Friday, June 30, 2006


Sorry for the late post. I had planned on posting in the afternoon but then my daughter had to come home from daycare and play all afternoon. Apparantly whatever was ailing her at school dissapated upon getting home. Now I'm a wee bit too tired.

Given that I'm not playing any games, I'm going to take what I would have posted today (it's all written up in my head) and post it on Monday in lieu of a gaming post.

In the meantime, go and see "Superman Returns". It is an amazing piece of work and restores Superman to his rightful place in the superhero movie pantheon. It is abundantly clear that the reason X-Men 3 sucked so badly was because Bryan Singer wasn't working on it. I'm sure I'll talk about it and other media I have consumed lately, probably on Friday.

Have a good weekend and a great 4th, for those of you in our US of A.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is That an Expanding Pipe, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question comes from Greg Howley, the owner and proprietor of Greg has impeccable taste in handheld video game systems and wives' names. He's also a frequent visitor to this site and as such, is better than probably 80 - 85% of the world's population. His question is:

In the house where I grew up, I used to be able to tell when the shower
water got hot by listening - the pitch of the water would change as it heated
up. Recently, I noticed the same thing with our sink - as the water heats up,
the pitch goes up. What is the connection between water temperature and

Well Greg, it sounds to me like you have a Class 5 Ectoplasmic Entity, also known as a "Squealer". Most likely, at some point, someone in your family tree did someone wrong and once the victim, perceived or actual, died, he or she set out to torment your family for all of eternity. They found you at your old home, took up home in your pipes and have found you yet again. Your only recourse is to do right by the spirit and lay it to rest.

Ha! Kidding. My extensive research of the vast plumbing resources on the web point to two explanations for what you're hearing, however neither help us understand the connection between water temperature and pitch. Now, the connection between water temperature, the thermal expansivity of the pipes and pitch is something we can work with. And so we shall.

Thermal expansion is, in a nutshell, when certain substances expand in size due to an increase in temperature. As the substance is heated, the heat energy is absorbed by the bonds that keep the subtance's molecules together. As these bonds absorb energy, they lengthen, causing an increase in size. Some items, like mercury, expand a whole bunch, while others, like diamond and, ironically enough, water, expand very little. Copper, which your pipes are most likely made of, has a thermal expansion coefficient of 17 (forgive my lack of units) which corresponds to about a 1.12 inch increase in length of a 100 ft pipe when heated by 100 degrees. Now, how this corresponds to a higher pitch depends on what is causing the sound in the first place, which brings me to the two things I found out.

The first, and less common idea, is that the water pressure in your home is too high. When the pressure is high, and the water gets heated, the pipes will heat, expand and raise the pressure even higher. This results in a high pitched wailing, akin to a banshee or a cat trapped in a garbage bag, or a banshee cat trapped in a banshee bag. This can cause bigger problems down the line as high pressure can screw with all of the various gaskets and plumbing seals in the house. It can be fixed for less than 200 bucks by a new pressure valve where the water comes into the house. I speak from experience on this as we had the same high pressure problem, minus the keening, wailing sounds when we bought our current house.

The second answer, and the one I found as being the most common, is that the expansion of the pipes is causing them to rub against their brackets and hence the high pitched, squeaking noise. Pipes are attached to walls, joists and floorboards with brackets, usually metal, which then causes a charming metal on metal squeaking when the pipes expand.

This second cause may be harder to fix, depending on where the squeaky bracket actually is, namely behind a nice, finished, painted wall. Should you be able to find the bracket, you can either use a bigger bracket, or put something around the pipe to act as a buffer between the bracket and the pipe. You can also swap out all of your plumbing with pipes made of diamond, the pipes of choice for the discerning homeowner.

Another option would be to investigate pipes made of a polymer of copper and zirconium tungstate, provided such a polymer is ever invented. Zirconium tungstate shrinks when it gets colder, over a much wider range of temperature than other materials with negative thermal expansion. If a combination of copper and zirconium tungstate were created, in effect the copper's thermal expansion would be cancelled out by the zirconium tungstate's negative thermal expansion. Currently there aren't any plans to make plumbing supplies from zirconium tungstate, however it is being investigated for fillings, so that when you wash down your popsicles with hot coffee, your fillings don't explode and blow your jaw off.

While I'm sure the squealing sound is annoying with copper pipes, it could be worse. Your pipes could be made of mercury which would a) require you to keep your house at a frosty 38 below zero so that the pipes stay solid b) expand all to hell once heated even a slight amount and c) invariably kill you as any water flowing through mercury pipes would melt your nervous system.

Wikipedia - Coefficient of Thermal Expansion
Wikipedia - Mercury-in-glass Thermometer - Strange Shrinking Material

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Big One Oh Oh

Well folks, I told you this post was going to be special, and boy howdy it is. With this post, our little corner of teh intraweb has reached the incredibly special milestone of post number 100.


No seriously this is a big deal for me. I used to have a site, and then I stopped and did so without saying goodbye to the people who had read my stuff and supported me. I always felt bad about that, because it was kind of dickish. Granted, with all that was going on at the time, I wasn't the happiest of campers, but that's no excuse to act like a prick. Then, some time later, Andy asked me to contribute to his site, which I did, and had a great time doing. Eventually, though, I yearned for the freedom of my own space, so in May of 2005, I dusted off the SuburbanJoe moniker and started posting anew. And there was much rejoicing.

I remember when I started back up, talking to Linda and asking her if I should tell people that I used to converse with that I was posting anew. She said I should only do that if I was actually going to post. "Of course I'm going to post," I said. "Why would I go through the trouble of starting this up again if I wasn't going to post?" I then went something like 2.5 months without posting. And she says she knows me.

Ironically enough, that non posting "hiatus" was during a time when I was unemployed and spent my days looking for jobs, playing video games, watching movies and doing work around the yard/house. One would think I would have had time to post, and one would have been correct, however for some reason I had no motivation. Swap out "doing work around the yard/house" for "toiling in my crap job" and the former list of daily activities is magically transformed into my current list of daily activities yet now I have the motivation to post.

Actually, it wasn't that I didn't have any motivation, but more that the hiatus represented a fairly stressful time for me/us. Last year was the Year of Many Changes (tm) and as anyone who knows me can attest to, I loathe change, especially big change. We moved to Atlanta in February, complete with house selling hassles, delayed furniture deliveries and worries about child adjustment. Then I had to leave my job due to the move and worried all summer that I wouldn't find a new job which then spawned additional worries. I worried that we wouldn't get approved to adopt Abby because we only had one income. I worried that we'd get approved but then wouldn't get the referral for a long time. I worried that we'd get approved and then get the referral and I still wouldn't have a job so I'd be on the hook to take care of both kids all day, which would then cause me to lose my mind and hurl myself into the pond behind our house.

Then I got a job, with it's relatively shitty commute. Then we got our referral so we headed out to Russia to meet an adorable, yet somewhat medically challenged (superficially anyways) little girl. Then we came home and sat and waited and worried while Russia changed all of their rules and sat on our paperwork and we imagined our daughter getting smaller and smaller and getting a more advanced case of Ricketts that caused her legs to shoot up through her shoulders. Then we went home and came back with a baby that wasn't nearly as easy-going as her brother was.

Then we had the holidays, complete with visits at Thanksgiving and Christmas from Linda's parents. Then Abby didn't seem to know how to eat and we envisioned her never getting any bigger and wondering if her prom limo would have the Latch system for her car seat.

Then the year ended and things managed to return to a state of normalcy. Abby is still crankier than Ben ever was, but lately she seems to be mellowing out a tad. We've even had a few days, although they're far apart, when she's in a good mood all day long. She still doesn't eat a lot, but that's just because she's picky, which is infinitely easier to deal with than her not knowing how to chew a cracker. She's even gotten taller, having grown almost 2 inches in the past 2 months. She may hit 5 feet tall after all.

It's not just a coincidence that the beginning of the year, with it's lack of stress coincided with my ramping up of posting here. Ever since adopting the M-W-F schedule in January, I've been able to stick to having something for y'all to read on a pretty regular basis. In fact, of the 100 posts since last May, something like 66 of them have been since January. That's the beauty of the schedule in action. Not only does it give me something to focus on, when my fatigue addled brain is having difficulties coming up with a new topic, but it makes me post because I know that people are expecting content on certain days of the week. Granted, I still have days where I say "fuck it" and skip posting entirely, but those days are much fewer and farther between than they used to be. Hell, it used to be I'd be all set to post and then see that "SWAT" was on and I'd skip posting to watch it. Again.

So this milestone means a lot to me because a) I set out to do something, I did it and am still having a good time doing it and b) the big worries are a thing of the past. Oh sure, I still have small worries but I inherited from my mother the ability to worry about positively anything so I don't expect all of my worries to magically dissappear without some sort of industrial accident that results in a length of rebar through my skull.

Last year, during the summer of unemployment, and worries were at their worst, when Linda and I would come home from picking up Ben from daycare, we would pass this one church. All summer long, the church had the same saying on the sign out front, "Worry is the thief of joy." Amazingly enough, once I got my job, the sign changed to something else. I wish, at the time, I could have taken the message to heart and really enjoyed the time I had off, rather than let my worries steal my happiness, but hopefully I'll be able to do that in the future, because if I've learned anything from last year, it's that things don't get fixed by worrying. They get fixed by posts about wooden pots. Ha. All kidding aside, I'd like to think I'm the kind of person who can learn things from shitty experiences to make future similar experiences less shitty. We'll see, although if I never have to be unemployed again to see if I learned the lesson, I'm OK with that.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you for coming by and reading my stuff. While I do most of this for me, I like to think that you all are enjoying my work and as a result, I do some of this for you. I know that with everyone and their mother having their own sites and the various ways one can spend their time during the day, choosing to come here means you feel that you and I have a connection and I value that more than you could ever know. In the immortal words of Jay-Z, "You coulda been anywhere in the world, but you're here with me. I appreciate that."

Please keep coming back. We're just getting started.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No Science Post Today Part Deux

I'm not in a very science-y mood today, so I'm thinking I'm just going to skip today's post. My apologies for all of those that were desperately waiting for me to unlock the secrets of the universe.

In the meantime, feel free to use this thread to comment on whatever the hell you want to. It's open season time at SuburbanJoe. Yay. You can also take this time to post some more science questions, as I only have 3 left from Andy's treasure trove of curiosity. What you can do is think back to whatever it is you were hoping I was posting about today before the curtain of dissapointment fell on our little stage. There, that's your question.

At this point, I'm not sure of the status of Friday's post either. On Friday I'm heading to Six Flags over Georgia with these two fine individuals. As Friday's post is a special event here at Chez SubJ, I'm not sure I want to spend it talking about how I threw up after riding Goliath. How special you ask? Oh, only about a 100 times special.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Gaming at a Minimum

As the title would suggest, I haven't been doing any real gaming of late. I'm still working through the second season of Deadwood and we've had an onslaught of family visiting, so gaming has been minimal. I have been spending more time with my DS Lite though and I'm still quite happy with my purchase. Holding it like a traditional handheld is much more comfortable than the original DS and the new screens really make the colors pop.

I traded in Brain Age for Big Brain Academy as I recently reached a stopping point in Soduku that left me bewildered, and frankly, not feeling very good about myself. I had originally placed the blame for my failure at the feet of Kevin Smith, as we were watching the movies made from his lecture series, and it's hard to concentrate on filling 3 x 3 grids with numbers when he's telling tales of Mewes fellating various video game appendages. Once we had finished listening to his tales, and we were watching something more mathematically conducive, like Angel, I had high hopes. Still, the proper strategy failed to materialize and this time I placed the blame at the feet of Amy Acker's willowy beauty and David Boreanaz's smoldering manliness. My next, and final attempt, was done at work, in the quiet morning hours of first arrival. According to the disembodied Japanese head that lives in the game, this is when I should have been at my sharpest. Failure was quick, and dismal. It was at this point, that I felt perhaps Soduku is not the game for me.

With Big Brain Academy, you are no longer searching for the fountain of youth for your mind, but instead want to have the largest, most voluminous brain in existence. The metrics in Brain Age, namely your Brain Age, made sense to me, as I would expect that a young person, brimming with vitality and potential would have a more spry, agile noggin than someone in my advanced state of decrepitude. Big Brain Academy, on the other hand, gives you your Brain Weight upon completing a puzzle. A bigger number is better, as apparantly, a highly efficient brain is a heavy brain. I'm not sure I buy this, and more importantly, it reminds me of the Hulk villain, the Leader who's large, distended cranium always freaked me out as a child.

Big Brain Academy also analyzes your performance upon completing a test and, like your bitter vindictive high school guidance teacher who told you that perhaps you should make your living as either a dog catcher or a roustabout, simply because math wasn't "your thing", labels you with an appropriate profession. So far, I should be a Fashion Designer, or a Special Olympiad. OK, so I fibbed on that last one, but that first one is all truth, all the time. As anyone who has ever seen how I dress, I find the notion that I would design clothes for others to be at best absurd, and at worst, criminal. Were I tasked with designing clothes, I would head to the nearest Old Navy, also known as my closet, pick out a variety of garments, remove all tags, and then try to pass them off as my own. I am not above such subterfuge in my quest to live according to Big Brain Academy's wishes. I am striving to reach the lofty heights of FBI Agent, as I look forward to waltzing into J. Edgar Hoover FBI building and demanding a gun and a badge, simply on the merits of my Big Brain Academy test results.

Big Brain Academy is more of a game and less like a learning tool, so I'm not sure how much it would appeal to the older set, however when I was picking up my DS Lite, there was a mother-daughter combo perusing Nintendo's wares, and Mom seemed quite excited to foray into the world of career determining puzzles. As I have never taken the opinions of the old and the infirm into account when picking my latest digital pastime, I'm not about to start now, however I do see the advantage that can be held by Nintendo's leveraging the vast, untapped potential of 0ur nation's retirees and their pension holdings. Better Iwata-san get that money than the casino owner down the road.

I think that Big Brain Academy is more fun than Brain Age, however I do miss the verbal puzzles of Brain Age. Something about reading a passage from Dickens, and imagining my synapses firing and refiring, turning my brain into a superpowered computational machine appealed to me. True, there was nothing preventing me from having both games, other than my own anal system of not owning any more games than can fit in the combination of the DS Lite and the DS Lite case, however I paid 20 bucks for Brain Age, got 9 bucks in credit for it, and played it for something like 20 hours. From a value perspective, its time had come.

I find it odd that I'm not missing gaming on my other platforms any. I love Oblivion and Guitar Hero and would like to see more of the story in God of War, however I'm content to revisit my friends amongst the hoople-heads and memorize pairs of impishly rendered animals. In fact, when I look at the games soon to be available for the various platforms, the DS, has, by far, the most exciting offerings. StarFox, a new Zelda, Cooking Mama and another episode in the classic legal series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney promises that I'll be spending a fair amount of time with my DS Lite as the months wear on. The fact that I can, while watching an episode of Angel, pilot an Airwing, hurl boomerangs at Peahats, make a tasty chicken dish and defend the defenseless from being ground under Justice's, cold, unfeeling wheels makes me giddy as a schoolgirl. Yes, I have searched my feelings and found them giddy. Giddy and drenched with glee.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Facts and Figures

Howdy. Sorry for the late post, but it was a busy day.

On June 1st of this year, Linda and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. In October of this year we'll celebrate 15 years together. At the time, I didn't write anything about it due to the fact that we had already celebrated our anniversary by going to Florida a few weeks earlier. Now, usually I'd write something all nice and sweet and tell Linda how much I love her, but instead, I thought I'd put together a list of figures to show the kind of numbers that come about when two people spend this much time together.

Ages when met
Brandon - 19
Linda - 18
Number of universities attended
Brandon - 2
Linda - 2
Number of degrees obtained
Brandon - 2
Linda - 2
Number of miles of separation for first year together
Number of dates needed to realize neither wanted to be with anyone else
Number of places lived in together
List of places
Mechanicville, NY
Albany, NY
Clifton Park, NY
Federal Way, WA
Renton, WA
Reston, VA
Ashburn, VA
Alpharetta, GA
Distance in miles from first apartment to current house
6412.21 - or .26 times around the Earth
Number of children obtained
Distance in miles traveled to obtain both children
46912 or 1.88 times around the Earth
Dollars spent in obtaining children
Waaaaaaay too many.
Number of Nintendo handhelds purchased
Number of times purchase of Nintendo handheld was met with eye rolling
Number of Neil Diamond Concerts Attended
Number of times purchase of Neil Diamond concert tickets was met with eye rolling
Average age of Neil Diamond concert attendees
Average weekend waking time when first moved in together
11 AM
Average weekend waking time now
6:30 AM
Number of days bitter about not being able to sleep past 6:30
All of them
Number of items thought of for this list before running out of items
Favorite number

I'd like to say those last two were on purpose, but they weren't. I'd like to say that me meeting my wife was on purpose, but the fact of the matter was that I didn't even know she was interested in me. She knew she was interested in me, so maybe her getting together with me was on purpose, in which case I say, "Go Linda!" Sometimes things happen that we don't expect and the next thing you know, you're 15 years older, 6400 miles farther and a billion times more in love with the person next to you. Sometimes you just get lucky that way.

Linda, I love you. Happy (belated) anniversary. All I ask is that we stay put for the next 10 years. 64oo miles seems like plenty.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cloud Nine

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Before we get started, I'd like to address the Comcast High Speed Internet customer support division. I'm going to address this entity as a single person, but know that my comments apply to every fucking useless one of you. Sir, you are the single most spectacularly incompetent and heinously dishonest, loathsome sack of shit I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with. Had your father pulled out early and spilled his seed on a half decomposed pile of dog shit, the resulting mixture would be eons ahead of you in intelligence, compassion and worth as a physical entity. In my short time on this planet, I have been subjected to a number of craptastic customer service experiences, but you, by far, blow them all away, in your complete and utter lack of caring in regards to your customer's experience. Were you in front of me, it would take all of my energy to not cave your fucking head in with whatever blunt instrument was at hand. Now, is it wrong of me to lump all of your workers into one entity upon which to unload my hatred? Probably, however since last week I have dealt with a half dozen of them and not a goddamn one, not one fucking person, has done anything above the bare fucking minimum to resolve the problems I'm having with your service. Service, might I add, I pay almost 50 bucks a month for. I'd threaten to leave, but you don't care, and if I'm going to use my breath to inform you of something, I'd rather inform you of how much better the world would be if your presence were erased completely from it.

Now that we've gotten that out of our way, we can move on with today's question. It comes from my mom, who, as part of her job, traverses this great land of ours with a frequency that would fell your's truly. The last time she was here, she asked me the following (paraphrased due to my horrible memory):

Why can it be raining when you take off and raining when you land, but not
raining when the plane is at it's cruising altitude?

At the time I saw her, I told her the answer, which is that planes fly above the clouds, so even though it's raining on the ground upon taking off or landing, when the plane is at its cruising altitude, it's above all of that. However my curious mind wasn't satisfied with that answer and I have since probed further to find out why clouds only form at certain altitudes.

In order to talk about this, we have to talk about the levels of the atmosphere we're most interested in, namely the troposphere and the stratosphere. The troposphere is the first "level" of the Earth's atmosphere and it extends from the surface of the planet to about 7km high at the poles and 17km high at the equator. This is the layer of the atmosphere that contains our friends the clouds. It also includes a great deal of moving air, due to the heating of air in the troposphere from surface radiation. Basically, as the sun's rays hit the surface of the planet, the surface heats up. This radiation then heats the air in the troposphere which in turn rises, expands and subsequently drops in temperature. As a result, air in the troposphere is warmer at lower altitudes and colder at higher altitudes.

The troposphere is the atmosphere's chief repository of water vapor which explains why pretty much every cloud you see in the sky is hanging out in the troposphere. There are some exceptions to this rule, which we'll talk about in a minute, however if, in the course of your normal day, you see a cloud, most likely, it's in the troposphere. If the troposphere contains all of the atmosphere's water vapor, and clouds consist of water vapor and/or ice crystals, then it makes sense that clouds exist mostly in the troposphere.

So, in answering why clouds exist in the troposphere, we can derive why they do not exist in the stratosphere, namely because there's no water vapor in the stratosphere, or at least a very, very small amount. There are clouds called polar stratospheric clouds that exist in the stratosphere, over the poles during polar winters. As I'm assuming you don't spend a heck of a lot of time at the poles in the winter, you can see why I was pretty confident in saying that pretty much all of the clouds you see exist in the troposphere. These stratospheric clouds consist of mixtures of water vapor, nitric acid and sulfuric acid. It has to be pretty damn cold to cause the acidic components of these clouds to crystallize, allowing the clouds to form, hence the clouds occuring over the poles during polar winters. Those two together make some pretty nippy conditions.

There are also notilucent clouds that exist in the mesosphere, which is above the stratosphere. Folks aren't quite sure how clouds can exist in the mesosphere due to the lack of water, but despite this, the general feeling is that they consist of water ice. How the ice got all the way up there is another question altogether.

The movement of air in the troposphere that we mentioned before is the chief reason your pilot looks to achieve a comfortable cruising altitude of about 10km. All that moving air tends to slam planes around leading to some nasty turbulence and possible vomitous outcomes. This is why, usually, when turbulence occurs during a flight, the pilot will attempt to go a little higher, unless of course, you're already on your way back down. The stratosphere is not subject to all of this moving air, and, as a result, is a fairly calm place to hang out. An interesting note about the stratosphere is that it gets warmer as you get higher up in it, as the outer regions of the stratosphere are warmed by solar radiation and the lower regions are cooled by the higher, cooler regions of the troposphere. The top level of the stratosphere is around -3 Celsius, or 27 degrees Farenheit. Not balmy by any measure, but certainly warmer than I'd expect it to be 50km above the planet's surface.

So, lets put it all together. You take off in your plane and head up through the troposphere, which includes a ton of water vapor, some in cloud form, some falling from the clouds, some just hanging out, and a ton of moving air. This moving air makes for a bumpy flight, so your pilot heads up to the stratosphere where there's no moving air, no water vapor, and subsequently, no clouds. From then on out, it's smooth sailing until you have to descend and do it all in reverse. Soon you're on the ground at your dismal, rainy destination wondering how it's possible that not 30 minutes ago you were sailing through blue skies and sunshine. Science baby, that's how.

As always, we welcome questions at suburbanjoe at gmail dot com or in the comments section of these here posts. Keep 'em comin' folks. We love to hear them.

Wikipedia - Clouds
Wikipedia - Earth's Atmosphere
Wikipedia - Troposphere
Wikipedia - Stratosphere
Wikipedia - Polar stratospheric clouds
Wikipedia - Noctilucent Clouds

Monday, June 12, 2006

DS Lite Initial Impressions

Did you have a glorious DS Lite Sunday? I know that I did as I was able to purchase it and spend a whopping 15 minutes or so with it. Yay. It's mostly my fault as I was on the last episode of season 1 of Deadwood and I needed to finish that season out so that I can start season 2 so that I can then watch season 3. I also had to spend the time uploading all of the fine pictures that go along with this post so that you, dear reader, have the best idea as to the gloriousness of the DS Lite that one man can provide. It's a sad fucking day when you spend more time uploading pictures of a video game device so that you can write a post about said device than you do actually playing the fucking thing. Hoople-head, thy name is Brandon.

My initial impression is that it kicks massive amounts of ass. It's smaller, lighter, prettier, brighter and seems to produce a nicer range of colors than the original DS. The stylus is also bigger and feels better in one's hand. On the minus side, it doesn't come with a wrist strap, thumb nubbin' thing, which I find to be the best stylus for Metroid Prime: Hunters, the battery life will be shorter if you use the highest brightness setting and it uses a different A/C adaptor, so any adaptors you may have purchased to charge your DS overseas are now rendered useless. The redesign also makes GBA carts stick out a centimeter or so, but I don't have any GBA carts, so that isn't a concern for me. For perverts like Keg who like to make themselves the meat in an Advance Wars sandwich, this may be an issue.

All of the buttons feel a great deal more responsive. With the DS, sometimes it didn't feel like you were actually pressing the button, which for games like Castlevania and Mario Kart, which don't use the stylus, was a big deal. The smaller size makes the screens look bigger as well as make it a little easier to hold for those non-stylus games. It seems less top heavy too, however that could just be an effect of the overall weight reduction.

Swapping over your Wi-Fi information from your old DS to the DS Lite is an exercise in simplicity so you don't have to worry about losing all of your friends codes or your WEP key or whatever other bits of knowledge you have kicking around in there. You simply start up a Wi-Fi enabled game on the old DS, choose the option to transfer your settings, turn on the new DS Lite, pick the option for download play, and voila, everything is transferred. Transferring it will remove it completely from the DS, so if you plan on keeping it for a family member that will be using mostly the same settings, you may want to get acquanted with that new stylus and do everything manually.

All in all, I'm quite happy with it, even if I haven't been able to do a lot with it as of yet. I should be pissed that I had to buy the blasted thing in the first place, rather than have the DS be this well designed at launch, but at the same time, I paid 6 bucks for the DS Lite, after trade-ins, so it's hard to be mad when so little real life money exchanged hands. Plus, I can assure you that I've spent far more on things that have ended up sucking out completely. *cough*PSP*cough*

Now, on with the pictures! All I ask is that rather than view the pictures as a slideshow, you take the time to view them one at a time, lest you lose out on the amazingly hilarious comments. It's not like you have anything better to do.

Friday, June 09, 2006

To Infinity, and Beyond!

Greetings Squaddies! Sorry about yesterday. As it turns out, our internet connection at home is all wonky so posting was difficult. Plus, Blogger appeared to be on the fritz for a good chunk of the day so I was unable to post while at work either. Worry not though, as we have persevered and are ready to drop some knowledge.

This week's question comes from the Bag O Questions that Andy delivered to our doorstep a number of weeks back. His question is:
Extra dimensional theories are claimed to work in 10 or 11 dimensions. Why these numbers and not, say, 42?
There are actually two different questions in there, so before we answer them, we need to identify them. The extra dimensional theories that work with 10 or 11 dimensions are the various flavors of string theory, and he's quite right. 10, 11 and 26 are the numbers of the day for those theories. So, our first question is, "Why does string theory work with 10 or 11 dimensions and not, say, 42? The other question, which is more in line with the spirit of the original question, is "Why do extra dimensional theories in general only work with 10 or 11 dimensions?" The short answers are "They just do." and "It doesn't." OK, good talk. See you next week.

Kidding. Let's tackle the first question first. String theory is a theory of physics that describes the universe with strings, one dimensional extended objects, rather than particles. It is a mathematical theory at present, not having yet gotten to the point where it can be described as a physical theory. Our feeble instrumentation is unable to detect the results of predictions of string theory that differ from the predictions of other physical theories. In other words, the predictions of string theory that we can detect are easily explained by other theories. But I digress.

One of the interesting things about string theory is its ability to predict the number of dimensions in the universe. At a macroscopic level, we see the world in 4 dimensions, three spacial and one time. Earlier physical theories required the theorist to insert the number of dimensions, rather than have the theory drive the number of dimensions, as with string theory. I won't get into it too much, as I don't understand 99.9% of it, but it goes something like this. We know that in this universe, photons have no mass. In string theory, the mass of a photon depends on the energy of the string used to describe the photon. This string can have a number of quantum fluctuations that contribute to the energy of the string, and the number of fluctuations is determined by the number of dimensions in the universe. The more dimensions you have, the more fluctuations you can have. When the math is worked out for a photon to have no mass, which can be verified through experimentation, the universe has 10, 11 or 26 dimensions based on the flavor of string theory you use. To repeat my original answer, "they just do." Now it's possible that the extra dimensions are so small as to not really count, which can then reduce the number of dimensions to the 4 we're used to. Another idea is that we live in a 4 dimensional subset of the universe, which sounds vaguely like something Stoner Bob comes up with after a few rotations.

Now, for the second question, which asks why extradimensional math only works with 10 or 11 dimensions, we revisit my original answer for that question, which was "it doesn't." In other words, there are various extradimensional mathematical spaces and theories out there that allow for a range of dimensions. One such space is the Hilbert Space which allows for either a finite number of dimensions or an infinite number of dimensions, based on what you're doing. This is of particular importance because Hilbert spaces are used in quantum mechanics to contain the wavefunctions, which then describe all of the possible states of a system. In that particular application, a Hilbert space with infinite dimensions is infinitely more useful, if you'll excuse the pun.

This isn't a situation where we're adding dimensions to the 4 we already know of. Hilbert spaces contain coordinates, each of which represent a probable or possible amplitude for a quantum state which may apply to the position of a particle, or speed, or spin, so on and so on. Heisenberg's Uncertainty principal tells us that not all of these attributes can be observed simultaneously, for example, you can not measue the position of a particle at the same time as the momentum. Now, because they can't all be observed at the same time, only an infinite number of dimensions can contain all of the possible number of quantum states.

For the purpose of explaining this further, let's take a bastardized version of the Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment. Let's say you have a cat in a box and you don't know if it's alive or dead. Until such time as you open the box and see, there are two possibilities, alive and dead. Simple enough. Now, let's say you don't know the color of the cat. Until such time as you open the box and see, there are an infinite number of possibilities, when one considers color, spots, stripes, patches, etc. Any mathematical model that you used to express the possible colors for the unseen cat would need to be able to express the fact that there are an infinite number of possibilities. So it is with quantum mechanics, and so it is with Hilden spaces. Note, that the Hilden space can't tell us which of the infinite number of choices will exist in reality, just as our cat math wouldn't be able to tell us what the color of the cat will be, simply what it could be.

Quantum mechanics is one of the most interesting and beautiful branches of science that I've come across in my studies. There is a quiet elegance to the notion that there is a universe of possibilities that exist outside our frame of reference, all waiting to be observed so that they can be born into our reality. Now, there is a huge discrepancy between what happens on a quantum scale and what happens on a macroscopic scale, in fact some of the math derived from Hilden spaces shows that if you could take a physical object apart into its component particles, apply some sort of spin or rotation to the particles and then put the particles back together, you'd now have two copies of the original object. Despite this discrepancy, I can't help but think that the universe of possibilities that exist on a quantum level can make it to us and that rather than be dictated by our surroundings and pushed to our final destinations, we need to just realize the sea of potential around us and act. As Jake once said, "Go then. There are other worlds than these."

OK. Enough philosophizing as clearly I'm quite shitty at it. Hilden spaces aren't the only models that use dimensions other than 11, 10 or 26. There's something called the Hausdorff dimension that corresponds to the number of balls of radius r needed to cover item X completely. As you can well imagine, that dimension can easily grow towards infinity if either the object X increases in size or the radius r decreases in value. There's also the Krull dimension of commutative rings which describes the number of ways that early 80's fantasy movies seemed really cool when you were a kid, but manage to suck totally once you watch it as an adult.

So there you have it. You need not limit the number of dimensions to 10, 11, 26, 17 or eleventy billion. You can have whatever number of dimensions you want, provided you're willing to learn the math to back it up. Now if you'll excuse me, I have one very pissed off cat to let out.

Wikipedia - String Theory
Wikipedia - Hilbert Space
Wikipedia - Dimension
The QED Project - "A Semi-Pop Non Mathematical Tutorial on Hilbert Space in Quantum Mechanics" - Jack Sarfatti
Metamath Home Page - Hilbert Space Explorer Home Page

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Science Post on Thursday

Greetings Squaddies. Events, including, but not limited to a hectic work schedule, visiting family and a broken router at home have conspired against my writing this week's science post. Fret not though, as all events should be resolved tomorrow and at that time I shall illuminate the dark, mysterious crevices of multidimensional math.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Blinded by the Lite

Well, despite my best efforts to secure a DS Lite from those Targets that broke the street date, I am still left waiting for mine to arrive on the 11th. Releasing a new console on a Sunday seems odd to me, however I can only assume that Nintendo wants the DS Lite to spring from the Sunday circulars and lure us to the stores like the good little zombie consumers that we are.

I feel that I should purchase a game with my DS Lite but that would break my carrying case rule, which is that I can never have more DS games that can fit in a combination of the unit itself and the carrying case. This keeps me from buying games, playing them for 10 minutes and then buying new ones just because I'm attracted to the shiny, jangliness of it all. I have a terrible habit of never finishing handheld games, so this keeps my purchasing impulses in check. Truth be told, there really isn't anything out there for the DS that I feel the need to purchase, although Big Brain Academy is interesting. I love me some puzzle games, and this seems like it'd be right up the ol' alley. I'm still working on Brain Training, however I've gotten to the point in my Soduku career where I can't just plow through a puzzle, assigning numbers all willy-nilly and expecting it to work out in the end. The last puzzle I did was going swimmingly until I had a row with 4 9's, the letter Q and what appeared to be a crude drawing of a cat. I was watching "An Evening with Kevin Smith" and he was telling the Prince documentary story, and Prince was stealing godless women or something, so my attention wasn't all there, but still. Our local paper has mega soduku puzzles that have numbers and letters which always struck me as odd, because last I checked, numbers go up past 9, so why not just use double digit numbers? Next they'll be using basic shapes, or punctuation symbols or colored squares and you'll need a box of crayons do to the damn things.

But I digress. My future plans for the current DS are up in the air. Trading it in seems the quickest route, however there's nothing I need to put the credit towards and lately when I trade things in their salivations at the notion that I may preorder something leave me unsettled and slightly damp. I could sell it on eBay, but that would involve things like typing, packing and movement in the direction of the post office. Any one of those actions are enough to make me want to collapse in an exhausted heap, but all of them, two of them possibly in the same day, are more than I think I can handle. Plus, my screen does have some very minor scratching which is probably all that it takes for the seller to start screaming "fraud" and raise a ruckus. No, I can't describe the ruckus as it hasn't taken place yet, but I'm sure it would fall in line with your garden variety ruckuses. I'm sure I'll figure something out. Perhaps a perusal of the upcoming release schedule will unearth some pixellated nuggets that I can preorder.

I haven't been playing much lately as I've been watching back episodes of Deadwood to prepare myself for the upcoming beginning of Season 3. I don't know if I'll get through all of them in time, but I can tell you that I'm having a better time watching this show than I am navigating Kratos through the current shitty puzzle in God of War. I'm liking the game, in terms of the story, production values and combat, but these puzzles are absolutely craptastic. Nothing pulls me out of a game more than fighting your way through some temple's hallways so that I can balance on a rafter and try to jump spinning blade thingies, or do some logrolling exercise on a big spiked drum. Maybe I just get irritated too easily with these things, but when I think of picking the game up again, I don't want to, because I know of the puzzle mayhem that awaits me. I haven't even gotten to the point in the game that caused my friend Dennis to punch the couch in frustration and break his hand. Last I checked, when you have to put down the controller, you should be looking forward to the next time you can pick it up, not thinking that you have to "just get through this" to get to the good stuff.

Guitar Hero is still a lot of fun, and last week I nailed a song with a 5 star performance on the first try, despite never having heard the song before. Yes, it's on easy mode, but I still think that's an impressive feat. I should be playing that game more, but it requires standing, and my children have been sucking the life out of me lately which leaves me in more of a sitting place. Rocking out takes a fair amount of energy, and my audience deserves that I give them 110% which is about 109% more than what I'm currently operating with. On the other hand, sitting back and hearing the word "cocksucker" eleventy-seven times in a 50 minute period requires around 0.5%. Plus, Kristen Bell comes to the camp as a foul mouthed little grifter in the next episode and that's just too fine a television event to miss so that I can navigate some terminally pissed off bald guy over spinning saw blades and bubbling lava pits. Sorry Kratos, kill Ares on your own time, this cocksucker is busy.

Next week I'll update you on my DS Lite impressions, so mark the date on your calendar because it's going to be a tremendously uplifting time for all of us. That is, unless the apocalypse doesn't come tomorrow and suck us all into Hell. Fingers crossed!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Reply To: Evil

Today's story comes from my upcoming book "The Sinking Chair and Other Tales of Office Horror" to be published shortly after I write it which will be sometime between now and never. Rather than make you, my dearest readers, wait for it to come out, I've decided to share the horrible tales of cubicle terror here, free of charge. I know, I know, it's extremely generous of me to let you read stories that won't ever be presented in any other form, free of charge, regardless of the fact that you'd never pay for them anyways. I'm just that kind of guy. So, without further ado, I bring to you a tale of email horror known as...

Reply To: Evil

Now, let's get one thing straight right now. This isn't some story about how I misguidedly hit the Reply To All button and informed the whole company about my love of midget monkey porn. My replyin' skillz be game tight. I be knowin' which buttons to push for reals. No, today's story comes from that deep seated well of fright that we dip into whenever we think that all of our correspondance, including the things that have been sent to us and we haven't acted on yet because we're lazy and we then can't ask for them back because people will know we're lazy, has been deleted. I think my next story should be about the horrors of run-on sentences because that last one was fucking terrifying. Come with me, dear reader, but be sure to get a firm grip on your sanity as down this road lies madness. Insert insane cackle here. Ha-ha, ho-ho, it is to laugh.

So we use Lotus Notes at work, which, from what I can tell, was spawned in the blackest pits of hell. Maybe it's easy to administer, maybe it's very secure, maybe I'm just an idiot and I can't get it to do what I want to despite spending hours poking through all of the various menus, I don't know why my company insists on using it, but what I do know is that it seems hellbent on keeping me from being remotely productive when it comes to managing my emails. With Outlook, if you found you were getting close to reaching your limit for space on the mail server you could a) create personal folders on your hard drive and store your mail there within Outlook or b) create folders on your hard drive and store your mail there from outside of Outlook. With Lotus, as best as I can tell, if you want to store your mail for longer than the company mandated 90 days you can a) archive it and keep it for possibly longer than 90 days but no one really knows or b) travel to an alternate dimension where something happened along the way to alter the reality stream and Notes is actually a useful piece of software. We're going to discuss my attempts at choice a.

Earlier in the week someone sent out instructions on how to archive email in Lotus. This person was discussing the instructions with a co-worker and I happened to overhear the conversation. In said conversation, the sender of info said that she sent out the instructions because she wasn't sure if people knew about the fact that the mail server automatically deletes any message on the server that's more than 90 days old. What now? I asked her what she was talking about, me having been here almost a year and never being told such a thing, and she repeated the statement. I take a look in all of my folders, and sure enough, the only messages there are messages dated 3/1/2006 and newer. All of my emails for the project that got put on hold in February, but they're bringing back this year? Gone. All of my messages I keep as a record that orderables I tested all last year and in the beginning of this year? Gone. All the messages I received from HR when I was working out the hellish details of my daughter's lack of health insurance? Gone. Gone, gone, g-to-the-fucking-o-n-e, gone.

At this point, I'm told that I can email the Notes admin and he can restore my messages from a backup, however given that this deletion has been going on for who knows how long, I have no idea which backup I'm supposed to ask for. I can ask for a backup from last month, which would give me things deleted then, but what about the things deleted as time marched inexorably forward to this, my day of woe? And why the fuck would they not tell us that? More importantly, if their intent is to cut down on mail server space, why would they not give us the means to keep our messages in some other form, somewhere they won't be deleted at the hands of that bastard, Father Time? Most of our projects last considerably longer than 3 months, so deleting emails that are 90 days old means you may be deleting information that you're going to need at some point in the future. Now I have a better idea as to why this company keeps making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over. They don't know that they've made them, because all record of said mistake has been deleted.

Armed with this crucial bit of information, I decide to archive my email, hoping that this will stave off any deletion. I mean, the point of archiving is to keep a backup, a record, if you will, of your email. Surely, once it's archived, it stays forever, right? I'll try not to spoil it for you, but I wouldn't bet on it. The next bit of my story is mostly my fault, as instead of being the good little worker I should be, and listen dutifully to the conference call I was attending, the call held partially in my benefit as it was in regards to planning the testing of my only project, I decided that would be a good time to archive my mail.

I had spent all day organizing the mail in my Inbox into nice, neat little folders so that when I archived them, they'd be all squared away. I follow the archive instructions and navigate through menus that make no fucking sense and get everything set. I then choose the "Archive Now" option and Lotus goes through it's demonic mechanations. When the archiving was done, I head to the archive, see the Folders option on the side-panel-tree thing and open the folders. Aaaaand I open the folders. OK, where the fuck are my folders? Where in the name of all that is good and holy are my goddamned folders? OK, OK, don't panic. The archive must have just not picked up things in the folders. I head back to my Inbox, open my folders and everything I spent the day organizing, including every email regarding the project I'm currently on, save for maybe 5 or 6 messages, is gone. Poof, just like that. At this point, I want to scream in frustration, but I can't, because I'm supposed to be paying attention to the call I'm on. Instead, I shoot up, like a prairie dog, and check to see if the person who gave me the archiving instructions is available. She is not. Shit. I then sit back down and endure the rest of the call, which ends up being the 10 longest minutes of my life.

Once the call was over I frantically searched for the person who wrote the instructions. Once I did, she read the fear on my face and was kind enough to come over and help me out. As it turns out, because I hadn't created my Inbox's folder structure in my archive, all of the messages from my folders were placed in another place. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to create folders ahead of time in an archive that isn't created until I run the archive process, which will cause problems because folders aren't created, but whatever. Now that I have the archive, I can create the folders and then spend another afternoon organizing all of my archived email. She then proceeds to show me how to up the time limit of archived email, as apparantly, email in the archives get selectively deleted after a set period of time too. Not sure what the point of that is, as the point of an archive is to have a historical record of things. I hope the Library of Congress people don't get wind of this idea. "The Great Gatsby"? Fuck that old shit. Toss it!

I then asked her what she does to keep emails that she doesn't want our fascist email overlords deleting and she says that she copies them into Word. Mind you, when doing so, unless you name the Word document with the subject line of the email, you have no way of knowing which email you've saved just by looking at the document name in Explorer. Also, how much fucking time do these people think we have to spend on this bullshit? Do you know how much time it would take to copy the body of an email, paste it into Word, and then save the doc with the name matching the subject line of the email? Not much time for maybe one or two emails, but quite a bit for the amount of emails you'd want to save when working on a project that spans half a year or so.

Now, obviously, this wouldn't as much of a problem if our development processes were mature and decisions were captured outside of email but that's not something that happens overnight. Also, I seriously doubt that this 90 day limit bullshit is something new, and I can tell you, it's done fuck all to encourage people to not have email be the only record of decisions when it comes to our projects. Plus, there are plenty of times I can see you wanting to keep a backup of emails for more than 90 days. Maybe you get praise for something in February, and you want to have it for when your review rolls around in December. Maybe someone sent you a joke that you like to visit from time to time when the crushing boredeom of your job threatens to grind you in its steely wheels. Whatever the case may be, there should be some way of not deleting every piece of correspondance you receive after some set time limit.

On the plus side, it saves me the time I normally would spend organizing my mail, because if it's just going to be deleted from the archive anyway, what's the fucking point? Hello apathy, my old friend. Come to sit with me again?

In the immortal words of Count Floyd, "Ooooh, very scary." I hope you can sleep tonight and aren't jolted into insomnia with visions of deleted emails scaring you as you lie in bed. If not, I apologize. Next week I'll try to not be so terrifying.