Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wolfram Alpha. Fail?

1. It can't answer, with any degreee of precision, "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

2. All of the answers are pictures. This means you can't cut and paste in any useful sense. Probably good for 9th graders trying to write a report. Bad for other things.

3. The Matt pointed out this "synonym network" for "homosexuality:"

I don't understand it either.

I think #2 is the more interesting part of Wolfram Alpha. I mean, why? Yes, there is a lot of graphical stuff, but there is also a lot of non-graphical stuff. It wouldn't be that hard to write a set of routines that rendered it in HTML. The only reasons I can come up with basically revolve around "Our data is soooo especialle that we need to keep it safe." Odd.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Question


I should have expected that this question was going to come sooner or later. I just didn't expect that it would happen in a fairly non-descript staff meeting, or that it would be directed at me.

"So, is it safe?"

[=trans: "After we do this, can you assure us that, for your area of expertise and responsibility, the airplane and the production system that built it, is safe to fly?"]

I was quiet for a second. My tools are processes are not ideal (nothing ever is), but they work as designed. Now, I'm being asked to say they will keep a the test pilots and test engineers alive. And to vouch for the safety and integrity of the company and its people. To the best of my knowledge (and I spend a lot of time refining this), we have the tools to make sure it is safe.

"Yes, it is."


As I started to understand the company, I developed a theory, the Fundamental Miracle of The Company. Basically, it's a timeline, and it goes like this:

Chaos -> Chaos -> Chaos -> Chaos -> Single Most Reliable Thing Ever Built By Humans

It's that last step that I had trouble understanding. But I'm beginning to wrap my head around it. In the chaos, of people running around, fighting the fires, they begin to understand and trust the systems they've built, the engineering that has been released. In the frenzy, things get fixed. Problems get hammered out and understood. And then, finally, people start asking each other the question: "Is it safe to fly?"

And we're able to answer "Yes, it is."


Days like today, I kinda love my company a bit more.

We build 250 ton machines with over a million parts. And they FLY.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Badge Follies

About two weeks ago, I left my badge at the gym. It was a gym I don't normally go to, so it meant getting my badge back would be harder than normal. Luckily, the next day, someone turned in my badge, and the nice woman at the local security desk called, and asked if I wanted it sent somewhere. I said that would be lovely, and send it to my normal office. It was to be there by Monday at the latest.

Two Mondays came and went, and still no sign of the badge. I had a 2:00PM meeting in the factory today, and there is a badge office right by the factory. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone here. At 1:15, I headed to the badge office, in the middle of a typical Seattle rain. (This becomes important later.) I park, and get to the badge office at about 1:25, and get in line. At 1:40, I realize I need to leave now if I'm to make it to my meeting on time.

So I leave, and head to the turnstiles with my temp badge. Unfortunately, the temp badge doesn't let me in. And it's raining. I trek along the fence a bit to where there used to be a manned gate. But that's closed now. I trek back to the turnstiles, and still no luck. I trek to the badge office, and they tell me to try again. By now, it's about 1:55, and I'm soaking wet.

I go back to the badge office, and they let me in through the back door. Now I'm inside the fence. But, I'm on the far west side of the building, and my meeting is on the far east side of the building. (East-West length is about 1.1 miles). I get there 20 minutes late, and almost dry.

But now, 8 hours later, I'm getting a cold. I love my employer just a little less today.

Monday, May 04, 2009

House Hunting

Long-time readers of my blog know that I've been looking for a house
for a while. Although, I am being optimistic when I say "readers" in
this context. After seeing probably the 30th house, I started trying
to put together stories about the house and it's owners: who they
were, why they are selling, and what possesed them to make certain
design choices. After this past weekend, I think it's time to make
this more formal, and try to do a short (100-400 word) paragraph on the
houses. I'm not a great serious writer; what few skills I have I think
lean more towards satire. But I'm going to try.

208 32nd Ave, 98122 ($1.3M, 6br / 4.25ba)

Mark and Travis were married in 1988. Nineteen Eighty-Eight. I was
just barely in high school at the time. I think the first bit of gay
literature I got was 1988. Possibly the same weekend they were
married. Since then, it looks like they've adopted three kids. Which
explains the 6br house. But it's not clear why they are moving. The
pictures and toys point to younger kids; they are not
down-sizing. Maybe a better school system? They've done a huge amount
of work on the house, and it seems odd that they are leaving it. The
only thing I can come up with is that Travis is a minister, and he may
have gotten a congregation somewhere else. Mark is a doctor of some
sort, so he can work wherever he wants.