Archive for Random

State of the Apartment: Black Hole Edition

Seriously, nothing has changed in 12 months. Or everything has changed. More on this technology koan later.

What are new space dreams made of?

The last few days I’ve been planning a business trip to Cape Canaveral, FL for some integrated testing. I’ve had to talk to a travel agent, get permission to go on base, clear up all my credentials, take some training courses. When all’s said and done, I will be in another state for a few things, some fires will be put out, confidence will be built, and I’ll be on my way. Unexpected things might happen, and I might get delayed or interrupted, but once I’ve taken that first step to the airport, it’s all downhill and reactionary.

During all this, something occurs to me that is simultaneously frightening and amazing: In 50 years (or less) we might have manufacturing plants in orbit around Earth. Someone of the next generation may be doing the very same song and dance, but instead of going across the country, they’ll be traveling to LEO. There will be fires to be put out, tests to be run, confidence to be built. Millions of miles above the Earth’s surface. There might be orbiting universities where you can get accepted based on SAT scores and physical results. There might even be some sort of Space Amusement Park for weekend getaways.

Is this real life?

Astronauts are selected for their well-rounded skill set, and trained for years to become familiar with a system they didn’t, or couldn’t, design. Astronauts have to represent their country and follow the directions of thousands of people and do science experiments for others, planned out to the minute. This couldn’t be further from the truth of how business works in commercial industries: Chief architects of complex systems, or business consultants with a wide range of experiences in the field, are flown in. As temporary employees, they are paid to fix the problems and be on their way as soon as possible. Researchers build their own test beds and operate them because they want to know why the Universe works the way it does. If they have to go into the field to get the best results, they do it. Having to run an experiment over the phone or webcam would be borderline insulting.

Can you imagine being an Orbital manufacturing consultant? I just did. There are thousands of job titles right now that may seem nonexistent, or laughably specialized and niche. If all goes well, and if the vision of a few reaches out to touch the many, jobs as mundane on Earth as “Garbage collector” or “Landscaper” can become “Suborbital waste management expert” or “Orbital horticultural technician”. These necessary but unheard-of roles leap off the pages of science fiction and into reality, as soon as commercial space actually goes commercial.

The Missed Connection

Found this in my backup documents from a few months ago. Seems like it was well-written, and given the topic I assume I had ample time to craft it…


It felt like they took 45 minutes to board the airplane, but I finally got off my phone just as they pushed back, which was at 3:17 for a 3:40 departure. I thought it took a long time to board, but apparently it was disturbingly early. And yet we landed at 5:46, half an hour late.

A lot of things should have tipped me off that the plane landed late. They made an announcement urging the immediate and expedited passage of three people flying to colorado springs since they had to huff it across the whole Denver airport. When I negotiated my own exit, I made a beeline to my next gate, made sure everything was on time, and went off to find food. After all, I knew that I had an hour layover.

I stopped off at the bathroom, walked in a circle around the central rotunda, and unable to locate a proper sandwich (mayo AND mustard? Might as well set me on fire), I got a personal pizza and a bottled water, hoping that I could digest it because that’s the kind of trip I’d been having.

I leisurely walked back to my gate and found a spot among the crowd to sit down. But something seemed very off; the plane was moving backward. I guessed this was some kind of readjustment to align with the jetway, but dismissed that as the jetways themselves are adjustable. So I went to the front desk, and the flight to LA had disappeared from the boards. At this point I am more confused than I have ever been in recent memory. Where did my plane go? Did I miss a gate change? Confirmed this was the right gate, so time to ask: “Where’s the flight to LA?” “Gone. What seat were you?”

“Are you serious?” I grab my phone, and actually check the fucking time. It’s 6:17, seven minutes after my scheduled departure time. I thought I had an hour layover, and my plane is gone after 20 minutes of walking around the fucking airport? I checked my gchat and twitter post logs, since I know I was chatting right up until takeoff, and tweeting immediately after landing. This is when it actually dawned on me that I had missed my flight.

“Were you seat 15C or 11C? I gave them away when you didn’t show up.” “Yeah, I was 15C.” I didn’t even know my own seat number. I usually check that kind of thing while walking down the damn jetway. I guess I made some standby traveller’s night, but now I’m getting home at 1am.

Great Transitions (part 2)

Editor’s note: This post was hastily written my first week on the new job, and sat in draft for 2 months.

I owe Hugh (one or two time poster on this very blog) at least one Very Fancy Hat for introducing me to a SpaceX recruiter.  Read more


I think I was in the bathroom doing bathroom-y things, and I noticed the brand new carpet in my apartment. Something so simple threw me down a scientific and philosophical rabbit hole, which I forgot about until just now discussing dreams about pizza. Not sure why, but that’s the point, right?
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A new Twitter feature request in the wake of lost 3rd party developer support

I just came up with a new idea for Twitter that I hope they are already hard at work implementing: The concept of an official Twitter client with official app plugins/extensions. This is not a new concept, but it seems like a smart way to control the user experience, but also allow for changing feature sets (which is always changing, since social media reinvents itself every few months).

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The Internet can become very confusing very quickly

I recently had a very rapid and diffuse exchange of ideas and information, causing confusion among strangers (strangers to me, anyway). Below is an attempt at clarity (with no guarantees).

I follow a bunch of game devs on Twitter partially because I like video games, partially because I want to program for video games, mostly because game devs are awesome people. Through Dave Jaffe‘s tweets, I found Adam Orth and Derek Daniels. I also follow sci-fi writers, including for the purposes of this blog William Gibson. He’s retweeted @GammaCounter many times, so I also started following him directly (much to my amusement).

Since this post is all about clarity, I’ve translated Twitter into IRC.

#Twitter/derek_omni> Obligatory double rainbow photo
#Twitter/kenners> derek_omni: dude your photo has a ghost car in it.
#Twitter/kenners> So awesome
#Twitter/derek_omni> haha, I didn’t notice until you posted that!
#Twitter/derek_omni> LOL
#Twitter/derek_omni> so awesome
(((days later)))
#Twitter/GammaCounter> Just realized:
#Twitter/GammaCounter> RIP, the accidental “double exposures” of film cameras, with their occasional hilarity…
#Twitter/GammaCounter> another casualty of progress…
#Twitter/kenners> GammaCounter: still exists on cellphone cameras – adam_orth had a ghost car photo last week!
#Twitter/GammaCounter> adam_orth kenners: That’s amazing, I wonder how it works…
#Twitter/GammaCounter> latent image persistence?
#Twitter/kenners> found!
#Twitter/kenners> “derek_omni> Obligatory double rainbow photo
#Twitter/kenners> my guess: image compression happens in parallel with CCD data transfers, saving memory but possibly splintering the frame?
#Twitter/kenners> adam_orth: huge apologies, I’ve mistaken you for derek_omni
#Twitter/kenners> I blame my cold
!GammaCounter!*@* OPERWALL – Corrected on digital double exposure! Paranormal minivan & majik rainbows: thanks to kenners, derek_omni
#Twitter/GammaCounter> Thanks… btw, ever see that crazy “Cubism” artifact, on video transmissions when it gets all bodged up?
#Twitter/kenners> GammaCounter: no but googling cubist artifacts have led to wiki pages on “glitch art” and “circuit bending” …
#Twitter/kenners> sleeping on it
(((hours later)))
#Twitter/adam_orth> kenners derek_omni GammaCounter: I’m so confused…
#Twitter/GammaCounter> adam_orth: Sorry.. it’s about how even digital cameras can make “double exposures” sort of…

Better, right?

Here’s the Twitter equivalent:!/derek_omni/status/17729190367334400!/kenners/status/17730523560411137!/derek_omni/status/17734439027089408!/GammaCounter/status/19967078010191872!/kenners/status/19968278352891904!/GammaCounter/status/19969293672251392!/kenners/status/19972201088290816!/kenners/status/19972913134309376!/kenners/status/19975265266434048!/GammaCounter/status/19975344551362560!/GammaCounter/status/19975823708655616!/GammaCounter/status/19976213103648768!/kenners/status/19978514929287168!/adam_orth/status/20002512698347520!/GammaCounter/status/20003511588618240

Chrismas Eve Sleuthing: Searching for Sherlock

I did all of my Christmas shopping in 6 hours. All the while, I tried to find a DVD copy of the new Sherlock series, which aired on BBC this year. I was really happy that a release made it to the states by Christmastime. Since my parents went to England almost exclusively to see 221B Baker Street (or to visit distant family on their farm in Iron Acton, whatever), they were hooked the minute I mentioned it. I wasn’t surprised to see it on a Christmas list email, so I figured I’d pick up a copy while winding through other stores.


I went to Barnes & Noble first; the system said they had one, but the staff and I couldn’t locate it. I then checked B&N online, all of the Austin stores had sold out. I also checked out Borders online. Completely sold out.

I took a chair at B&N and did some smartphone searching: had it, but online only. had it, ship to store. had it, ship to store., online only. Many swings, many misses. I was breaking all the rules of baseball (or shopping?).

Tried to limited-scope crowdsource the problem (via chats on gtalk). jpnance suggested Fry’s – a quick online search said “item available” so off I went. Searched with the staff until they closed, no luck. One even suggested that someone probably had it in their basket right now; off to a happy home (I hope).

nbacarisse suggested a local shop called Waterloo Records. I got a hold of them on the phone, but no good news.

lukezim suggested another local shop called Encore movies and music. I got a hold of them on the phone too, but no good news. They hadn’t even gotten their first shipment in, but at least it was on order.

By then stores had started to close (being Christmas Eve and all), so I ended up ordering it online and springing for two-day shipping. At the very least, I will be able to hand Sherlock: Season One to its recipient sometime in December.

Death of a Feature

Pinned tabs in Google ChromeUPDATE: I just discovered that double-middle-clicking a pinned tab (i.e. closing a “deactivated” pinned tab) will close it in the familiar manner. I hereby retract some percentage of Contention 2 and some amount of frustration expressed in Contention 5.

I’ve decided that I care a lot about the “pin tabs” feature in Google Chrome. When Chrome 5 went live last week, I didn’t really notice most of the changes. I did, however, notice that tab-pinning, a feature I learned about only a week or two prior, had been completely destroyed for the way I use it.

It was jarring enough that I felt Google should know about it. Evidently, it’s jarring enough that I feel like you should know about it, too. In its entirety (although edited for a couple of typos, in brackets), here’s the feedback posting I sent them:

I happened upon the “pin tab” feature at the tail-end of Chrome 4’s run. I loved it. I could finally take Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter, and ESPN FantasyCast — tabs that I knew I wanted running all the time — and reduce their screen real-estate footprint. It was easy to drag tabs over to the “pin” section and then take them out again. If I decided I didn’t want a pinned tab to be open anymore, I could close it in one middle-click. When I restarted my browser, I started fresh again with nothing auto-loading and destroying my memory usage.

What on Earth happened in Chrome 5?

Contention 1: I now have to pin a tab by using a context menu. Okay, it’s not the end of the world but, man, it was really nice to be able to just drag the tabs from one side to the other.

Contention 2: It’s not nearly as simple as “closing” a pinned tab anymore. Now, when I middle-click (to close) a pinned [tab], the tab stays there in a “dimmed” state. I guess, as far as the browser is concerned, the page has been destroyed but whenever I go back to that tab, it will reload it. Okay, I guess that’s fine, if sort of annoying that I explicitly have to un-pin a tab (through the context menu — see Contention 1) to remove it altogether.

Contention 3: Pinned tabs stick around between browser sessions and load themselves. If I close my browser and restart it, the pinned tabs will still be there. This is where pinned tab persistence needs to stop. The pinned tabs, however, will also load themselves whenever I restart my browser. Maybe I’m in the minority here but I cannot stand when things start loading automatically, especially five or six browser windows. It puts an amazing amount of load on my CPU and RAM and, really, it’d just be better if they tried to load one at a time. I digress a little bit but, at the least, I’d like to be able to say in the options “don’t bother loading my pinned tabs automatically”.

Contention 4: Google’s own applications kind of suck, given Contention 3. As I said, I use Gmail and Reader pretty much all the time and I sometimes even like to have Documents and Wave open (pinned). When I open the browser for the first time, I have several Google applications load. Fine. My login session hasn’t been initiated, though, so they all load with a login screen. Okay. So I log in to the Gmail tab and then go over to the Reader tab. I try to refresh so Reader can pick up my fresh new login cookie and I just get the login prompt again. Hm, alright. I go up to the address bar to type in “”, I press enter, and I get a new tab. Apparently, I can’t actually do anything in the address bar of a pinned tab. Let’s make that…

Contention 5: The address bar is pretty much meaningless in a pinned tab. When pinned tabs don’t load as you might expect and you can’t get back to the original URL (like, for instance, in the Reader — or any other Google application — example), the address bar just opens up new tabs. So, in my example, here’s how I get Reader back into my pinned tabs:

  1. I get frustrated that I’m having to do anything this out-of-the-way
  2. I open up a new tab with Reader in it
  3. CONTENTION 1 ALERT: I right-click my new tab and pin it
  4. CONTENTION 2 ALERT: I try to close the other useless one by middle-clicking out of habit
  5. I get frustrated that I can’t close pinned tabs easily anymore
  6. I right-click the old tab and un-pin it
  7. I finally am able to close the old tab
  8. I get really frustrated when I realize that I’m going to have to go through this rigmarole every time I restart my browser if I want more than one Google application to be pinned
  9. I stop using the pin tabs feature because it’s been destroyed beyond all recognition
  10. I fire off a lengthy and sarcastic feedback email to try to save this previously excellent feature

Contention 6: The “pinned tab” section doesn’t even work properly depending on how you close the browser. I’m still a little shaky on how to reproduce this but let’s give it a shot. First, pin a few tabs to your browser and then close it by using the ‘X’ button in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. Open the browser back up and the pinned tabs should be there, reloading themselves. Now un-pin all of your tabs and close them each one-by-one using either CTRL+W or a middle-click. (The idea here is that you’re closing your browser by closing each of its tabs individually, rather than just clicking the ‘X’.) When you open your browser back up, the pinned tabs should still be there, even though you pretty much specifically said “I don’t want you to be pinned anymore”. Note that if you un-pin them and use the ‘X’, the expected behavior (no pinned tabs) occurs.

So that’s my gripe list. I really like the idea of pinning tabs but I think the Chrome 5 iteration of the feature was a solution looking for a problem. I still use Chrome because I like it but, reluctantly, I have stopped pinning tabs because, for me, they no longer act at all how I like them to.

Please let me know if you need any more information on how to replicate the bug I present in Contention 6.

Thanks for listening,
Patrick Nance

Jose Gonzalez – Teardrop

Holy crap this is fantastic.