All posts by Assassin

Mmmm… PI

I’ve recently been building a new computer system and one of the things I have been trying to work out is the overclocking of the system.� In my search for benchmarks and stress tests I came across a popular benchmark in the overclocking community that I thought was pretty neat.� Ever wonder what the 21,865,285th digit of PI was?

Super PI is a program that will calculate PI to various numbers of digits (up to 32M).� The standard benchmark is to run it for 1M digits and compare your time to other computers.� My current CPU (Intel E6600�@ ~2.9GHz) did it in a little over 17 seconds, and my 64-bit workstation at work (Intel Xeon 5150 @ 2.66GHz)�does it in 19.781 seconds.� I’ll add a comment to this once with my final�1M time once I finish overclocking my system and�verify its stability.

There is also a wikipedia entry on the program here.

Rampant Stupidity

Here in Los Angeles we have a time honored tradition called traffic. The traffic is almost always bad on certain roads regardless of the time of the day. I am convinced that some people in this city never actually go home, they just ride the freeways for no reason at all hours of the day�like people ride the subways in New York. I have learned to deal with�the traffic�and generally don’t complain about it anymore after commuting for about 4 years now. Most people just roll their eyes when you mention the word and there is a look of understanding between those who battle the craziness each day.

The United States as a whole has a time honored tradition called Rush Hour. The average individual understands that when you combine Rush Hour with the previously mentioned Traffic, it’s just a mess. As far as I know, Rush Hour happens in every city twice a day, 5+ days a week, 52 weeks a year.

So why the hell does some idiot at CalTrans decide that Rush Hour is a great time to try to street sweep the carpool lane on�one of the most congested freeways in the entire state!!??� I have a decent imagination but I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process involved in what is so�obviously a bad idea. It is almost as if someone went out of their way to be an asshat this morning.

I fear we are not that far from living in the movie Idiocracy.

Cell Phones and Cars, I Finally Get It.

Last year California joined the many other states who will require drivers to use a hands-free headset in order to use their cell phones while driving (CA will start in 2008). I have never understood what the big deal was and really have always considered the idea to be silly. I mean, if you are going to outlaw holding a cell phone to your ear then why wouldn’t you outlaw eating, drinking (non-alcoholic of course), putting on makeup, listening to the radio, talking to a passenger, etc? I consider myself to be an above average driver and my perfect driving record will back that up. Even in the days before I started using a headset to talk on the phone I was always extra attentive as I realized that talking on the phone could be a distraction. At some points I would even go so far as to drop my phone just so I could change lanes in traffic not really caring if it hurt the feelings of the individual on the other side of the conversation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my bluetooth wireless headset. My issue has always been that I am being forced to use it.

Yet studies consistently come out that show that people distracted by using cell phones are more likely to be involved in some type of an accident more frequently than from any other type of distraction. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed that cell phones were the leading cause (by far!) of incidents in the cars they monitored during the study. I should point out that I hold most studies as being suspect until I see a bunch of different ones conducted using different methods by different organizations that all come to the same conclusion. So at this point, having done little to no research (i’ve only heard of 2 studies and I know there are many many more) I just assumed that all the studies were done by people with vested interests in cell phone headsets. This is somewhat of an exxageration of how I feel about studies but it’s not far off.

That was until the other day during my daily hellish commute in the ever exciting traffic of LA. I was behind a car that was swerving erratically. Normally I would suspect a drunk driver but it was 8:00 in the morning so I assumed that wasn’t the cause. My normal M.O. is to get around someone like that as fast and as stealthily as I can, so I proceeded to get in the next lane and pass. What I saw as I glanced over put everything into perspective.

I realized that my problem has been the assumption that everyone else is like the typical Crack Team Agent. I saw a women talking on her phone by holding the phone to her ear. There goes 1 hand. This woman also appeared to be a hand talker who, while they talk, must wave at least one hand about wildly to illustrate whatever point they are trying to make. There goes a second hand. Now unless I miscounted somewhere, that doesn’t leave any hands for actually steering her car, which is what caused her to swerve all over the place. She would only bother correcting the course of her car when she felt she got too close to the lane markers. We were only going about 20 mph but still… crazy.

I saw this again this past weekend as I drove to the IMAX theater to watch “300” for the second time. The woman in the car behind me was a hair talker, who had to twirl her hair around while she talked on the phone. Once again, unless we’ve started growing 3-armed people, she was 1 hand short of being able to steer her car and as a result was swerving behind me. At that point we were going about 40 so I was a little more worried about her hitting me or someone else. She was also a tailgater, either because she was distracted by the phone or just because she was an idiot, but the distinction is really meaningless. By the way, I think all people who drive so close to the car in front of them that they cant see the entire car all the way to the road (including the rear tires) are idiots.

Anyway, as far as the original topic goes, I now understand and support forcing the population to be safe when they can’t be bothered to save themselves. At least in this particular case since it seems to directly affect my ability to survive a seemingly harmless 25 mile commute.

Random Acts of the Universe

I had a thought the other day that sort of blew my mind somewhat. When I talk to people about whether or not they believe in aliens they tend to fall into 3 categories. The first camp says “absolutely not, we are the only living things in the universe”. The next says “Yes! And they routinely visit!”. The last says “I think it’s possible that something is out there somewhere but I think the chances of anyone finding us is so small that it doesn’t really matter if they exist or not”.

I tend to fall into the third group. Given what I know about the size of the universe (as humans perceive it) and what I know about probability I will confidently say that there is some non-zero chance that there is life of some sort elsewhere in the universe. The second half of group three’s argument is essentially based on the fact that there is a lot of space in space. The probability of two races finding each other by pure random chance in something as large as the universe are so close to zero that you could safely believe that we would never make contact with extra-terrestrials and the whole discussion is moot.

But what if it’s not driven by pure random chance? Since taking a recent position as a satellite designer I have been introduced to just how many people in the world are actively looking for “habitable” planets around other stars. Scientists claim to actually have discovered almost 200 planets so far and there are several missions either recently launched or currently in design which expect to find dozens of planets that may be capable of holding life. For the sake of argument, lets assume that those scientists are really smart guys and know what they are talking about. So, if they tell me that a planet 1 parsec away has an atmosphere capable of sustaining life, I will believe them.

Given what I know about technology and how fast it tends to advance, I think I can safely assume that as time goes by we will be able to see any discovered planets with increasingly better resolution. Also, our ability to measure a planets mass, chemical makeup, and atmosphere content will only get better with time.

Now lets fast-forward in time to the day we have the technology to build a ship capable of inter-stellar travel. Where do you suppose we would go? I can only imagine that the first destination on the list would be the planet that we have rated as the most likely to contain some form of life on it. That would eliminate all the random chance from the equation. We would have detected what we think might be life and then set out on a mission to go check it out. If we didn’t find anything we could keep bouncing around to the next place we think there might be life… and so on.

Granted, this would not happen any time in the near future… but the universe is a very old place. What if something else out there detected us a few (hundred?) thousand years ago and are already on there way… or have already been here?

What is Value?

A very annoying and potentially frustrating thing happened to me at the US post office. I recently purchased a new canon digital camera and lens (which I am trying to finish the review on… so watch out for future posts) due to a huge rebate that Canon was offering. The rebate for each item was a great value but (thanks to intelligence sources outside The Crack Team) I found out that if you purchased two eligible items that canon would double your rebate. This brought my total rebate value to $700. Not an unimpressive number in my opinion and certainly worth something to someone. The way you actually claim your rebate is to clip out the UPC codes from the boxes the items came in and mail them to Canon. Enter the USPS and its bizarre definition of the word value.

Canon, or the company that Canon contracts to do its rebates, has been known to royally screw up the rebate process making things agonizing for their customers. Armed with this knowledge I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that I not only had proof that Canon received my letter containing the UPC codes but that should the USPS lose it that I would be insured and would still be able to claim my $700. When I asked to insure the letter they asked me what was inside. Assuming they just wanted to make sure that I was not mailing anything illegal or dangerous I told them that I was mailing 2 pieces of cardboard for a rebate. “We cant insure that” says the lady at the counter. When I asked why they couldn’t insure the letter she said “we can only insure things that have value”. Such a statement did not compute; at that point all my agent training was lost and I found myself dumbstruck and confused behind enemy lines.

To the casual observer I suppose that two poorly cut out pieces of cardboard with little black stripes and some numbers on them are, in fact, worthless. I mean, it did look like I plucked them from the garbage can on the way into the post office. However, if you give said pieces of cardboard to the right people they will give you back $700, so doesn’t this imply that they have a value of $700? I was under the assumption that things (like gold, cars, baseball cards, etc) only had value because someone else would give you something for them. Even silly things like beads are worthless to some people but there are other people who would sell you islands like Manhattan in exchange for them.

If the USPS loses my letter then I lose $700, which was the point of me asking for insurance. All they could offer me was to have the mail certified, which would prove that I mailed the letter but would not prove to Canon that it actually contained any UPC codes. I could also have sent it registered mail but that wasn’t really what I was looking for either. All I wanted was some way to know that should the USPS lose my mail that I would be able to somehow get my $700 if Canon decided not to believe that I ever owned the UPC symbols.

In my entire life I haven’t had a letter lost in the mail so I am not terribly worried about it. However, two days ago I could have said the same thing about a flat tire (I didn’t have the insurance on that either). Since the universe seems against me lately I thought insurance was warranted. I have copies of the UPC symbols so I hope that they are acceptable to Canon should my uninsured letter get lost in the mail. I think next time I will choose either FedEx or UPS.

Nighttime Golf: It’s not just for blind people anymore!

Recently, my addiction to golf has been getting worse. I now play during the week twice in addition to going to the range several times to practice. Since I am not able to get out to the course until after I put in a 10 hour day at work, it starts to get dark by the time we get to the end of a round. Even though one of the courses I play at is lighted, the amount of illumination between the tee and the green leaves quite a bit to be desired. The greens are generally well lit, so if you hit the green every time you will have no problem finding your ball. However, if I was capable of hitting the green every time, my co-workers would have single word names like �Tiger� and �Vijay�. A few weeks ago I was playing with a random golfer who had a ball that would start blinking when you hit it. This was the product I was looking for! It�s just too bad I didn�t ask him what the name of it was or where he got it.

The next day I ran out to the local Golfsmith and the salesman at the counter, after laughing at me, explained that he had never heard of it. He also commented that he didn�t think the balls would spin very well. Not wanting to sound like a total noob I just smiled and said, �yeah, you�re probably right�. I more or less understood what he meant but I am certainly not a good enough golfer to care how much a ball spins or even to know what to do with said spin. Besides, when you can�t see more than 10 feet in front of you without a flashlight, does it really matter how much your golf ball spins? I think not. Since I pay for the holes whether I play them or not and generally don�t even bother keeping score, the whole point here is to try to get those last few holes in rather than simply going home. I then took my search to where I should have gone in the 1st place� the internet.

Enter the Twilight Tracer ( This ball is designed to start flashing a very bright red once you hit it so you can find your ball in the dark. It is an 80 compression ball with a multilayer surlyn cover and is the same weight and size as a regulation ball. I ended up with the 3 pack which goes for about $28 depending on where you find it (I was only able to find it online). It is a touch on the pricey side for me but in the grand scheme of things in the golf world probably not that expensive. The balls last for about 40 hours so, since they blink for roughly 5 minutes at a time, that means you can hit it about 480 times. I was worried that a decent amount of the lifespan of the ball would be lost to getting knocked around during shipping but when I got the balls home and tested one, merely dropping it did not set it off. In fact, it took a moderate amount of force to actually get it blinking, though nothing compared to the force generated during a full golf swing. I feel confident I will get my money�s worth out of each ball.

On the golf course, the 1st one I pulled out of the box to hit made a nice �thwack� sound as it hit a tree off to the right side of the fairway but, unfortunately, there was no blinking involved before it hit the tree. It was a defective ball and amazingly wasn�t one of the two that I had tested at home. I sent a quick email over the weekend to the company that makes them and they got back to me 1st thing Monday morning asking me for my address so they can ship me a replacement ball, no questions asked. They will have my business in the future just for that. On the next hole I tried a different ball (after throwing it into the ground first to make sure it worked) and this time I hit a nice shot right down the middle of the fairway and onto the edge of the green. I could see the ball in the air the whole time (which is VERY cool!) and could easily see it sitting on the green from about 175 yards away. In fact, on a later hole I hit the ball about 225 yards and to the right of the fairway into some 1� thick rough and could still see it from the tee box. While I have no real way of comparing the spin rates of this ball to a regular ball, it did seem to bite into the green fairly well and it left a pretty good ball mark, although, the greens were very soft and starting to get soggy from dew so maybe it had nothing to do with the spin.

The two differences between the tracers and a regular ball that stood out the most was the lack of distance and the very different feel off the club face. Using a metal wood with a graphite shaft I couldn�t really feel a difference but you could hear a much different sound with the tracers than with a regular ball. With an iron and a steel shaft you can feel the difference in your hands in addition to the different sound. The ball �feels� much harder than the balls I typically use (Nike Precision Power Distance � Super Soft) but that could be just due to the fact that the Nike�s only have a 60 compression core and a soft cover. There was also a definite lack of distance with the tracers over my regular ball using everything from my driver to my 60� wedge. What it boiled down to is that I had to take one club more than I normally would (or a harder swing on a short pitch) in order to get the distance I needed. I have only played one type of ball in my short career so I am not sure if the difference I see is simply due to the balls I use or due to the characteristics of the tracers. The difference was enough that on my shorter approach shots I switched to a regular ball since my aim on such shots is pretty good. I did not try to putt with these balls but my guess is that I would not like it. I saw that the company is coming out with a ball specifically for putting but they don�t have much information on it other than the fact that it comes in different colors.

All in all, I consider this to be a great product at a reasonable price and have already recommended it to several of the people I golf with. I am sure that as I play on the course in the evenings I will start to get more and more people asking me why my balls are blinking.

Now, if only something could help me find my balls in the daytime��.

The Sounds of Thunder

Recently I became the second member of The Crack Team (that I am aware of) to purchase a Sunfire Subwoofer. I got the Sunfire Signature which is 13″ x13″ x 13″ and cost $1000 (a steal!) used from someone I found through the website. That website is a classified site for high-end audio equipment. Now, don’t let the diminutive size of the Sunfire fool you. It has a Bob Carver designed 2700 Watt Amplifier. Yes, that’s correct… 2700 Watts. It will output greater than 116 dB down to 16Hz and the throw on the 2 drivers is over 2 inches!! As an engineering feat it is simply amazing.

The 1st thing I did when I got home at 10PM that night was hook it up and fire up the DVD player. Master & Commander starts off with a bang (literally) and was used to test out the sub to see what I had gotten myself into. About 3 minutes into the movie Russel Crowe engages the enemy in a battle at sea with cannons blazing. The surround environment in this movie is awesome but the Sunfire added a new dimension to the movie that the old Onkyo (don’t laugh) subwoofer couldn’t touch. You felt like you were in the room with the canons due to the ground and walls shaking. Now granted, I did have the volume on the receiver and the gain on the sub set to a level higher than I would normally have them and I hadn’t calibrated the sound yet but the point was to see what it could do. It performed beyond my wildest dreams and the sub was only up to about 50% of its capacity. I would fear for the structural integrity of my home if I ever dared turn the gain to its maximum of +15 dB.

Since it was late I decided to go to bed. The next morning on the way out to lunch I ran into my neighbor from the house next door (separated by about 15 feet). She asked if I had enjoyed the movie the night before and said that she and her husband had originally thought they were hearing thunder until they realized what the sound was. I would like to thank my neighbor for validating $1000 well spent.

21-Gun Salute

Recently I attended the funeral for my maternal grandfather. Due to his service in the military shortly after World War II he was cremated and interned at a military cemetary in Ohio. At the ceremony a regiment from the local V.F.W. was there to fire a 21-gun salute in 3 volleys of 7 rifles, followed by the playing of Taps. On the flight home I started to wonder about the symbolism behind the 21-gun salute and the playing of taps and how it all got started. In researching this on the internet it seems like no one else knows either. Both the gun salute and the playing of Taps seem to have many origins associated with them.

Taps seems to have originated as a derivation of a french song and was played prior to the final bugle call at military installations basically to signify “last call” for alcohol. I found at least 3 different stories as to the origins of the playing of Taps at a military funeral but all seem to occur around the time of the civil war. Army regulations by around 1891 required the playing of Taps at all military funeral ceremonies. Today, Taps is played at military funerals and to signify the “lights out” command at the end of the day. The words to the song are:

Day is done, gone the sun,
from the lake, from the hill,
from the sky.
All is well. Safely rest,
God is nigh.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
neath the sun, neath the stars,
neath the sky. As we go this we know.
God is nigh.

The origin of the gun salute is even more confusing. Back in the days when ships still had cannons, gun salutes were seen as a symbol of great honor. By firing all of its guns, a ship or port was essentially left defenseless due to the long reload time of the cannon. Firing the gun salutes in 3 rounds is said to date back to a time when armies would stop fighting to clear casualties from the battleground and then fire 3 volleys to signal to both armies to resume fighting. Many countries used the gun salute to honor heads of state and each country used a different number of guns. In 1875 the united states adopted the use of 21 guns, which was also used by other countries at the time. I found several different explanations of why the number 21 was chosen including one explanation that said that no one actually knows the real reason.

I still don’t feel like I know what the symbolism behind these things are. If anyone does know the actual reason and has references to back up the explanation, I would love to know about it.