Monthly Archives: June 2016


Sometimes I wish to avoid the internet, and vanish from the portal which is a window into the larger world. Because the larger world does not stop being occasionally terrifying. It’s shocking and frightening. Instead I’d rather stay inside my home and possibly organize things. Or draw sketches of how a different image of the world would look. My recent mission is to find the least frequently accessed spaces in my house and check the contents. Maybe there are things I could eliminate hiding in those unused spots.

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Changing patterns

There are little stories laying nested all over the land. It’s been a somewhat aimless day, full of exploratory wanderings or rather, a aimless day mostly full of resting. Who knows why lies ahead? It’s graduation weekend, an exciting time for the world, as the most recently trained youths are released out into the real world, to develop their very own real lives. It’s an exciting time to see this going on, as people move on and transition into changing life patterns. Seeing all of these changes makes me wonder, what sort of changes do others observe me progressing through. As hard as I try to hide, there must be visible changes I am making  to that others can see.

If I carefully pause and reflect, I already know the changes I am making. It’s somewhat easy, I know where I am in life, and have a general opinion about where I want to get to. Extrapolate, and figure out what the in between steps are. Those are where I am at. Switching between my third and fourth year of graduate school. Preparing for the final steps to complete a phd, which is really a starting point for my professional career as a research engineer.

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Who needs a title anyway?

Tonight I decided to re-read some fragments of my papers collection. Not knowing where to start, I sorted the papers by date and began to browse titles, oldest to newest. The oldest paper was by Elmore, and since it’s an important topic I skipped reading it. Maybe that was a mistake, but Elmore Delay is something I’m reasonably familiar with implementing. The next paper was one I’ve not really read in to great of detail, something about a saw tooth comparator. If it is going to remain in my papers collection it is something I should read again, but tonight was not the night for it. Next came Landauer’s work on irreversibility and heat generation. Now this is not only one of the oldest papers in my collection, it is also one collected by undergraduate me, and I must say it is one of the papers terribly influential on my thoughts. I’ve not thought back on it for some time, but seeing it again forced many memories back. Old ideas and half finished questions, it was excellent to see my old favorite; still it was not the time for reading already treasured works in the collection. Gallager’s thesis, authored in  1961 was in my list, followed by four works by Dijkstra. And the works by Dijkstra are the ones which caught my eye.

I simply picked one of the four. I was looking for a relatively quick read, one without a narrow focus, so I settled on ‘On A Methodology of Design’.  The paper is nine pages typed on a typewriter. It’s a very retro feel, and since the author is using a type writer there are corrections visible within the text. Really, some things I do clearly recall from this Methodology paper is:

  • The example of ALU operations involving 7 and multiples of it taking longer than all other things is given as an example of breaking hierarchy.
  • There is a typo, which is not caught. It’s a combination of the words ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’. The end result is complxated.
  • The paper is actually a draft of a speech Dijkstra presented.

There are of course many other delicious tidbits in the paper, it’s nearly odd and peculiar that these three are the ones most notable for my mind. I suppose it is because Dijkstra is writing from the point of view of a software programmer. He lives in a set of constraints and in a layer of abstraction that is somewhat disjoint from my own perspective. He writes about how at one time mathematicians were unable to consider the ‘correctness’ of problems designed to be implemented on machines, because the machines did not yet physically exist. He writes an example of a hierarchy using countries, states, counties, towns… and so on down a spatial hierarchy. Then he gives the same example for computing machines. The design level my interests predominantly lie is somewhere around that extremely frustrating ALU which takes orders of magnitude longer when confronted with a 7.  Perhaps a better suited title for this paper would be ‘On a Methodology of Software Design’  but it would have lessened the odds of me selecting it to re-read, and I would have forgotten that this paper is where I found the wonderful 7 example. It really is a good point about how hardware should not break its layer of abstraction.

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Optimization, choices, decisions

The dilemma is constant and never ending, it’s always a question between choices. I remember reading Feynman’s writings on choices. How for some choices eventually he decided to stop letting the question rise up. I suppose that is a clear difference between studying a natural science, like physics, vs my own field of computer engineering. An engineer is tasked with finding solutions to a problem, and frequently, also tasked with finding the optimum solution to a problem. But there is the challenge. What defines optimum? It’s ‘the best’ surely, but any designed object is made to satisfy and function for multiple users. Is it the best for all of them? Maybe the thing is simply ‘perfect’, but no one can really figure out how to use it. Then the engineer has not really managed to succeed either.

Before even getting started, there are choices for an engineer. What level of abstraction to design on for instance. That is one of the things which help define what sort of metrics are necessary to decide on ‘the best’. The choices are nearly endless though. Sometimes when debating which course of action to take, the suggested path is something not even on the original list of considered options.

This is one of those things where it’s somewhat obvious. It reminds me of making a choice to clip all of some group of wires to exactly the same length. Carefully work is carried out to cut all of the wires to the same length. A bit later, it’s discovered that all of the wires needed to be at least a certain length to be useable, and now none of the wires will work at all.

This writing is a bit wandering, I suppose it might be a good idea to clean it up, but the blog is for writing straight thoughts, it’s a very unedited blog. It’s the land of first drafts. Medium is used for more finished works.

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Long Term Thinking

The years work is simply a sum of the many days. The years should be adjusted and calibrated on a day to day basis, to make sure the end result reflects the intended result. How long will one person stand in one place? Today I was walking my dog, and thinking about the fleeting sense of time passing with my pet. A person cannot hold still forever.. No one can hold still forever, it’s terribly unlikely. Others eventually will move around the still person, and then the person will feel an illusion of movement.

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Day and Night

The night was spent dreaming and the day was spent cooking. The time now is Sunday evening, and since the upcoming days are going to be spent working, Sunday evening is the time by which I like to have my home ordered. I live in a small space, and keeping an ordered environment is one of the ways for a small home to work beautifully. The nights dreams were not really sleeping dreams, instead of dreaming I woke up and ended up reading about encoding and decoding on the web. Sometimes staying awake at night and reading is peaceful. Last night it was.

The weekly home cleaning and organizing on Sundays is one of my favorite routines. Living in the Western world, and blessed to have so many different things, living with a surplus of possessions, its truly important to keep an orderly space. To look at ones belongings and to make sure they are treated with care and valued. Sometimes things which were once important become less so, and it’s useful to identify the changes taking place. It’s good to know when to move on and let things have less meaning in the house. Today I retrieved my old spice rack from where it’s dwelled as a decoration only. The spice rack was $3 about 5 years ago, and I customized it to have matching copper caps on all of the spice bottles. For a while it seemed unnecessary, but lately I’ve missed having handy access to spices. I’m glad I kept it as a decoration for so long, now I get a chance to use it again and it’s just as lovely still.

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On Finishing

Reading or writing things, eventually they progress to the end. Sooner or later things need to be published. Released out into the wild for other eyes to view and process. That’s something which is part of developing a career, the process of letting things become mostly material for the consumption of others instead of pieces of work under active development. Usually I have a hard time letting works proceed out into the general world. The closer I come to finishing a piece of writing or code, perhaps a tutorial, the more the short falls become apparent to me. I want to grab the work back and hide it. To continue to adjust, examine, proofread and refine it before letting anyone else see it. But if I do this to much, nothing would make it to the light of day. I remember an old digital drawing I did ages ago. A flower garden with a fountain in it. The image itself has become lost to time, in the maze of digital files that are stored on my old machines. But the picture was not that good anyways. The main thing I remember is how often it was reworked. By the time the image was abandoned, it was so apparent that the constant reworking had taken place, the image was hopeless. Releasing it earlier would have been so much better for the art. It might have looked underfinished instead of over finished. An underfinished piece always holds promise to me. An overworked piece shows my own limits. Whatever it is being designed or built, it’s good to learn the flow to progress from a starting point to a stopping point where others could then understand the work. That is why I am working harder to leave unfinished pieces exposed, and to build up a visual history of projects. Things done and left for time to process, even though they are most certainly far from perfect.

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