The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

How to count in binary 

Decimal is on its way out. Okay, not really. As long as people keep getting born with ten fingers, we’ll still be counting in base ten. Recently though, binary has been finding its way into our hearts (and our computers). I have long been a proponent of counting in binary, and here I will attempt to explain why I care so much about this digital base.

First, there is history. For me, it all started back in the first grade. My class was given a math assignment to do without counting on our fingers. I remember that when I finished it, well into recess, there was only one other student left in the room. Apparently, I relied far too heavily on my poor hands for calculations. I soon was doing arithmetic like a pro, and without resorting to finger ticks, and just in time too. We were soon dealing with numbers far greater than ten, or even twenty.

Skip ahead to grade eight, where a science teacher (the late Jon Miya) was just goofing off while the class worked on a project. He was exchanging various rude gestures with a teaching assistant, and then justifying them by claiming that they were numbers. This struck me as interesting, and possibly vulgar. My adolescent mind stored it away and started working at it. This new method of counting allowed each hand to get up to thirty one, or both hands together could count to over a thousand. This proved to be quite useful when I counted laps for other students in gym class (I was a double counter, with one person on each hand).

So, how does one count in binary? First, consider binary numbers. Each digit represents a value, and so you add up the values that correspond with the 1s in the number. For example, the places in an eight digit binary number represent 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, and 1, and so the number 10010110 is the binary equivalent of 128+16+4+2=150. If we let each finger represent a binary digit, then one hand can be a five digit number. With the 32 combinations of closed and extended fingers, one can count from zero to thirty one.

Before I get into a description of how to number the fingers, there is a matter of conventions. Just as the PC word and the UNIX world disagree about whether a data byte should start with the highest or the lowest bit, there is some disagreement about whether the thumb should be used to represent 1 or 16. I don’t know if there’s a standard name for these two styles, so I will designate the former as little endian (because the thumb has the little value), and the latter as big endian.

I am a little endian. All the binary counters I know are little endian. This is no coincidence because I taught them all how to count. I think that Mr. Miya followed the little endian form too. But everything I’ve seen online about counting follows the big endian style. Which is better? That depends on how dextrous the pinky is. If one is counting in binary, the lowest digit must move every time the number changes, while the highest digit moves only every 16th time. My pinky can’t keep up with my thumb, and I challenge any big endian to count as quickly as I can. For the rest of this paper, I will only consider little endian counting. Those with agile pinkies are free to reverse my directions.

So, the fingers are assigned values corresponding to powers of two. The thumb is 1, the index is 2, the middle finger becomes 4, the ring is 8, and finally the pinky is worth 16. Whenever I’m feeling lazy, I just add up the numbers corresponding to the appropriate fingers, and there’s the number that my hand represents at a given time. The “I Love You” sign (pink, index, and thumb extended) is equal to 16+2+1=19. Peace (index and middle fingers forming a V) is equal to 4+2=6. A high five is actually a high thirty one.

Counting consecutive numbers takes a bit of practice, but can be picked up easily enough. Start a count with the hand closed. With each number, if the thumb is in, then extend it. Otherwise, start with the thumb and close each finger until you come to one that is already closed, which you then extend. Let’s run through the first few numbers:

To start, the hand is closed. We count one, and since the thumb is closed, it now gets stuck out. For the count of two, we come to an open thumb. The first closed finger is the index, and so we close the thumb and extend the index. With three, the thumb is closed, so it gets opened again. At four, we find that the middle finger is the first one closed, and so we close the thumb and index and open the middle.

The single finger digits are a good place to stop and check if you’re practicing. If you get to 4 and the middle finger is the only thing up, then you know you’re on the right track because that’s the finger’s value. Also, four doubles as an obscene hand gesture. It may be a good idea to count discreetly in some venues (at church, for example). Still, this is one of the things that draws a lot of converts to the counting system. There’s nothing like giving a guilt-free 132 (165 with thumbs extended) to some obnoxious person.

If only I had known all this back in the first grade. Sure, I use bigger numbers now, and for that matter I usually find myself doing math outside the set of integers, so they can’t help me all the time. But after all these years, I rarely find myself counting off more than 30 things, so my manual binary digital registers provide me with adequate storage for almost anything I need to tally.

Everybody runs 

I learned something today. It’s hard to feel good when all you’ve had to eat for the last day or two is chocolate chip cookies. Even if they have oatmeal in them. Also, Minority Report is a good movie, but its ending feels a little too neat. And by ending, I’m talking about everything that happens after he gets caught, and maybe even everything after we find out who’s behind it all. I guess that movies don’t have to be perfect for me to like them. Otherwise, there’s no way I would have made it past the fight with the rocketeers (cooking the burgers? What were they thinking?!?).

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

“I'm a small man in some ways. A small, petty man.” 

Great is the tradition of celebrating a man’s life before he commits to spending the rest of it with a woman. As my allotment of unattached days dwindles, plans are being made for just such a celebration. We’re not really the stripper types, but we all do love video games, and so we will commemorate by playing Halo.

Here’s my problem: my youngest brother is a fanatical Halo player. He spends hours a day, every day, playing that game. He’s unstoppable. I don’t enjoy the thorough beatings that I endure while playing with him. Unfortunately, Halo is the only game that we have adequate terminals for everyone to play (otherwise Half-Life would be the game of choice). But we have a solution to my problem. My brother can’t play his beloved game until after our party. That’s two weeks without wasting any Covenant forces. He’ll probably get back up to speed after a round or two, but still this is a chance for us to at least get a few kills during the evening. It should be a pleasant Wine and Cheese Social.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

"That's our name for making fun of you. We need it!" 

What’s up with political correctness? I understand that it’s an effort to avoid offending people, but I don’t think that it works. The problem is that changing the wording doesn’t change the meaning. Today’s polite expressions will be tomorrow’s insults unless there is a change to the underlying attitudes. So far, substitute wording hasn’t brought any of that about. “Retarded” may not be acceptable, but “differently abled” isn’t exactly the rosy euphemism that it once was either.

It even creates moments where the language fails all together. I recall during the 2002 Winter Olympics, a black woman was part of a two person team that won a gold medal. That day, there were all sorts of comments made about how she was the first African American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. While that statement is correct (she competed for the U.S.), it doesn’t convey the meaning that they had intended, which was that she was the first black person to win such a medal, regardless of nationality. But they couldn’t say that, could they?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

If you can’t say something nice 

I’m trying to think if anything went well for me today. I got to bed late, and got up late. I was running late all day (although sometimes only by a few minutes). I guess that I only had to wait for a couple of minutes at the post office, which is pretty impressive considering that I went there within an hour of when they closed. I also didn’t run out of gas, even though I ended up several miles off track while looking for a gas station to fill up at. Also, dinner was chicken in rice-a-roni, which is better than tuna.

To round out my day, I just drank a liter of water. It looks like I’m in for a restless night’s sleep. Better luck tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2004

A Recommended Change 

I finally got around to installing the latest MSN messenger update. I was amused to have the installer suggest that I set my browser homepage to MSN Home. In fact, it went so far as to say that such a course would be recommended. I don’t think so. I’m also at least a little bit amused by the fact that I had to manually close down the previous version before installing the new one. I’d make a joke about Microsoft here, but I just found out that one of my friends is going to work there. So I’ll wait a while and then make a joke about him.

Friday, March 19, 2004



Please make it short and sweet, short and sweet, short and sweet.
Please make it short and sweet, 'cause you're so boring.!

This has been a good week. I got two pieces of good news this week, and combined with a third, I'm really quite happy at the moment. (All three are related to events that happened in December, but that's just coincidence.)

First: I scored 47 on the Putnam exam. The two times I took the test before, I scored 20 and 39, and this year, I really didn't expect to beat my previous score. For the record, Utah State placed 82nd this year out of 479 teams. A scan of the official results announcement (done by Harvard, who placed second this year) can be found at http://www.math.harvard.edu/putnam/2003_results/index.html.

Second: I just got a job, after three months of post-graduation unemployment. I don't start for a while, but at least I'll eventually be getting pay checks, which is good because...

Third: I am getting married. The big date is April 16th. You are welcome to inquire about how I proposed, but I won't tell you.

Monday, March 15, 2004


Friday, I had an assignment. I was to take my friend on a date. She didn’t care what we did, as long as we went out and did something. So, we went to a park and threw a frisbee around. That was fun, although she was just getting the hang of it and I was just getting really sloppy when we got tired of that. After walking around for a while, we decided to get something to eat. Even though the park we were at was right by a freeway on ramp, I started driving through the back roads towards the local restaurant district. That was fun. I like driving down new roads and exploring like that.

About halfway to the restaurants, we drove past a high school that was bustling with activity. We soon realized that they were showing Les Miserables. It had been advertised for about a month, and so I figured that it was probably sold out, but we decided to try to get tickets anyway. So, after standing in a line until it was scheduled to start, we managed to get two tickets, but right then they had a bunch of tickets get returned (I don’t know why), and so we were given two of those which were near the middle of the auditorium instead of in the balcony at the back.

The play was quite moving, with rather good singing and acting. Not even the sound and lighting goofs could distract from the inspiring tale. After the play, we even managed to get some dinner. I got credit for giving her one of the best dates she’d ever been on, even if it was mostly spontaneous luck that made it all work out.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Playing Croquet 

Once, at an activity for young single adults, I got together with some friends to play some croquet. It’s a nice game that I hadn’t really ever played before, but as much as is possible for someone as, well, awkward as me, I did well. There was one girl, though, who just couldn’t seem to get the hang of the game. So, she would get help from the other players, particularly the guys. Halfway through the game, we noticed that she was showing no improvement. It then dawned on us that she was deliberately playing poorly just go get some attention.

At that point two things happened. First, we stopped helping her physically with the mallet. We’re all for touching girls, but we won’t be manipulated into doing so if we can help it. Second, the incident passed into the vernacular, so that any time a girl was pretending to need help so that she could get attention, she was “playing croquet.”

The only thing I’m left to wonder is whether croquet is derived from cricket. I leave it to fans of Douglas Adams to draw their own conclusions from there.

Window Renting 

I saw an episode of Gilmore Girls a short while ago (it was the second that I had ever seen, for those who may mock me for watching a chick show, even if its dialog is pleasantly similar to conversations in The West Wing) where two characters decided that a good way to spend an afternoon together would be to go window shopping. They got themselves all worked up, only to find that window shopping was dreadful. And it got worse once they went into the stores.

I bring this up because I have begun shopping for an apartment. Theoretically, it sounds like a fun thing to find a place that will be your home for the foreseeable future. You get to explore the maze of rooms, closets, and cupboards, all the while trying to picture how it will all look once you’ve moved in and integrated your life into it. Well, it turns out that this is almost true, but whatever joy comes from that is overshadowed by the work it takes to track down a decent place, concerns with the apartment (or its location), and everything else that is leading up to your eventual move.

The apartment I visited today looked like it was built in the 70's, and had not been improved much since then. The colors were hideous (I was born in the 70's, and now I understand why I have no sense of style). Parts of it were falling apart, and perhaps the most charming feature was a small bathroom that consisted of a toilet and a door that hit my knees when it was closed. Still, it had two levels, and I thought that was neat. Oh, and the traffic was awful. Next please.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Mind your own beeswax 

Have you ever noticed that people make all sorts of assumptions about your life? I have. Well, not about your life, but about mine. Something big would be coming up, and everyone would ask, “So, are you excited?” No. I was stressed out of my mind. I couldn’t think straight. I was worried about whether or not I’d graduate. I was busy with overwheming projects and reports. Some much anticipated event that was still three weeks away didn’t really grab my attention away from the two grueling weeks of school that I had left. Even after school got out, I had a movie premier to go to.

These days, everybody seems to still be getting excited for me. I’m constantly giddy by proxy. Maybe the problem is that I don’t get excited. Maybe it’s that I’m a private person and these people should mind their own business. Maybe I should just answer everything just as I answer some particularly annoying questions.

No comment.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Thoughts from a random encounter 

Today I passed a car. I don’t remember much about the car, but in the passenger seat was a girl who was staring out in a very intent way. Even though I zipped past fairly quickly (what were they doing in the left lane if they were going so slowly anyway?), I was struck by her. My first instinct was to give a friendly nod (a habit that probably dates back to my days in Newfoundland where nodding is a common greeting, not to mention something of an art), but as I pulled away through the remarkably heavy evening traffic, I wondered just what was going through her mind. Why was she staring out the window into the dark? Was she bored? Did she not like the driver? Was she startled at the little car that flew past?

In any case, my point is that far too many people think that they’re driving fast enough to be in the left lanes. Going the speed limit doesn’t automatically make you the fasted car on the road people. So, the next time you’re passed on the right, take a hint and get over. (Also, get over it.)

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Head Hunters 

I just got an email from someone at a recruiting agency. It tells of a job available somewhere (it doesn’t say where), and asks me to fill out a questionnaire and apply online. I’m a little leery of unsolicited job offers from strangers, sometimes even with good cause. But I’m not the kind of person to look a gift referral in the mouth, so I think I’ll apply.

On a more positive note, it looks like there is someone out there (not the person who emailed me) who wants to hire me for the kind of job I’m trained to do. Unfortunately, they’re notorious for taking a very long time (nine months on average) to hire engineers, so even though I’m about four months into the process, it could be a while. I guess that gives anyone else who’s interested in hiring me some time to make their intentions known. L-3, I’m looking in your direction...

Friday, March 05, 2004

Calculus of Degrees 

I got my diplomas yesterday, and I was frustrated to find that one of them didn’t have the right major (or rather majors, since it was a dual degree and they forgot the second field). I worked hard for that degree, and while I don’t really care about the actual diploma (which is just a pretty piece of paper), I want credit for the work I’ve done. Fortunately, it was all just an oversight by the person who printed up the diplomas (probably because my other degree was in one department, and they just thought that both were only in that area), and so officially I’ve got the degrees I thought I did, and it’ll be easy to get the paper copy replaced.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

A Passionate Experience 

Last night, I saw The Passion of the Christ. Before seeing it, I read several reviews of the film, almost all of which described it as a technical masterpiece, a (spiritually) moving film, and extremely violent. At least one reviewer felt that he couldn’t recommend in general because it simply will not work for them.

All of them were right. It was an amazing film and one of the most visceral experiences I have ever had from watching a movie. In spite of my preparation, I was woefully unprepared for the amount and intensity of violence. As Christ was brought in to be scourged, I noticed that the post and the ground around it had a pinkish shade to it. By the time the scourging was over, His entire body was covered with wounds and blood, as was the entire area around it. From then until He was finally in place on the cross (and actually for most of the time leading up to it) there was hardly a moment where someone was not beating him. The abuse was relentless, and through it all, He was covered in blood that was dripping off of Him. I could barely stand it for much of the film, and I’m not sure if I will ever subject myself to watching it again.

It was also very Catholic. This is to be expected, but once again I was surprised at just how much so this was the case.

Many aspects of this film were amazing. If it is in contention for awards next year, I suspect that it will win several Oscars including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress (possibly Actress if they figure that Mary’s role is prominent enough), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Makeup, Visual Effects, Sound, and Sound Editing. Editing and Costume Design are also possibilities. The film was beautiful, and the acting was impressive. In fact, the only beef I have with it in that respect is that Mary Magdalene was an entirely superfluous character (and having her played by Matrix girl Monica Bellucci didn’t help).

Can I recommend it? In general, no. If you are at all uncomfortable with violence, then this is not a film for you. Watch The Lamb of God (originally titled To This End Was I Born, back when it had better scriptures and an extra scene) instead. If you can handle it and feel that it is appropriate to see it, then I think that you will be given one of the most significant theatrical experiences of your life.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

What happens when you drive through a desert at night 

While driving through the Nevada desert on my way back from Vegas, I made some observations:

It’s really boring to drive that stretch of road at night. It’s almost as bad during the day, and then it’s usually also too hot.

There’s a lot of information that’s available to the driver. I had about 14 sources of data about the car and the surrounding environment, most of which weren’t really accessible by the other passengers. For example, I was often blinded by the headlights behind me that were being reflected onto my face from three different mirrors, while my passengers were all sleeping and unaware of the lights.

The Virgin River Gorge is only fun if the passengers in the car aren’t nagging you about your speed.

While the streets in St. George are empty after midnight, Denny’s is quite busy at 11:30. Also, Moons over My Hammy isn’t as good without swiss cheese (I was in the bathroom when we ordered, and while I had left instructions for my order, they got misinterpreted).

Traveling with a bunch of morning people can really mess up a night owl’s body clock.

Also, the last time I had been to St. George, I came back engaged. I think there was some expectations that I’d do something like that this time. Somehow, I managed to go the entire trip without getting married, although while at the visitor’s center for the St. George Temple, I was tempted to say, “We’re getting married soon, and so we’ve been to Vegas scouting out wedding chapels, and they told us that there was this place up here that would be a beautiful place to have a wedding.” Instead, I reminded our guide that Joseph Smith was killed in the Carthage jail and not the Liberty jail.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Avoiding the Strip 

Saturday I was in Las Vegas, which was great. I had the best experience that I’ve ever had getting to and from the Strip. I was traveling downtown from Summerlin, which is in the northwest part of town. For the last mile or so of the Summerlin Expressway, there was stop and go traffic (mostly stop). It turns out that there was construction on the on ramp, and in the same place, there had been an accident, so that four lanes were being narrowed down into one lane. Well, after sitting in this for half an hour or so, we were to the point where two of the lanes were gone, but for some reason, there were still three rows of cars. Eventually, jersey barriers forced the third lane down, and when we went to one lane, the car that was supposed to go ahead of me couldn’t figure out how to merge. And I thought Utah drivers had problems.

Well, we got to the strip with only a little bit of congested traffic and found our way to the right casino. We were supposed to pick up some people, and were told that they were waiting in the parking garage on the casino level. So, I drove around the lower level of the parking garage, and there was no sign of them. I then dropped down a level and found myself heading out of the garage. The last thing in the world I wanted (or so I thought, but it turned out that there were worse things) was to get onto the Strip, so I pulled around and started back in. I meandered briefly and found myself in a line for valet parking. A guy came up and stuck something on my windshield before I could explain that we were in the wrong place. Since it would take half an hour for the line of cars in front of us to clear out, we were told to pull onto the sidewalk that was right there and just drive to safety. And watching all of this from the end of the sidewalk were the friends we were supposed to pick up. They were laughing at us, until we started cursing them out for giving us a) bad directions to b) a poorly chosen place to do a pick up.

Driving karma kicked in at that point, and I had no problem getting to our next stop (on the far end of the Strip), and the randomly chosen parking space I ended up with was just 50 feet from the door, which was again about 50 feet from where we were meeting up again. It was perfect. Then, on the way out, we hit no traffic until we were on the freeway. I tell you, it was unbelievable. I managed to make a nice visit to the Strip without actually travelling on it at any time.

More on my trip later.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?