Monday, March 22, 2010

Seven Things You Never Knew About Me - Part 2 of ??

In my first installment, I ended it by mentioning that I had gone off on a few tangents. I do that a lot. Perhaps I go off on so many tangents because I so love math. I also enjoy puns and wordplay, which is why I hope you'll forgive me if I say that going off on tangents is not normal. Badum-ching!


Anyway, that was my pathetic way of creating a segue into the realm of mathematics, as only math nerds will get the above joke. Now that I'm here, the next cool fact about me has everything to do with my love of math.

Finally, Something That Might Actually Be Interesting--AKA Fact #3

I've always loved math. Maybe because it's something for which I have a talent. You can tell from my sidebar that one of my degrees is in math. So what? That's not news. No, it's not. But what you don't know is that I completed all my math coursework in less than two calendar years. I also took all the computer science classes I needed for my minor in that time period. In retrospect, that was kind of masochistic and I wouldn't want to go through it ever again. Especially with the 35 hours of mostly upper-division courses taken during my last year. That was exhausting!

During my last semester, I got to do something that was really, really fun. After completing a class in mathematical modeling, my professor approached me and asked me if I would be interested in doing an independent study course. He had this Spirograph™ (yes, Spirograph™ is indeed a registered trademark of Hasbro) template that he wanted a student to model and create a program that would draw them. Would I be interested in doing that? Um...yeah!

This is what it looked like, except the template was orange instead of green:

So here's what I had to do. I first had to derive the mathematical equations that create both circular and elliptical spirographs on my own. As it turns out, the circular spirograph is not that complicated. The formulas were relatively simple to derive, and making a program to graph them was also fairly easy. The ellipse, however, is kind of a messy animal. Deriving the equations took some work. The formulas involve integrals of a non-closed form (that means you have to use ugly-looking calculus) and were not trivial to translate into a computer algorithm.

The end result is that I created a web page that let you click on the template to choose a shape, choose a gear, choose the hole, and then it would generate the image. Pretty cool, huh?

After digging around for a while on Google, I realized something.

My program was the only one in existence that generated elliptical Spirographs!

Furthermore, mine was (and still is) the only one that actually models a genuine, real live, spirograph toy.

Unfortunately, the University's server that hosted my little project was taken offline a few years ago. So you won't be able to see my beautiful little program in all its glory. Thankfully, I had a backup. Unfortunately, my backup was old, buggy, and contained an uninteresting, simplistic interface. A while back, I googled myself and elliptical spirographs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone else had created a program that will generate elliptical spirographs. I took a look at the guy's web page. He even gave me a shout out. By that I mean he expressed doubt that I had actually done what I claimed to have done.

So what did I do? I went to the internet archive and downloaded most of the images I used to create my masterful web page. I have debugged my program and am working to get it re-released. When that happens, I will post a link.

Am I going to stop there? Of course not! I am going to create another web page that allows you to enter your own dimensions and create all sorts of beautiful elliptical spirographs. Because that other guy used an inferior method to generate his elliptical spirographs (you can't change the dimensions on his ellipse because of the method he used to make his work), I will be sure to let him know about both of my pages so he can see for himself just how mistaken he was to doubt me :-D

So there you have it. That's probably something most of my many readers didn't know before--I created a world's first and only one of something. That's not something many people can hang their hat on.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seven Things You Never Knew About Me - Part 1 of ??

This post is exceedingly long overdue. Waaaaaay back on January 28, 2009, LT tagged me in a comment she made on one of my blog posts. It's been so long ago that I don't remember the rules (okay--she could have tagged me last week and I wouldn't remember the rules), but the gist of it is that if someone "tags" you, you're supposed to share seven things about yourself that (presumably) those who follow your blog don't know. I think maybe it's kind of like picking "truth" in a game of Truth or Dare--except someone else chooses "truth" for you. Seven. Times.


I'm normally a pretty private person. Some people love to go on and on about themselves, their children, their pets, their significant other, how smart or well-read they are, the mole in the shape of the Virgin Mary on their left buttock the dermatologist wants them to keep an eye on, etc. That's not me.

And wow. That was totally lame. That's not a super cool fact about me at all. Furthermore, the fact that it's taken me so long to get around to this might have been a clue that I'm not someone who can't keep himself to himself. Does this mean the above doesn't count as one of the seven things about me you never knew? Since I don't remember the rules, I can play Calvinball with them if I want to ;-)

To make up for the complete and utter lameness and misleading nature of the not-so-super-cool fact about me I just shared, I will make up for it by posting


I'm a Mac. Although I make my living as a network and systems administrator of a Windows-based network, I am typing this on my beloved 24" iMac. In case you are a burglar who somehow figures out where I live, you should also know that we have a very large dog who stays inside, not far from where I keep my iMac. One of the things you should know about our dog is that he has a mad dog disease, which causes his voracious appetite, and strangers are a particular favorite of his. I've given him permission to eat you if you try to break in and steal my Mac. I wouldn't worry about his illness, though. They say it can't cross the canine-human species barrier unless his saliva enters your bloodstream, which is really only a concern if you happen to escape before he finishes devouring you.

Anyway, back to my computer preferences. Here's the long and the short of it. I get to fix lots of computer/network/software problems as part of my job. Not to brag, but I'm exceptionally good at what I do. At least I like to think that's why some of my co-workers call me "The Wizard". After a long day of keeping everybody's computers up and running in the Land of Oz, the last thing I really want to have to do is more of the same when I get home. I got tired of doing that, so I bought a Mac.

Actually, that's not quite true. While it's a very valid reason to buy a Mac, The Real Reason™ I bought a Mac was because I had a great idea for a killer iPhone application and needed a Mac with which to create it. I haven't started on the app yet, BTW. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, don't you? What they fail to mention is why they go awry. Babies. That's right--babies. Children in general, but babies in particular. They dash all your unimportant dreams to pieces. (Oh, how I love you, sweet baby of mine who is super demanding and still won't sleep through the night!) But it's worth the trade-off.

Whew! I certainly go off on a lot of tangents, don't I? I already know where this is going next, but you'll just have to wait until I get around to writing it to find out :-)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Overheard at Walmart

A while back I was picking up groceries at Walmart for my dear wife. Since grocery shopping is one of those activities I particularly loathe (especially at Walmart), I was rushing through the store as quickly as was humanly possible.

As I made my way past the end of an aisle, my ears picked up on what must have been one heck of a conversation. Two guys, obviously friends who hadn't seen each other in a while, were standing near the end of an aisle.

The first guy says to the second guy, "Once, my ex-girlfriend loosened all the lug nuts on my car. The next day I was driving to work and..."

As soon as I realized what I had just heard, I hesitated. I was already out of earshot, but dying to hear how the rest of the conversation played out. What happened that morning? Did the wheels come off his car? Did his car fly off the road and land on a flock of wild turkeys? Did he send a breakup text to his girlfriend from the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital?

Alas, in my uncertainty, too much time had passed for me to go back and attempt to eavesdrop on the rest of their conversation. Besides, I was in Walmart. The less time I spend in that place, the happier I am. So I finished getting the things on my list and raced to find a line with less than 37 people in it.

But can you imagine? His ex-girlfriend loosened all the lug nuts on his car. All. Of. Them. Either she was furious with him, or else she was one of those psychotic people you hope you never have the pleasure of meeting. Had he been caught in a Tiger Woods? I'm thinking he hadn't. Not that I have any experience in these matters, but I would think that most women faced with that kind of situation and who would resort to violence, would do so immediately.

No, the fact that this woman would sabotage his car in the middle of the night would indicate that what she did was cold, calculated, and methodical. Perhaps she was trying to get rid of him and make it look like an accident. Was there insurance money involved? Nah. Too cliché. Maybe he had forgotten their 19 1/2 week anniversary, which obviously meant that he didn't love her and had plans to date her sister on the side. Such a shortcoming in a man obviously means that not only is the relationship is unsalvageable, but that the @#$% must die.

In any case, I would say that the guy is lucky to have escaped from that relationship with his life and full use of all his limbs. Hopefully his car survived as well.