Archive for November 2006

woops… *slip*… BONK!

Yesterday night I… this is horrible… tripped over my power cord and dropped my laptop. NOOOOOOOOOO!

It was a sad moment to see my trusty old HP dv1000 go down and hit the wooden floor – the only 3 square feet of my apartment that’s not covered with carpet. After re-assembly (hmm lots of doors to screw back on… and cracks to push closed… and… yeah) it booted up and happily told me that windows cannot start since its files are corrupted. At this point i’m just about to start banging my head against the floor… Luckily, on reboot, Linux popped right up, happily booting into my good ol’ Ubuntu login screen. Yes for Linux! Afraid that im going to do something else to my laptop… like, i dunno, spill my ice cream over it or something, i shut it off, hoping i’ll be able to recover my data.

Today I bought myself a nice Maxtor Basics Personal Storage 3200 320Gb external USB drive. I really couldn’t decide what I want, and I was going for firewire, or maybe an enclosure with a nice fat, fast hard drive, or maybe a small portable external… In the end I settled on the Maxtor since the Western Digital My Book drives were tested to write almost 3 times slower that the Maxtor and Iomega ones, and if im going to start doing regular backups, write speed is way more important than read speed right? I picked it up with extended warranty for about $190, which i thought wasn’t too bad (sure, i could get better, but i needed it right now)…

I was impressed when i took it out of the packaging (and this is one of the few devices with packaging you don’t need to destroy to get in!). Its a nice, gray, sleek package, with a small footprint.Very much of a “business” “professional” “hidden” appearance. I plugged it in (the little green light pops up) and after some fooling around with gparted to partition and format it with FAT32 (it came with NTFS, and I only had linux, and since i would probably want to access my files from a windows computer in the near future, FAT32 it was. I’m not going to fool around with the unstable NTFS support right now).

How does it perform?
I copied my entire 59.3 Gb Data partition in 1 hour 8 minutes, which comes down to 14.88 MegaBytes per second (or about 120Mbps) which is faster than what I would have been able to do over LAN (i was thinking of buying a hard drive for my desktop and backing up to it) but probably still slower than what FireWire would have given me. On the other hand, the Western Digital My Book (according to CNet) would have taken about 3 hours and 36 minutes to copy the same amount of data. I’m sure the 16 Mb cache of this drive, unusually large for enternals, helps a lot.

The drive is smooth and reasonably quite as well. I was told while buying it that Maxtor has a power issue and that they drives fail easily, which i didnt quite believe (I have an old SCSI maxtor that has been running strong for about a decade) but i did end up paying the $30 for the 4 year extended warranty just to be safe.

Now, my laptop still needs a doctor… And it seems like my Windows boot partition is gone, cause the drive makes all kinds of weird sounds when i try to access it, and don’t really get anywhere…. :-(

so, luckily I have all my code, music and the like on my new external, but so far things aren’t looking happy for my laptop.

Once I, ahem, get a new baby to play with (Thank you Yahoo!, now i know what my Hack Day prize money will go to…) i’ll set up an rsync script or something. rsync apparently can do some sweet stuff with keeping a backup synchronized. I’ll have to look into it now…


After a visit to Sky High Sports in Santa Clara, I just want to JUMP! This place is insane! They converted an old warehouse into a trampoline arena… yeah, you read that right! Front flips galor. Thanks to Jennifer and ViVi for taking me, this place is awesome.

It reminded me of a nice little teaser video for the riding crew I love:

I’m still stiff and sore from saturday night’s escapades…

Its time to ride again: New World Disorder 7

I haven’t been focused on the world of extreme sports much, being immersed in programming, studying, and friends… well, programming and studying. So it was a pleasant surprise to click onto my old haunt and find that NWD7 is out. The trailer looks simply AMAZING, so take some time out to check out what these people do on their bikes:

See more videos like this at Mountain Biking at

Its time to get out the old Norco again! If you haven’t tried out an extreme sport, give it a shot this christmas – getting out there on the skis are always a great way to appreciate nature in a whole different way. As for me, i think you’ll find me around downtown SF, ripping up the concrete!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Leonid Meteor Shower!

Yesterday night the Leonid meteor shower peaked, with up to 100 meteors entering the atmosphere per hour. I ended up watching (but mostly talking about the state of cosmology and the theories of the expanding universe) from two spots up on Pagemill road in the Los Altos Hills. We counted 5 meteors amongst the 4 of us, making a pretty good average for spending only about an hour seriously watching.

Look out for when the next meteor shower is coming your way, its a great reason to grab a flashlight, a blanket, and some friends, and go out there to discover the universe!

We are, quite directly, The Universe’s way to perceive itself. Get to it!

Jy was nog nooit in Lang traat as dit reen nie

The title reads “You’ve never been in Long Street when it rains…” and is the title of a South African song.

We all make many compromises through our time, trading in some dreams for others, and making peace with reality and working towards internal happiness is something our present society does not necessarily encourage or reward. Especially for us in the engineering/business world, life is about the next deadline, the next job, “the next big thing”. I hope to not underestimate the importance of constantly evaluating my path in life and adjusting it accordingly.

The trouble today for the (mostly wealthy) middle class of today is that there’s so many options to choose from and almost no guidelines on which way to go. The “Tradition!” that Fiddler on the Roof so eloquently examines has mostly been trodden down, thrown aside and ridiculed for being stupid, being the “easy way”, and the cause for untold amounts of struggle and unhappiness. Yet tradition has always given people a framework to guide themselves in. We’ve deconstructed most of the moral and practical guides that religion and tradition gave previous generations. We’re like a bunch of web developers writing in assembly – sure its going to be powerful and fast when you finally get it right, but the odds against success are… you get my gist. So where to? And what’s with the title?

The choices I’ve made in the couple of years i’ve been able to make them currently brings be to UC Berkeley, right smack in the Bay Area, studying Electical Engineering and Computer Science (read: selling my soul to the EECS department) and maybe once a week picking up my Bass Guitar or taking my bike out for a quick roll. Here and there I share time with friends, and over the weekends I am fortunate enough to be able to see my parents fairly often. But there’s something severely lacking in these events – where does introspection, planning life, working towards a future I want to be in, making a difference, or “training for life” come in? All the aspects that seems to crucial on the path to happiness are swept under the rug of competition for the top spot in the class, performing for a high GPA, working towards a well-paid job and studying studying studying for the next round of midterms. And yet, I’ve never been in long street when it rains. I sometimes think back of the time I lived in South Africa, and what comes back in the incredible amount of time I could spend on those things – the aspects of life that does take me on the road to truly live life.

I don’t have a conclusive answer to this extremely pressing problem that seems rampant in our society’s fabric, but I will press upon everyone to always keep in mind that, talking from experience, everything around you can change at a moment’s notice. So take the time to meet with a friend and walk through Long Street when it rains. If you don’t do it today, you never will.


Police Brutality at the University of California???

I was extremely shocked today to watch the video of a UCLA student screaming out in pain as he is repeatedly tazed by the University of California’s Police Department when he did not immediately comply with their demands that he leave the building. Although I do agree that the student overreacted when the police demanded that he leaves, I can see no evidence of a physical danger that he posed, and the the response from the police was neither humane nor calculated. It is sad to see that the authorities who are responsible for the students that will form the next generation of leaders in the USA act in such brash, trigger-happy ways. The initial press article is here (“Student shot with taser by UCPD“) as well as a follow up (“Community responds to Taser use in Powell“).

It is very ironic to note that UCLA just awarded a “Meritorious Service/Taser Award” to their officers for “subduing a patient without harm after he threatened staff at the Neuropsychiatric Hospital”. It sure seemed that these officers thought they had the perfect opportunity to be awarded the “Angry mob/Taser Award”. I can only hope that I do not find myself in a situation where this is happening, because chances are good that people at Berkeley will step in more forcefully that the onlookers at UCLA, since there is still strong feelings of “protecting” our legacy from the Free Speech Movement.

I would say more, but I do not feel safe to express any other opinions that I already have.

Hackers and Ethics

Now having earned the title of “Hacker” in an official competition by Yahoo!, I probably need to put into perspective what I do as a hacker… I mash existing services together in creative ways they were not necessarily made to fit together. Notice that there is no criminal activity involved! The “Criminal” connotation with the term “Hacker” is mostly a by-product of the (as is too often the case) misrepresentation in the media of seemingly similar but ideologically completely separate groups.

A great paper on this was written by my old professor Brian Harvey! Read up on his view of “What is a Hacker”, and “Computer Hacking and Ethics”.

In the meantime, I hope I survive this week!
Stay well and stay strong!

Yahoo! University Hack Day Success!!!

For the 36-hour period between Wednesday morning, November 8th, and Thursday evening November 9th, I happily hacked away at “The Schedulator” – my hack for Yahoo!’s university hack day. My concept was extremely simple – mash together Berkeley’s online schedule of classes with Yahoo!’s calendar. Why? Frankly, I’m sick of picking classes using Berkeley’s Web 0.5 interface (, and then going through a 30 minute process (if I’m really fast) to import all these details into my Palm Pilot / Google / Yahoo calendar. And if you have all three of those, expect it to take 3 hours to get that scheduling information everywhere. Cmon, what’s the digital age about, wasting time? So! A purely utilitarian hack to a very much pressing personal problem – save some time and import your schedule into Yahoo!’s calendar with a couple of clicks (don’t forget the sweet AJAX!)

My hack involved a lot of screen scraping – until Yahoo! releases their Calendar API (which I discussed with Jeremy Zawodny) I will stick with Ruby’s WWW::Mechanize and good ol’ net/http. This makes any hack very unstable, unfortunately!

Berkeley (to prove that they, although they claim to be number one, falls just short of the mark) ended up having no hacks submitted on time – yes, not a single one. I contacted Yahoo!’s reps beforehand, explaining that my dearest Physics Professor (who rocks btw) scheduled a midterm right through hack day presentations, and can i please come over to Stanford to present?

Everything worked out nicely, and I ended up winning a nice big check for first place! Very impressive, considering that my hack demo ended up with a nice big Exception error message! Stanford’s firewall screwed over my WWW::Mechanize hack (which was completed around 5am… might explain that!) and I couldn’t import the data into Yahoo!’s calendar. All in all I proved my concept though!

SO, what did I learn in this process of a Yahoo! Open Hack Day and the University Hack Day?

- Presentation is key. If you can’t demo your hack, you probably won’t get far. On the same level, a good demo is worth as much as a good hack!
- Hack something different. Yes, this is very logical – duh! And my hack did not even satisfy this – its a very straightforward app, nothing “wow!” – but its worth thinking long and hard about what idea you want to show.
- Don’t be afraid to do anything! In contradiction with above, don’t sit around waiting for the perfect hack, just hack it! You will be surprised with what you learn
- Collaboration is great. Team members, friends, fellow programmers, what have you – they make the whole process much more fun and much more creative!
- network network network! The people you meet and the people you know can help you and guide you, so make contacts, get their cards, email and visit!
- Ride the wave. This Web 2.0 thing is still new to developers at the college level. Ride this wave while you still have lots of space on the waters!

OK, that’s all I can think of now. I won’t say too much about how disappointed I am with Berkeley’s response to this awesome event, and that I’m pleasantly amazed by Stanford’s nice people and (since i’ve been there many times) sweet sweet campus.

All in all, The Schedulator, written in Rails, will become part of soon enough!