Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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One quarter million…

Filed under: — stan @ 6:20 am

The M9.0 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan last Friday has caused a spike in interest in earthquakes. That’s pushed the USGS Earthquake Notification Service, also known as my Pet Project, past its latest milestone.

Yesterday, I saw that ENS had passed 250,000 subscribers. It still amazes me that something I invented is used by so many people worldwide.

After the M7.2 Sierra El Mayor Earthquake last year, it processed about 700 earthquakes and sent 4,600,000 messages. But at that time, that was enough that the system ground to a halt under the load. This time, the system ran fine the whole time. I checked the logs, and in the first 24 hours after the Tohoku Earthquake, it processed 308 events and sent about 4,500,000 messages about them. I’d done some re-architecture of the database last year to increase its performance, and the system ran fine this time.


It’s springtime…

Filed under: — stan @ 6:20 pm

It’s springtime at Caltech. Which means it’s time for the ME72 engineering contest. I enjoy watching this whenever I can, since it’s always good geeky entertainment.

This year’s contest was to build machines to collect bottles and cans for recycling. The bottles and cans were spread around on the concrete, and they also had some on a set of ‘terrains’ for the machines to drive on. The terrains included a shipping pallet, some rocks, sand, and water. At the far end of the playing field, each team had three boxes for each of plastic, steel, and aluminum. They got points for getting the containers down to the boxes, more points for getting them in the boxes, and still more if they could do all that and get their machines back to the starting line before the end of each 5-minute match.

Each team built two machines for the task, and as always, some of the machines were designed solely to interfere with the operation of the other team’s machines. So we got to see some good machine clashes, which is always a hoot. In the end, Team BRB won with a good basic strategy. They had one machine that quickly scored at the start of the round, and then it and the other machine would attack and pin down the other team’s machines so that they couldn’t score. And that strategy brought them the trophy in the end.

All good geek fun.


It was a nice clear day

Filed under: — stan @ 6:42 pm

This afternoon, I got an email that there was going to be a launch of a Delta IV rocket from Vandenburg at 13:10:30 PST. I got this about five minutes before the fact, so I had just enough time to go across the street and up on the roof of the Seismo Lab. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be visible from Pasadena, since it’s quite far away, but it was. I could see the trail from the first stage very clearly. The first stage is powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, so I guess the trail was just a very large vapor trail. It was impressive that it was visible this far away.


Holidays at the Seismo Lab

Filed under: — stan @ 7:58 pm

Today was the day for decorating the tree at the Seismo Lab. They brought out the box of ornaments. And I noticed that they were wrapped up in old paper seismograms. I’d always wondered what became of all the old paper records after we went digital.


Limits of Artificial Intelligence

Filed under: — stan @ 10:01 pm

This is funny. I subscribe to a discussion mailing list that includes a lot of topics. Gmail has programs that look at the text of the messages to decide what ads to display on the page when I’m reading my mail.

So here’s the FAIL. You’d think that if they’re keying on ‘goldline‘ to trigger displaying the goldline ad, they might consider not displaying it if the next word is ‘scam‘.



My 15 minutes of geek fame

Filed under: — stan @ 4:58 am

My Pet Project got mentioned in xkcd today. As always, you have to read the mouse-over text on the cartoon to get the full effect:

xkcd cartoon

Ordinarily, I’d be extremely excited by this. But right now I’m up at 4:54AM fixing the my Pet Project’s database. The M7.2 earthquake yesterday caused so much activity on the system that the database got swollen and filled up the disk on some of the servers. So I’m up rolfing it back into shape.


Heh – More artificial intelligence fun

Filed under: — stan @ 7:16 am

funny google ads
Today I noticed that Google was putting some funny ads on my page here. Apparently they use some sort of algorithm that picks up keywords in the text to decide which ads to put on the page. And so here we have some ads for stair lift machines:

Stairs getting harder? Find out how Low Cost Stair Lifts can help you.

Why yes, when I got up to the top of the Stratosphere Tower core, I’d climbed up about 720 vertical feet of stairs, and yes, the stairs were getting harder. I’m sure that a Low Cost Stair Lift would have improved my time tremendously.


Nerd Battles

Filed under: — stan @ 6:18 pm

Today was the 2010 ME72 Engineering Contest at Caltech. I like to go see this whenever I get the chance. The last time I saw it, the teams built catapult-like machines to hurl a small projectile across the athletic field. In 2007, the machines had to carry a small piece of chain up a mesh slope. This year was a partially aerial contest. Teams had to build at least two machines, and most built three. One was to pick up and transport ping pong balls across the gym, and the other had to fly through a hoop 15 feet in the air above the gym floor. And since the rules explicitly allow for machines to interfere with each other, most teams also built a small wedge-like vehicle to drive around the floor and harass their opponent’s ball-transport machine. Also, the aerial machines had some slow-paced dogfights with one machine trying to prevent the other from being able to fly through the hoop.

As always, this was a lot of fun to watch. It was interesting to see the different designs that each team came up with, both in how they resembled each other, and also how they took different approaches at times. Good geek fun.


It’s almost spring…

Filed under: — stan @ 6:35 am

And that’s when a young man’s fancy turns to the ME72 Engineering Contest at Caltech. I’ve gone to see this several times over the years, and it’s always great fun. The 2008 contest featured machines hurling a ball across a field. In 2007 they had to place a small piece of chain high up on a net. And the rules explicitly allow machines to interfere with their opponents’ machines, which makes the whole thing much more entertaining to watch.

So next Tuesday, I’m going to walk over to the gym and see this. It should be fun.


xkcd rocks

Filed under: — stan @ 6:45 am

File this under, “why didn’t I think of that?”

xkcd comic

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