car, who will then take me to my destination for less than a taxi would charge. (lyft)
  4. Secure my phone with a 3D scan of my own face, more accurate than using my fingerprint, validated in less than half a second.
  5. Speak to the phone in English, and have it translate my sentence into Mandarin and speak it back to me, after less than a second of delay.

What do you think, fellow modern people? Are there any items here I've forgotten about? Any new developments?

Top ten most influential: Movies 3

Sep. 21st, 2017 12:14 pm
garote: (bedroom 1)
[personal profile] garote

As a writing exercise, I've chosen the ten books, albums, movies, and games that were most important in defining me as a person, and challenged myself to explain why.

Some of these set my artistic tone or left huge imprints on my personality, others changed the course of my life or career. With each item I can say, "if not for this, I would be someone else right now." But why? It's a hard question to answer. A strong feeling would compel me to put something on the list, and then I'd realize I had no clue how to unpack that feeling.

I'm doing the movies chronologically. Number four:

Bodacious Ta-Tas (1985)

Quite a few times I pondered just dropping this movie from the list, because I knew it would be hard to write about with both honesty and class. But the challenge is the point of this writing exercise, isn't it? Be warned; if discussions of pornography or masturbation disturb you, you should probably browse somewhere else.

Bear with me; this is going to take a lot of unpacking. )

Whew, that was a long one!

Top ten most influential: Movies 2

Sep. 18th, 2017 04:46 pm
garote: (Default)
[personal profile] garote

As a writing exercise, I've chosen the ten books, albums, movies, and games that were most important in defining me as a person, and challenged myself to explain why. With the movies, I'm going chronologically, and this is number 3.

Ghostbusters (1984)

I was eight years old when this movie came out. I already loved all things Halloween, and a mashup of ghosts with sci-fi contraptions and nerdy jokes was perfect for me. The visual effects were great too, and it set the template for what I thought ghosts should be like: Gassy neon light shows, drifting around doing their own thing. If you got in their way they would attack at you. Then if you didn't run away, something awful and mysterious would happen and you'd never be seen again. So basically, ghosts were like elephants. Except they were more colorful, and made less noise going through a wall.

Also, scientists were fun, and could act like total weirdos as long as they got their work done. That weirdness got injected into my own life as pile of catchphrases, like, "Dogs and cats, living together; mass hysteria!" and "There is no [insert random thing here], only Zuul!" and "I love this plan! I'm excited to be a part of it! LET'S DO IT!" and of course, "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES." And so many others. My friends and I swapped these around endlessly until they were part of our grammar. There were also quotes that I didn't get until much later. I was in my 30's before I really understood, "You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I worked in the private sector. They expect results!" And now I find it hilarious that Louis invited all his work clients to a party and called it a "promotional expense."

The music was fantastic too. I bought the soundtrack on cassette and played it on the living room stereo, and danced and rolled around on the carpet. My favorites were the "Ghostbusters Main Theme", and then "Dana's Theme" which immediately followed it.

Ah yes, and Sigourney Weaver was in this movie, and I immediately liked her. Not because her character got possessed by a demon and acted all vampy - which I found incomprehensible as an eight-year-old - but because she projected a sort of comfortable maturity. Looking back, I have to say that if she knew what she was doing as an actor - which she probably did - it was very smart to take what was really a "damsel in distress" and "love interest" role and rearrange it to say "I'm perfectly fine on my own and I have my shit together, but circumstances made me reach out to these Ghostbuster guys, and Peter is a goofball but I am allowing myself to be charmed by him because he is being a gentleman at the same time." Some other actress could have taken her scenes and lines, and been flirty and jumpy and clingy, and then just swooned into Peter's arms at the end of the film, but Sigourney chose to deliver something else, and it managed to show how her character might honestly be attracted to someone like Peter in the first place, and vice-versa.

So, take that over to me, the preteen goofball in the audience: Here's a classy lady who might actually want to be your girlfriend some day. Wow!

My crush on her got a huge boost, of course, when I saw Aliens two years later.

So why was this movie so influential to me, aside from the endless quoting? Why is Ghostbusters on this list, when Return Of The Jedi (which came out just the year before) didn't make it? Mostly because of a statement it makes with its characters.

This movie came out in 1984, the same year that "Revenge Of The Nerds" was in theaters. It's hard to understand now, but back in 1984 "nerds" were actually seen as a minority group that needed some kind of "revenge." How the times have changed! Ghostbusters made a different statement to nerds: It's not you versus "jocks". It's not you versus anyone. If you don't feel like you "fit in", don't worry about it. Stick with your friends, feed your obsessions, and try to have fun -- because you can be aggressively weird and still command respect when your weirdness makes you very good at your job.

That was the key idea. Even if I wasn't going to save New York City from an apocalypse, I could still find some way to make my weirder nature useful, whether that took the form of being a hardcore scientist like Egon, an excited collaborator like Ray, a steady hand like Winston, or a goofball like Peter. Like the Ghostbusters, my friends were an ensemble of nerds, and perhaps the future could be bright for us... Or at least better than the confusion and sense of rejection we felt from most other kids our age. This movie whispered to me that perhaps our "revenge" for suffering as nerdy kids could be to thrive as nerdy adults.

Also, when someone asks you, if you're a god, you say YES !!!

History of Felton

Sep. 17th, 1998 10:18 pm
garote: (conan pc)
[personal profile] garote

From an email archive, transferred across a dozen computers. Written by my friend Jeremy:

I was lately given the assignment to write a brief history of Felton. Many weeks passed and I've produced nothing but fifty pages of notes, so I decided to write up a few brief paragraphs which outlined the history, so I could stuff my notes into it. I was in a very bad mood this morning when I wrote it.

History of a Useless Hole in the Wall

Named After A Second-Rate Lawyer

Um. Might as well begin at the beginning.

The Portola expedition, and stuff, in 1769. They found a parrot in a valley and called it the Pajaro. Then, uh, they travelled some more.

And they crossed the river on St. Lawrence day that year, which happened to be October 17th. So they named the river the San Lorenzo. Coincidentally, this was the same day that the Loma Prieta Earthquake would strike the area, oh, let's see, 100, 200, ... Um, 89 minus 69 ... 220 years later.

So then. A bunch of crap happened in between 1769 and 1843, the upshot of which was the following: a bastard named Isaac Graham moved his sawmill to the Zayante area, at the intersection of the San Lorenzo and something else I can't remember now, because I'm not really interested in this subject.

Anyway, at some point after this, a jerk named Edward Stanly put his head together with Graham's and they set up a town plan. Stanly decided on some absurd whim to name it after his stupid lawyer, Mr. Felton, who was never much use to him otherwise.

This asshole had been all through the senate and congress and all that. He really got around like a good frickin' citizen. Who cares? I rhetorically ask. Not me. This guy, at least, was a good parent, we can surmise this from the evidence of Katharine Felton, the feminist and social worker. That's more than we can say for most second-rate lawyers.

Well, a lot of shit went down in this new town. There were lime kilns, and a railroad, and plenty logging. Mostly they fucked themselves over by the end of World War One in 1918 due to overlogging. Serve the stupid greedy fuckers right! After a period of decline, during which the town capitalized on its natural beauties to lure tourists, the town became a dump of sorts for people who had better-paying jobs in overcrowded, inhuman, smoggy,crappy, crime-ridden, disgusting San Jose, only a half hour's drive away!

Also the usual suspects cropped up: businesses and institutions like schools, a library, a coupla grocery stores and an office supply store which marked everything up by a couple thousand percent just because the people couldn't get their paper anywhere else. You know. Places which thrive everywhere people clot like tainted blood.

And that's the history of this stupid town. The End.

garote: (Default)
[personal profile] garote

This is a classic "dynamic programming" problem that job applicants in the software industry are sometimes given. The problem is this:

Given a staircase with n steps, how many different ways can you climb it, assuming that your stride is large enough to take steps 1, 2, or 3 at a time?

The solution that people pursue most easily is the recursive solution, looking something like this:

var steps = 14;
var solution = possibilities(steps, 1) +
			possibilities(steps, 2) + possibilities(steps, 3);

function possibilities(remaining, thisStride) {
	remaining -= thisStride;
	if (remaining < 0) { return 0; }
	if (remaining == 0) { return 1; }
	return possibilities(remaining, 1) +
		possibilities(remaining, 2) + possibilities(remaining, 3);

(This is JavaScript by the way.)

But, there is another way to find the answer, that runs in linear time -- that is, for a given value of n, the program takes around n iterations to find the answer. It involves keeping track of the last several values calculated in the loop, and it looks something like this:

var steps = 14;
var solution = stepCombinations(steps);

function stepCombinations(g) {
	var pattern = [-1,0,0,1];
	if (g < 1) { return 0; }
	var iter = 0;
	var total = 0;
	while (iter < g) {
		total = (total * 2) - (pattern[iter % 4]);
		pattern[iter % 4] = total;
	return total;

The ten dollar question is: Why does this second method work?

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