Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Melting El Capitan

Take a look at the image below, which compares El Capitan (coordinates 37.729639,-119.63662) on Google, Yahoo, and Bing maps. You see something very interesting, which reveals something about the stitching algorithms used by all the big tech companies here. (Disclosure: I work at Google, but I have no idea how Maps are actually implemented, I don't work on Geo stuff).

Specifically, that they don't expect almost perfectly vertical surfaces. El Capitan is unusual in that it's pretty much straight up and down. When dealing with imagery that was acquired via a satellite, it's unclear how to convert that into an image which has a different perspective.

So what you're really seeing here is the angle from which the satellite took the picture. Google from the North-by-North-East, Yahoo from the East, Bing from the North. They can't figure out what to fill in that unknown divide-by-zero kind of space, so they bleed in from around it to avoid having a map with a bunch of black holes in it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weird business idea of the day

Google (and other companies) often provide this "your lights are on" registry -- you put in your car's license plate number, and an email address, and if somebody notices your lights are on, they can put in the plate number and the system sends you a message. The important features of this system are:
  • Random people can't determine the mapping between license plates and people.
  • When you send a message through the system, the recipient finds out who you are.
So here's the idea: I want the police to provide this service, state-wide, for everybody. They have your name and possibly phone number already. You can also opt in by giving an email address. For $5 you can send a letter to anybody addressed by license plate. $.99 for an email or SMS message. Some messages like "lights are on" would be free.

The system lives at a well-known number so you can send a text there, with the first 7 characters being the license plate, and it forwards the body to the recipient and charges your carrier.

Business model is for "missed connections" while driving, or the various cases where you'd leave a note right now -- like "I saw somebody hit your car", etc.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

It all adds up.

There's a bar I'm a regular at. Very regular, in fact. I also keep track of my finances in a detailed way (with Gnucash). But it's still kind of ridiculous to run the numbers.

Over the last three years in the bay area I've:

  • Visited it 145 times.

  • Driven 6525 miles for the experience (22.5 miles each way * 145 times)

  • Spent about $753 on gas (based on 26MPG and $3/gallon)

  • Spent $4148 at the bar itself ($28/visit = $10-15 cover + drinks)

  • For a total of $4901 over the last three years. Sheesh!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dr. Maryam Amidi, DDS

The cost of living around here is pretty high, and everything seems expensive -- including dentistry. Sadly, these costs do not necessarily imply a better quality of service.

Recently, I got a wonderful spam message from my Dentist (Maryam Amidi). I was pissed and asked why she was selling my personal info. The response was simply "Please disregard the email...". After further prompting I got the full story in perfect English: "It seems like we opened up a pt email with a virus. We don't disclose your information to a this party."

So, her staff is not so good with Them Computing Machines. Apparently somebody opened up a virus and spammed her entire clientele. Awesome.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

GPG agent and pin entry

I recently hosed my X installation trying to get fglrx drivers to work. Turns out, that ubuntu stable is running a super old version of the x server, with which the latest fglrx drivers simply will not work. Somehow in the kernel locking and hard reboots, I managed to hose.... something. I had to manually remove a bunch of packages (dpkg --purge) and rebuild before I could get things working again.

The "solution" to this first part was to stick with an old version of the driver until the next Ubunto long-term release. :(

After all that hacking, my nice GPG interface went away. It used to have:

  • A pretty gnome-looking window for entering password,
  • Short (like 15-30 minutes?) cache time for future gpg commands
  • A little tray icon with a lock I could use to clear the cached pass phrases.

That's all gone. pinentry-gtk2 simply doesn't work. When installed, it flashes up a window, which accepts no input, and then disappears leaving a "bad passphrase" message on the terminal. The little tray thing is also gone.

The "solution" to all this is the pinentry-qt package, which pops up a KDE-looking window for entering the password. Lacking the system tray icon, I've found that sending a kill -hup to the gpg-agent directly will make it dump its cache.

So at least things are kind of working.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Translation Party!

Saw Translation Party today and found it too fun not to share. Type something in, and it translates back and forth to japanese until it finds a stable translation. Try putting in something with potentially subtle meaning, and hilarity ensues. For example, the following:

What the hell are you doing to my cat?Person A.
It's not my cat? Person B (Person a: No, it's MY cat, you weirdo).
It's my cat? Person A: I mean, I think it is.
That's my cat? Person B: obviously confused.
What is my cat? Person A: Says something deep and meaningful.
My cat? Person B: Still focused on the here and now.
What cats? Person B again: Cat? What cat? I don't know what you're talking about. I never heard anything so ridiculous.
Cat? Person A: trying to verify that person B speaks english.
Cat? Person B: No, I don't speak english

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Using your new T-mobile G1 "dream" phone to kill time in a verizon store.

Also, yay awesome phone! I wasn't convinced at first but having a web-enabled, geo-aware device with a qwerty keyboard, touch screen, and a good camera in my pocket all the time fundamentally changes the way I can iteract with the "real world". And the call quality is remarkable. Freaked out my step-dad at first, he said it "sounded like I was next door".

And the fact it's an open platform (I've already hooked it up to my computer and transferred files- something Verizon tries at all costs to keep you from doing) is awesome. I see app development in my future.