Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How I Accidentally Joined a Bike Gang

Late last Saturday night Pascal and I were riding through Davis Square, heading to a party, when a fleet of intergalactic transport ships flanked us at a traffic light.
"Hey, nice bike!" said a Skunk, four feet above me.
"Thanks. You too!" I said as I looked up to admire his Cloudbuster.

"Now these are my people." I thought to myself as the light turned green and we all rode down Elm Street. We got to talking about bicycles, art, how to make PVC hinges, and the finer points of welding a disco ball to ones handlebars. They had plenty of questions for me and I for them.

I dropped back a little and met up with the fleet's tailgunner, Dozer, who explained to me a little bit about how the organization works. A lot of people know about or at least have seen SCUL around Somerville and Cambridge. They're a non-profit, artistic, bicycling, nerd gang based in Somerville, MA. They have missions once a week on Saturday nights which launch from a secret base and head off into the galaxy, blasting dance music from the fleets flag ship.

"The way it works is that you get invited to join by a member who's willing to sponsor you." Dozer explained while Pascal took notes. "You become their maggot for your first ride and your sponsor shows you the ropes dur... hang on." She banked quickly off to the right to pick up a set of brief, metacrapal connections at a high-five refueling station that materialized on the sidewalk near Porter Square's White Hen Pantry.

As we road on through Harvard Square collecting more high fives, cheers, and car horn blasts I learned about Operation Back in the Saddle Again and their objective for the night. The fleet was destined for Riverside subway station, the end of the Green Line's D branch, out in Newton, MA. The objective was to catch a glimpse of the stations planet Pluto model installed by the museum of science.

We road on through the night, out to Watertown, MA to a 7/11 to collect juice and candy bar rations for the mid-flight pit stop. We also had to make a few repairs. One of the maggots, Dishpan, altered the crew that her ship, War, had a wobbly wheel. Now, a little wobble never hurt anyone, but with a name like 'War' and three-foot ramrod mounted to your front, a wobbly back wheel can totally destroy your street cred. Threespeed, the fleet's resident mechanic aboard Starhustler, got out his tools and gave War a little once over. Dishpan then road three-quarter speed into a chain link fence head on with the ramrod repeatedly until she was satisfied that War had regained his original gusto. I went to talk to Skunk.

Skunk and I discussed hacking and the DIY community for a while and I was invited to next week's mission to a non-disclosed location which will be of particular interest to a hacker electronics geek like myself.

Now if you have good reading comprehension you've probably been think to yourself this whole time "Didn't he say he was headed to a party? How much time has passed since the beginning of this story?" Well yes, I was headed to a party, a party back in Davis Square no less. About an hour or two had gone by during our ride and pit stop and I was expected hours ago. So I bid my new friends good bye and wished them much luck on the remainder of their journey.

I've been instructed to send Skunk and email for more information and Dozer said she'd be happy to sponsor me on my first ride. I'm pretty excited and looking forward to exploring the galaxy in style next week; we'll see how it goes. The import thing to take away from this story is that I will soon be in a bike gang. One with secret meeting spots and all sorts of midnight shadiness. Needless to say I am certainly no longer someone to be trifled with.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dr. Scheme, you complete me

My roommate, Amy, has been doing an indexing project for a company as a private contractor. The job involves a lot of data entry so I ask, as I always do, if there are applications for custom software in the project. Nothing bothers me more than seeing people doing work that a computer could be doing.

I wrote a program to aid in her data entry which included a quick, hundred-line hack to do auto-completion. I sent it to my friend Jacob for comments who sent it to his adviser Robby, who was my adviser when I worked full time as a research assistant for the PLT. Robby had a lot of suggestions to make it a lot prettier and lot more user-friendly, all of which Jacob has since implement.

After Jacob's handy work the code went into the core DrScheme framework. Auto-completion was one of the most requested features for Dr. Scheme so we're all pretty excited that it's finally in there. Robby posted a blog entry to the PLT Scheme Blog announcing the features and there was much rejoicing. A party was thrown, prizes have been awarded, two volcanoes erupted, and parade is planned for next Sunday.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How to Make Friends

This past weekend I went to Home Depot with a tape measure, some written measurements, and the intention of getting shelves for my closet. But as usual, I ended up wasting a lot more time than I should in the plumbing section. Literally four hours went by as I played with various PVC connectors like five-year-old at Toys R Us. I decided to take a break from setting up my new room and what better way to do this than to build a life-size stick figure out of PVC pipe to ride on the back of my tandem bicycle?

I walked around the aisle, measuring my arms, legs, and torso, drawing pictures, and laying pipes out on the floor in a roughly humanoid form.
"Do you need help?" one employee asked, choosing his words diplomatically.
"Yes", I said. "Do you have cross-joint for one-inch by half-inch by one-inch by two-inch PVC?"
"I doubt it, considering the way water flows. We don't carry every piece so it's hard to find things that aren't used for typical plumbing setups." He looked down at my head on a stick "And that is clearly not plumbing related."

I adjusted my plans accordingly, swapping out pieces in my drawings for the ones they actually carried in the store. Since I didn't know how big he'd need to be to fit properly on the bike I just modeled his sizes after my own. This is why his biceps are a half of an inch in diameter.

Later I went home to saw and cement together my new friend. After much deliberation with my roommate, Amy, we decided to call him Pascal Vanderbilt Chesterfield. I think it's a pretty fitting and dignified name.

Having a tandem copilot automaton around has a lot of benefits that you might not realize. I can finally ride in the carpool lane when I'm biking to work on i93. If none of my friends are around to go for a ride on the weekends I can still go without looking completely ridiculous. It's a lot less awkward if I meet a girl at a bar and she has a friend made of PVC. And best of all, he can wear the backpack instead of me. Now I just need to teach him how to signal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I am the sixteenth silliest thing on the Internet

We've all heard the old saying in it's many variations. "That guy is so silly that if you looked up the word 'silly' in the dictionary you'd find his picture." Now I'm a pretty silly guy so people have certainly said such things about me, but if you look today in the OED you're still not very likely to find any reference to me. However, if you do a Google Image search for the world 'silly', you will, in fact, find my picture on the front page at number sixteen*.

My friend, Adam, recently had need for some silly images and stumbled upon a picture of our friend Char and I, picture number one on page two of the search results. After he sent us an email with this announcement of our new-found fame we moved five places onto the prestigious first page.

This silly picture was taken by Char's boyfriend, Owen, at a pool party I had and subsequently posted it to his apparently well-indexed, highly-linked photo blog. Google's page ranking being the infallible, acid test for Internet poplar opinion that it is, I think I can safely declare that Char and I are the number sixteen most silly thing on the Internet.

* Google page rankings being as fickle as they are, this number is likely to be changed both by the time this is posted and also as a result of it being posted.

Partial Evaluation

My friends Jacob Matthews and Dave Herman are working on a paper about a technique for compiler optimization. The following technique for partial evaluation came up last night while I was talking about it with our friend Ryan Culpepper. Ryan seems to think this wouldn't get excepted to POPL for some reason. Some silliness about needing to get a value back.
(define (partial-evaluator program)
(let ([t (thread (lambda () (eval program)))])
(sleep 1)
(kill-thread t)))