Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

February 19, 2011

What a week…

Filed under: Personal,Pique — cec @ 12:41 pm

The past week has been a series of ups and downs, culminating in the saga for the last half of the week.  My car.  My Celica.  The first new car I ever owned started making a noise on Wednesday.  The noise was due to extremely low engine oil (hypothetical question – what’s the point of an oil pressure light if it doesn’t come on until after the car is making noise?).  The good folks at Jiffy Lube wouldn’t actually work on the car, but were kind enough to fill up the oil and suggested that I take it to an automotive shop immediately.  I called up Wasp Automotive and made an appointment for the next day.  I had heard a lot of good things about Wasp and even had that confirmed after I made the appointment.

About 2:30 on Thursday, Wasp calls up and says that my car, my baby, my constant companion for the past ten and a half years was dead.  Dead. Dead! DEAD!!  Well, actually, it’s not dead yet, but it had a terminal injury and would be dead in maybe 100 miles.  PANIC!  No, don’t panic.  I was expecting the noise to be fatal all day on Thursday, so I had checked out a few car places and was contemplating buying a car that night.

One really shouldn’t impulse buy a car.  Instead, I made an appointment to see a Prius over at Carmax on Friday.  I had a recommendation for Auction Direct and I saw an interesting Prius at another used car dealership nearby.  I called Bill Rankin who generously offered to loan me their truck for a few days.  I picked up my car from Wasp, drove it to Bill’s, borrowed his truck and was set for the night.

Friday, I left work early, picked up my title and spare key from K and drove in to Raleigh.  The Prius at the used car dealership was okay.  It seemed to be in mediocre shape, tires weren’t worn down, but they weren’t new either, however it was a 2009.  I left there and drove down to Carmax for my appointment to see a 2008 Prius.  This one was about $1k more, same mileage, but had more features.  The problem was that I really hated the service at Carmax.  It was everything I had been warned about.  Even though I had an appointment, and had been called about it a half hour before, the salesperson I had spoken to was busy, so they had to track down someone else.  They kept pushing their warranties.  They wanted to use their financing which was about 3% higher than what I wound up with, etc.  It turns out that Carmax salespeople work on commission, go figure.  I asked if they could hold the car for a day or two so that I could get financing in order.  They said, “no.”  kthxbai

Finally, I went over to Auction Direct.  They didn’t have any Priuses, but did have a very nice 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid that was about $3k less than the Carmax Prius. I drove it for a bit, decided I liked it and went ahead with the purchase.  The Civic Hybrid feels like more of a regular car than a prius.  There isn’t a big center LCD display with a graphic showing you when you are charging and when you are draining the batteries.  Instead, there are a couple of discrete extra guages that provide the exact same information. I like the fact that it uses regular tires, as opposed to the expensive, short-lived low-profile tires of my old Celica.

The only problem was that it still took forever to finish up.  I didn’t get out of there until about a quarter to seven.  After all of that, I was not very good company when I got a chance to see my friends.  I hope y’all forgive me.  I’m doing better this morning, but it has been a long week.

January 18, 2011

Navel gazing – new furniture

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 3:01 pm

So, I’ve been in my apartment for an entire two weeks now. Sadly, it’s been a bit sparse. There’s a bedroom set, a recliner sitting in front of a television which is resting on my stereo. But fortunately, that should all start changing. Yesterday I placed a fairly large furniture order. For the first time in my life, I’m going to have new furniture! Not a hand me down, nothing 20 (30?) years old, but honest to god new furniture.

My brother (the architect) and his wife (the interior decorator designer [sorry nikki!]) have been incredibly helpful. I showed them some things that I liked and they made recommendations, for improvement. Perhaps the funniest part to me is that when I was showing them what I was thinking, they made the comment that they didn’t realize my furniture tastes were so contemporary. If they both weren’t so nice, and didn’t work in so many different styles, I would have sworn what they said was “we didn’t realize you had good taste.” 🙂

So, in case anyone’s interested, here’s what I’ve picked out.

From the first image, a sofa, love seat, coffee table and end tables.  From the second, the dining room table, a bench and four chairs.  From the third, just the entertainment center.  Then the rug, a couple of lamps and a screen (no idea what I’ll use the screen for, but there it is 🙂 ).

All of it should look very nice in the loft apartment and isn’t unreasonable with respect to the art deco bedroom set.  Now I can’t wait for it to arrive.

June 16, 2010

The Sounds of Science

Filed under: Personal,Technical — cec @ 10:07 pm

Last Friday, hsarik pointed out an interesting web site: Echo Nest.  They provide a web service that allows you to analyze and remix music.  The API also can provide information (meta-data) about music, artists, songs etc.  and has Python bindings.  If you’ve seen the “More Cowbell” website where you can upload an mp3 and have more cowbell (and more Christopher Walken) added to it, well that site uses Echo Nest and if you download the python bindings for their API, you can see the script that adds the sounds.  Personally, I’m fond of “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” with 80% cowbell and 20% Christopher Walken.

I started playing with the API and as a first cut thought it would be neat to use the “get_similar” function.  So for each artist, you can get the top N similar artists.  Now where can I get a list of artists I like?  Well, I could type ’em in, but that sucks.  So I wrote a small program which:

  1. Opens the database on my iPod (or a directory of mp3 files)
  2. Finds each artist by either reading the iPod db or looking at the id3 tags in all of the files
  3. For each artist, add a node to a graph where the area of the node is proportional to the number of songs that artist has on the iPod (or in the music folder)
  4. For each artist, finds the top 50 similar artists
  5. For all of the similar artists that are in my collection of artists, add a graph edge between the two nodes
  6. Plot the graph

What can I say, I’ve been working on a fair amount of graph-theory at work recently.  So after processing my iPod, I came up with the following graph of my current music (click to embiggen):

Okay, that’s pretty cool.  Almost completely illegible, but cool.  FWIW, the graph has 15 connected components, unfortunately, 13 of them are “singles” (not connected to anything), with one pair (Louis Armstrong paired with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington).  Fortunately, the graphing tool I use (igraph), has built in tools for doing community analysis (using the leading eigenvector method), i.e., we can automatically find tightly coupled subgraphs.  A few examples from the 25 or so communities:

which arguably correspond to “Indie,”  “Classic Rock,”  “Jam Bands,”  “Guitar Gods,” and “Alternative.”  If I processed my complete music database, I suspect we would wind up with several other communities, e.g., Blues.  But since Robert Johnson is the only blues I’ve got on there right now… he’s in a class by himself.

I suppose it goes w/o saying, that my musical tastes aren’t everyone’s and that if you don’t like my musical tastes, you can keep it to yourself or go DIAF 🙂

So, what’s next?  I was talking with M from my office and we’ve come up with another interesting project for the Echo Nest API.  This one a) uses the audio analysis functions, and b) if we do it right might cause someone to send us a cease and desist.  So, win all the way around.

March 1, 2010

Distilled essence of me

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 11:21 pm

K’s out of town this week.  IIRC, this is the first week since we’ve been married that she’s out of town and I’m still at the house.  I figure that’s gotta give me a good sense of what I’m actually like without her, um,  civilizing  influences.  Helpfully summarized in the table below:

Behavior Change
Television watching decreased
Computer use increased
Work while at home increased
Bowling averages way up
Mini-golf scores way down
Alcohol consumption slightly increased
News consumption greatly decreased
Food variety decreased
Food quality no change
Food healthiness no change
Time spent preparing food


Stereo/music listening increased
Time spent in bed/sleeping decreased
Quality of sleep increased
Sex non-existent
Exercise increased

No real observation here, certainly nothing that’s statistically significant (let’s see you construct a double blind study of a man’s activities when his wife is a thousand miles away).  Just amusing myself really.  Next up… the amazing idiocy of George Bush photos captioned with “Miss me yet?”  But right now, it’s Ghetto Pop Life… go ahead, I’ll wait while you cue it up.

December 20, 2009

42 and sunny…

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 5:47 pm

42 ° and sunny, perfect for turning:

into: 10276
and then: 10267

December 9, 2009

Back from the dead

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 4:01 pm

Okay, I wasn’t really dead, I had the flu, but I was wishing that I was dead for a while there. Five days is too long for a massive headache and very high fever. I’m finally recovering and doing some self-imposed quarantine after getting on Tamaflu Monday.  Tuesday afternoon was somewhat interesting.  My doctor’s office had given me a little trick – you can take full doses of acetaminophen and full doses of ibuprofen.  They’ll both contribute to lowering fever and reducing pain, but their side effects are different and you don’t risk ulcers or your liver as if you had doubled up on one.

So, Tuesday, I’m lying in bed doped up on acetaminophen, acid blockers, caffeine, ibuprofen, and tamaflu, feeling better than I had in quite some time.  I was wishing there was a Phish album playing, but was too lazy to go put one on.  Instead, I laid (diagonal 🙂 ) in my bed and daydreamed about Bill’s in-place, parallel sorting problem.  I think I’ve got the solution and it seems to hold even now when I’m not so dippy.

November 4, 2009

Sierra and the case of the uncomfortable pillow

Filed under: Personal,Photography — cec @ 9:18 am

dsc_7289One of our dogs, Darwin, likes sleeping on the floor.  He’ll occasionally sleep on the couch or on his dog bed, but then he gets too hot and moves to the floor.  The other dog, Sierra (named after either the Sierra Nevada Mountains as beautifully described by John Muir or the brewery named after the same mountains, depending on whom you ask), doesn’t get so hot and prefers sleeping on pillows or couches… my spot in the bed if I’m not currently occupying it, etc.  One of her sleeping spots is on an old pillow in the bedroom.  But apparently, it’s not always that comfortable.  When we went to bed last night, this was the scene that greeted us.

I love my dogs.  I love my dogs.  Om mani padme hum.  I love my dogs.

November 3, 2009


Filed under: Personal,Technical — cec @ 11:04 pm

For a guy who uses computers as much as I do, you would think that I would have better machines at home.  But really, no.  Our last desktop was eight years old before we replaced it.  My laptop was an old Thinkpad X31 – maybe six or seven years old.  So, for a combination birthday/Christmas present, I got a new (sort of) laptop.  I picked up a refurbished thinkpad X200s from the Lenovo outlet.  So far it’s a nice machine: good processor, lots of high speed memory, and a big LED backlit screen.  Lenovo sent me notice that they were shipping the laptop today and the next thing I knew, it arrived at the office.  The advantages of working 5 miles from the outlet.  The only problem is that they didn’t ship all of the parts.  I’ve contacted them and they’ll send the dock/dvd.

When I got the machine home, I spent about a minute trying to decide if I would keep a partition with Windows on it.  But then I remembered that I don’t play video games, so I didn’t really need Vista.  I’ve installed Fedora 11 and moved all my files.

October 29, 2009

Dragged kicking and screaming into the century of the fruitbat

Filed under: Personal,Technical — cec @ 9:35 am

With apologies to Terry Prachett, I feel like I being dragged (dragging myself?) into the Century of the Fruitbat.  As I mentioned a long time ago, I don’t care for Facebook.  I prefer my blog.  That said, many of my friends and most of my family use Facebook.  So I’m going to start a bit of an experiment.  I’ve downloaded and installed the Wordbook plugin for my blog software (wordpress).   Starting with this post, in theory anything that’s published on the blog gets cross-posted to fb.

Kill me now.

September 21, 2009

Peter Piper picked . . .

Filed under: Cooking,Personal — cec @ 2:25 pm

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

When I planted the garden, I put in a couple of banana pepper plants.  I seem to recall that my thinking was along the lines of, “I’ve got a great idea, I’ll plant some banana peppers – I love ’em.”  Great in abstract, but I don’t actually have any recipes that call for banana peppers.  I only seem to eat them pickled.

Well, I couldn’t let them rot, so yesterday I went out and picked, not a peck, but maybe a half gallon (0.25 peck) of peppers and spent part of the afternoon pickling them.  I’ve got two pints of whole peppers and four pints of sliced.  We’ll see how they taste in a few weeks.

Before and after:


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