Filed under: news @ 13:52

We had a 5.4 earthquake here in Southern California today at 11:42 am local time. I was at home on the couch talking to some fellow WordPress folk on IRC

[11:42am] mdawaffe_lap: my point was just that since meta_value is so generic, ORDER BY meta_value is trickier than first glance
[11:43am] mdawaffe_lap: earthq
[11:43am] mdawaffe_lap: big one
[11:43am] mdawaffe_lap: later

when the apartment started shaking. It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on before Michelle and I dove behind the couch. Our table is from IKEA. We wordlessly agreed that it might not stand up to having an apartment dropped on top of it. Though neither would have our backs; as it turns out, later research suggested that the table would have been a better choice after all.

It lasted 12 to 15 seconds. We went outside afterward and chatted with a couple other people about the quake, but for the most part life seems to have gotten back to normal very quickly for everyone.

It’s by far the biggest quake I’ve ever experienced, but not big enough to cause major damage. Certainly exciting, though.

More news from Pasadenans

Apparent Horizons’ first big one (no crude jokes, please. Remember, Apparent Horizons is a family place.)


I’m a famous dancer

Filed under: random,travel @ 23:28


Melchior’s Mixup Madness 2007 — 15:12

In years past, I’ve been a part of a Secret Santa party with a bunch of Pasadena folk. To ennerdify the proceedings a bit, I volunteered to make a web site that would automate the task of drawing the Secret Santa names out of a hat. This, apparently, put me in charge of the whole party… in saecula saeculorum. This year, I decided to abuse that power and completely change the rules. Instead of Secret Santa, we’d be celebrating the holidays just like the magi did: showing up late with questionable presents. Melchior‘s Mixup Madness was born, and it was born in the holy form of a White Elephant party: everyone brings a gift and the presents are doled out over the course of a game involving lots of backstabbing and treachery. Here’s a basic flowchart showing two things: the traditional rules of a White Elephant party and that I am a giant nerd. White Elephant Party Flowchart The first person to go opens a gift, the second person can open a new gift or steal the first person’s gift, and so on until all the presents are opened. Note that I’m using := as the assignment operator, that M is an index ranging from one to total number of people playing the game, that M indexes both the people playing the game and what “round” of the game is currently being played, and that (though no start and end are explicitly shown) we start at M:=1 and end when all the presents under the tree are opened. Greg, Paul.za, Michelle and I identified a few problems with this setup, though, while we were planning the party.
  1. The person who goes first doesn’t get to play the game much unless he or she happens to open a popular present.
  2. The last person to go has the most information about the presents and so can make the best choices.
  3. Even with no stealbacks, there is the possibility of entering an infinite loop (for certain definitions of “stealbacks”). Artificial rules must be introduced to break that possibility (imposing finite limits on the number of times a particular present can be stolen, on the number of times a particular person can steal, or so forth).
Even by randomizing the play order, the first two points are still kind of lame, and the third point is tricky to solve in a “natural” feeling way. We brainstormed. Our goals were to increase participation, to make stealing risky, to make each person’s outcome and level of participation less dependent on the initial ordering of players, and to stop infinite loops in a “natural” way. Time limits, different rules (or randomly chosen ones) for each round, dynamic creation of rules, stealing limits, the ability to block steals, voting… we thought of a bunch of ideas. In the end, I decided to try the following. At the beginning of their turn, each player is presented with a choice: open a present from the tree, or roll a die. If you roll the die, there are three possible outcomes: open a present from under the tree, steal an already opened present from someone, or be forced to take the present from a randomly chosen “chump” (and to switch turns with that chump). Melchior’s Mixup Madness Flowchart The “tree” outcome of the die probabilistically (though not deterministically) breaks infinite loops, stealing is risky (you might end up with a random present instead of the one you want), the ordering of players is changed throughout the game, and there’s more yelling. I think all our goals were met. The party was last night, and it was totally fun. Dylan, Roger, Jeff and others had some really nice ideas for version 2.0. Next time we do this, I may eliminate the freedom of choice (you’ll just plain have to roll the die), and have the outcome probabilities change as the game progresses (lots of trees in the beginning, more stealing at the end, more randomization everywhere). And yes, I drew the flowchart for the party. Melchior’s Mixup Madness Flowchart (whiteboard) And no, I didn’t know how to spell the singular form of “dice” until today.

You don’t want your waitress to say

Filed under: shenaniganity,slice @ 13:52

This is my favorite beer; it tastes like Fruit Loops.


42.39561, -71.13051 — 07:38

Brilliance on many levels.


Hollywood and the Decemberists

Filed under: a group of folks,music @ 14:53

The Decemberists were playing at the Hollywood Bowl on July 7th (several weeks ago), and Michelle and I got cheap tickets.

They put on a really good show. Very engaging and energetic. I also really dug Andrew Bird and his Leslie-like cartoony speaker setup. His live performance, though, was head and shoulders better than his Armchair Apocrypha album I got off of iTunes after the concert.

The crazy part of the evening, however, was meeting Morena Baccarin.

Wait, what? Yeah, she was at the Hollywood bowl and, after a double take, I asked for a picture. She was super nice and graciously agreed. It was my first opportunity to interact with a celebrity in LA despite all the small world stories you hear from here and my living in the area for the past four years.


The WordPress Plugin you don’t want to install — 18:55

Next of Kin by Tzafrir Rehan. Creepy. Funny. Interesting.


Evolution Smackdown 2007 — 11:05

Hannah has some great links about the fallacy of evolution on her site. I couldn’t resist pointing people to them. Peanut Butter and Bananas, each the atheist’s nightmare.


Lost your prefrontal lobe? Out of the boat!

Filed under: academe,random @ 19:11

From a Caltech press release: Study implies certain types of brain damage can improve utilitarian moral judgments

The study constrained itself to “utilitarian moral judgments” which were themselves limited to having only two allowed answers, so maybe people with damaged prefrontal cortexes (cortexen?) are just faster at choosing between two options. You should read the paper and let me know. I’m not going to bother :) Here’s an excerpt from the press release, though.

Quick response! What’s the best thing to do on a lifeboat with one too many people on board? Should one throw a mortally injured person overboard to ensure definite survival for everyone else, or refuse to act and ensure certain death for all individuals in the boat?

If you said “throw the injured person overboard”, science has concluded that you have brain damage.


Orange Soda — 14:41

I remember a time when I really enjoyed orange soda, but I just had a can of Sunkist and couldn’t finish it it was so bad. Do I hate all orange soda or is it just Sunkist that sucks?

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