All posts by Bob Igo

I am human.

Botany is Pseudoscience

We have a habit of planting seeds from fruits and vegetables, and I decided to try this with some avocado seeds. My failed first attempt was to stick the large seed in dirt, water it, and see what happened. Then, somewhat in parallel with this, I stuck a bunch of seeds in a clear vase outside. After several weeks, nothing had happened.

Frustrated my my attempts to figure this out for myself, I decided to employ the geek’s last resort, i.e. reading the manual. The prevailing theory is to puncture the rock-hard seed thrice with some soft toothpicks and then – well, it doesn’t matter what the and then bit is, because this is crazy talk, akin to dissolving titanium with your mind. I attempted a hybridization of the crazy instructions and what my wife recommended. She pointed out that seeds like air, and I was depriving my submerged seeds of all the air, so I now have a seed half-in and half-out of water, which has cracked and split and is otherwise showing no signs of becoming useful.

In the meantime, I discovered that my failed first attempt, which I had stopped watering and had put next to all the other pots that can be used for other plantings, had sprouted and produced a 6-inch-tall avocado plant.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that there’s a vast online conspiracy to thwart efforts to grow avocado plants from seeds. If you’re searching on methods to grow avocado plants from seeds, follow my easy guide:

  1. Rinse the seed in water.
  2. Stick the seed in some dirt.
  3. Water the dirt once a day for 4 weeks.
  4. Give up.
  5. Neglect the seed.
  6. Enjoy your new avocado plant.

Be Consistent About Science Disbelief

Science tells us how old the planet is and allows us to make increasingly-accurate estimates of when past events occurred. That same science can predict future events on the same time scale. For example, if you date asteroid/comet impact craters, you start to get a sense that major impacts happen happen regularly which gives you some ability to blindly guess if the next major impact is due next week, next year, or several million years from now. The same thing can be done with volcano eruptions. The megavolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park (the overkill engine that runs the Old Faithful Geyser) last erupted 640,000 years ago, and experts estimate that we have between 10,000 and 20,000 years before it erupts next. Similarly, estimates of the remaining life of our sun (~4.5 billion years) are intertwined with the data that tells us how old it is (also 4.5 billion years).

Now that we’ve established that, how should you interpret data that suggests the earth is also about 4.5 billion years old, if your religious interpretation compels you to believe that the planet is only about 6,000 years old? Given that science, which is internally consistent on its backward and forward projections of timescales, contradicts your belief, would it be logical to accept that science has the relative ordering of things right and just has the magnitude wrong? To address this issue, I would like to present the science->fundamentalism year converter algorithm.

In principle, this is like converting between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, or converting human years to dog years, and it’s not quite as straightforward as converting between currencies. Let’s start with the age of the planet. Science says 4.5 billion years. Fundamentalism says 6,000 years. So a function to convert from SCI years to FDN years could just divide the science year by 750,000 to get the fundamentalism year. This is an oversimplified model, and here’s why: Using this conversion function, the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65,000,000 years ago would seem to a fundamentalist to be 86 years ago, and everyone agrees that no impact that large happened 86 years ago. The issue is that scientists and fundamentalists actually tend to agree about the last few thousand years which coincide with the timeline of the Old Testament.

We need an OVERLAP value that is somewhere around 5,000 years, roughly corresponding to the rise of the early Egyptian civilization. If a year is less than or equal to OVERLAP years before today, the science years and fundamentalism years are the same. Otherwise, we deduct OVERLAP years from the absolute value of the year, with “now” being year 0, then do the division, then add back OVERLAP. Unfortunately, this does horrible things to our divisor, since the implication is that somewhere in those (6,000 – OVERLAP) years, the earth formed and became habitable. This means that 4,499,995,000 science years convert to 1,000 fundamentalism years, making our new divisor a whopping 4,499,995 years. On this scale, the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs happened 5014.44 years ago. Now that’s more manageable, and it fits the viewpoint many fundamentalists have that people walked alongside dinosaurs and even rode them.

The implication of this, however, is disturbing. Projecting forward, we still use the new divisor. So when science says that our sun will burn out in 4.5 billion years, fundamentalism says this is really 1000 years from now! Certainly plenty of time for the rapture to take all the good people into heaven, but what about the smaller timescales like the next supervolcano eruption in North America? 10,000 – 20,000 science years becomes between 19.5 and 39 hours. I hope I post this in time for people to escape the imminent eruption.

The algorithm (and pseudoc0de, if you’d like to write it up):

OVERLAP=5000 # must be < $FND_EARTH_AGE

YearsAgo_SCI2FND(years)  {

if (year < OVERLAP) {
return years ;
}  else {
return ((years – OVERLAP) / DIVISOR) + OVERLAP);

YearsFromNow_SCI2FND(years) {
return years / DIVISOR

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to define YearsFromNow_FND2SCI and YearsAgo_FND2SCI.

(In?)efficient Laptop Cooling

I haven’t worked out the math yet, so this is either pure genius or yet another indicator of imminent societal collapse.  My laptop heats up enough to give first-degree burns when under heavy use, and when the fans run, they ruin sound quality for Skype, which I’m about to use.  Today’s solution is a stainless steel surgical tray on my lap, two flexible freezer packs on top of it, and the laptop on top of them.

In terms of efficiency, my freezer consumed an unknown-to-me amount of electricity to freeze and maintain the temperature of the freezer packs, which are good for maybe an hour, after which they’ll need to be re-frozen.  A laptop cooler tray with large slow-moving fans would cool quietly as well, but that has startup cost (the tray) in my case, and it uses electricity as it runs, too.

Could the laptop cooler tray possibly be more efficient than my Energy Star freezer?

FDIC Insurance Primer

With lots of banks failing and many more expected to fail, now is a good time to learn how to protect yourself with FDIC insurance. There is a series of very boring but very informative videos on the subject, but the gist is that a married couple can very easily protect up to $400,000 in assets per bank chain by opening two individual accounts and one joint account (checking or savings). Whether or not you should have a giant pile of cash sitting in a bank and not properly invested is another topic entirely.

If You Hated a Dumpster Company…

If you felt a pure, distilled hatred for a dumpster rental company, you could rent their biggest dumpster, fill it with magnets, and return it. Chances are that you would not technically be violating your rental agreement, in that you have caused no damage to the dumpster, and it would probably take them weeks to remove all the magnets.

I wouldn’t recommend this strategy for people who didn’t have

  • intense hatred
  • lots of money
  • lots of time

Coding Music

When I have music dominating my ear canals, I seem to be able to slam out code faster and better than usual. I don’t need it to be very loud, but it needs to be loud enough to drown out the ambient noise. I don’t know if the pace of the music makes me want to keep up, or if a lifetime of watching action heroes kick ass to a soundtrack has primed me to kick my program’s ass to my own soundtrack. Regardless, nothing else seems suitable to get me into the zone where I’m a conqueror who uses code like a sword swung from horseback.

Some of my favorite coding music falls into the category of gothic metal or industrial. Some examples: KMFDM, Pig, NIN, After Forever, Nightwish. What about you? Do you use music to get into the zone? If not, what do you do?

Incidentally, this is tangentially related to Nate’s post about mind-enhancing drugs possibly being of benefit.

Programming Injury

No, it’s not carpal tunnel syndrome. I seem to be immune from that because I didn’t learn to type from an idiot.

A couple of days ago, I was actually programming in the same position for so long that I managed to bruise the tissue at the tip of my tailbone. The irony is that I program in a comfy chair which should by no means be capable of such a thing. You really don’t know how often your tailbone is involved in ordinary activities like sitting, leaning, climbing stairs, or sleeping until it’s bruised. Perhaps I need a standing desk to avoid further injury.

Also: How pathetic is it to be injured while programming? On a scale of “twisted ankle trying on new shoes” to “severed nose while bowling” I’d say it’s somewhere around “pulled hamstring while making toast.”

Bride of Ubuntu

My wife was starting to have strange problems with her XP laptop which ended up being spyware/malware that grew and thrived in the petri dish that is Windows XP, an eXPerimental operating system by Microsoft, a convicted monopolist. Rather than go through the effort of joining the expensive and time-consuming arms race against malware on Windows XP, I booted the Ubuntu 8.04 live CD, rsynced her files to my RAID box, and then nuked Windows XP and installed Ubuntu 8.04.

She really doesn’t care what OS she uses, “as long as it works.” So far, it does. She doesn’t get strange windows popping up and ironically insisting that she buy software to fix her computer’s malware infections. Showing her how to run Firefox and OpenOffice in Ubuntu was 99% of the solution and took 20 seconds, and while the other 1% will realistically take most of the time and effort, it’ll be worth not having to worry about malware in Windows XP.

I do have one remaining problem that I have just begun to look into, involving really loud beeping and inconsistent wakeup from hibernation. Given the sheer volume of the Ubuntu community, I have confidence that I’ll resolve this soon, or at least work around it.

Responsible Cerberus Ownership

If you plan to bring a Cerberus into your home, there are some things you should realize:

  • Each head can have its own personality, complicating and lengthening the training and disciplinary process.  You may often find yourself in a position where you must discipline one head and not the others.
  • You must spay or neuter your Cerberus.  Aggression and scent marking will be the least of your worries if you do not.
  • A Cerberus may instinctively guard entryways, making them great guard dogs, but this can be awkward as guests arrive for your dinner party.  Re-purposing this energy into something productive can be difficut but rewarding.  Food aggression is a common symptom as you make progress.
  • Do not be tempted to saddle your Cerberus.  They are large enough to ride, but neither you nor they would like the experience, and it will ruin the trust you have built up to that point.

If you follow my guide, you can have a great and rewarding relationship with your Cerberus, lasting the full eternity that they live.