Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Real Programmers

That last post on numerical analysis made me feel nostalgic for the good old days of programming in FORTRAN. So I decided to re-read the classic post: Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal. This has been around for a couple of decades but it's still funny, especially if you've programmed in FORTRAN and are over 40.

Monday, July 30, 2007

William Kahan and Numerical Analysis

I recently attended a talk by Turing Award winner William Kahan, who is well-known for his contributions to numerical analysis and the IEEE 754 standard for floating-point computation. In his talk, he pointed out that errors in floating-point computations can have disastrous consequences, a claim no one can dispute. A more interesting observation, and one that's likely equally indisputable, is that numerical analysis is on the decline in computer science curricula. Thus, fewer and fewer young software developers who create programs heavy in numeric computation understand how those computations can go very wrong. Kahan's proposed solution is to develop programming languages and compilers to help programmers diagnose faulty numeric programs, e.g. by allowing for trials with different rounding modes.

Thinking about all these "young programmers" who are, according to Kahan, "clever and numerically naive", made me wonder if I'm now considered an "old programmer". In my undergrad days, numerical analysis was a firm requirement of the Applied Math and Computer Science programs, and I suspect this is no longer true in many schools. During my grad studies, I was a teaching assistant for the numerical analysis course, first in the Computer Science department and later in the Electrical & Computer Engineering department. The course was universally detested by students in both departments. However, while most of the computer scientists could not understand why they were subjected to such utterly useless drivel, the engineers grudgingly admitted that the course was necessary for their future careers. There were also a few applied mathematics students, like myself, in the class; they actually enjoyed tasks like deriving Runge-Kutta formulas for ODEs by hand and did not complain much. It's pretty tough to make this material exciting, though my own instructors did a good enough job to convince me to continue in this area for my grad studies.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Craft Update - July 29

Here, finally, is Part 1 of Chatelaine's Taj Mahal. It's taken me about 35 hours to complete this part, so I have ... um ... 200 hours, give or take 10 or 20, to go before I finish the entire thing. No problem! The Chatelaine designs use plenty of silk fibres and Delica beads. I really detest the beading but the beads give a wonderful effect, which isn't captured all that well by the photo. You might notice that there are a large number of empty spaces in the stitched piece. These are reserved for Swavroski crystals that I'll stitch on at the very end. If I put them on too early, then my threads tend to get snagged on them.

Speaking of beads, my friend Chantelle makes gorgeous jewellery from beads and crystals. Today, I met with her and received three pairs of earrings I bought from her Etsy store. You definitely should check out the Web site. The photos are lovely, but the earrings are even more beautiful in real life.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Scrabble Game

Today, my friend Ian joined me over lunch hour for a Scrabble game. Ian is an expert player and had, over the years, taught me all the Scrabble strategy I know. We used to play together regularly when we were grad students. Sadly, we have to do real work for a living now and that really cuts into Scrabble time.

Neither of us was in top form today (it's been a long time since I'd last studied a word list) but we did have some notable plays, including the bingos TEAZELS (Ian) and DIATOMS (me). I was particularly proud of BOHO which is in the 4th edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD). I had to explain the meaning to Ian; I guess I read more fashion magazines than he does. In the end, Ian beat me by 13 points. An upstart co-op student at work pointed out that I could have won if I'd played JOES on K5, but OI (one of the new OSPD4 words) hadn't made it into my vocabulary yet.

By the way, the well-loved Scrabble board shown above was given to me by Penny 16 years ago. She'd brought it from England, and I've never seen such a board sold in North America.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


My last layout, "Random Pieces of My Childhood", was scraplifted by Deanne. Scraplifting means to copy someone else's layout, while giving proper credit to the original designer, and it really is an honour to have one's layout scraplifted! Here's her version. Deanne also posted her layout on her scrapbooking blog, Sisterhood of Scrap, which is fun to read ... that is, if you're a scrapbooker. (Guitar-playing tube-amp builders may as well stop reading this post at this point.)

Here is another layout, done for this week's Scrapping Turtle challenge, which asked for a layout with stitching and a metallic item. See those wavy lines at the top? Yes, I really did use my sewing machine, and conveniently the safety pin was sitting on my sewing table. The patterned paper is from one of those gigantic Slab packs from Michael's and the cardstock stickers in the title were from a freebie sheet I got from SEI at the Buffalo convention. Todd took the terrific photo, catching Kate in mid-air. This was taken several years ago, but Kate still does a lot of jumping.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Big Relief!

I received two pieces of good news today. First, my sister-in-law Kimberly sent me an e-mail saying that all is well at her house. We'd been hearing about the floods in England, which are occurring in the region where she and Tim live. They're still under a flood warning, but they've taken precautions, and so far, their house has escaped the floods.

The other good news is that I got Julia's revised theory mark today. Julia wrote the RCM Preliminary Rudiments theory exam in May and did her Grade 5 Practical exam in June. The marks appear on the RCM Web site as soon as the exams are graded but it often takes weeks, even months, for the official results to arrive in the mail. We found out, shortly after she'd written the exams, that she'd passed her practical exam but got only 35% on the theory exam! This was a shock to all of us and to Julia's piano teacher. I suspected an error but we had to wait for the mailed copy. In the meantime, poor Julia had to go through a month and a half thinking that she'd failed the exam.

Today, I checked the site again and saw that the theory mark had changed substantially, presumably because someone at RCM spotted and corrected the error, and she did pass after all! We still haven't received the written copy, but I'm assuming the new on-line mark is the correct one. So with both theory and practical exams completed, Julia will now receive her Grade 5 certificate.

Julia is not very keen on continuing the RCM program, though she did agree to continue taking lessons from her teacher, so these may be the last tests she writes. We're glad she wants to continue with piano lessons and are OK with whatever style of music she chooses to play. In the fall, she'll have the challenge of learning a new band instrument as part of the academic requirements at her new junior high school.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Harry Potter Weekend

On Saturday morning, I picked up my pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from Chapters and Julia's reserved copy from the library, and so began our Harry Potter weekend. For two days, I had to argue, negotiate, bribe and steal to get a turn with the book. Fortunately, I was able to exert my parental authority and send Kate off to bed at 9pm, thus reserving the book for a 3-hour stretch each evening. I read every chance I got and was in a hurry to finish the book before being exposed to any spoilers. Kate is particularly unreliable. She tries hard, but when she gets excited, words just slip out. Fortunately, I was able to stay ahead of her at all times.

We took only two major breaks from reading on the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the whole family, including Todd, went to see The Order of the Phoenix. It was very enjoyable, even if it didn't capture the best of the book. The movies never do the books justice, so not having high expectations, I didn't go home disappointed. On Sunday, we went to a family dinner at Todd's parents' home. Todd's brother Tim was visiting from England and we had the pleasure of seeing him, as well as a number of aunts, uncles and cousins. We did read in the car while Todd drove, but it was good to have some social interaction with real human beings (instead of wizards, goblins and elves) for a few hours.

I read late into the night yesterday but wisely left the final 50 pages for today, so I could fully enjoy them with a refreshed mind. I ended up leaving a little bit late for work this morning, but it was better to finish the novel, so I could get back to programming without distraction. Kate's almost finished too. She only has 40 pages to go and gave me a very bitter look when I insisted that it was lights-out time. Julia's nearly done too but hasn't shown the same level of obsessive behaviour.

So now the series is finished, and I am entirely satisfied with the conclusion. Like my beloved "Little House" series of books that I've had since childhood, I expect the seven Harry Potter books to be read over and over by myself and the kids in the years to come. Well done, J. K. Rowling!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Craft Update - July 22

I am taking the briefest of breaks from reading the Harry Potter book to write my usual Sunday update. I did not manage to finish Part I of Taj Mahal as I'd hoped, but I have only a few specialty stitches and the beading left. I also continued making progress on the Louisa Harding sweater; the second sleeve is about half done.

I completed another layout in Oliver's first-year scrapbook, and I finished another weekly challenge from The Scrapping Turtle. This one had to satisfy a "puzzle" theme. A couple of years ago, I had scanned a bunch of childhood photos for my parents' 40th anniversary scrapbook. For this layout, I enhanced and cropped them in Photoshop, printed them out on my printer, and trimmed them with the white border to retain that "vintage" look.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter and Knitting

After months of saying I'll wait to purchase the paperback, I gave in and pre-ordered the Harry Potter book a few weeks ago. Julia had reserved a library copy and she's high enough on the waiting list to get one tomorrow, assuming the library has purchased multiple copies as it did for the sixth book. Now we'll have two books for three people to fight over. The third reader is Kate, who has finished the first six books and is even more excited than I am. Todd has only gotten through the first two books, and I truly cannot understand how anyone can read the first two, enjoy them, and not want to read the remaining ones immediately.

You'd think that reading the last book and seeing the fifth movie (which I hope to do in the next few days) would be enough, but no .... I had to buy Charmed Knits, a pattern book featuring "projects for fans of Harry Potter". You can see some of the Harry Potter knitted creations on the Charmed Knits blog. Kate has already decided that she would like a beret in the Gryffindor colours. I bought, in addition to the book, balls of scarlet and gold yarn, balls of sock yarn and a new sock pattern, all with a gift certificate Joe and Jill gave me earlier in the year. Thanks, Joe and Jill!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

War and Peace, Part I

Last year, I was very impressed when Fei Min told me she had finished reading Tolstoy's War and Peace. I had always wanted to read this novel, so I put it on my "101 in 1001" list. When Todd saw the list, he bought me the novel for Christmas. I finally made it through Part I a couple of weeks ago. There are 15 parts plus a two-part epilogue (as well as a page of reading-group questions, but let's not count that). Clearly, I still have some distance to go. I did read Anna Karenina some years ago, so I had some idea of what to expect, but still ....

I really struggled through the first 100 pages (of the 1386 pages in my edition) and had to continually go back and reread passages to reacquaint myself with the characters. I didn't keep a careful count, but I could swear that at least 30 characters were introduced in the first 50 pages. It didn't help that Prince Andrey is called, at various times and by various people, Prince Bolkonsky, Andre, and Andryusha. At least Pierre is always called Pierre (well, sometimes Monsieur Pierre, but I understand French and can deal with that).

Now, I am well into Part II. The characters have all been introduced, the historical and political context has been set, and things are starting to happen. There have been a death, a major inheritance, hurt feelings, a sad parting and lots of foreshadowing, and I am now finding the book quite engrossing. I'll keep at it for a while, at least until Saturday when I pick up my preordered copy of Harry Potter.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back from Camp

Julia returned yesterday after two weeks at a summer camp just outside Huntsville, Ontario. (The photo above was sent by the camp staff.) Kate was there too, but for just one week, followed by a week with Todd's parents. When Kate returned this afternoon, she was clean as a whistle and had a bag of freshly laundered clothes, thanks to the wonderful grandparents. When Julia arrived, she was covered with bug bites and every item she owned was soaked and caked in mud.

Kate, who was in the beginner session, had only an overnight out-trip. Julia, the veteran, went on a 5-day out-trip with her group. The weather turned out to be cold and wet, and a thunderstorm provided an extra bit of excitement. Julia, being one of the stronger kids in the group, was asked to carry a canoe on her own during the many, many portages (the longest being 800m). She really detests the portages. The group was well equipped, but the counsellors left behind one crucial item, the bug repellant. So the deer flies had a field day (5 field days, to be exact) with this group. To add insult to injury, raccoons got into the food and ate the chocolate chips.

So after all this, Julia's reaction was, "Well, it was an OK trip." She's going for another 2-week session later in the summer and actually looking forward to it. When she wasn't on the out-trip, she had plenty of fun with her cabin-mates (some have been e-mail pen-pals for the last couple of years) , staying up late and participating in all the great camp activities.

Julia has enjoyed going to residential camp the past four years and says she prefers the more rugged camps with the out-trips than the tamer ones close to the city. (This is from a girl who greatly depends on her computer, MP3 player and hair dryer at home!) Given that I have no camping experience and my idea of a "rugged" vacation is staying at a mediocre hotel, I'm very impressed and glad that she is learning how to survive in the wilderness.

Sunday Craft Update - July 15

I continued working on Chatelaine's Taj Mahal and part 1 is about 80% finished. If I get the beads sewn on this week, I'll post a photo next Sunday. I also did a bit more on the Louisa Harding sweater.

This layout is the only scrapbooking accomplishment for the week, done for the latest Scrapping Turtle challenge on "weather". I took this photo outside our old house after an icy snowstorm. This was one of two beautiful locust trees in our front yard. The patterned paper is a freebie I got from SEI at CKC Buffalo, and the string of beads and metallic snowflakes are leftovers from former cross-stitch projects.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Best Skating Costumes?

The last post was about the worst skating costumes. So which ones are the best? Answer: the ones I sew for my kids, of course! :-) Seriously speaking, I'm not all that good at sewing. I can only do simple patterns and it's best not to look too closely at the seams and edges. However, it is nice being able to make a dress rather than rely on the small selection at the shops or pay for a custom dress.

The photo at the left is from Julia's 2006 club competition. This dress is the first one I'd made and it has all kinds of flaws but it is my favourite. Julia has the right colouring for this dress; if I try to wear orange, I end up looking like I'm dressed for a Halloween party. The pattern is from Jalie, which specializes in patterns for athletic clothing. The pattern had cost $13 and the materials $20, which is a terrific savings given that most off-the-rack skating dresses cost $100 each. I bought the fabric from Ann's Fabric Shop in Hamilton, which carries a huge variety of hard-to-find dance and skating fabrics.

I've bought other patterns, and I've made dresses from a couple of them. However, Julia liked this pattern so much I made her a second dress from it, in a different fabric, and now she wants to use the same design for her next dress. That makes the sewing easier for me, but the downside is that the coaches and other parents will think that I only know how to sew one kind of dress!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Worst Skating Costumes

I've been enjoying the "Worst Skating Costumes" thread on the Figure Skating Universe board. Here are my picks:

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Tour of Wine Country

The kids are away at camp, so Todd and I decided to go on a civilized kind of vacation, one that does not involve "I Spy" games in the car or restaurants featuring children's menus. We decided to spend the weekend at Inn on the Twenty, a wonderfully luxurious and restful inn located in Jordan, Ontario. The inn features a fabulous restaurant and is associated with the Cave Springs winery.

We spent Saturday afternoon on a winery tour run by Crush on Niagara. This was loads of fun and we visited Peninsula Ridge, Calamus, Flat Rock and Vineland Estates wineries. Taking an organized tour is definitely the way to go. We visited Malivoire and Fielding Estate wineries on our own the next day and at least one of us (not me) had to show a lot of restraint. Our tour guide did an admirable job of pretending that he truly enjoyed driving six sloshed middle-aged parents around town and even cheerily lugged all our purchases to the minivan.

About the wine ... well, I enjoyed most of it but I'll readily admit that I'm not a connoisseur. Despite my best efforts, I have trouble picking out flavours like "wet stone", and I generally rely on Billy's Best Bottles to help with my wine shopping. Billy's Best Bottles is an excellent guide to the LCBO (that's Liquor Control Board of Ontario, for those outside the province) and I will forever be grateful to Terry and Glenda for telling me about Billy. So I won't give any wine recommendations here but I do urge you to visit Calamus Estate Winery, if you're in the area. This is a very small winery that has been producing only for a few years but it has already won a number of awards. It's located in an old barn built in the 1800's, and the six of us could barely cram into the tiny tasting room. Nevertheless, the wine is very tasty and behind the barn, there is a telescope inside a dome observatory, which the owner is planning to have operational next year. That alone makes a repeat visit a must!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sunday Craft Update - July 8

Todd and I took a small vacation on the weekend, which I'll write about later. This meant that I made good progress on my travel projects. I started the second sleeve of the Louisa Harding sweater. I also worked on the Fleur-de-Lys sampler, designed by Jeannette Douglas.

I finished another layout in my nephew Oliver's "First Year" scrapbook album. This is going slowly but I'm doing better than I did on Julia's first-year album. She was 12 before I completed hers. Oliver is not quite 3 so there's still plenty of time! At the left is another layout I completed this week, for the Scrapping Turtle's July Mystery Kit contest. The photos were taken at Wasaga Beach, near Todd's parents' home, in 2001.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Amp

Todd and Mark are building another vacuum-tube guitar amp. They go through a lot of beer in the course of these projects, but I do enjoy seeing the progress during the design and implementation stages. I will admit, however, that I don't particularly care for the testing stage and try to find something to do outside the house at those times.

Mark does a lot of the woodworking for the cabinets and you can see photos of the construction on his blog. He also writes about fly tying. While I have no urge to try fly fishing, I've always been interested in fibre crafts. Making a fly out of elk hair is not all that different from making a Rhodes stitch with silk, is it?

Pi Clock

I make it a point not to talk about my work on this blog. There are other forums in which I engage in work-related discussion. However, I will mention that I am currently working on a project that involves the unit circle. So I was delighted when Laura told me about this site, where one can buy all sorts of geeky, math-related items. (This is even better than ThinkGeek, which markets more to the computer nerd. Guess where I go to get gifts for my brother Joe?)

Back to the unit circle ... I was thrilled to find the Pi Clock. I haven't bought one yet but it's on my wish list. The best part is that you can get the manufacturers to adjust the mechanism so that it starts at 0 radians (3 o'clock position) and goes counterclockwise.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Her Favourite Pieces

Julia spent the last 6 months preparing for the Kiwanis Festival, school recital and RCM exams, and she is thoroughly sick of her RCM pieces. Now she can relax this summer and play whatever she likes for fun. Currently she is learning "How to Save a Life" by The Fray. Todd is learning the guitar part.

I incorporated these thoughts into this week's challenge from the Turtlesoup BB, which asks that we create a layout featuring hands. Most of the papers are from the Scarlet's Letter line by Basic Grey.

Monday, July 2, 2007

My beautiful nieces

This scrapbook layout uses an old photo of my nieces, Alexandra and Lily-Ann, taken in 2004, but it's one I particularly like. They are in England now and we miss seeing them and their little sister Teaghen.

About the layout ... I love Photoshop but encountered lots of frustration trying to learn various techniques. Like most programmers, I hate reading other people's documentation and think that interfaces should work in obvious ways (and like most programmers, I could do a better job at this in the software I myself produce). So I finally gave up and bought Jessica Sprague's First Layout Tutorial for Photoshop Elements. It was definitely worth the $7.99 I paid, as I had been doing various tasks in a sub-optimal way, and I recommend the tutorial for anyone interested in trying digital scrapbooking with Photoshop. The layout design is the one used in the tutorial; sadly I cannot claim it as my own design.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day, especially to all my expat family members! This afternoon, Fei Min and I took the kids to the local Canada Day celebrations, where they got to jump on a bouncy ship, a bouncy castle, a bouncy slide and a bouncy house. Then they had cotton candy.

Todd went with Mark to see the musicians and fireworks, but I opted to stay home with the kids. Julia joined me to watch the fireworks display and we had an excellent view from the upper floor of our house. I managed to drag Kate out of bed for only a few minutes before she headed back to her room; she is definitely not a night owl. Here is a photo, taken from our front lawn.

Sunday Craft Update - July 1

After the marathon sessions on Deco Spirits, I'm now trying to cycle through all my cross-stitch UFOs (Unfinished Objects) and do a little bit on each, just to reacquaint myself with them. This week, I made some progress on Taj Mahal by Chatelaine (Martina Weber). This design has 12 parts. I'm still on Part 1. (Part 1 is the largest of the 12, so it's not so very bleak.) I also worked on the Louisa Harding sweater; the first sleeve is almost finished.