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:: Again in Atlanta

Work sent me back to Atlanta this week to do some hobnobbing with my old GT professors. The trip started out pretty shaky- about 20 minutes into my cross country flight, the pilot announced that the bathrooms weren't flushing and that we were going to have to take a detour through Denver to get them fixed. Eh.. It was at something that was a little different. Plus the view from the Denver runway was kind of pretty.

Atlanta was impressive as always. The city is still growing, and it's cool to see all the stuff that's being built around Tech. They're building Georgia's first Ikea on the west side of the new bridge, just a couple blocks away from Tech. Wow, if only they had that when I was a dorm rat. Sigh, driving around reminded me of all the reasons why Atlanta is such a great place to live.

Work was the usual whirlwind of meetings. There was some extra pressure for me, because I've been trying to get a paper finished and submitted for Friday. It's work that I did with my (former) intern from Georgia Tech, so the two of us met Tuesday night to try to pin down all the loose points. As I should have expected, there was a lot more work left to do than what we initially thought. We worked in my old lab until 3am and then called it quits due to a lack of coherence. It was kind of weird being back in the lab, working on a paper late at night. It was like I'd never left.

Woosh. The trip seemed longer than it was. I only had meetings Monday and Tuesday, but the late night session stretched the visit out a lot. Fortunately, I'm taking the rest of the week off so I can go visit friends and family in Boston. Oye, I'm going to be really mixed up by the time I get home to my own bed.

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:: Boston

The trip into Boston Wednesday was rough, only because I was so groggy from the previous night's paper writing. The flight to Boston was kind of cool- everyone was buzzing about the Red Sox, who were somehow coming back against the Yankees (ptooey) in the American League Championship. The stewardesses hammed up the safety talks, adding stuff like "Yankees fans will be thrown from the plane". The Atlantans on the flight chuckled along with the Bostonians, if only because harassing people that called themselves yankees sounded like a noble cause. At BOS, I had a Dunkin' Donut and waited for an hour in the cold for a shuttle to the hotel. The shuttle was bizarre because it was loaded up with a chatty flight crew that was all peppy and talking about going to Manhattan for some shopping. They reminded me of the flight people in Catch me if you Can. Maybe it's an interesting life for a while, but I can't imagine working for an airline for the long haul.

I met up with Amy and her mom at the hotel. We promptly called up Tim and arranged to meet him and Cambria in Harvard Square for dinner at Veggie Planet (a cool underground vegetarian place).From there we caught a bus over to Cambridge (near Fenway) to go to this casual bar they knew of with good beer (Hefe Dunkel!). Tim and Cambria sound like they're getting adjusted to Boston, but I think MIT is really draining Tim. All nighters, study groups at 6am, insane problem sets.. ahh.. the first year of grad school is the best. It felt good to have our roles reversed and to tell Tim that I now have time to read books for fun in the evening.

While we were paying for the drinks, we caught a glimpse of the Red Sox on the TV. It was early on in game 7 against the Yankees (ptooey), but the Sox were up 4-0. Amazing. On the trip back to the hotel, you could tell that the whole town was buzzing about the game. While waiting for the subway, a guy with a thick Boston accent called out asking if anyone knew if the Sox were still winning. Someone on another platform called back with the score, which warmed everybody up. We watched the last few innings back at the hotel, with Amy's mom cheering the whole way. I knew they'd win, if only because we have a history of visiting towns when they win Championship titles. I was in Atlanta when Ga Tech had it's undefeated '90 football season and this year's Final Four game (not to mention all the good things the Braves did in the 90's). We were in Chicago visiting Eric when the Bulls won a couple of years ago. And of course, there was the time we got tear gassed in France when France won the world cup in '98. So as we see it, Boston has to go all the way this year. I decided to keep knowledge of us being lucky quiet though. The fans here might just tie us down and keep us here.

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:: Boston Blur

The rest of the Boston trip was one big blur. Here's a quick summary of what we did, just for my own records.


We didn't do too much on Thursday. I spent the morning fixing up a paper that I'm working on. We had lunch at a pub in Dorchester called The Banshee. They'd apparently just finished scrubbing the place down, as there was a strong bleach smell throughout the pub. It made us wonder just how out of control the pub had been the previous night when the Sox had clobbered the yanks. For dinner we went over to Mike and Mary's house (Mike is Amy's cousin). Hmm. Mike and Amy's mom shared some horror stories about being teachers. After hearing them talk, I don't think I could stomach being a teacher these days. From Mike's stories, you could really see how the threat of lawsuits had really paralyzed modern teachers, forcing them to be over-sensitive to things that twenty years ago people would have just shrugged off. I feel bad for Amy's mom though- while she's retired, she still thinks and worries about her former students (she taught challenged kids). She's haunted by the demons of doubt, wondering if she could have done something different to help her kids. Strange how that bad things always seem to make you overlook all the good you've done in life.

That new imploding building at MIT


Friday Amy and I got up and went down to the MIT museum. It was all pretty impressive, with a fine balance between amazing nerd feets and artistic pieces. Sadly, they've done away with most of the section I really wanted to see- MIT pranks. Like Ga Tech, I'm sure the school is probably worried that encouraging pranks will result in someone getting killed somewhere.

Amy talks to some AI bot that knows about weather

From the museum we wandered over to the MIT Media Lab in hopes of seeing Kellegous at work. It wasn't hard to find him, since he works in one of the big glass fishbowl labs. He was three feet deep in cool nerd toys, working on getting a new PDA to read data from a proximity sensor info sticker. He told me he hadn't seen Alan Alda yet, but if he did, he would be sure to punch him in the stomach for me. Sensing the lack of sleep and rapidly approaching deadlines, we let the Kellegous get back to work on saving the world's media.

Todd makes his subway face

Them pumpkins is laughing at you, man


Saturday was a big heap of meeting up with people. In the morning, Amy and I met up with Todd, Tim, and Cambria at The Middle East for some brunch. From there Amy and I went back to Todd's place to drop off our bags, and then over to Boston Common to meet up with Kellegous, Stephanie, and the Treyman. There was a big pumpkin carving bash in the commons, and tons of people and pumpkins were there. Heh, after demonstrating his rock climbing skills on a rock wall they had set up down there, the Treyman slipped into his Spiderman outfit. The people in Boston of course appreciate all that Spiderman's done for the city, so everyone was glad to see the uncaped crusader making his rounds in the park. Later on in the park, we met up with Mike, Mary, Jack, Desmond, and Molly for a bit. Mike was a bundle of nerves because it was game one of the Sox's world series. He was lucky enough to get tickets to the game, although he looked so nervous it was hard to imagine him enjoying it.

Todd continues with subway face

The Treyman scrambles up the wall

From the park, Todd, Kellegous, Stephanie, Trey, and I went over to Kendall Square, where we met up with Tim and Cambria. We all went over to The Cambridge Brewing Co. to get some dinner and beer. It felt like we hadn't eaten it days. It was good to see everyone. Kelly and Tim told some horror stories about MIT and Grad school, which again made me miss my former terrible grad student life. I hope they soak up school and make it last as long as they can. Still, it's nice to be done and to have time in the evenings to read a good book every so often.

That's pretty much it for the Boston trip. Todd let us crash at his place for the night, and drove us to the airport early in the morning (thanks, Todd). People were buzzing at the airport about how the Sox had won the first game in the world series. While Todd and I were plowing through our Dunkin' Donuts, some guy just sat down and started talking about the game, excited about how well the Sox had done the night before. Anyways, thanks for hanging out with us y'all, we had a blast.

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:: Windows Update

While there are a bunch of little things around the house that could use fixing, nothing has been as pressing as our windows. These windows are single-pane glass, and are most like the originals that they put in when they built the place in 1954. They were annoying in the summer because some were missing their hand cranks (to pull them closed), while others didn't have screens (to keep the bugs out). The windows also look pretty dingy, partly because someone caulked the seams a dozen times, partly because someone stripped the paint off the window sill and never repainted. Now that it's starting to get cold out here, we've been thinking about replacing the windows with something a little more sturdy.

After talking with some friends at work, my first thought was to just buy the windows and do it myself. From the books it sounds pretty easy- you just cut out the old frame, slide the new window in, glue, and caulk. However, a lot of nagging doubts started popping into our heads about the whole thing that made us think twice about doing it ourselves. What if we screwed up and rain got into the walls? Are our 1954 window frames a standard size any more? What if there already is something wrong with the window frames, would we be able to recognize it? Probably the most damning thing though was a known fact- we're slow workers, and it would probably take months for us to get the whole house done. We decided to call a carpenter our realtor recommended to get us an estimate for the house.

Old busted.

The carpenter was super nice and gave us an assessment that sounded pretty honest. He recommended against the high-end windows, and said that him and his workers could do the whole place in a day or two. He also gave us a lot of good advice about other things we could do to fix up the house (and recommended ignoring a few things that wouldn't be worthwhile). He measured the frames and we placed an order with him for vinyl, double-paned windows. Since he was doing the work, we opted to have our giant living room window done as well (we wouldn't have been able to do this ourselves).

New hotness.

It took two or three weeks for the windows to arrive, and then a few more days for his team to have time to put them in. They put them all in while I was at work, and got most of it done in the first of two days. I've got to say that we're giddy about having the new windows. They slide easily, they all have screens, and they look really snappy (they even painted the window sills). Plus, we can now open the front window, which will help a lot in the summer. Yep.. this place is really starting to shape up. I wonder what the next big project will be.

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:: Vegas Vacation

Our holiday plans kind of fell victim to laziness this year. Thanksgiving was a wash because the thought of packing into a plane to fly across the country for three or four days of visits didn't sound to appealing. It sounded a lot more desirable when we were sitting around Thanksgiving with nothing to do and we started thinking about how 18 family members were all meeting up in New Hampshire that night for a big holiday dinner.

Amy's parents felt bad for our self-imposed exile, and asked if we wanted to meet them in Las Vegas a few weeks later. Amy's dad had a math conference that he was going to, and Amy's mom didn't have much to do during the days. We thought it was a great idea, so we arranged to meet them for a Thursday night-Sunday morning stay. With all the fantastic hotel options in Vegas, we decided to splurge a bit and stay at the Venetian. Through some mishaps and social engineering, Amy's dad managed to get us all room upgrades to the fancy rooms in the new tower. Suite.

Amy and I got in Thursday night and were promptly accosted by hostile taxi drivers at the airport. Apparently we didn't follow some taxi coordinator's instructions properly and this upset him. When we did follow his instruction, it upset a taxi driver. Once we remembered that Vegas is a city for sharks and that it's ok to tell people to screw off, we did much better. We checked into our posh quite at the hotel, and then wandered up the strip a bit. It was cold and I dragged Amy around forever, looking for anything of interest. We didn't find it, but we got back to the hotel at 2am.

Friday we got up and had an amazing breakfast with Amy's parents at the Bouchon in the Venetian (I mean, it was really good). After breakfast we dropped Amy's dad off at his conference, and headed over to the Stratosphere. You know, as tall as it is, I don't think I'd even noticed this hotel before because it's so far up the strip. Amy, Ann, and I bought tickets to go up to the observation deck, where they told us they happened to be filming a movie. We wandered around for a good long time up there, I wish I'd brought my camera. It was fascinating to watch cars and trucks drive around on the streets (especially with Vegas's shady nature). Amy and I watched a bulldozer-like construction vehicle wind through several city blocks, turn into a vacant lot, and knock over a few garbage dumpsters for no apparent reason. It was like we were part of a real-life Grand Theft Auto game.

We putzed around for the rest of the day until dinner time. That night we had tickets for Ka, the new Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand. Ka was flat out amazing. Amy and I had seen the show the other year, and were thoroughly impressed. I'd say Ka was even better, since it had a functional plot throughout the show. Plus it had this incredible, rotating stage that moved in amazing ways. The ending was kind of weak for the show, but we spent the next couple of days recounting amazing scenes from the show.

Saturday, I slept in and missed breakfast with Amy's family. When I awoke, I had a hankering for some of Aladdin's coffee and beignets, so I set off on my own. The trip as a lot more difficult than I initially planned because the new Vegas monorail was unexpectedly out of service. I walked the whole way, which turned out to be a good thing because I had to wait 10 minutes when I got there for the coffee place to open. I sat at the bar with my coffee and beignets, and had a nice chat with the bartenders.

Amy called a bit later and we made plans to meet up at the Mirage to go see Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden. As hokey as they make it sound, it was actually pretty worthwhile. The garden is basically a small outdoor zoo with a few select animals. We started by watching their dolphins, which were pretty active and friendly. While the dolphins weren't there to put on a show, they still did a bunch of tricks for the crowd (the trainers do this so the dolphins don't get bored). From there, we moved on to the big game animals. One shy elephant, leopards, lions, and tigers. The tigers were pretty amazing. And creepy. We noticed that one tiger in particular would pace his territory restlessly. Then he'd notice a small child, get excited, and start tracking him or her. It was like he was telling us that the grown ups were too big, but that little one would fit perfectly in his mouth.

Saturday night we ended our trip by going to Postrio in the Venetian. It's a high-end kind of restaurant that's Wolfgang Puck's. The food was just amazing, and I think we all loved it. I was particularly happy because they were willing to work with Amy to come up with a special vegetarian meal for her (it sucks to go somewhere nice and for Amy to only be able to eat a side of generic pasta). We strolled around the indoor waterways of the Venetian to help with the digestion.

Sunday, Amy and I caught a mid-morning flight back to SFO, where we met up with Erin and Amanda. They were flying into town for the holidays, so we picked them up and brought them home with us. Anyways, thanks to Carl and Ann for taking us to Vegas, we had a great time. Next year we'll have to do a better job of making it out your way for the holidays.

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:: Christmas Lights

Have I mentioned that people in Livermore go nuts whenever there's a holiday? Whenever there's a chance to put up seasonal decorations, people in my neighborhood are all over it. Halloween was crazy- the folks on our street had all sorts of spooky stuff in their yards, including giant inflatable jack-o-lanterns. Someone around the corner turned their place into a haunted house for people to walk through on Halloween. They had a sign in their yard that warned us that the house was "so scary you'll pee your pants". Uh, ok. Anyways, we think it's kind of cool that people go all out for the holidays. It's refreshing because we expect all the people out here to be suburban, do-nothing zombies.

What am I doing in this yard?

Christmas of course is the grand poo-bah of all holidays around here, and folks go crazy with the decorations. People start building stuff in their front yard Thanksgiving weekend. The city of Livermore even gets into it- they planted a big tree downtown and hung a bunch of lights on it. Amy and I stumbled upon the lighting of the tree a couple of weeks ago. They had a big night parade and the streets were (amazingly) packed with people. Heh.. Our favorite part of the parade was that someone from the Wente Vineyard drove a grape picking truck in the middle of the parade. The cool thing was that the truck was one of the ones that are designed to be able to operate on steep hills by having the left and right tires operating at different heights. The driver would slowly adjust the hydraulics on the truck as he went down main street so that the truck would lean about 30 degrees to one side or the other. It was like the truck had picked a few too many grapes and had a little wine itself.

Some people go a little overboard..

A little window shopping in someone's yard?

Anyways, there's this one family a couple blocks away from us that is known for really going over the top with the Christmas lights. This year they built a castle gateway over their driveway and some old-time store fronts with Christmas scenes leading up to their house. The store fronts were similar to the kind of stuff that Macy's used to do in the big cities. Oh, they also had a giant wooden water wheel that spun in the stream they had built in their front yard.

A water wheel in the front yard?

The folks that do this open their gates up in the evening for people to come and look at all their crazy stuff. Amy and I went over there one night after my office Christmas party and joined the masses that were wondering around the bizarre scene. If you're interested and in our neighborhood, just look for the glow of about a billion tiny Christmas lights (they had to have additional power lines run to the house, btw). It's like a one-story version of the house in Christmas Vacation.

I wonder what they do the rest of the year

Since this is the first Christmas that we've ever lived in a place that we weren't paying rent on, we decided to join in the light madness, although on a minimal scale. We went down to target and got something simple, just a few purple-bulbed strands for the front of the house. Unfortunately, I only tested our two strands of lights individually, not in series. I hung up the first strand and everything was cool. I then plugged the second strand in to the first and went to turn on the power.

Nothing. Not a single bulb lit anywhere (and these were parallel-wired bulbs that were supposed to be fault tolerant). After fiddling with the connections for a while, I ripped the whole thing down and brought it into the house for inspection with the multimeter. Nothing worked anymore, not even the first strand when it was plugged in by itself. I poked around with the multimeter for a half hour before concluding that it'd be easier just to take them back to Target (they were only $8 total anyways).

Ok it's not much, but hey, we still did it.

Amy took the bulbs back and returned with some pretty replacements that were a different brand. We tried them out in series before hanging them along the gutter and sticking them on a timer. They're not much, but I think they look pretty good. Since then, they've brought a smile to my face every time I've come home from work at night. Heh.. Maybe I'll leave these up all year.

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:: Christmas in SC

Amy and I treked back to South Carolina for the Christmas holidays this week. This year's trip was more of a mess than usual because my brother got caught up in a series of unfortunate airline mishaps. You can read the whole story in one of his rants, but basically he went to the airport three days in a row, only to find his flight had been canceled. He eventually got in late Christmas night, so we delayed the whole holiday thing by a day. What a mess.

Waiting around Christmas Day

Let's see.. We didn't do much of anything over the break, as usual. We went into Charleston one day just to see the new Cooper River Bridge that they're building. The bridge is pretty much complete, except for one giant gap in the center of the bridge that looks like it's waiting for Sandra Bullock to hop it in a city bus. I took a few pictures and a movie clip of our drive over the old Cooper River bridges. As narrow and rickety as the old bridges are, they had a lot of style that I doubt will be matched by the new bridge.

A last shot of the old bridge

We spent another day over in Monks Corner, walking around Mepkin Abbey MA is a monastery that sits on the river (monks in Monks Corner, who knew?). They're apparently well-known in the area because they sell eggs at the local grocery chains. The grounds were scenic in that Low Country way, with a bunch of long necked birds hanging out in the shallows.

Amy in the woods

Long neckers

Other than that, I spent most of the break working on the final draft of a paper that we're submitting to a conference. There was a lot of last minute drama, including a rogue professor leaning on my co-author to have his name added to the paper when he'd had nothing to do with it. In the end it all worked out ok and we got the thing packaged up and sent off. One of these days I'll have to take a real vacation.

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:: Year-End Clearout

Ok, so 2004 wasn't the best of years for keeping the old website current. On average I was probably about a month and a half behind in the posts. The lag time could probably be blamed on a couple of big things that were going on this year. Buying a house and moving into it sure did put everything on the back burner for a while. Just when things settled down with that, Summer hit and it became unbearable to sit in the house and type on the computer. Speaking of typing, I could also blame the lack of posts on work. Who wants to do creative writing when they've spent the whole day writing and debugging for loops. I should also probably mention that I wrote up a few posts and then trashed them, because they were too work specific. Any way you cut it though, the main reason the blog fell behind is my own laziness. So.. this is a year-end kind of post to try to touch on some of the things that have been going on that slipped by.

One of the big things for us this Fall was that Amy's friend Genevieve moved out here and stayed with us while she looked for a job. When she came in September we all thought she'd find something in a month or two. Four months later and we're all realizing that the job market out here is pretty awful. Gen hasn't been having the best of luck lately. Her family spent Thanksgiving with her in San Francisco this year. While they were out at dinner one night, someone broke into their hotel room and stole a bunch of the gifts they had just bought each other (including some computer stuff from the Apple store). Happy Holidays.

On a positive note, one of the good things about 2004 was that I hunkered down and made an effort to read more books. Ok, so most of them were trash that I picked up at the airport, but I guess you've got to start somewhere. In the trash-pulp category I read Kind of Torts, A Painted House, and Digital Fortress. The Grisham books read like scripts for blockbuster movies that were big on special effects and low on content. Now that I've read two of his books in person, I am content with letting Hollywood do the task of telling his other stories. Oye vey, And then there's this Digital Fortress book by the guy that wrote Da DaVinci Code. The book read like one long ego-stroking Wired article, misusing buzzwords left and right. The whole thing would have been a washout, except that I met an FPGA vendor at work who said that there were about two pages of truth to the book that sounded like some of the contract work he'd done in Virginia. Eh, whatever.

I did read some books that were supposed to be more than just pulp trash. Sick Puppy was ok, although the author seemed to think it was wittier than it was. While SP read like a movie script, it was the kind of movie that Hollywood will never make. Tuesdays with Morrie was a fun weekend read about how an author realized he could turn his friend's crippling sickness into a cash-cow best seller. I dunno. This book is supposed to be inspirational because a dumb guy discovers he's vain, and then thinks deeply about ways to make it look like he's not so vain. Sounds a little circular to me.

Ok, so I did read one good book this year: The Life of Pi. Pi is well written, although it sounds like something a bitter philosophy major would write to tell the rest of us just how trivial our thoughts are. No matter what anyone else says, Pi is still just another The Lady or the Tiger story (literally, ha!). I'll probably like this book more, when I don't hear bizzos talking about it in discussion groups down at the coffee place.

Amy's still working at Open Heart Kitchen, and seems to be pretty happy with her job. At one of the "thank-you volunteers" dinners, the OHK leader specifically pointed out that Amy had done an amazing job planing the meals for the kitchen, bringing the average cost per meal from $1.50 to $1.35 (that's a huge deal when you serve a couple thousand meals a week). Ruthless efficiency.

Yep.. That's about it for 2004. The snapshot of us now is that we're suburban homeowners that work for the man. Yep..

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:: Car Shoppin'

As I've said before, Amy and I sold the mighty Ford Probe to my dad before we moved out to California, because we didn't think it could ever pass California's tough emission laws. Since then we've been making do with having just one car (the Corolla). Living with one car for the two of us has had it's ups and downs. On the bright side of things, we liked having lower car insurance bills, and it encouraged me to ride my bike to work more in the warmer months. The downside of course is that every work day we had to figure out who was going to get the car. On days when Amy needed it, she had to get up early, drive me to work, get a temporary day badge, and come pick me up in the evening. While work is only three miles away from home, it's still a huge hassle. We managed to cope with it though, and did so for over a year and a half.

I say "did" because this weekend we finally went out and bought a second car. Our adventure began about a year ago when we went to a Toyota dealer in Dublin to check out the new Prius. The new Prius would have been our first choice for a car, but they've very difficult to buy. The waiting list is 4-6 months, they only have the more expensive models, and you've got to pay list price or more ($25k in CA) to get one. We signed up on the waiting list, heard nothing for five months, bought a house, and then gave up on the Prius. We revisited Toyota last month and discovered that the original salesman had left and thrown out all the names of the people that had been on the waiting list. Thanks. The only other hybrid we looked at was the Honda Civic Hybrid. Compared to the Prius it was cramped and had mediocre performance. The back seats don't fold down because of the batteries, and the salesman was an a-hole that gave us a high-pressure sale.

From there we checked all over the place. Amy liked the Toyota Matrix, but it was boxy and a little pricey. I kind of liked the new Scion xA (NOT the xB, which is that uber-boxy "party on wheels" you see on TV). The xA is pretty cute, a hatchback, and relatively cheap (~$14k). It's like a Mini for cheapscapes. Unfortunately, we felt every bump on the road during our test drive and there's no cruise control on any of the models. The dealer also suggested to Amy that when she closes a hatchback, she should really grab the hatchback by the license plate so there won't be any possibility of her scratching the paint. Really? Oh, that's nice, we're just going to go to another dealer right now.

Car shopping was made easier with the Internet. We read up on all the cars we were interested in, and used AutoTrader.com to locate the best deals in our area. For some hard-to-find cars like Civic hatchbacks (your car rocks, Eric), AutoTrader is your only hope. Heh.. ok, so the only Civic Hatchback I found was one that was a pimped-out street racer with 120k miles on it. For $10k you got the car, a kicking stereo, and under-body neon lights. Awesome. I seriously thought about getting it, but I figured the guards at work would want to inspect my car more often than they usually do.

The other great thing about AutoTrader is that it gives you plenty of ammo to shut down pushy salesmen. The worst of these bastards was a used dealer in Dublin, who tried pushing a 2002 Civic Hybrid on us for $23k. We explained how we could get a new 2004 for $19k with a full warranty (essential for hybrids). After he gave misleading info about the car, we explained to him what options this model really had and what the shortcomings of the car were. He blubbered a bit, then started cutting his price ($18k?, $16k? $13k?). We looked at some more models, and then told him we'd seen enough and were just going to leave. He tried to give us a card and asked for my name and phone, but I told him I wasn't going to give that to him and that we weren't coming back.

You see, that's what car shopping does to you. Car salesmen are sleazy, and sooner or later you realize that they're only being polite to you so they can sucker you out of more money. The more of these guys we talked to, the meaner we got. "Hi, we're looking for hatchbacks." "What is this thing you call a 'hatch back'". "Uhh.. it's a back, that you know.. hatches. Uh, tell you what, never mind, we're just going to look around on our own. Bye."

So.. Finally, we wound up at a Volkswagen dealer in Sunnyvale last weekend. VW? Yeah, I know. I think (non-minibus) VW's are for starbuck-drinking, yuppie a-holes as well. In Atlanta it seemed like VW drivers were always cutting you off, doing three-lane changes, and trying to jump your spot in line at the exit ramp because they were pressed for time. I feel that this farfegnugen behavior (which btw, means "a-hole driver" in German) can partly be blamed on VW's annoying "drivers wanted" commercials on TV. The ones that make it seem like you're not just going to starbucks to calm your latte addiction, you're getting another chance to drive like a maniac and endanger other peoples' lives. Stupid, door-handle-licking VW drivers.

Lookout Amy!

What can I say. We bought a 2001 VW golf. Maybe all this talking to salesman has turned me back into an a-hole, and therefore a VW is the only car for me. Sigh. I'm hoping that the real reason is that it fit what I'm looking for- four doors, hatchback, not too big or small, 29k miles, fairly cheap, and not too flashy. The one annoying thing is that the dealer backed the car into a light post after our test drive, so we had to wait a few days to get it delivered to us (this probably helped in the negotiations, as we got them to knock $800 off an already fair asking price). While I don't think I'll be adopting the yuppie life style that goes with the car, I've got to say that it sure is nice having a car I drive myself to work in. If you see me double parked at a starbucks, do me a favor and pour my latte over my head.

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:: Messin' Up the Supercomputer

Heh.. So the other day at work I got an email from a supercomputer vendor that we work with that was in response to a question I had submitted earlier. Well, it wasn't so much as a response as it was a warning that was being sent out to all the people that use this particular computer. The title of the warning was something like: Critical Application note: Improper usage of useradd command can result in the erasing of ALL user directories.

Yep. I found this out the hard way when I was setting up our new system. While using the standard 'useradd' UNIX command, I managed to get the order of some of the switches backwards (i.e., I tried to add a user with the name "/home/tough_guy" and the path "tough_guy"). UNIX of course has no problem following stupid commands, so it created the account. Unfortunately, the system I was working with does some fancy automounting (ie, home is actually an automount from somewhere else) and the command managed to wipe out all the user directories. Doah. I guess I was lucky, since this happened early on in the install process before I had actually started letting other people on to the machine.

I must admit, it felt a little weird to be getting an application note from a major supercomputing company because of something I did. Heh. After all these years, I'm finally influencing the supercomputing industry. Granted, it's because of something boneheaded I did, but still it's a start.

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:: Habitat

Here's an interesting little tidbit that's been messing with the minds of all the new-hires I know at the lab. The local paper had a story the other day about Habitat for Humanity in the Livermore area. For those of you who aren't familiar with H4H, it's an organization that helps provide affordable housing to low-income families. I have a tremendous amount of respect for H4H, primarily because the organization helps needy people while allowing them to hold on to their dignity. Given the crazy housing market in California, it's clear that we need more efforts like this if we're going to have a balanced society.

Anyways, the thing that caught my eye about Habitat for Humanity was the maximum salary a family of four could be making and still qualify for the H4H program: $99,360. Holy crap. That just changes your whole perspective on how well you're doing if you can be making close to $100k and still qualify for low-income housing assistance. Damn. This place is just messed up. Why are we living out here again?

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:: The Hills are Alive...

Winter. Ahh yes, here in reversi-world winter is the time when all of nature springs to life. For a few short months the hills turn green and this place becomes incredibly scenic. A couple of months later and the rain stops, everything dies, and the locals refer to the dead grass as being "California Golden" in color. When I think about this, I can't help but wonder if my original interview trip out here two years ago was timed to be during this small window of green time.

Anyways, the green is here for now and I've got to say that I really like it. In order to remind us during the summer how great this place looks in the winter, here are some photos that we've taken on different romps through the hills. This first set is from a drive we took through the hills just North of Livermore, right after we got the car.

This second batch of pictures is from a short hike we did in a park that's south of town. Here we picked a hill and kept walking up it until we finally got to the top. This was the first time that we had reached the actual top of a hill- usually there's an unexpected additional bump waiting for you when you reach what you think is the top.

I must say that it was very satisfying to be on the rounded top. Next time we'll have to lug a picnic basket or something. Anyways, thems the hills. In a couple of weeks they'll get all chameleon-like and change their color to blend in with dull, drab California.

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