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10 January 2009 @ 05:35 pm

Late this past July, Giddysinger and I started house-hunting.  I reserved a notebook (one of the heavy-covered, grid-ruled types I use for my professional work), and we started doing some web-based research.  We began talking to various people about their home-buying experiences, found a real-estate agent online, looking up house and neighborhood prices, and discussed both budget and what we want in a house.

By the time we had some clear ideas on particular houses, a pre-approval letter from our bank, and had winnowed down the huge list of hits provided by the agency's web search, Revels rehearsals had started up.  In addition, Giddy was building up to Golden Quarter and I was getting ready for a late-fall professional conference.  Then there was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.  I used the time I had to drive by several of the places, looking at the exteriors and making additional cuts based on maintenance and neighborhood.

Today we met the real-estate agent for the first time and toured several of the houses on the short list.  (Several were added to the short list even though they hadn't made it through the automated filters.  They're just a bit above our target price range.)  Of the places we viewed, there are two we think would be wonderful.  One is solidly in our price range.  The other has a nicer kitchen, a deck, a bit more space, and somewhat better maintenance - but is listed almost 10% higher than my "maximum" price.  Our agent thinks he may be able to talk it down.

So it's time to move more aggressively.  Giddy's father has made it quite clear he wants veto power over houses that look like either they'll need lots of maintenance or are in sketchy neighborhoods.  He has bought and rented a number of houses in the past and is providing a large contribution to the downpayment.  Accordingly we need to set up a time when he and the agent can go with us to compare these last two houses.  We'll also call up a couple of banks and ask for estimates on loan rates.  The agent will do some research and start talking to the sellers.  I'm hoping that within a couple of weeks we'll be making firm plans to schedule inspections, closing, etc.

I like the current apartment, but want to be out of here by May 1.  We'll probably make it.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

12 October 2008 @ 07:20 pm

Something Giddysinger and I have long feared has come to pass.  Much of our free time has come to pass, and we are constantly discussing our options with each other, with friends, and with random passersby.  It's sadly reminiscent of the doomed characters from this video:

Yes,  we've been sucked into a MOG (Multiplayer Online Game;  I will no long use the unwieldy conventional acronymn MMORPG).  In particular, we've become mired in Puzzle Pirates, which has the nefarious plan of being built around short, 5-minute games.  We keep thinking, "Just one more hit, man.  I can take it.  Just one more.  It's not too late."  Several hours after we start, when we're too tired to think and there's a dawning realization that there's much less than the nominal 12 hours of night remaining, we'll log off and crawl into bed....  So if yer on the Cobalt Ocean, me hearties, come looking for Giddysinger of the Boochin' Drunks and Madammad of the Booty Bandits, both of the flag SuperAwesomeness.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

12 September 2008 @ 09:50 am

Mom's about to get hit by Hurricane Ike.  The family has determined to "hunker down" as the Mayor of Houston recommended.  (Mom's actually in Beaumont, TX, but Houston's the closest reference point for distant folks.)  Ike's expected to be a category 3 hurricane when it makes landfall southwest of Houston,  and to have hurricane-force winds extending into Louisiana.  It'll still be a Tropical Storm when it gets to Arkansas, and a Tropical Depression when it gets to Illinois.  It's friggin' huge.  But not much I can do about it.  Mom said she'll try & call once she has updates.

Meanwhile, I'm at University of Maryland again today.  I spent a lot of yesterday making modifications to the gun to try to improve performance.  The mods seem to have helped substantially, though it's still not up to what we'd originally hoped to achieve.  Unfortunately, my adjustments can't withstand the est. 300 kA currents that are produced...   Basically, the high current current creates a strong magnetic field just outside the conductor.  This field contributes to a magnetic pressure which pushes the current inward, crushing & tearing the conductor.  So one of the top machinists here is making a new connection.  It's taking longer than expected, because we couldn't find appropriate parts to scrounge.  Not much for me to do with that either....

Thus I'm taking an early lunch to check my mail, write a blog entry, and get out of the freezing lab.

I hate waiting....  as Giddy can attest if you ask him about cooking with me around...

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

01 September 2008 @ 06:00 pm


this post is going to be a bit lecture-like.  Sorry, but I want to establish some terms for future reference, and this seemed like the easiest way to do it.  I'll be brief.

One of the physics terms that's often tossed around, and often misunderstood, is "dimension."  When I use it, I generally mean the mathematical concept that's akin to "a direction and it's opposite."  "North & South", "Up &Down", and "West & East" are the three dimensions that are usually meant.  An alternate basis would describe the dimensions as "Forward & Back", "Left & Right", and "Up & Down."   Since Einstein's Theory of Relativity came to prominence, "Forward & Backward in time" is often added to the above sets of three dimensions.

But it turns out "dimension" is not limited to what we normally think of as physical directions.  Any measurement with clear concepts of "more" and "less", or "further" and "nearer" can potentially be used as a dimension.  Your personal income, for example, or the distance you travel to work, the number of people who live in the U.S., or how upset you'll be if you're preferred presidential candidate doesn't win this fall.

Almost done.  The last bit is that with the analogy of cost to energy,  "motion" along any dimension has a corresponding momentum.  In effect, this describes how hard it is to change the motion once it's been started.  Is your income increasing over time?  It takes wealth to make wealth, and so the "momentum" conjugate to your income will tend to keep your income going in an upward direction.  This leads naturally to concepts akin to dyanmics and friction, which might be used to discuss the costs associated with changing your income, the population, or your commute.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

Tags: ,
31 August 2008 @ 02:59 pm

no time to chat.

just watch

Large Hadron (Collider) Rap

yeah,  I'm broken.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

29 August 2008 @ 07:41 pm

Ursula Pearson died of melanoma last Friday.  She was giddysinger's godmother and an incredible lady.  The last time I had spoken with her was at my bridal shower in February.  (By the time of the wedding, she was deteriorating rapidly, and visits were tightly restricted - even for family.)

   My love's father left a message on his cell phone Saturday.  But my sweetie didn't check his messages, and thus didn't find out until Monday.  Giddysinger had already bought plane tickets to attend a Morris event in Toronto.  I perhaps should've suggested he cancel, but when we discussed the wake and his trip, I got the impression he wasn't ready to grieve.  I also knew he had been looking forward to the trip north, and decided not to push him.

   This evening I went to her wake.  I went directly from work, and when I looked in my closet this morning, didn't find anything which seemed appropriate to wear.  I should've packed a black skirt, although my black sandals recently split...  Instead, I ended up looking like this:


no points for style there.  I was self-conscious of being the most casually-dressed person there;  i was conscious of the fact that my husband was not with me....

Open casket;  the corpse was almost unrecognizable.
I felt like I didn't know many people there.  Ended up talking with Steve's Dad and stepmother about the defibrillator he had installed.

I left before the service started; religion has a tendency to anger me, especially when the subject turns to the deaths of good people, especially when the death is long and painful.  Ursula had been praying for death since June.  I'm sorry she's gone, but I'm glad her pain is over.

ah well.  i went.  it's done.  Grief & catharsis are still in the future. 

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

24 August 2008 @ 05:18 pm

Yesterday I went to the MD Renn Faire with Chameleon613.  (I think she has a blog somewhere, but am not finding the link right off...)  Flickr'll do for now.  We got there just a few minutes past opening, and after a bit of wind-shopping, we ran into The Cat & the Fiddle, who were preparing for a music & morris set:

I played violin when I was younger, and am stunned that she can dance while playing...  We hung out for a bit and watched them dance and play, then went off to watch A Fool Named O:

A friend of mine habitually insults mimes, and while I understand that the trapped-in-the-box thing has been imitated by many incompetent hacks, O's performance is almost completely silent and draws largely from a mime tradition including Charlie Chaplain.  I've seen the star and his wife ("La-la!" for the Renn Faire) in other contexts, and they're quite skilled.  Anyhow, the performance rocked.

Later we watched another performance of Cat & Fiddle, and eventually ran into a couple more friends while searching for one of the elusive pretzel vendors...

All in all, a good day... There are more pictures on the vox version:

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

13 June 2008 @ 08:04 pm

Yesterday and today brought a couple of important successes - although neither was as complete as I had hoped.

On Thursday, I had a "conference call" with the IRS Appeals office.  Back in February, the IRS had sent me a note saying I owed self-employment tax for 2005.  From 2004 to 2006, I had a research grant from the National Research Council to work at the Naval Research Lab.  The terms of the grant didn't require me to do much in particular - no timesheet, for example, and I could pretty much set the agenda for my research.  As a result, I wasn't considered an employee of the National Research Council.  Nothing was taken out of my stipend so I had to pay quarterly federal & state taxes.  There was a big question when I got the grant about whether I would count as self-employed and whether I'd have to pay the self-employment tax.  NRC's accountants said no, and had precedent to back 'em up...  but the tax form they sent me was a 1099-MISC, so it wasn't entirely a surprise that the IRS thought maybe I had been self-employed...  Anyhow, it took me a while to reply to the IRS's February letter.  (I was rather focussed on getting hitched.)  When I did, the early, easy-response option had expired and I had to pay a $60 fee to file a petition contesting the IRS's decision.  Fortunately, I didn't have to hire a lawyer.  My case gradually wormed its way through the system, with me faxing several documents off to the IRS Appeals office.  The "conference call" included only myself and one other person - to whom I'd spoken before.  She said she'd read the documents I'd sent in, and was "inclined to agree" with me.  She has to check a couple details before the ruling's official, so I'm not completely out of the woods yet - but it looks like I won't have to pay the $8622 in back taxes and penalties.

Today, I spent a lot of time trying to work out some kinks with my USB system at work.  Briefly, I'd upgraded my work computer, but not the computer controlling the data acquisition (DAQ) system.  Since I do nearly all of the DAQ programming, my computer's the test-bed for any new features of the DAQ.  After updating the OS, I found I could no longer communicate with the oscilloscopes that formed the backbone of the DAQ system.  Since I knew I'd tested all the software running in the screen room on my own machine, my attention immediately turned to figuring out what had changed during the operating system upgrade.   I spent a lot of time on that, and never could get a simple test program to work...  But today I found that the screen-room (DAQ-controlling) computer spoke to the scopes via an external USB hub.  When I attached the hub to the computer on my desk, everything ran fine....  The original (and major) code I used assumes there's a hub present, and since it's been about a year since I wrote it, I'd forgotten how important that assumption was.  The catch is, my little test program (which emphatically knows nothing about hubs) still doesn't work - on either machine.  So I still want to know what the little program is doing wrong.  Whatever the issue, though, I can get on with other parts of my job - like upgrading the main DAQ system.  I just wish it hadn't taken me so much time & effort to get to this point.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

18 May 2008 @ 07:05 pm

I just happened across a news article documenting mass political killings carried out by South Koreans.  Not only did the US know about the murders at the time they occurred, but the US helped to cover them up.  The whole episode was classified Secret, and the US dismissed North Korean reports of the slaughter as lies.  Over 100,000 people died without trial, and in many cases, without evidence or official charge.

And we claim to be the good guys.

I'm not going to go on an anti-US tear here.  Despite its faults, I like my country.  I am, however, frustrated at the official lack of sympathy for innocent bystanders killed by our policies, and the public assumption that we are innocent of any wrongdoing, no matter the resultant death toll.  I'm also frustrated that there's a commonly-voiced argument that the U.S. (and by extension, its allies), are defending themselves.  Anyone who disputes this is assumed to be either crazy or evil, or both.  Yet we should recognize that those who dislike the results of our policies have legitimate complaints.  Time and again, we have characterized our enemies as barbaric and unprincipled.  This dehumanization and fear can be used as justification for imprisonment and execution despite poor evidence.

Such views are not limited to America or modern times, of course.

So what do we do?  There are extremists who wish to kill us, and who will willingly sacrifice themselves to do so.  The usual response has been to recruit those who are willing to risk their lives in order to kill extremists.  But if our soldiers kill too many innocents - or do not provide ample evidence that those killed are, in fact, guilty - it fuels resentment and fear among those who do not automatically assume our soldiers are good.  Those people then see the U.S. as a nation of extremists, unwilling to compromise, unwilling to police itself.  By recklessly entering an "us or them" mentality, we encourage our opponents to do the same.  Extremism breeds extremism.  A blanket dismissal (by either side) of openness, compromise & discussion restricts the opposing side's options to two:  violence and passively waiting for violence.

How do we break the cycle?  One option is to be more aggressive and better at violence than any conceivable opponent.  Another is to surrender to the inevitable.  Neither route is moral.  How do we preserve our moral authority?

"False positives" in this context mean classifying someone as an enemy when they are in fact a friend or neutral.  False positives undermine a war effort by generating internal fighting and making us seem barbaric and unprincipled to our enemies and neutral parties.  This in turn leads to wasted resources and increased recruitment possibilities for our enemies.

"False negatives" here would mean classifying an enemy as a friend or neutral.  Such errors lead to infiltration of our military or intelligence agencies, and to direct attacks upon our civilians and soldiers.

No policy is capable of eliminating all false positives or all false negatives.  A given policy may be biased one way or the other, but in a wartime context, we will make mistakes resulting in innocents' deaths.  Minimizing the noncombatant death toll requires several key policy elements:

Publicly acknowledge every person we've killed or imprisoned, the evidence we have against them, and the rationale for our actions.
Admit mistakes, apologize for them, and make reparations to their families and communities.
Publicly discipline those soldiers, generals, and politicians who have demonstrated recklessness, a bias toward either false negatives or false positives, or torture / imprisonment / execution of suspects in violation of official policy.
Understand what motivates our enemies, how they see us, and how they view themselves.
Understand the differences between various groups who hold a grudge toward us.  The current situation in Iraq is complicated by three Shiite groups (Sadr, Maliki, and Iran), three branches of Islam (Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis), more than seven sovereign nations (Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan), and at least one international terrorist organization (al-Qaida).  Each group has its own agenda.  None of them see the agenda simply as "destroy America" or "destroy Iraq".  All of them have reasons to distrust America.
Negotiate where possible.
Publicly criticize our allies when they fall short on issues of human rights and justice.
Understand and exploit internal divisions within each group of opponents.
Use violence as a last resort...  but keep it as an option.
Make each opponent see a benefit to working with us and a danger of working against us.
Be public, clear, and honest about our own objectives.

Hopefully we can fix this mess somehow.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com

15 May 2008 @ 07:19 pm

1.  My code at work had kittens.  ( I rather enjoy the metaphor for having to split one large, unwieldy block spinning off several smaller, more manageable blocks...  the process is messy and somewhat unintentional, and required a fair bit of clean-up.  Afterwards, everything will hopefully be reasonably coordinated.)

2.  California's Supreme Court has a clue.  I've run into several arguments against gay marriage, all of which make no sense.  They're neatly listed and summed up (with reductio ad absurdum counterarguments) here.
    The most common (non-religious) counterargument seems to be that marriage is an institution built around raising children.  Although many places have proposed laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman, I've never heard of a restriction barring marriage by the infertile.
    The second counterargument is that marriage is a fairly meaningless right, and that forbidding it to certain people doesn't measurably harm them.  Marriage is, however, a factor in a huge number of federal and state laws, including taxes, death & disability benefits, adoption, domestic violence, hospital visitation rights, default power-of-attorney, inheritance, insurance, housing, immigration, education, and social security.
    While I'm obviously pleased by the California Supreme Court's view on the matter (including the details that the court is majority-Republican and Gov. Schwarzenegger doesn't intend to contest the ruling), I'm nervous about the possible backlash.  Gay marriage was a factor in the 2004 election though probably not a deciding one.  McCain opposes gay marriage, although it should be noted that all three candidates have avoided taking strong stances on the issue.
    It's often said (by Republicans) that such issues should be left to the legislative, directly-elected branches of the government.  This flies in the face of the Constitution's creation of the Judiciary as a branch co-equal with the Executive and Legislative branches.
    Still, I'm nervous when the legislative, executive, and judicial branches are in conflict.  In CA's case, the judiciary is the lone backer of a gay marriage right.  This is a victory, but it's not over till the calls fade for a DOMA at the state and federal levels.

Originally posted on gkaczns.vox.com