Kara and Garrett

March 11th, 2007

Kara and Garrett hearing Lee's toast

Yesterday my sister Kara married Garrett Hargrove in the company of family and friends in Austin. Congratulations to them! More pictures to follow.

Update: the photographer has a “questionably hip blog” and posted some very nice pictures on it.

Code Monkey Live

February 14th, 2007

Since I linked to Jonathon Coulton’s song “Code Monkey” last summer, I may as well link to this video of him playing it live. With accompaniment on ukulele. Why not?

Mount Kilimanjaro

September 4th, 2006

About two months ago (oops – sorry!) I returned from Tanzania. While there, I attended Stacy’s wedding, went on a safari very similar to Carrie’s, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. My safari pictures are not as good as Carrie’s, so I won’t bore you with those. If you’d like, you can overdose on Africa pictures at the group site.

The Kilimanjaro climb was fantastic. We took the Machame route, also known as the “whiskey route,” in contrast with the shorter, easier, and more popular Marangu (“Coca Cola”) route. The Machame route takes 5 days to climb from Machame gate (6,000 feet) to Barafu camp (15,100 feet). These were great hiking days. The mountain is gorgeous, and the elevation change means that the scenery and mix of vegetation changes every few miles. Because we had a team of porters carrying all the heavy stuff, we just had day packs and the hikes were pretty easy. Usually three to five hours was enough to finish the day’s hike, leaving plenty of time for sitting around in camp drinking tea, playing cards, and enjoying the view.

At Barafu camp you sleep only from dinner time till about 11:30 PM, when you prepare for the trek to the summit. You want to reach the summit around sunrise for two reasons. First, the sunrise is incredible from the Roof of Africa. Second, the wind and sun at the summit become very unpleasant by midday.

In contrast to the previous five days, the hike to the summit is not especially pleasant. Barafu camp is above the vegetation line, so there is nothing but rocks to look at. Of course, it’s dark, so you wouldn’t be able to see past the range of your headlamp anyway. The temperatures are well below freezing. I had enough gear on that I wasn’t unpleasantly cold, but still – it’s not warm. Because of the cold, you can’t safely stop for more than a minute or two.

Group picture on top of Kili

Like most standalone mountains, Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano. After six solid hours of climbing in the dark, we reached the crater rim: about 18,600 feet. We had a brief stop there to enjoy the sunrise, then we continued along the crater rim to its highest point. Uhuru Peak is at 19,340 feet. It is the highest point on the continent. There’s a wooden sign with a bunch of stickers on it. At this point it was fully morning, so instead of worrying about the cold, we had to worry about the altitude and the sun. We took some pictures and started down.

I don’t know why the route back down to Barafu camp is different from the route up. I would much rather have returned by the original, switchback-based, route. Instead, we got mile after mile of steep scree field. Very tedious. We all fell many, many times. During this part of the day, I was seriously doubting whether the summit was worth it. Why not just enjoy the five-day trek to Barafu and then head down?

From a comfortable seat back home, that’s just sounds silly. Of course you want to go all the way to the top!

We made it back to Barafu camp around 11 AM. We ate some lunch and took a brief nap before continuing down the mountain. Here we had a choice: you can do the Machame route in 6 days or 7. If doing it in 7, you spend a night at Mweka camp, halfway down. If doing it in 6, you skip Mweka camp and leave the mountain on the same day you summit. We were on the fence about which option to take, so we decided to hike to Mweka, see what time it was and how we felt, then figure out whether to camp or finish the descent.

The crew left Barafu about 2 and reached Mweka at about 5, feeling tired but good. Our guide estimated that we could make it to Mweka gate in two hours, so we ate a quick snack and hit the trail. Around 7 it was getting dark and we still had a ways to go. It was too late and too far to go back to Mweka camp, so we put on our headlamps and soldiered on. The gate finally appeared about an hour later. Total hiking time for the day was close to 18 hours. It felt really good to sit on a bench while the guide dealt with the usual African bureaucratic crap to check us out of the park.

If you have a chance to go, I highly recommend it.

Carrie’s Safari

June 14th, 2006

I recently returned from Tanzania, Africa, where I went for my sister’s wedding and 7 day safari on the Northern Circuit. I went with her company Duma Explorer who did a fantastic job. I went to Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Crater (the largest unbroken caldera in the world). We saw tons of lions, a few leopards (one walked right next to the car!), cheetahs, elephants, zebra, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, vultures, 10s of 1000s of wildebeests (yes, those are gnus for you geeks out there), and many others. We got to see lionesses hunt, a cheetah hunt, and at one point she jumped on top of our car for a better vantage point! It was incredible.

I have posted a crapload (but a small portion of what I took) here. Check them out and enjoy! If you choose only one park to look at, pick the Serengeti folder – lots of great cat shots in there. Tim is on safari right now with the rest of my family (I had to go separate and come home early to start residency), and then he will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I am sure he will have some amazing photos so be sure to check back for those.

Escher-esque “seamless pictures”

June 2nd, 2006

Here’s a bunch of seamless pictures reminiscent of Escher (particularly his tesselations): part one, part two. This blogger most likely just stole them from some art site, but they are fun to scroll through. The second page in particular reminded me of the movie I watched last night, Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. (via MetaFilter)

Anders Hejlsberg demos LINQ

June 1st, 2006

While I was eating the pizza described here, I was being very impressed by the technology on display here. Anders Hejlsberg, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and lead architect of C# (and, previously, Delphi) presents the current state of XLinq and DLinq to Jon Udell. LINQ is the headline feature for C# 3.0 (which is just a language and library update, not a runtime update); it stands for Language-INtegrated Query. XLinq is the implementation of LINQ for XML data and DLinq is the implementation for Database (SQL) data.

As you see towards the end of the lengthy (nearly an hour) video, you can mix them together. This means that you can write a query in C# that joins XML and SQL data. The LINQ engine will formulate a real SQL query to get the relational part of the data and send it off to the database for execution, then do the necessary joining and filtering with the XML part and return a set of strongly-typed objects. The amount of code required to do this is quite small, assuming you sweep the auto-generated object-relational mapping code under the rug.

How I Make Pizza

June 1st, 2006

I’ve always loved pizza. From Papa John’s late at Rice (delivering till 2 A.M.!) to Collina’s to Two Rows, all pizza is good (except Mr. Gatti’s). But my favorite is the stuff I can make myself. Tonight’s was especially tasty, though Carrie may dispute that once she reads the topping list.


Mix 3½ cups of all-purpose flour with 1 cup bread flour and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt in a stand mixer with the dough hook attached.

Proof 1 tablespoon active dry yeast in 1½ cups 100°F water with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the yeast and pour it slowly into the flour with the mixer running.

Let the mixer run for ten minutes, then pull the dough off of the hook, put it back in the bowl, and let the mixer run for a couple more minutes. Make the dough into a ball and put into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic. Let it rise for one hour. Divide it into three chunks using a bench scraper and put each one into a plastic container. Put the containers into the fridge overnight.


Toppings vary, of course. Tonight’s pizza had:

  • Boboli pizza sauce, since I didn’t bother to make the real stuff.
  • “Polly-O Gourmet Mozzarella Cheese” — the best I can find for pizza. It comes shrink-wrapped in 8 oz. balls. I slice up about half a ball per pizza.
  • A roma tomato, sliced thin.
  • A few pitted Kalamata olives, sliced.
  • One garlic clove, sliced.
  • One slice of Black Forest Ham (like for a sandwich), chopped.
  • A little bit of kosher salt (not much, since the olives and ham are already fairly salty).
  • Fresh ground black pepper.
  • A drizzle of olive oil around the edge of the crust. (On pizzas that don’t have any meat among their toppings, I also add a light drizzle over the whole thing.)
  • A few basil leaves, chiffonade. This doesn’t get added until after the pizza has been baked.


Preheat the oven as hot as it will go (mine goes to 550°F) well in advance of making the pizza so the stone has time to heat up too. If the dough was refrigerated, give it at least half an hour to come to room temperature before trying to stretch it. Put some cornmeal on the pizza peel, stretch the dough, and put it on the peel.


Slide it into the oven and bake for 5–10 minutes. You have to keep an eye on it. Pull it when the cheese starts to bubble and the crust starts to darken around the edges.

Dr. Carrie A. Danner, M.D.

May 27th, 2006
Carrie in academic regalia with Tim

Commencement for the UT-Houston Med School Class of 2006 was this morning. Carrie’s a doctor now! Afterwards a bunch of family and friends came over to our place for food and drinks. And a good time was had by all.

Update: more photos from the big day.

Escape Pod: Tk’Tk’Tk

May 25th, 2006

Escape Pod logoThis morning I finished listening to Paul reading “Tk’tk’tk, a sci-fi short story by David Levine about an enterprise software salesman on an alien world far from home. It’s currently nominated for a Hugo. I enjoyed the story (you can also read it online), and Paul’s presentation of it was clear and well done.

The story involves an alien language that lacks vowels, so it’s full of unpronouncable words like “Fthshpk” (a holiday) and “thshsh” (a beverage). To record these words for the story, Paul added sufficient long vowels to make them pronouncable, then the producer used an audio editor to delete the vowel sounds, leaving only the sibilant consonants. The effect works very well – it gives the idea of a non-human language while still being sort of recognizable, at least in the sense that when you hear the same word twice you can tell that it’s the same word again. It helps that there aren’t too many alien words included in the story text.

If this is an indicator of the quality of the rest of the Escape Pod recordings (Paul tells me that it is actually “weaker than their normal fare”), then I expect to be a regular listener.

Code Monkey Like Fritos

May 24th, 2006

If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend that you listen to Jonathan Coulton’s song “Code Monkey.” (MP3) (Local mirror)

Pictures from Carly and John’s Wedding

May 21st, 2006

Carrie and I posted pictures from Carly and John’s wedding. The pictures during the ceremony didn’t come out well (if you want to take photos in a large, dim space, you need to use a lens bigger than your fingernail). But there are several good shots from the reception.

Carly and John at Brennan's

Engadget 1985

August 22nd, 2005

Engadget travels back to 1985 to bring us the latest in 15 pound cell phones.

Ministry of Reshelving to reclassify Orwell’s 1984

August 17th, 2005

The “Ministry of Reshelving” has declared a campaign to move 1984 from the Fiction or Literature section to the Current Events or Politics sections. Very silly. They even have printable bookmarks that you can stick in the books that you move and notecards to put in the spot you took them from.

A movie I’m not planning on seeing

August 16th, 2005

Since people are bugging me to put something here…

Roger Ebert awards Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo zero stars. Read the review—it’s entertaining.

And also, a new idea in security: The Do-It-Yourself Security Inspection. Now you can feel more secure whenever you need it without imposing costs and inconvenience on the rest of society.

Cream Cheese/Jalapeño Snacks

June 14th, 2005

For a party on Saturday I reconstructed an appetizer Carrie and I had at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas, a few weeks ago.

Take 20 fresh jalapeños, cut the tops off, and remove the seeds and ribs as best you can. This can be a bit tricky. I found the 1/4 t. measuring spoon to be helpful in cleaning them out.

Put an 8 ounce package of room temperature cream cheese in the food processor with a handful of cilantro leaves (about 1/4 cup) and a generous shake of cayenne (at least a teaspoon). Run the food processor until it’s all combined. If it isn’t pink, add some more cayenne.

Put the cream cheese mixture into a plastic bag and cut one corner off. Use the bag to squirt cream cheese into the jalapeños. Cut 10 slices of bacon in half and wrap half a slice around each filled jalapeño. Stick a toothpick through the bacon and pepper to hold it together.

Place the stuffed and wrapped jalapeños in a muffin pan, two to a cup so they mostly stand upright. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Broil in the oven for 10 minutes until top of the cream cheese starts to brown and the peppers just begin to blister.

Move Your Feet

May 12th, 2005

A music video for a disco-ish dance tune with Atari-level graphics and a sadistic squirrel.

Ride of Silence

May 8th, 2005

On May 18 at 7 P.M., Houston cyclists will gather at the Hermann Park/Zoo parking lot and ride in silence to downtown and back in honor of cyclists killed on the roads.


March 18th, 2005

This article at “Innovation: The Princeton Journal of Science and Technology,” dated May 2004, is illustrated with a picture from my ELEC 301 project with Indraneel Datta. For several years, I would occasionally get email from random people, mostly with questions about general linear algebra topics—apparently some search engine considered us authoritative on eigenvectors or something.

Anyway, I don’t mind the article using the image, but the caption they’ve given it is more than a little misleading: “A compilation of photos and processed images from a system currently being researched for face detection.” It’s definitely stretching the definition of “currently”—the pages clearly say “Last modified: Fri Dec 17 20:45:40 CST 1999″ at the bottom.

Upcoming rides

March 9th, 2005

And probably others, but that’s what I’m registered for now.

Giant Steps

March 5th, 2005

You should watch this neato animation set to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”