f[8,9,10,11] user guide

We (the Fedora Documentation team) just finished reorganizing the User Guide for Fedora 8 (we're kinda behind).  It can be found at https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/F8_User_Guide.

I recently volunteered to take the lead on the User Guide, and one thing we're trying to do is catch up to F10 while also cleaning up our style and organization (this is something the entire team is looking at for all our docs).  One thing that we are particularly pushing is new user friendliness.

So if anyone is willing to, please take the time to look at that user guide above, browse through a few sections, and send me some suggestions on... whatever.  Does it say something that perhaps you have no clue about?  Something that an experienced Linux user writing it might understand, but that you, the new user, can't decode?  Help me out here by showing me the weak points in our communication.

And hey, if anyone is feeling really volunteery, you can join the Fedora Docs team and help edit these documents.  No experience is necessary, and in some cases (like making things more new-user friendly) a lack of experience can be pseudo-desirable.  Just let me know if you're interested.


printer god

So about a month or two ago, I  posted this blog entry: when you give a moron a printer. It was about me getting upset because I reloaded a paper tray in the library printer and had to wait for the past 40 minutes worth of documents to come out.  What really upset me was that, among those documents printed, I got three copies of a girl's bank information, including username, password, SSN, address, mother's maiden name, etc.

Today, the library has no extra paper available.  I've come to print a lot of stuff, and am sitting right by the main East printer.  It turns out that, while trays 2 and 3 are empty, tray 4 is stocked plenty full of paper.  The issue is that the printer won't default to tray 4; it always asks you to confirm skipping over both trays 2 and 3 before drawing from tray 4.

That's fine.  You just hit the confirm button a few times and it works.

But nobody seems to understand this.

So today, I'm the printer god.  I'm a deus ex machina, making sure your documents are successfully printed.

I even wrote a fucking sign, that looked like this (except in blue gel pen):
Hit the green button twice for your title page, then hit it two more times for your document.
I put this notice right next to the viewscreen on the printer.  The one that tells you to confirm going to tray 4.  But apparently people look at neither the bright blue screen nor my dark blue ink; they just get upset because their document isn't printed.  They don't notice the green "Attention" light blinking away furiously, begging them to look at the status on the blue screen.  They just sigh and whine.  So I reach over and double tap the button for them.

This all goes back to my idea that we should seriously be doing more educating in school about basic computer, networking, and printing.  Kids need to know this stuff.  CCIT wasn't even open in the library today, so there was nowhere to go for help.  People need to learn the basic operation of networks and peripherals, and they need to know how to interpret the controls of a basic machine.  They'll need to; our reliance on them is going up drastically, and will continue to do so.

So please, do a bit of practice with your own printer, scanner, et cetera.  Friends don't let friends be idiots with printers and networking devices.


music out of math

So one day, I was talking to this guy about coding projects I've been doing, and out of nowhere an idea popped into my head.  Anyone who has ever seen the electricsheep screensaver project knows how awesome that is, and I realized that perhaps the same thing could be done with music.  I'm sure people have tried this before, but I've never seen any good results or examples, so now it's my turn to try.

So I talked to my trusty friend Sherwin, with whom I attack all random coding projects.  In the past, we've tried things like Sifu (for using reliable proxies distributed across a torrent-like network in order to bypass school internet restrictions), libtion (a framework for implementing abstract network structures), and Craft (an AJAX delivered course management system; I'm actually still working actively on this one, but on my own because Sherwin doesn't like Java), among other things.

So this time, we're writing our project as follows (so far): we've envisioned several abstract structures, namely signals, engrams, and sequences.  A signal is simply a waveform.  An engram is a set of signals (like in the figure above, shamelessly taken from a random page I googled) with a set duration, and a sequence is just all the engrams in a row.  Since we know so little about music theory, we're trying to make them pretty mathematically rooted:

Signal: s ≡ ( ν, A, Φ )

Engram: E ≡ { s1, s2, s3, ... ,  s},
and E has a property of length in time El

Sequence: S ≡ < E1, E2, E3, ... ,  E>

From here, we have some pseudo-mathematical descriptions of methods we will use to mutate our initial sequence and its descendants so that they can undergo natural selection against each other.  These mutations include signal-base mutations, engram-base mutations, and sequence-base mutations; basically, each type of mutation affects the type of object for which it is named.  So signal-base mutations affect signals themselves; this means that their properties, namely frequency, amplitude, and phase shift (as seen in the ordered triplet defined above) are fundamentally altered.  Examples of some engram-base mutations include insertion (where a signal is added to an engram), deletion (the opposite of insertion), propagation (where a signal replicates and spreads to nearby engrams), and nondisjunction (where a signal is moved from one engram to an adjacent one).  Sequence base mutations involve adding engrams, deleting them, moving them around, or inverting the order of some partition of engrams.

The plan is to start with a single waveform - that's to say, a single signal with some defined parameters which is the lone signal in a lone engram in a lone sequence - and then let it "reproduce" via fusion where both of its children are run through mutation engines.  The population will then be played for human observers who will rate each sequence according to its relative beauty, and the most favored sequences will have more chances to reproduce (just like in natural selection).

Perhaps in a year or so I'll have my hands on a pretty awesome song I can market.  Sherwin and I are willing to take investment money right now in return for a percentage of the profit we make off of our world-famous scores of the future.  Donations can be made via hard cash or checks, or in some material form that's useful to us (like servers, Star Trek episodes, dice, coffee, swords, or other useful stuff).


a not immediately pertinent dilemma

So a few weeks ago I decided to pick up a double major in math (in addition to physics, my current/primary major).  I emailed my adviser about it and she said she thought it looked like a good idea, but today I went and talked to her; partially, just to talk.

That was the beginning of my little pre-life crisis.  We talked a bit, and she suggested a few different options for my undergraduate career:

  1. Follow my current plan; double major in math and physics.
  2. Major in Physics and graduate in 3 years.
  3. Major in Physics, graduate in 4 years, and - as a result - have a light course load, allowing me to do lots of research.
  4. Become an economist instead of physicist - it pays way better, has way more job options, and is still mathematics-based, so I'd enjoy it.
Karen later suggested that I consider Law school.

What do I do?  The worse part is that Dr. Marinesque actually gave some pretty good reasons for not being a physicist - which is doubly disturbing, seeing as how she's a physicist.  I guess it seems like such a different profession, since we learn about the glorified scientists of Bell Labs and in government research programs and such.  It turns out that, today, employment rate for physicists in industry is effectively zero, because nobody does any fundamental research anymore.  National Labs (under DoE) does virtually no research either; there is no market for physicists.

So where do you get hired (currently) as a physicist?  Academia.  And she said that there are 20 to 30 jobs available worldwide per year.

Now, having checked Wikipedia as I write this, I see that she kinda tricked me.  Sure, no physicists are hired... to be theorists and researchers.  But as I had predicted, physicists are hired in lots of fields where either a general knowledge of science (or just proof that one is an intelligent person) is needed, so I feel kinda better.   It was still disturbing, though.

One thing she suggested was that, since I like math, that I become an economist.  She cited that:
  1. Economists are very well paid
  2. Economists are very much wanted industry/the economy
  3. I could have an awesome, rich, happy life
But I'm really feeling the physics/math thing, to be honest.  Oh, and Karen suggested that I go to law school, which I wouldn't say no to, but that I probably wouldn't say yes to.

You know, I just feel like I'm fooling myself into a romanticized life that'll end up being a huge failure, eh?  I don't want that.  I want to be successful in whatever I end up doing, so I can live comfortably, support my family.

Perhaps most importantly - and this, I think, is what's the core of my being worried - I want to have time in my life to do what I want.  Namely, besides my work responsibilities, I want to have time with my family, I want time to do cool projects with poetry and coding and music, and I really, really want to keep doing martial arts.  Like, for the rest of my life.

I mean, I tell people this, but I don't think they take me seriously: I would be really happy opening a kung fu studio.  It would make me happy, it would be profitable if I did well with it from a business perspective, et cetera.  I would love to do it.  But the strange, invisible pressures of society tell me that I can't do that.  Something forces me to think that by getting a college education, especially in a science, and then applying that knowledge to the "real" world, I'm a better person.

*sigh* @ being mildly depressed.