More space news: new planet

From the NASA press release:

The planet’s temporary name is 2003 UB313. A permanent name has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name. Stay tuned!

I’m thinking Minerva. I prefer Athena, but they tend to go with the Roman names. Now that I think about it, how did they pass her by for so long? Cthulu is my second choice.

Space is the place

It was another weekend chock full of house guests and out-of-town visitors, so it was not until yesterday that I heard that the guy shot in the tube station last week was not, in fact, a bomber. When there were no statements from the police after the first few hours, only eyewitness testimonials from other commuters, I sort of expected this. I mean, after the guy was dead, you have to think it was pretty obvious whether or not he had a bomb, and if there is a bomb, why wait to talk about it?

It put me in a pretty arch mood, so I was in a vulnerable moment when I saw this plea on Slashdot to donate to The Planetary Society to help fund their project to save a chunk of NASA’s data from Pioneer from being destroyed, and I sent them a chunk of money. While Bush’s proposal last year to put a permanent base on the moon as a stepping stone to Mars is a bit misguided and politically motivated, it wasn’t a stupid move. I do believe in space exploration in general as a way to bring humanity together, to foster a perspective of life which makes it difficult to even think about blowing other people up.

And it seems like there has been a lot of space news since then, too. Besides the successful shuttle launch, another Slashdot story pointed to some weird sounds from Saturn. You really should check them out; they’re creepy creepy creepy. They’re not really ‘sounds’ per se, but radio emissions related to auroras near the north and south poles of the planet, recorded by the Cassini probe (a joint project between NASA (the Cassini part) and the ESA (the Huygens part)), and tweaked to be human-audible.

Oriental de Cuba firebombed

Caught some sad news today via Bostonist. Oriental de Cuba, a Cuban restaurnat in Jamaica Plain, had some molotov cocktails thrown thorugh its windows in the middle of last night.

I don’t go to JP often, and I haven’t been to Oriental in years. But I have some fond memories…

I know exactly the last time I was there. It was September 15, 2001, my wedding day. I had spent the night at Simon and Frances’s place in JP. Terri and I decided to keep the ‘not seeing each other on the wedding day’ tradition, which, since we’d been living together for some time, required me to vacate. I was actually happy to spend some time the night before on neutral ground, away from the swarming madness of wedding preparations.

Frances, in particular, was great. The night before the wedding, I was pretty fried and tired, but full of nervous energy. I was trying to remember what I had to do the next day. “Write it down,” she said.

“I’m too tired; I’ll do it in the morning.”

She gave me that look. “Now.”

She was right; I made a list and felt way better.

I know exactly what I heard when I woke up on their spare bed that morning. An airplane. September 15, 2001, as you’ll remember, was four days after September 11, 2001. Many airports had already been re-opened, but Logan was kept closed a little longer (as Sarah and Michael found out the hard way, at the St. Louis airport, which is only halfway here from Oregon). The city had seemed so quiet without airplane noise, an ambient drone you don’t notice until it’s gone.

We went out to breakfast that morning, first trying somewhere I don’t remember, but that was too crowded. We decided to just go to Oriental.

I know exactly what I ordered. Huevos y jamon and a mango batido.

I’m glad the owner is planning on re-opening.

UPDATE: Today’s story in the Globe gives a little more color.

Travel notes, Boston to State College, July 2005

[this entry has been sitting in my editor a few days; apologies for the late posting]

Yesterday afternoon, Terri whisked me away from work early, and we hit the road to State College, Pennsylvania. We are spending a few days here for Arts Fest and to throw a baby shower for Terri’s sister Kim.

Rein's Deli, Vernon CTWe didn’t leave as early as we hoped (of course), but we still just beat the worst of rush hour, and ended up hungry just before Hartford at about 5:30. So we stopped at a past trip favorite, Rein’s Deli. It’s not an ideal stop for travelling because it’s not all that fast, but the food is quite good, and we were sort of in the mood. At some point we have to stop there when it’s somehow feasible for me to get a bloody mary. We got there just as the early bird crowd was heading out.

When we hit Scranton, Terri offered me either a game, a story, or a conversation. I chose a story, and got one about Cosmo the Policeduck, his wife Gertie, and his children, Ludlow and Celeste. It was extremely charming. Vintage Terri.

We made it to State College just after midnight, so we actually made decent time, despite the lengthy dinner break.

Feels just like starting over

We have a pretty good IT setup at work. We all get new laptops every two years, and care is taken to bring our documents & settings from old laptop to new.

Today, as a cure to some drastic ills with my laptop, I agreed to having my hard drive completely wiped. It was extremely liberating to have five years of cruft completely obliterated. To be fair, most of what I do on a daily basis lives on remote machines, in source control repositories, or is otherwise stored externally. And I did back some folders up to CD first.

But all those files that I couldn’t quite bring myself to wipe out because maybe I’ll need them eventually? Gone. All that documentation for products I haven’t used in 3 years? Gone. All that stuff I bought from the iTunes music store? Gone. All the odds and ends, the various conflicting and half-abandoned folder organization campaigns, the photos from a group offsite in 2000? Gone, gone, and gone.

I feel so liberated. It will be interesting to see what I miss. From a software point of view, I’m only reinstalling stuff as I need it. In the first day, that has been, in this order,

and then when I got home

I will eventually be wanting the cygwin utilities so that I can use bash instead of an DOS prompt, like a civilized human being.

I’m wondering how long i’ll be able to hold out before I have to install anything else.

As far as replacement mp3′s, so far it’s been two purchases which came in the mail over the weekend, A Star for Bram and Obliteration Pie (come on, it has Robyn doing Funkytown!). And some Rasputina that Terri bought last week.

Sed & Awk

Terri also recently mentioned my cousins’ visit. One of the small things that happened that still makes me happy is that I got to pass along my first O’Reilly book, sed & awk, to Margaret.

I bought that book in 1998, shortly after I had my Unix Liberation Moment. It was this gestalt where I realized a whle bunch of things at once:

  • I already knew more than I thought I did from using a VAX in college
  • Unix is elegant, Unix has a philosophy
  • Unix people are smart, literate, and have a sense of humor. (Witness commands like “apropos” to find documentation about a certain keyword or “nice” to tell the kernel to run a command without hogging resources) . Unix is a culture.
  • Intuitivity is a function of expectation. Before the Moment, I was a pretty committed Mac user, and I firmly believed in much of the Apple human interface guidelines, like making all parts of an application obvious and visible to the user. Unix actually has a very similar philosophy when it comes to not surprising the user. But Apple had made this extra leap that I had taken in without consideration, that the “user” should be an accountant or a musician or a graphic designer or an academic and shouldn’t have to have an idea of how to use a computer. Unix, on the other hand, was created in an era when “user” meant a fellow computer scientist. Unix applications have vastly less development overhead, because the user interface is simple and assumes that the user is going to do at least a little reading before they run anything, and will take any “undo” precautions on their own. In fact, the scripting languages common in the Unix world make things that seem like magic to both laity and Windows programmers not only possible, but fairly easy. (Don’t get me wrong; the idea that one need not be a computer scientist to use a computer has been hugely beneficial to the world; but the downside is while using a computer in a GUI environment is pretty easy, programming a computer in a GUI environment is very, very hard. And at one time, programming was within reach of committed non-programmers).

Two of those scripting languages to come out of the Unix world are sed and awk.

Imagine being able to very expressivly write search-and-replace commands, like “look for three numbers, a dash, three numbers, a dash, and four numbers; oh, and the first three numbers might have parentheses around them instead of a dash”. Sed lets you do things like that, which might be useful if you were, say, trying to extract U.S. phone numbers from a chunk of text.

Awk is sort of like sed, except it’s more conducive to working with more fielded text files. So, say you had an Excel spreadsheet 20,000 rows long, where you wanted to take a free-text address field and break out the state and country into separate columns. You could spend two hours writing a buggy VB script which worked on 80% of the rows and spend the rest of the day manually fixing the last 4,000 rows. Or you could dump it to a .csv file, and write a 3 or 4 line awk script in about 10 minutes which worked for all the rows.

So, as you can tell, I was very happy when Margaret asked about sed & awk, and mentioned that it might be useful for her work. I felt like I was teaching her the secret handshake, handing her the keys to the car, and passing on the secret of fire, all in one.