Personal

Italian Restaurant Saga Continues

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

I decided I may as well indulge the jokers at MyTravelGuide and post a review for my alleged Italian restaurant. Note the red area, indicating “pros and cons” of the review.

My Italian Restaurant

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

I recently did a vanity search for “Andrew J. Montalenti” on Google, only to find the prestigious travel site “MyTravelGuide.com” had usurped my personal website for the #1 hit. In particular, the developers of this site seem to be convinced that “Andrew J. Montalenti” is an Italian restaurant which happens to have my address and phone number. You can post reviews, photos, whatever you like.

I did think it kind of odd when I started receiving letters in the mail offering me things like ice sculptures at wholesale prices, china with my restaurant logo imprinted on it, and kitchen supplies. Clearly, someone was told that my name was simply the name of a badass italian restaurant in Manhasset, and it’s stuck.

Well, every time someone has posted a profile on my “restaurant,” I’ve requested it be taken down. But the folks at MyTravelGuide.com are basically unresponsive. So, I decided to post a photograph of the restaurant, since I know it better than anyone else.

Does anyone know how to find out what marketing database thinks I am a restaurant, so I can purge this misconception once and for all?

Graduated

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

I just recently graduated from NYU, and am taking a much-deserved break from computing. So this blog may not get updates for a few weeks.

On the bright side, I’m going to Argentina for six weeks. See you in Buenos Aires.

Mark Zuckerberg: Luckiest Man Alive

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Sak and I were recently discussing how upset (read: envious, depressed about our own lives) we were about The Facebook seeking $2 billion.

The main reason we’re depressed is because, though both Sak and I like the Facebook and are users, we can’t help noticing one thing:

It’s not that complicated to build a website like that.

In fact, it’s downright easy. If I weren’t so busy with computer science classes, I probably could have threw something like it together myself.

Now, we know that business opportunities don’t have to be complicated to make money. They just have to be Right, that is in the Right place, with the Right look, taking advantage of the Right fad, etc.

But doesn’t it seem to you that a straightforward PHP/MySQL application just isn’t worth $2 billion? I mean, that’s $2,000 million. That’s $2,000,000,000.

Yet, I can’t say I’m entirely unhappy about it. Mark Zuckerberg, here’s to you, man. You’re my age, and you did exactly what I wish I had done. Built some crappy website, and made out like a bandit with sacks of cash. Kudos. You’re honestly my fucking hero.

Server outage

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

My server went down yesterday for a day, due to a switch to a new colocation facility. For anyone else on my server, I apologize for the downage. I wasn’t told the switch would be happening with ample lead time, and so I didn’t have the time to set the refresh/TTL fields in my SOA DNS entries so that the IP switch could be seamless.

(Wow, that’s a lot of acronyms. Computers…)

Changing the tools you use

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Mark Shuttleworth has written a nice little blog post about the tools we learn through life and how we discard old tools and learn new ones.

I personally find this to be very true in my life.

When I was in high school, I prided myself (from the point of view of “tools”) as knowing graphic design (Photoshop/Illustrator), web development, and print/page layout. Handy tools to know for (1) making money and (2) working on a high school newspaper. The only real programming languages I knew back then were Actionscript (for Flash), JavaScript, and (eegads) Perl. Then I got to college and armed myself with algorithms, data structures, and systems, and started picking up Java and C on my own. Now I consider myself well-versed in those, and this past summer learned Python and used that on a lot of different projects. Then this semester I got interested in C++ and used that a lot. Nowadays, when I look at problems, I look at them in terms of my tools. Text parsing problem? Wow, Python’s re (regular expressions) module could handle that pretty easily. Big engineering project? Wow, using templates and OO features in C++ may lead to a nice design. Database-driven web application? Well, Java/JSP may fit you nicely. (I know, I know, what am I doing not knowing Ruby on Rails!)

I think Mark’s onto something. Changing toolsets often is definitely useful. Even though I couldn’t write full programs for you in Perl nowadays, what I do know about it (its limitations, capabilities) is definitely good enough to see when it may be the best choice for the job.

As for academic tools — very true. A lot of techniques I learned in e.g. Discrete Math, Linear Algebra were in one ear and out the other. Alas, I think the main point is to learn them once and then be able to Wikipedia them later, when needed 😉

That said, stuff I learned in my algorithms and data structures and operating systems courses have stayed with me. I think some of that stuff is just essential.

Sarchasm

Monday, April 10th, 2006

So I read this post on /. about Nintendo Revolution’s new controller design. Not that I really care about this kind of stuff (I don’t even play console games), but this post caught my eye.

Look, you have to understand. If you want to be a “Halo Killer” (and every single game is a halo killer, these days! Don’t bother judging the game on its own merits. The only question is, does it kill Halo?), you have to match the control scheme that made Halo popular. And that control scheme is: A clumsy replication of PC FPS controls shoehorned into a Dual Shock II workalike format.

After all, everyone knows that what made Halo popular was the radical and unnatural retraining that is required when you take a control scheme that was designed and perfected for a mouse and keyboard, and just jam it unceremoniously underneath two thumb-controlled joysticks and a maze of randomly positioned multicolored buttons. Unless Nintendo can replicate that kind of hand-eye coordination dissonance, they’ll never get anywhere with their Halo killing, I mean console, business. My suggestion: They should duct-tape a cinderblock to the Revolution remote. Then everyone will just eat it right up!

Someone then dumbwittedly replied,

why the hell would retraining yourself to a new control system make a game more popular? people get way too worked up about controllers and how much they think they suck at console FPSes. Trust me, I play enough Counterstrike to count myself as a PC gamer, and I have little-to-no problems dealing with a gamepad. You adapt and you do fine.

He just doesn’t get it. But what I loved is that someone then pointed out this being a classic example of sarchasm. That is, a coined word to mean “the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.” I think I’ll use that in the future.

Calculus Made Easy

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

I am taking “remedial” Calculus II alongside Numerical Computing this semester. My Calc course is “remedial” in that I haven’t seen any Math over the reals for about 4 years (took Discrete Math and Linear Algebra, which both focus on integers) and this semester I am overloading on real numbers (and even complex numbers) just when I had forgotten they even existed 🙂

That said, after spending some time in the humanities (where writing quality is high) and much time in Computer Science (where literacy is defined as being able to read code), coming back to traditional math textbooks has been quite a culture shock. They are so horribly written, it really blows my mind.

So, in response to my horrible Calculus II textbook (published at NYU only for NYU classes, this book features minimal explanation and the maximum amount of notation), I have been using it only for the homework problems and using instead James Stewart’s excellent book, Calculus: Early Transcendentals for rigorous proofs of concepts (because Stewart really does present them nicely), and the lighter but infinitely more illuminating Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus Thompson.

A somewhat controversial book, Calculus Made Easy chooses to skip the notation-laden explanations of Calculus concepts provided by typical textbooks, and opts instead of a clear, textual elucidation of core concepts in the context of their applications. The philosophy of the book is well-described by this excerpt from the Epilogue.

I think this is wonderful writing, however damning it may be:

It may be confidently assumed that when this tractate Calculus Made Easy falls into the hands of the professional mathematicians, they will (if not too lazy) rise up as one man, and damn it as being a thoroughly bad book. Of that there can be, from their point of view, no possible manner of doubt whatever. It commits several most grievous and deplorable errors.

First, it shows how ridiculously easy most of the operations of the calculus really are.

Secondly, it gives away so many trade secrets. By showing you that what one fool can do, other fools can do also, it lets you see that these mathematical swells, who pride themselves on having mastered such an awfully difficult subject as the calculus, have no such great reason to be puffed up. They like you to think how terribly difficult it is, and don’t want that superstition to be rudely dissipated.

Thirdly, among the dreadful things they will say about “So Easy” is this: that there is an utter failure on the part of the author to demonstrate with rigid and satisfactory completeness the validity of sundry methods which he has presented in simple fashion, and has even dared to use in solving problems! But why should he not? You don’t forbid the use of a watch to every person who does not know how to make one? You don’t object to the musician playing on a violin that he has not himself constructed. You don’t teach the rules of syntax to children until they have already become fluent in the use of speech. It would be equally absurd to require general rigid demonstrations to be expounded to beginners of the calculus.

One thing will the professed mathematicians say about this thoroughly bad and vicious book: that the reason why it is so easy is because the author has left out all the things that are really difficult. And the ghastly fact about this accusation is that — it is true! That is, indeed, why the book has been written — written for the legion of innocents who have hitherto been deterred from acquiring elements of the calculus by the stupid way in which its teaching is almost always presented.

I should note that my Calculus professor is actually quite good, and provides very nice explanations of complex topics, usually beginning with an elucidation of the general idea, and then going on to the formalities. But our assigned textbook is not nearly as clear, and many professors I’ve had in the past have lived entirely inside their constructed notational apparatus.

This reminds me of an old joke I heard awhile back:

A math professor begins his lecture by writing on the blackboard. He only pauses for brief moments of notational explanation, but continues writing and writing, one symbol after the other, for thirty minutes on end. He fills up six blackboards full of derivation, algebraic manipulation, and what have you. At the end, he smiles and draws the open box, indicating the completion of the proof. “Is that clear?” the professor asks. Blank stares all around.

At that point, the professor stops himself. “Oh, no, I believe I’ve made a mistake.” He then looks at the six boards of writing, and begins pointing at certain sections while nodding his head, clearly doing calculations internally. He then paces back and forth across the front of the classroom, with his head bent down and his fist to his chin. For five full minutes, he paces and nods, thinking about the proof just presented.

Then he stops pacing, looks at the students, and says, “Ah, yes, yes. It’s clear.”

Here’s an interesting read, by the way. Came as especially relevant to me, as I “rediscover” math for math’s sake.

Getting the troops mobilized

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

I gave a talk last Tuesday called “Open Source Development: A Rapid Introduction.”

Here’s the blurb I sent out when I advertised the talk:

Have you wanted to work on open source projects, but just don’t know how to get started? This talk will provide the basics you need to start working on open source software the next time you sit down at your computer.

In particular, this talk will cover:

(1) A brief overview of open source development in the industry and press.

(2) The UNIX development platform. A brief and whimsical overview of the UNIX shell, its surrounding tools, and the power of shell scripting. (Useful to anyone wanting to learn more about UNIX tools.) Learn how to do in a few lines of shell script what you only thought was possible with a big, extravagant hundred- or thousand- line program, and learn why so many of the world’s best hackers hack on a *nix system.

(3) The basics you need in order to hack on open source project: how mailing lists, wikis, bugzillas, source code revision systems all come together to form an organic code management process, and how to get started using those tools and others to learn about a project and what parts need development work done. This will include a brief introduction to CVS.

(4) The last part of the talk will involve actually watching open source development in action. In particular, the speaker will checkout some code from a source repository, make a change to it, create a patchfile from that change, then track down the mailing list or bugzilla related to the project and submit the patch to the maintainer. You will actually get to see open source “in action,” and will want to do it right when you get home!

If you’re a Windows or Mac OS developer who has always wanted to learn more about *nix systems, or if you’re a developer who wants to either take his own project open source or work on existing open source projects, this talk is for you.

Of course, if you’re someone who is just interested in the concept of open source, this talk will give you an inside look at “how things get done” in this community.

This talk was at least partially inspired by Nat Friedman’s blog post, check it out here:

“How to be a Hacker”

The talk was a general success, I think. About 12 people attended. You can see the talk in PDF or ODP formats, and you can also download the patches I wrote specifically for the talk to illustrate “open source development in action.” The patches are pretty stupid, but do illustrate the point, at least. Plus, each of the three patches served one of my own goals (hacking my CPU frequency scaler, fixing a gnome-terminal bug, and hacking galeon “for fun”), so that’s that. I think it’d be cool to give this talk again (maybe a little refined to include less basic UNIX tools and more hacking stuff) at a later date. We’ll see.

My Median Nerve

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

I’m continuing to struggle with healing from carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonetheless, I am making progress. Through splinting, and visits to the occupational therapist, and icing twice a day, I’ve seen marked improvements to the way my wrist and hand feels. In addition, because the median nerve runs all the way up through the shoulder, I’m feeling relief even in my shoulder and neck area.

More than anything else, what is probably helping is that I’ve been laying off my right hand entirely. Rest is the best form of healing.

About a half-hour ago, I experienced a weird sensation. I was icing my wrist as I usually do, and at a certain point I realized my wrist was really cold. I then performed Tinel’s test and found the pins and needles sensation that I have never felt before. When I tapped on the base of my wrist I could feel pins and needles all the way up into my three primary digits: my thumb, index and middle fingers. I could literally feel exactly where the median nerve was running. I didn’t really know whether this is a bad sign; I’ll ask my doctor tomorrow. I can only get a positive Tinel’s sign result when my wrist is under ice for a long time, like 10 or 15 minutes. What’s the physiological reason for that? I’ll have to find out tomorrow.

Till then, keep your nerves healthy.