aku-aku: v.. To move a tall, flat bottomed object (such as a bookshelf) by swiveling it alternatively on its corners in a "walking" fashion. [After the book by Thor Heyerdahl theorising the statues of Easter Island were moved in this fashion.] source: LangMaker.com. Aku Aku also has another meaning to the islanders: a spiritual guide.
name that baby
Posted by dav at 2006 Mar 23 08:53 PM PST
File under: Thoughts

Sometime soon Mie and I are going to have to finally decide on a name for our art project. We've been using the "working title" of Gargle, courtesy of Mie's father, but that's probably not going to win her many friends in school so the pressure is on for something a tad more appropriate.

Since both Mie and I have three letter names, a few friends suggested we come up with another three letter name. My friend Jim who was a fellow computer science student back at my University went a step further and suggested a recursive three letter name, such that the initials were also the first name. For example, Amy Michelle Yaginuma = A.M.Y..

I liked this idea, so I wrote some quick ruby code to spit out all possible three letter permutations ending in Y:

for letter1 in 'a'..'z'
  for letter2 in 'a'..'z'
    puts letter1+letter2+'y'

Then I manually took out all the results that simply wouldn't do (like Cqy), yielding a number of normal names (Amy, Fay, Guy, Ivy, Jay, Joy, Ray, Roy) plus plenty of words that would be more creative names (Any, Ary, Bay, Boy, Coy, Day, Fey, Fly, Fry, Gay, Hay, Hey, Icy, Key, Lay, Nay, Pay, Ply, Pry, Say, Shy, Sky, Spy, Sty, Thy, Toy, Way, Wry, Yay). There were also a lot of results that were simply valid utterances although neither name nor recognizable word, such as Axy, Bly, Cey, Ely, Emy, Kny, Koy, Oxy, Pey, Qay, Rey, Umy, Vay, Yfy, etc.. There were a ton of these.

We're not into normal names so that cut out the first set, and yes, I fully expect the "why couldn't you give me a normal name" conversation years from now. You'll appreciate it one day, now go do your homework. Out of the second set, the closest Mie and I could come to an agreement was Sky, but we both thought that was still a little too much of a common hippie name. Personally, my favorites were Sky, Spy and Fly. I thought Yay would be funny for about a month, but figured I'd be made to regert it at some point. Bay is cool on one level, as it ties to San Francisco in a way, but I didn't like the sound of it as a name. Ary was too geeky even for me. I love the irony of Boy, but even I know that would be a mistake. Shy is nice, but could end up being a personality affector in one way or another. I also liked Qay for some reason. Eventually it occurred to me that Qay was the name of a club Mie and I went to the first time I visited her in Tokyo (Mission: Woo). But I just checked the photo record and it was actually called Cay. I kind of like that too.

So that turned up a lot of of possibilities, but nothing really grabbed us. Mie came up with a mutation of the algorithm, which was to make the name have more than three letters, but still be recursive. For example, Brandy Rand Yaginuma = B. Rand Y.. This would greatly increase the possibility space, but we haven't come up with any good ones yet.. I might have to write some code again to help out. Actually Mie's first example of this algorithm was Kinky Ink Yaginuma, which segues into our other category of attempts.

We were watching Born Into Brothels, a great documentary about children of prostitutes in India. One of the kids names was Kochi, which Mie really liked. Of course, this might have something to do with her blog being named Kokochi. A few days later we were out in North Beach and ran across an exotic dancer named Aiku, which Mie also liked. I suppose it's pretty sad that our short list is partially culled from films about prostitution and fake stripper names.

Another restriction Mie has placed on the name is that it must be easily pronouncable
to a native Japanese speaker. This has nixed a few names so far. I've recently started to like Xeni (yes, I got the idea from that Xeni), which is pronounced "SHEH nee", but Mie says that will turn into Jenny in nihongo. I like the idea of X Y as initials. Xeni Zenith Yaginuma! Or how about Wind Xeni Yaginuma, W.X.Y.?

Incidentally, I've always thought Danny and Quinn set the bar when they named their daughter Ada after the world's first computer programmer Ada Lovelace. Great name, great legacy. Geek power!

Mie and I both like the idea of using a place name as either a middle or first name. That way we could rationalize making a family trip there some day. One of these days we'll sit down with an atlas and scour the possibilities. We could also use somewhere we already know and love, like Pai in Thailand.

My friend Sean has been helpful. Before we knew the gender he came up with several names that would be appropriate just in case the baby turned out to be an hermaphrodite. I forget most of them, one was Bevmo. He always goes one step further than the average joe. His more recent suggestions include Feral Yaginuma, Tobor Isrobotspelledbackwards Yaginuma and Cataract Condoleeza Yaginuma.

Um, so as you can see we're not making a lot of progress. We still have at least a few months to decide though. And of course we could always do what our friend Lani did. She refused to name her son when she left the hospital, only settling on Nicholas after getting to know him for a couple of months. That actually makes a lot of sense.

And then there's the important thing with any name in this day and age: is the .com domain available? . Perhaps we should just name her Daughtr .

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Bookmark 2.0
Posted by dav at 2006 Feb 25 03:08 PM PST
File under: Geek

At the Bloggy Mountain High thing in Colorado, I met Byron, the inventor of the wonderful Clip-n-Seal product. So inspired by his bloggish inventors spirit, I now share with you my greatest invention, Bookmark 2.0! :)

Useful Bookmark

I read a lot of nonfiction books and I like to mark certain passages for later reference. I've used the dogear technique often in the past, but I've come up with a new technique. I take a normal bookmark and stick a bunch of Post-It page marker slips on the back of it. Whenever I want to mark a spot in the book I just peel off a strip and stick it on the page.

Bookmark 2.0

It's been working out great, but I would add one more thing to make it the perfect bookmark: a pencil or pen built into the bookmark itself. Anyone know if such a thing exists?

1. Invent the worlds best bookmark.
2. ....
3. Profit!

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kiva: loans that change lives
Posted by dav at 2006 Feb 23 09:02 AM PST
File under: News

About a year ago, Mie and I watched an excellent PBS documentary series called The New Americans. It followed the lives of immigrants who came to America to try to build a better life for themselves and their families. We were touched by their struggles and strength and it made us want to find a way to financially help people like this, because it is often a relatively small lack of money that holds these families down. Mie found a way to do this in a way within her own social network which has resulted in some nice Pay it Forward action, but it wasn't really the sort of situation we had envisioned.

I had previously ran across the website of Kiva.org, an organization that accepts loans over the Internet on behalf of small businesses in developing countries. This is similar in concept to the microfinancing of the Grameen Foundation which made headlines with their Cellphone program in Bangladesh. The foundation delivered loans of a few hundred dollars to women in Bangladesh who used it to purchase cellphones and service plans. These entrepeneurs then created a sustainable business based on charging their neighbors per phone call. The payback rate on these loans was outstanding. "Grameen borrowers have [repaid] their loans at a rate of 99 percent, which is higher than credit cards, student loans, or home mortgages."

Kiva allows Joe Internet to participate in microfinancing by vetting loan applications and then collecting the loan principal via paypal. Unfortunately, when I first stumbled across Kiva they had already collected all of the money they needed to meet their approved loan applications, so I couldn't participate. Recently they approved a new batch from small businessmen in Honduras, Nicaragua and Palestine so today I donated $100 towards the Kiva loan for Ziyad Grocery in Gaza, Palestine.

Kiva will provide me with email updates throughout the term of the loan and I can also check an online journal for this loan account. When Ziyad al Kafarneh pays off his loan in 12-16 months, I will get my $100 back. I can then loan it out again or withdraw it. I'm excited about this system! As of this morning, Ziyad Grocery is still a few hundred short from the total $800 loan amount. Perhaps you'd like to join me in this venture? I believe the funding level can be as low as $25.

CodeCon 2006
Posted by dav at 2006 Feb 11 12:32 PM PST
File under: Geek

Today is day three of CodeCon #5, one of my favorite hacker conferences. I think the first year was one day for $40 and Bram's little project BitTorrent was introduced to a crowd of about 50 geeks; this year it is a three day event for $85, Bram is the founder of world famous and VC funded BitTorrent Incorporated and there are over 100 geeks in attendance.

My favorite presentation Friday was on the Daylight Fraud Prevention, a clever system for defeating the folks who launch phishing attacks. Unfortunately it was the first presentation and the con started late so the speaker was told to rush his presentation. He spoke so fast it was complete buffer overflow for me at first, but I was impressed once I figured out what he describing and how comprehensively considered his system was. I also learned a lot about phishing techniques, which can be much more advanced than I had thought.

On Saturday I was looking forward to the Djinni presentation, subtitled "Approximating Solutions to Nigh-Unsolvable Problems--Fast" which was all about approximating answers to NP-Complete problems. In my last company I was responsible for tackling the NP Complete problem of subgraph isomorphisms in the realm of molecular seach. Unfortunately I got distracted at the beginning of his talk so I think I had problems following exactly how the Djinni method worked. I'll take a look at it again later to see how it could be applied to the molecular search stuff I used to work on.

Having telecommuted for about 3/4 of my 12 year career, I found the iGlance presentation impressive. It is a well thought out system for replicating the feel of being just over the cubicle wall from your in-fact remote collaborators. For awhile in my last job I approximated this by leaving an otherwise unused machine in the North Carolina office running an iSight link all day long connected to my California laptop. When folks in NC wanted to talk to me they could just stop by my 'desk' or just wave on their way out to lunch. iGlance is much much more sophisticated, but it's only available on Windows so I won't be trying it out until it's ported to an operating system I use.

In the end, I think my favorite presentation of the day was the Query By Example extension for Postgres. This allows you to specify conditional and ranking parameters when querying an N-featured information space. What that translates to is being able to specify the WHERE and ORDER BY sections of a SQL SELECT statement using a few examples of what rows in the table you like and don't like. This was an entirely new concept to me and I'm not even sure how I could make use of it, but I'm going to enjoy churning it around in my head in the coming months. It also introduced me to some new things to study like Support Vector Machines.

My low point of the day was certainly when I discovered that my ettercap network scan was causing some sort of havoc on the wifi network. This really surprised me as I always do these sorts of scans at conferences just to see how many people aren't using secure communications and post the status to the conference irc channel (for example, here's Friday's scan results that I posted Saturday morning, ettercap log, which were strangely numerous for such a security-conscious audience). I was never aware of it causing problems before, and in fact I'd done it at the last couple of CodeCons as well without incident. I still don't quite understand how it was affecting network quality, but I guess in a way that just underscores my point of publically doing these network scans anyhow; you gotta be careful, because any idiot can run an off the shelf app and scan your unprotected traffic. Still, quite embarassing :)

Today, although it means missing one of my favorite San Francisco activities, Urban Golf, I'm heading back in a bit for day three. The projects I'm looking forward to most today are Monotone, a "low stress, high functionality version control" system, and Rhizome, a s semantic web application stack. I seem to recall that I first ran across the Subversion version control system at a CodeCon, so who knows perhaps in a year I'll be tracking all my projects in Monotone.

not a bad way to go
Posted by dav at 2006 Jan 26 09:05 AM PST
File under: Thoughts

Last week I started following a story about an unidentified surfer who drowned off at Ocean Beach here in San Francisco. I've had a couple of close calls myself while surfing, so this kind of news always gets to me in a way.

In the end it turned out to be a friend of a friend, someone I had met briefly at a few dinners. You can read more about it (and watch a touching video of Sean) at Alex's memorial page here: Candleblog - Sean Fahey.

I never know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Everyone handles death differently. Normally I say as little as possible. This time I felt like I really might be able to offer a unique perspective though, and decided to give it a shot. Apparently it did actually help in a way, so I've decided to repost an excerpt here. Perhaps it can help someone else too.

One time I was surfing in waves far larger than my ability to handle them. There were very few people out so I was more or less alone with nobody near me. I took off on a wave and wiped out. I was held under water for quite some time, rolling around. When I struggled to the surface again I realized my surfboard was no longer attached to my leg leash and was nowhere in sight. I was now in the area where the waves were crashing down; the water was way too rough and I was too far out to give me any hope of making it to shore swimming. After a few minutes of struggling and making no progress and seeing no one around me I started realizing that this was probably it for me. I was going to die out there. My strength was almost gone. I had been knocked under water several times by huge waves. I knew I would not be able to struggle to the surface one more time after the next one hit me. Moments later two surfers who had noticed me finally made their way over and rescued me.

And here is the part that I want to relate, because maybe Sean had this moment too. I hope he did.

After becoming exhausted fighting to stay on the surface, when I realized I wasn't going to make it a great calm came over me. I was truly at peace with this being the end; I'll never forget the feeling and ever since that day I've hoped that it would be there with me again whenever the real end came. I thought about the people I loved and the people that loved me and I just wanted to tell them "it's ok, not a bad way to go" and I hoped they would understand.

Sean, I hope you're at peace.

shh, it's thinking
Posted by dav at 2006 Jan 3 02:46 PM PST
File under: Geek

This computerized chess opponent certainly has its intimidation style locked in. I think I'm about to get my ass kicked.


Posted by dav at 2005 Nov 30 03:39 PM PST
File under: Geek

My nephew, first grader Tyler Kennedy of the Alameda Kennedys, is a walking talking thinking machine. A few days ago 

[he] invented a new numerical unit. You know how they have million, billion, and trillion; thanks to Tyler we now have killion. "This number is so large that by the time you count to it, you're dead."

clankennedy: Tyler's First Grade Report Card

So of course I started wondering just about how big a killion actually was. Assuming that you could spend your whole life counting out loud, starting from say age 2 and diligently spending 16 hours a day counting until the numerical sequence terminates in a long dark tunnel with a white light at the end, how far would you get?

In about one second, I can count to six. But you couldn't just extrapolate from there of course, as it takes a lot less time to say 'five' than 'fourteen million six hundred fifty-two thousand seven hundred and forty-two'.

I remembered that one of the weekly Ruby Quiz challenges was to take an integer value and have a program spit out the English version of it. A quick search turned up the quiz and it's answers. I selected the first solution, by Eliah Hecht, since I love the way Ruby makes bare numbers Integer objects and that you can add methods at will to the standard classes. I modified his code so that instead of returning English words, it would return the number of syllables in the English version of the values.

My program initially calculated how many syllables you'd have time to utter, using 6 per second and assuming a lifespan of 72 years, starting at age 2 and counting 16 hours per day. It then set about iterating through an i+=1 loop until it reached that limit. Here's the output:

You have 1471680000 seconds (or 25550 days) to spend counting before you reach a killion.
That's enough time to utter eight billion, eight hundred thirty million, eighty thousand syllables.
Calculating killion now...
Up to one hundred thousand so far(5 seconds, 1052900 syllables}
up to four hundred thirty-one million, two hundred thousand so far (42180 seconds}...

"killion = four hundred thirty-one million, two hundred seventy-six thousand, three hundred and one"
So there you go, a killion is a bit shy of half a billion. Of course, an actual killion would seem to be a matter of personal constitution, but it's interesting to know the rough order of magnitude. It's going to be less than a billion (unless it's Ray Kurzweil counting).

That is, assuming my code wasn't buggy. You can check it if you're curious: killion.rb.

It took about 12 hours to run on my pentium 4 linux laptop. It looked like it was going to take 3 times that long on my G4 powerbook!

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