Our State is On Fire

Over the past couple of weeks, more than a thousand wildfires have burned in California. Most were set off by lightning strikes two weeks ago. The air has been really smoky, burning our throats. Sunsets have been really murky.

View from an airliner of a wildfire burning in the Lake Isabella area, above Bakersfield CA

As of this week about 400 fires remain. I got a good look at this one today from my flight, from just south of Bakersfield looking northeast.

Just Try to Keep your Eyes Closed

The other day, trying to sleep in yet another hotel room. There was a periodic blinking light in the smoke alarm… more like a small flashbulb. The front of the flatscreen TV (nice, they even had some HD content) had a steady red LED, and somewhere in the back there was an orange blinking LED which cast a periodic fan of light through slits in the enclosure onto the wall. My laptop has an LED around the power connector that lights up orange when it’s charging, green when it’s charged. A white LED in front periodically waxes and wanes while the computer is asleep, like it’s breathing. My phone has a small red LED while it charges, which turns green when it’s charged. The clock radio had a large, easy-to-read red LED display, and the snooze button lit up bright orange.

With all the flashing, blinking and breathing, and the plethora of colored lights in general, it was like trying to sleep in Times Square.

I Can Has Cheeseburger?

So we’re on vacation on Maui, hanging out in downtown Lahaina. The first night, we wanted something quick after arriving late… so we picked Cheeseburger In Paradise. This turned out to be the wrong choice. They have a great location, but their burgers are atrocious: processed meat product patties cooked well done that taste as if they could be made of anything except cow. Yuk. Their coconut shrimp appetizer is OK, but don’t go there for the burgers.

Tonight, Maui redeemed itself by guiding us to the Cool Cat Cafe. The burgers served in this unassuming fifties themed diner are actually tasty, made of real meat cooked a sincere attempt at medium rare (they managed medium; we didn’t complain), and a good chunk of change cheaper than at the aforementioned tourist trap.

Lahaina itself can be summed up this way: yes there are souvenir shops, jewelry stores and art galleries, interleaved with timeshare sales desks, but one block away the streets don’t have sidewalks. Yes there are resorts but the town’s grammar school is right on the beach and a town that can keep development in check to this extent makes a great place to visit.

Stretch Desktop With the fglrx Driver

I have a new PC under my desk, and it seems that I now have my X setup the way I want it. The problem was with the dual head support: I wanted one desktop stretched across the two monitors, so I can drag windows across from one monitor to the other.

The default configuration merely mirrored one screen onto two monitors: a waste of desktop real estate. What I had before did put different X displays on the monitors: good but not great because I couldn’t drag across. On my old machine I could use the Xinerama extension to achieve the what I wanted, but turning that on made the driver for the new card (ATI’s proprietary fglrx) crash when the screensaver kicked in.
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E-mail from Paypal…

So this e-mail message from Paypal landed in my Hotmail. What makes this blog-worthy is that it actually, really came from Paypal. It was not a spam zombie attack, phishing scheme, virus or other type of malware, but a real, honest missive about their privacy policy. Go figure.

Front and Center at MIT

Today the research project of our friend Oliver is featured on the front page of the MIT website. He recently received his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and there is an article on his research into twodimensional electron systems. Congratulations, Oliver.

Image sourced from MIT website.

The Great Scouring of Space Has Begun

“Giant Telescope Begins Scouring Space” writes the Associated Press in a story picked up unchanged by numerous news sources. My first thought: “Space will be so clean when it’s done.” Let’s go to the dictionary definition and have a look:

  1. a : to rub hard especially with a rough material for cleansing b : to remove by rubbing hard and washing — How does one rub a void?
  2. archaic : to clear (a region) of enemies or outlaws — SDI Redux!
  3. to clean by purging : PURGE
  4. to remove dirt and debris from (as a pipe or ditch) — Ooh! Ooh! We’re finally going to take care of space debris!
  5. to free from foreign matter or impurities by or as if by washing <scour wool> — Once we are rid of the space junk, there better be none of that left up there.
  6. to clear, dig, or remove by or as if by a powerful current of water

OK, so the other definition of scouring is “to go through or range over in or as if in a search”, which is clearly the one the author intended to use. But it’s still funny!