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The Limits of Determinism

There is something a little bit magic about writing code. You start with nothing*, and after hacking around for a while, you end up with a set of executable instructions that can make a computer do something useful or interesting. This is even more true in recent years than when I started, with the explosion of cloud based services that give individual developers (or small teams) the ability to distribute applications globally, with few obstacles, and at a downright reasonable price. I don't think there are too many fields where an individual can produce something valuable without needing approval, lots of money or supplies, or even to leave the house.

Another aspect to programming that I've grown to appreciate over the course of my career is the deterministic nature of software. Barring some circumstances so rare as to be hardly worth mentioning, a piece of software will perform exactly as its told, repeatedly and without error. Granted, programs rarely do exactly what p…
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Timeline of a Baltimore Snowstorm

Friday, 2:50PM: In spite of its name, AccuWeather.com publishes a story about an upcoming blizzard, which would hit the mid-Atlantic region sometime early next week. The writer draws parallels to the historic Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which killed 400 and caused $200 million in non-inflation-adjusted damage. At Constellation Energy headquarters, BGE executives leave work early to avoid the preemptive angry calls that start flooding in.

Friday, 3:17PM: The last roll of toilet paper on store shelves within a 35 mile radius of Baltimore is purchased from Giant in Towson.

Saturday: Some anonymous jerk on the internet (probably from D.C.) coins the term "Snowquester." National media sources seize upon this and a Twitter frenzy ensues, to the chagrin of everyone. In response, local redditors suggest the term "Bohquester" as an alternative even though that term has absolutely nothing to do with weather.

Sunday: Local evening news leads with reporters checking in f…

How I fixed my back pain the hard way: introduction

It was a typical afternoon in early spring, and in a room in a nondescript suburban office building, I was lying motionless on a table, with my right side up. My head rested on a small, firm, black cushion. Suspended about a foot above my head was a large mechanical instrument. A thin metal rod protruded from it, and the end of the rod was nestled between my earlobe and the skin of my neck. To anyone else, it would have looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.

I closed my eyes as the anticipation built. This was not the first time I had been on this table, under this device, and it wouldn't be the last. I took a deep breath and exhaled. A few seconds later, I heard the unmistakable metallic thunk. Along with the sound came the lightest touch I could imagine noticing on my skin. My doctor helped me sit up, then lie down again, on my back this time. Within seconds, I noticed the warmth in my forehead, like someone started shining a bright light across my eyebrows. Thi…

All I Want For Christmas is a Super-Intelligent Public Transit System - Part 1

I was having a friendly debate with another commenter over at Chicagoist, in an article lamenting the latest round of RTA cuts. Upon floating some rough ideas for how Chicago's transit system (or, indeed, any city's transit system) could be made to operate more dynamically, I was rebuked by a solid wall of skepticism.

I think my biggest problem--and my problem with most technology--is that I simply don't see the benefit outweighing the expense of implementation coupled with ongoing maintenance. I honestly believe that a simple, fixed route bus system runs about as efficiently as it is possible for a bus system to run.

Could it be? That nearly the simplest possible approach to a bus system one can imagine happens to be the most efficient? I find that to be highly unlikely. Many problem domains don't favor simple approaches. Said another way: the universe is complex; deal with it. Take one example from the field of computer science: sorting numbers. Specifically, how …

Homegrown Wisconsin/Simply Wisconsin CSA Weeks 15-21

Week 15: September 23, 2009



Tatsoi, red peppers, radishes, tomatoes, red cippolini onion, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, celery

The tatsoi was new to me, but tasted great raw. The carrots tended to be stubby but flavorful. At this point I started donating all my potatoes to my coworker Anand (there will be many more to come).

Week 16: September 30, 2009



Broccoli, red and green peppers, potatoes, green cabbage, parsley, radishes, pears, carrots, red/heirloom/roma tomatoes, two dozen eggs

The eggs continue to impress, and parsley goes well with them. Heirloom tomatoes are weird but kinda tasty nonetheless.


Week 17: October 7, 2009



Butternut squash, kale, leeks, carrots, red bell/lipstick peppers, potatoes, heirloom tomato, green pepper, pears, kale, mizuna, two dozen eggs

The greens were good but a surprise (haven't got that many in a while, but it was no challenge to finish them all). I ended up cooking the squash with a pot roast - probably wasn't the best way to prepare…

Homegrown Wisconsin/Simply Wisconsin CSA Weeks 9-14

Week 9: August 12, 2009



Tomatoes, green peppers, watermelon, carrots, green beans, eggplant, sage, white onions, celery, rhubarb

Normally I'm not a fan of tomatoes, but these were good. Cut them up and grill in a skillet. The watermelon was yellow, which I've never seen before. With some apprehension I bit in, only to discover it tastes exactly like red watermelon. As usual I failed to do anything with the rhubarb so I froze it.

Week 10: August 19, 2009



Red tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, bell and cubanelle peppers, carrots, green beans, raspberries, rhubarb, white onions, chard, sweet corn, two dozen eggs

A nice variety of peppers for omelets. The berries are consistently tasty. Green beans aren't really paleo but I ate them anyway (steam), as well as some of the corn (boiled). Again froze the rhubarb.

Week 11: August 26, 2009



Red tomatoes, green peppers, watermelon, basil, parsley, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, heirloom tomatoes, red onions, sweet corn, raspberries

More …

Homegrown Wisconsin CSA Weeks 5-8

Week 5: July 15, 2009



Bunched beets, leafy hardy green, kale, red cabbage, zucchini, mini onions, dill, cucumbers, blackberries

The cabbage was excellent. Getting killed by so much dill though. Berries were succulent.

Week 6: July 22, 2009



Spring onions, celery, Swiss chard, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, mixed beans, common thyme?, two dozen eggs

Eggs were awesome as always. No trouble polishing off everything this week, except the herb...

Week 7: July 29, 2009





Portabella mushrooms, chives, red new potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, fresh garlic, fennel

Everything was good except the potatoes and fennel. Got this one just before going on vacation so I brought it all with me. My family could use everything on the trip except for the fennel, the stalk of which tastes like black licorice.

Week 8: August 5, 2009

Portabella mushrooms, chives, white new potatoes, carrots, onions, mixed beans, zucchini, fennel, cucumbers

I was still out of town for this one so again Jen was kind enough to pick i…