Anasazi Ridge Petroglyphs

It’s been a while since i posted on my blog. Mainly i’ve been using Facebook, and/or Google+ for short-form items. But this is rather interesting and a proper blog entry seemed more appropriate.

Over the Christmas break, we visited a few different petroglyph sites. This one, known as the ‘Anasazi Ridge Petroglyphs’ was especially interesting because one of the murals (is that the right word?) is actually a map of the sky. You can see the explanatory image here:

If you like, you can read about it in more depth here:

And if you are ever in St. George and want to check them out, this page has good directions:

Why the Like button is broken

It’s been a long time since i’ve written a stand-alone blog post. But there have been many instances recently in which people have been offended by the Facebook Like (or similarly, starring something on Twitter or Liking it on Instagram, +1 on Google+, etc.).

Let’s take an example to explain what i’m talking about. Suppose someone in your feed posts a cat video of someone tossing a cat into a bathtub. Someone else clicks “like”. How do you react? Before you answer, go watch this cat video:

Now, here are several reasons someone might have posted it, and why someone else might have liked it:

  • was it funny? i mean, it’s a cat scrambling to get out of the water. how funny is that?
  • was it cute? it’s a cute fuzzy, drenched cat. cutest thing ever.
  • was it offensive? Call PETA – these guys are being cruel to that poor cat. Not only did they toss it in once “because it was hot and needed to cool off”, but they did it again, and didn’t help it when clearly it didn’t want to be in the tub
  • maybe they just clicked ‘like’ because of the person who posted it and they always click like on their posts

If you’re offended that someone clicked like, don’t assume you know their reason for the like. Maybe you think it’s cruel, and they thought it was funny. Maybe you hate cats and think it’s a good thing. There are many opinions in the world. Before you judge someone (not only for clicking like, but also for posting in the first place) – talk to them and find out why they liked it (or posted it), and see if you can come to some agreement. And don’t do this in a public thread on their page. Send them an email or call them or go over to their house and chat. It doesn’t need to turn into a flame war.

Respect each others opinions, find common ground. And, most importantly, as Bill & Ted would say: “Be excellent to each other”.

Jesus and the Klingons

In a recent conference sponsored by DARPA titled “100 Year Starship Symposium” a number of interesting topics were broached. One of these was around religious views and how discovery of intelligent aliens would affect religion. Or as one scientist put it, “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” Interesting!

Well .. lots of viewpoints were discussed. Some a bit out there, some a little more rational. If you take the typical Christian viewpoint, God performed an infinite atonement. What is infinite if not everything, including Klingons? It becomes much more clear in the added books of Moses, where God says “worlds without number have I created.” If God created them, it stands to reason there are people on them (maybe Klingons although if man is created in God’s image, the Klingons probably look like us) and that they commit sin and need to be saved too. So sure – i’ll bet he accounted for the Klingons.

Did He go there personally like here? Did He send His Son personally like He did here? “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” Guess we’ll have to wait to find out on that one. Or I suppose if we run into any Klingons we can ask them. Personally i don’t think it will shatter any belief systems. Some may have to adjust, but truth is truth and religion is supposed to be about truth. People often think it’s only about faith, but it encompasses everything, including scientific truths. And Klingons.

I weep for the future

begin rant – please don’t be offended –

ok, i’ll admit it.  it bugs me when people use poor grammer or just plain misspell things in their posts.  actually, it’s not the grammar so much as the obviously incorrect use of words.  (and yes, i purposefully spelt those words differently in the first sentence) :)

I was commenting to Luann how it surprises me how many people just don’t get the difference between to, too, and two.  They’re, their, there.  Were, we’re. Effect, affect.  You’re, your.  Here, hear.  I could go on.  Not that i dislike these people, but … am i the only one who cares about these things?  I’m no english professor.  I don’t mind a “hey u, ‘sup?” but it just pains me sometimes.

Lu says it’s probably common and i just notice it now because more and more people are writing in public places (facebook, email, twitter, blogs) where everyone can see it, and the viewing of horrible spelling isn’t confined to school teachers grading papers anymore.  If this is true … the school system has failed us.  Or English is just too damn complicated.  Either way – please – take a moment to proof your writing and make sure you’re using the words right.  We’ve got the all-knowing Google at our fingertips.  Wikipedia.  Anything.  Just because the word isn’t underlined red doesn’t mean it’s not incorrect.  (parse that sentence, it makes sense, trust me).

-end of rant-

the blinking cursor

Recently a friend of mine sent along an article i found quite fascinating. Normally i’d have read it and moved on. But this one really caught my attention. The basic synopsis is the author talking about a young kid in the 80’s who got his first computer and became a self-taught programmer. (Sounds a lot like me). Then the author goes on to state how he tried to become a self-taught programmer and failed miserably time and again. This article is his analysis of how he finally succeeded.

But the part that really resonated with me? It’s how he describes this young man getting into computers in the first place. It was like i was looking into a mirror while i read this.

When Colin Hughes was about eleven years old his parents brought home a rather strange toy. It wasn’t colorful or cartoonish; it didn’t seem to have any lasers or wheels or flashing lights; the box it came in was decorated, not with the bust of a supervillain or gleaming protagonist, but bulleted text and a picture of a QWERTY keyboard. … On the whole it looked like a pretty crappy gift for a young boy. But his parents insisted he take it for a spin … And so he did. And so, he says, “I was sucked into a hole from which I would never escape.”

It’s not hard to see why. Although this was 1983, and the ORIC-1 had about the same raw computing power as a modern alarm clock, there was something oddly compelling about it. When you turned it on all you saw was the word “Ready,” and beneath that, a blinking cursor. It was an open invitation: type something, see what happens.

That’s also how my adventure began. When i got my first computer, i sat there for hours going through the old manual, making blips and bleeps, and little guys running across the screen. Humble beginnings – but hey – it paved the way for my eventual career in computer science.

The rest of the article is worth reading too. It talks about the author and how he came to learn the ins and outs of computer programming (and more generally – basic logical problem solving).

His first several attempts consisted of buying a big fat textbook – you know, one of those “teach yourself in 21 days”. The 1500 page dry boring texts that even _I_ can never get through – and i’ve been a programmer for decades now. Finally he discovered an online ‘teach yourself programming’ course that was put together by a now grown up Colin Hughes.

What’s interesting is how he goes about it. Learning doesn’t have consist of dry, boring, sterile sets of facts, rules, and procedures. It can be fun, engaging, interactive. Almost gamelike. The majority of the article talks about the procedure of making learning fun for the student so that they WANT to explore a little more, and then a little more, and then before you know it, they’ve mastered something along the way.

If you’d like to check it out, you can read it here


My mom sent along some pictures of our 2nd computer (she’s right – the first was an aquarius, soon followed by an Atari 130XE – which is where i really started to program).

Science advances

I was listening to the science friday podcast the other day (you can read the transcript here) and there was a lively and interesting dicussion about shaping human values with science.  Can it, does it, should it.  One of the panelists brought up the fact that many things in the past that have been hot topic issues are no longer issues.  Society pretty much universally accepts things as truth.  The earth is round and rotates around the sun.  When science discovers new truth, maybe people don’t want to believe it.  They dig in their heels and refuse to listen to reason.  But facts are facts regardless of what people believe and in the end (even if it takes decades or centuries) society must/will acknowledge the truth.

We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which people’s minds can be changed over the long term. It used to be a live, moral issue whether slavery could be justified or not. We’re done with that. It’s just not a live option. … people’s minds weren’t changed instantly, but in an open society, in an educated society, almost everyone does come around, and what used to be burning issues no longer become them.

As one panelist put it, “Funeral by funeral, science progresses.”

Heisenberg’s uncertainty, quantum entanglement, and the church nursery

This morning I was reading an article talking about how a group of researches have possibly found a way around the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.  First, a refresher course for all you who’s science might be a bit rusty.  The Uncertainty Principle states that it’s impossible to know both the position and the velocity of a particle.  The more precisely you measure one, the less precisely you know the other one.  The more you know the position of a particle, the less you can know about its velocity, and the more you know about the velocity of a particle, the less you can know about its position.

So what is the workaround?  Simple.  Introduce quantum entanglement.  Take two particles.  Entangle them.  Measure one for position and the other for velocity.  Refresher: Quantum entanglement is the ability to take two particles and have them act exactly the same.  You can then move them apart as far as you like and anything that you do the one will instantaneously happen to the other, even if it’s miles away.   Or something.  Read the wikipedia article if you want to expand your mind (either by enlightenment or explosion).

Or, as this article states:

By maximally entangling a particle with a quantum memory and measuring one of the particle’s variables, like its position, should snap the quantum memory in a corresponding state, which could then be measured. This would allow them to do something long thought verboten by the laws of physics: figure out the state of certain pairs of variables at the exact same time with an unprecedented amount of certainty.

When two particles are entangled, reading even one variable of one of the particles collapses the wavefunction of both particles, giving finite values to all related variables.

As an aside, when i mentioned this to my wife, she just laughed and said “it’s like the nursery at church.  You put a bunch of kids in a room.  You don’t really know what’s happening inside.  If you peek through the peep hole, you can get an idea, but you don’t know until you enter the room.  But by entering the room, you’ve changed what everyone is doing.  Unless you’re a primary worker.  In which case you’re far too busy wiping snotty noses to measure anything.”

Why the java hate?

What is up with all the java haters out there?  I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  If you don’t care about techy posts, this will probably just bore you.

First off i’ll say that any language has its detractors.  No one language is perfect for everyone.  No one language is good at doing everything.  I think lots of languages have their places and lots of problems can be solved in different ways with different degrees of success by any number of languages.

But seriously – why is it that java is viewed in such a harsh light now a days?  in multiple job interviews and companies i’ve worked out, java is a hiss and a byword.

When i was going to college and java was the shiny new toy, two things happened.  First – everyone (including myself) went “uh, why would i want to do anything using java?  it’s just for making silly web animations, right?”  And at first, that’s mainly what people used it for.  Applets.  Those silly web animations.  But actually you could do much more.  You could write an entire fully functional program that ran in the browser if you wanted (and you could even access restricted resources if you asked nicely for the users permission).  Still, applets kind of sucked then, and they still suck today.  They’re slow, they are memory hogs, and they never work very “smoothly”.

Second, after the applet, everyone went “but what about for create cross-platform GUI’s?  Swing to the rescue, right?”  I did that too.  I created several large enterprise applications back in the 90’s and even early 2k’s using swing.  And guess what – swing is slow.  It sucks.  It doesn’t look “smooth”.  It doesn’t behave like the native GUI apps.  So again – can’t complain when anyone says java isn’t good at making gui apps.

So what’s left?  Well, there’s the server side.  And this is where i think java absolute rocks and why i don’t get why people think it just totally sucks all around.  It’s got all the features you could want to do anything.  It’s a simple language, syntactically speaking.  You can come up to speed on it much more quickly than you can with c/c++.   If you really need to drop low for some serious speed in a critical section, use JNI and call a c function.

But here’s where i think people get the wrong impression.  And i can’t believe i’m going to say this, but “kids nowadays use java as a crutch”.  Yes, i think that’s probably true.  They don’t start out learning the low level constructs and theory behind programming languages.  They don’t understand what makes the programs tick.  They just fire up a java editor and start writing code.  There’s so much detail that’s hidden from a java programmer that it’s easy to see why someone more “hard core” might poo-poo someone who’s main competency is java.

I’ll tell you though – not all java programmers are like that.  There’s quite a few of us who DID do c/c++ in school (and even in our professional careers).  We learned the theory.  We know why compilers and languages do what they do.  And you know what – i’m damn glad there’s a language like Java that hides most of the crap from me.  It lets me focus much more on solving the problem at hand and writing the app.  Whenever i dive into c, i spend more time worrying about the syntax of the language and the memory management and the pointer arithmetic than i do about the algorithm.  My productivity is cut down by 50% or more.  THAT’s why java rocks.

But yes – you can write some really shitty code using java if you don’t understand why things work they way they do.  So to all you java haters out there – make sure you give a java guy a fair shake.  They might surprise you and actually be able to write some seriously good stuff with the language.  And for all you java weenies out there that don’t understand the guts of why things are the way they are – figure it out.  Take a class, read a book, pick someone’s brain.  Find out the lower level details so that you’re aware of and can make use of that information.  It’ll help you write better code and avoid a lot of issues that java helps you to gloss over.  And you’ll be a lot more marketable as a result.


I heard a fun word on the radio this morning. I’d like to leximize it here.

Staycation – a “stay near your home” vacation. A short mini vacation (usually a weekend getaway) where you stay close to home. Perhaps in a hotel a few miles away. A great way to get away from the kids for a day.

I have dreamed a dream

For some reason today a quote suddenly popped into my mind.  Well, a vague recollection that there was a cool quote from a movie that i was pretty sure i would think would be cool if i could remember what it was.  That’s not much to go on, to be sure, but i stuck it in the back of my mind and began a low-priority search algorithm, hoping that the old noggin would come up with a hit sooner or later.

As I was getting the kids ready for bed tonight, i remembered where i’d heard the quote.  It was from Morpheus, during a dramatic scene in one of the Matrix movies.  That’s all the info i needed.  A few minutes later, Google had helped me narrow down the exact quote, the scene in the movie, and even a biblical reference of where the quote really came from.

Morpheus’ ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, had just been destroyed by some sentinels.  As he looks on in helpless despair, he whispers: “I have dreamed a dream, and now that dream has gone from me.”  It’s a very poignant moment.  Right then, he believes there’s no possible way that mankind can win the war.  I thought certainly that quote must be a reference to a poem.

Not quite.  It’s actually a biblical reference to king Nebuchadnezzar, in the book of Daniel.  He is having dreams which he can’t remember and they are troubling him.  “And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled … I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. … The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me.” – Daniel 2: 1-5.

I find it somewhat ironic that this is the quote that was troubling me all day and had gone from me.  Fortunately, i got it back. Morpheus also got his hope back, and even king Nebuchadnezzar got his dream back (you know the one – with the head of gold, body of brass, feet of clay, …).