Saturday, July 01, 2006

Discovery Launch

The space shuttle Discovery is planning to lift off at 3:49 pm today. Here's NASA's coverage, which includes the countdown to launch. Here's the official countdown clock, which has less time on it because they have scheduled holds which pause the clock at predetermined points (currently stopped at T-3 hours). And here's the local weather. There is a risk of severe weather this afternoon, which could result in delaying the launch to another day.

Here's hoping for a successful and uneventful launch. Good luck, Discovery!

Update: Launch rescheduled for Sunday, July 2 at 3:26 pm due to weather conditions.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quote of the Day - June 29, 2006

It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do.

- Elbert Hubbard

Memory Allocation

I have a strange way of storing and retrieving pieces of information in my brain. For example, I store numbers and names in different places. I can usually derive up to the first six digits of a person’s phone number based on where they live or work. However, the last four digits can pose an interesting problem. I sometime get confused as to whose extension I’m calling at work, even if I call them regularly. There’s a certain group of numbers that I call fairly often, a set that I don’t call much at all, and the rest I usually have to look up. If I call someone often, I look in my “often used numbers” list and can usually remember which group of numbers goes with whom. If I don’t call that often, I look in my “infrequently used numbers list” and then do my best to remember whose number is whose. It’s a bit like sifting through loose pieces of paper on your desk where you’ve jotted down numbers but no names. “Hmmm. I need to call Ashley. I haven't called her in a while. Where'd I put that number? Let’s see. 5555. Whose number is that? Okay, this one is Jim’s, so it’s not Jim. This one is Laura, so it’s not Laura… would it be weird if I just called it to find out? Oh, hey, Bill. I was trying to call Ashley. Sorry.”

Directions are a weird one, too. I seem to store new directions in something like reverse polish notation where I memorize a list of road names then a list of turns. For example, instead of thinking “left on Altamont, right on Summit, right on High Point”, I think “Altamont, Summit, High Point, left, right, right.” And if new sets of directions contain “old” directions (directions I’m already familiar with) I make a note to access those in a different place in memory and only pay attention to the new part. Why waste precious short term memory on directions I already know when it’s the first few turns or last few turns that I’m really worried about?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You Know You've Been Watching Too Much Firefly...

...when you're reading Xilinx documentation (pdf) and you think of the good doctor.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What Do You Do For a Living?

On the metro ride home yesterday, a woman who had been to the wine tasting festival went all Bus Uncle on a kid who refused to give her a piece of gum. She and her friends concluded that he didn’t have a job and wasn’t in school, so they started talking about how important it was for people to go to college and have a job. After the kid and his friends got off, they started asking everyone in sight if they were in school or if they had a job and what that job was. I was quite literally in the middle of all of this, with Metro Aunt and one friend in front of me, another standing to my right, and another wandering around on my left, wine glass still in hand. I was hoping against hope that they would not turn to me. I have enough trouble explaining what I do for a living to people who are sober and not determined to prove a point to someone who has left the room. Shortly before my stop, they did turn to me, but only to apologize for my getting caught in the middle.

So as I sat there, making myself invisible, I thought about the question, which you inevitably end up having to answer when you meet new people, not just tipsy folks on the subway. People have very different ideas of what an engineer is. Those who don’t know to ask “what kind?” usually either think of a train engineer or a civil engineer. If I say “electrical engineer”, the closest concept many people can wrap their minds around is “electrician”. And those who know the difference still have to clarify, because electrical engineering is very broad. If I answer “computer engineer”, people often think “computer programmer”. Which… closer. But don’t tell the programmers I work with.

Maybe I should just say that I’m a rocket scientist. At least people have heard of that one.

Why Do You Write These Strong Female Characters?