I’m with the band

Filed under: a group of folks,neat! @ 00:32

This weekend was the third annual Caltech Dance Show. Being friends with a few of the performers and dating one, I was super excited to see the show. My excitement, as it turns out, was not misplaced.

I essentially know nothing about dance: not the histories, not the theories, not the performance. But I can categorically say “that looked awesome/hot/beautiful” when I see something deserving of such a label. Every piece in the performance I saw opening night on Friday deserved more than one such accolade: from Scottish country to Belly dancing and everything in between. To pick favorites though, I have to say I personally enjoyed most the Lyrical piece performed by Kristin, Val and Birgitta (emotive! gorgeous! passionate!), the Ceroc piece performed by Michelle and the Ballroom club (stunning! incredible! awesome! stylistic! …geometrically impressive!) and the so called “Contemporary” piece by Kristin, Alexa and the Dance Troop (fascinating! clever! provoking! red!)*.

…Yes, I realize these are the very pieces in which the people I know performed. They were still my favorites. Get over it.

For the second show Saturday night, I snuck backstage to wish Michelle luck and ran into Kristin who, being one of the organizers of the event, looked like she was trying to be in a dozen places at once. In order that she need be in only eleven, I asked if there were some dumb grunt work she’d like me to do (thinking of “move that over there”). She handed me a camera and asked me to take pictures backstage: people getting ready, shots of the performances from the wings, etc. Why not? So I took a couple hundred shots (most blurry, the use of the flash onstage being a no no). A couple of the best were pictures I had taken when I swindled my way past the ushers and into the audience, so I volunteered to take more pictures during the third and final performance on Sunday afternoon. This time, exclusively from the front row.

Somehow I became the show’s official photographer.

Armed now with a tripod and a sense of duty, I took several hundred pictures before, during and after the performance from carefully chosen locations (read “someplace I could lie down”). Everyone was very appreciative, but all I did was act pleasant and push buttons. The real work is being done by the people who have to sort through and possibly touch up those hundreds of photos I took (I’m thinking Kristin and Wolfe). Not to mention the absurd amount of time Wolfe is spending video taping, editing and making DVDs of the performance. But I was up front and visible, so I got the thanks.

A little cog in a big machine, but I had a really good time doing something I’ve never done before (Dad will be proud). The best bit, though, was watching the performers (one in particular!) do their respective things.

* I name the people I know, not necessarily the prime movers.


Monday at the Price is Right

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,useless @ 12:12

The short of it is: if you have tickets for the 1:15pm taping of the Price is Right on a Monday, get there before 5:30 or you probably won’t get in (see the table at the bottom of the post).

On to the long of it.

In town visiting Michelle a week and a half ago was her good friend Laura whose greatest desire while in LA was to see Bob Barker at a taping of The Price is Right. Since Laura was just in town for the weekend, going to the studio on Monday was our only option. Unfortunately, Monday is the busiest day there for two reasons: all the out of towners just in LA for the weekend have to go on Monday (they don’t tape on Friday), and there are two tapings on Monday (they don’t tape on Friday). It was going to be a long day.

The previous week, Michelle had gone to the CBS studio to pick up tickets for the 1:15pm taping on February 5th. Apparently there was no line (though there was also no one at the booth for some time), and she, as a ticket picker-uper, was allowed to park in the studio lot for free.

Monday Morning (with deserved capitalization) Greg and I awoke around 4:00am and were picked up by Michelle and Laura at 4:30 here in Pasadena. Without traffic, we made it to the studio, where there was already a sizable line, at about 5:10am. Laura and Greg got us a spot in line while Michelle and I drove around the block to The Grove‘s parking lot (a mall lot that cost us $11 with validation).

We patronized the unenthusiastic coffee/bagel shop across from the studio (location is everything) and waited in line until, at around 6:00am, we were given tickets that held our place in line. I was number 131. At that point we were allowed to leave as long as we returned by 8:00am, so we picked up the car (the lot wasn’t yet taking money that early in the morning, so we decided to move the car while we could and save a few bucks) and drove to a nearby IHOP. We parked back at the grove and went back to the studio to wait for our priority numbers, which we got at about 8:30am. I was number 98; apparently about a third of the people in front of us were there for the later, second taping.

At 9:00am they called us back into formation and started droning on about rules (no disparaging remarks about the prizes, please), taxes (you have to pay them), the line we were sitting in (never leave it or you’re not getting into the taping), and a handful of other things that were repeated ad nauseum. Eventually, we were issued our name tags (Price is Right name tags!) and seating numbers (our fourth non-ticket). I was number 99; it’s unclear why we four were all bumped up a number.

At some point (cell phones and cameras are not allowed on the studio, so I wasn’t able to keep good track of time), they started calling a dozen people from the line up at a time to be “interviewed”. Contestants on the Price is Right are not drawn randomly. They are selected from the crowd ahead of time during this interview process. You only have a few seconds to make your mark, so be creative. We finally got interviewed at around 11:30. We then got herded into… another line! and sat down to play a few hands of UNO with our neighbors.

And then the moment arrived. We finally got into the studio a bit before 1:00pm and got seats. The place was tiny. Watching the show on TV, you get the sense that there are at least a thousand people in the audience and that “coming on down” is at least a 50 yard dash. As it turns out, there’s only about two hundred and fifty people at the taping, and most everyone is within twenty feet of the stage. The display doors (which look massive on TV) are eat-me tiny and the stage itself is about the size of a foosball table. When we first came in, I remarked that Bob Barker must be a midget. Apparently, the TV industry is just plain good at clever photography.

After being prepped by the show’s announcer, the actual taping flew by; everything was extremely fast paced: “Come on down”, bidding, win, play whatever game, cut to commercial, repeat. During “commercial breaks”, Bob would talk to the crowd and take questions. This was just about the only time we actually heard his voice. The staff there get all the audience members to ooh and ahh and scream and shout advice (“higher!”, “$1300”, “the soup!”, “My spleen just exploded”, and so on) with such volume that very little of what’s going on on stage is discernible. I now have a lot of sympathy for the contestants who keep having to ask about the previous people’s bids.

Sadly, none of us was called down. Our dreams (“one dollar, Bob”) were not fulfilled. The guy behind us did get called though, so I bet we were on TV for a second or two (unfortunately, the show aired today and I was too lazy to give anyone advance warning). Despite our lack of luck, I’m glad to have gone. Price is Right, for good or for ill, is truly a piece of Americana, and it was neat to be involved.

Anyway, that’s the boring long of it. For a less mind numbing account, see Greg’s First Post! on the subject.

Below is a table of a person’s final seat number for the 1:15pm taping vs. that person’s arrival time. Somewhere not too far past seat number 150, the people all came from pre-booked large groups which are guaranteed admission (and so don’t have to wait in line).

Final Seat Number Arrival Time
1 11:00pm
10 12:30am
15 2:00am
30 2:45am
40 3:30am
65 4:00am
100 5:10am
150 5:50am


Gmail filters and Boolean operators

Filed under: neat!,useless @ 13:15

If you haven’t heard me proselytize Gmail before, count yourself lucky; I tend to spout off about it. Yes, I know that Gmail is creepy. I understand all the privacy concerns and the potential to allow Google to earn lots of money off of my correspondence. It’s just so damn convenient.

But I digress.

Gmail allows its users to construct email filters to tag messages with various labels, forward things to different address and so forth by specifying the conditions an email must meet before the filter in question is applied. One can specify that the message be From a particular source, be sent To a certain address, contain specific text and so on. Since the filters are implemented as Gmail search queries, Gmail filters may also include basic boolean logic. For instance, you can create a filter that catches emails From bob@example.com OR sally@example.org. In terms of Gmail’s search syntax, this filter would be denoted as from:(bob@example.com OR sally@example.org). Similarly, NOTs are specified with minus signs, and spaces are used for ANDs.

Gmail’s filters, then, are fairly robust. However, the interface for writing filters is very limiting. The user is presented with five text boxes: From, To, Subject, Has The Words, Doesn’t Have. And that’s all the options we get. Suppose, instead of the above, I wanted to create a filter that caught messages From bob@example.com OR To sally@example.org. I can type ‘bob@example.com’ into the From box and ‘sally@example.org’ into the To box to try to construct such a filter. But Gmail does not offer me the ability to specify the boolean operator that should be applied between the From and To conditions; it assumes AND. I’m hosed.

But only at first glance. You can actually implement a relative OR between fields. A cursory internet search yielded the following clever solution.

In the From field, enter

bob@example.com) OR to:(sally@example.org

It’s the sneaky use of parentheses that makes it all work. Another solution would be to enter the entire search query into the Has The Words field:

from:(bob@example.com) OR to:(sally@example.org)

Though more straightforward, some will argue it isn’t as clean.

Anyway, don’t let Gmail’s (in this case) crappy interface stop you from making arbitrarily complicated filters.


Nominate Caltech’s Superhero Mascot

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,useless @ 10:35

A conversation with Michelle led me to state that Batman is a good Caltech superhero in the following sense. He adheres to an ethos of vigilante justice, relies on technology and intelligence (and shit big computers) rather than superpowers to get the job done (most of the time…), has an underground hideout and enjoys things with rubber nipples. I should note that it was this last point that really sold Michelle on the idea.

I’m curious to hear other nominations.

For Each Day {Pull(++Ups);}

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,slice @ 00:04

Greg, circus-certified strong man that he is, recently installed a pull up bar in our apartment. I tried it out and managed seven pull ups before stopping. The next day I did eight. Two points make a line, so I decided to extrapolate the data at hand and make the following prediction.

The number of ups I am capable of contiguously pulling will increase by one up per day I use the pull up bar.

My prediction has proven to be accurate so far, and I’m currently at 10 pull ups. Assuming I use the bar most days, by this time next year, I’ll be doing something like 300 pull ups! A Popeye amongst Olive Oils! Fear my bulging biceps or… triceps… pectins… lemurs… whatever the hell is on my beefy ass arms! Fear those things!

Greg, upon hearing of my awesome plan, told me of a similar workout method:

  1. Adopt a baby pig.
  2. Lift it above your head every day.
  3. Impress the hunnies with your freakishly strong “bod”.
  4. Eat much bacon.

Brilliant. That must be how he became a circus-certified strong man. Having not the porcine access he did in his youth, I’ll stick to the pull up bar and see how it goes.


Dvorak Switch

Filed under: neat!,news @ 15:46

As you may have heard on the streets, I’ve been using the Dvorak keyboard layout for some time now. I started after spookily hearing several Dvorak tales (most notably from Ellen and Matt) within just a few days of one another; clearly it was a sign from the heavens. The switch on my laptop is now permanent; the meticulously placed sticky notes I had pasted to each of the keys on my laptop have now been removed, and the keys themselves have been ripped out and put back in their new positions. It is the beginning of a new era.

Though I’ve not gauged it in a long while, I bet my words per minute is in the triple digits on a QWERTY keyboard. You may, then, wonder how fast I can type on the new layout. Not too quickly, as it turns out, though I have gotten dramatically better over the past two weeks. So what’s the advantage? Far less hand and finger movement. I still make lots of typos and I’m yet fairly slow, but I imagine those things will continue to improve whereas the reduced hand stress was an immediate benefit.

And speaking of lots of typos, it’s been really interesting to see what kind of typos I most regularly make. The most common, obviously, is hitting a letter’s QWERTY position instead of its Dvorak position; “s” is particularly dangerous in that regard. More surprising are the ‘look ahead’ typos (hitting the key that should come immediately after the one I actually want), and the ‘second order’ typos. The latter only happened during the first week or so but were truly bizarre and came in two different varieties. The first was the ‘flip-flop’. Suppose I need to hit the “i” key. On a Dvorak keyboard, the “c” key sits where a Qwertyst might expect the “i” to be. A flip-flop typo would therefore be hitting the “j” key which is the key occupying the “c” position on a QWERTY keyboard: second order. The second sort of second order typo I call the ‘flop-flip’. It’s the same except that the error pattern is Dvorak-QWERTY-Dvorak instead of QWERTY-Dvorak-QWERTY as is the case for the flip-flop.

Additionally, some letter combinations, like “or”, are more deeply QWERTY ingrained in my mind than others and, indeed, more so than their constituent letters are by themselves.

In short, the process is still in the ‘adventure’ stage.


Who? — 12:42

Who made me delicious cookies and how long have they been sitting in my office?

A birthday lesson

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,shenaniganity @ 11:19

Here’s a tip for any future birthday boys/girls out there: don’t host your birthday gala on the actual date itself; put it off a few days. If you get lucky, a few people will still want to celebrate your birthday proper and do wonderful things for you.

Thanks to (in chronological order) Michelle, Ariele and Jeff, and Holly, Cheryl and Amy for a great 10.11.2005.

The ‘official festivities’ (complete with Chicken Dancer Elmo – Thanks Mom!) managed to keep pace as well but are better chronicled elsewhere. Thanks to all the wellwishers and also to Kristin who apparently thinks I aim too high :)


If I wasn’t from IQI then why would I be wearing this hat?

Filed under: neat!,physics,useless @ 13:32

I received, for “future contributions”, an official IQI hat yesterday at group meeting. Pretty fly. I think it’s going to be my new look. I particularly enjoy the Southwest pointing (in the liturgical sense – that’s 4:30 for all you heathens) ‘gangsta’ style.

In the IQI hood, beeyahtch. Represent. Step off fohz my homes cap y’all whit theyz provably secure implementation of Quantum Key Distribution. Be cracked to front on me, brothah! M’doin some serious QMA-complete sheeyit ovuh heah!

I’m still working on gang signs.


It is finished — 14:51

As of 11:30 this morning, I have officially passed both of my physics quals.

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