Southern Man

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Actually, Halloween is a non-event in Southern Man's life. He lives in a sufficiently remote area that there are no trick-or-treaters; the only clue was that some of the folks were in costume at the Hyundai dealership where Southern Man left his loaner Sonata and abut $550 in exchange for The Hyundai. Pretty steep for a broken ignition, but at least they washed it.

Southern Man doesn't regret paying a little extra to have the dealer do the work (and he did get a loaner car out of it) but The Hyundai will be paid off in about six months and it's probably time to shop around for a local mechanic and get estimates on a new timing belt and brake pads and such. Not that any of that is broken, yet - the ignition was the first malfunction in five years and 70K miles - but it will be interesting to see if an independent shop will do the timing belt for less than the $500 quoted by the dealer.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Any time one comments on the joy and comfort of "routine" life throws you a curve ball. Southern Man slipped out of work at mid-afternoon to hit the coin-op laundromat and do a little geocaching. So he pulls into the laundromat and finds - surprise - that the doors are locked. OK, fine, there are plenty of other laundromats on the route home so he put the laundry back into The Hyundai and hopped in and -

the key wouldn't turn.

Well, that came right out of left field. After fiddling with it for a while and determining that the ignition was well and truly broken Southern Man called his favorite tow service and after a wait of a couple of hours finally got hooked up and to the Hyundai dealer right as the service department was closing.

He'd called ahead to let them know he was coming in and to arrange a ride home but fortunately they had a loaner car so Southern Man gets to ride around for a day or two in this:

Why, yes, that is a 2013 Sonata.

It's very nice and would give Southern Man a mild case of new-car fever but the other two aren't quite yet paid for, so no. Not yet. Besides, the Sonata is a four door and Southern Man is in the coupe phase of his life.


Southern Man is pleased that cars like this exist and that in not too many years he'll be able to spoil himself a bit and purchase one. He's thankful that his roadside assistance package means the tow didn't cost him anything out-of-pocket. He's not so happy that The Hyundai is broken and that it's going to cost him money to get it fixed. But in the meantime he will enjoy the Sonata for a day or two.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekend Update

Well, blogging has been light because Southern Man has kept busy. Also, the lack of internet out at The Land does put a damper on things as well.

Now that it is late fall Southern Man's routine is get up (in the dark), have breakfast, go to the gym to work out and shower, and go to work. On the days he teaches evenings he does his evening work and then goes home (in the dark) and relaxes for a bit and goes to bed. On the days that he doesn't teach evenings he takes care of errands and laundry (once a week) and usually has a little daylight in the evening to work and play outside. Alas, Southern Man has repaired the Windows 98 SE game computer (the five-volt line went out on the power supply about a year ago and Southern Man has just now gotten around to replacing it) and now spends an inordinate amount of time playing old games instead of being more productive.

We are The Borg. You will be assimilated.

The Trailer gets pretty cool at night as Southern Man doesn't trust the gas heater so he has an electric space heater in the kitchen and an electric blanket on the bed. The blanket has a three-hour timer, which works out well. He is getting more accustomed to the gas cooktop; he hasn't yet tried the gas oven. Actually groceries are not much of a problem as Southern Man is an expert at scrounging after the various lunches hosted in his building. Two weeks ago he pretty much lived off of leftover lunchmeat, lettuce, and potato salad all week long.

The weekend was fun. Saturday was spent working outside and reading and watching DVDs and playing Armada, then finished with an evening cookout (hot dogs and s'mores) and hayride at a nearby "party barn" with the church singles group. It was dark and the phone camera is pretty hopeless in anything other than ideal conditions so no pics unless Southern Man steals some off the group's Facebook site. Sunday morning was the usual breakfast, workout and shower, Sunday School, and then lunch with Southern Parents and Southern Son, followed by an afternoon and evening of fun and relaxation. Life at The Land is very low key. Southern Man likes it.

But next month will be busy, busy, busy - a week of poll-watching and the election, then a week in Salt Lake City for SC12, then Thanksgiving, and then a weekend in Chicago for Teen Daughter the Elder's graduation from Navy Boot Camp. And then the Christmas holidays will be here before we know it!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Birthday Celebration

Another milestone in the lives of the Southern Children: Southern Son is now twenty-one!

Southern Ex came into town late morning for lunch with the Birthday Boy so Southern Man got Teen Daughter The Younger for the rest of the weekend. We met at Southern Son's trailer to deliver his birthday present (a very nice 88-key electric keyboard) and he improvised while TDY sang. Then SS headed off to lunch with his mother and Southern man and TDY went to the local amusement park for the afternoon.

After the park the entire clan met for a birthday celebration at our favorite birthday eatery.

TDY and Youngest Nephew. Southern Son refused to be photographed.

Naturally the Southern Parents wanted their granddaughter for the evening so he reluctantly let her go and headed back to The Land for the evening. Tomorrow he'll pick her up from church, have lunch with the parents, and take her about ninety minutes out of town to deliver her back to her mother.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Movie Review - Looper

After we saw Atlas Shrugged Part II it was on to Looper, in which future murder victims are sent back in time to be executed by "loopers." Why that name? Well, their final victim is their thirty-year-older self, at which time they retire and have thirty years to enjoy their pay before they are sent back int time to be executed by...well, you get the picture. The film doesn't dwell much on the technology and time-travel babble (fortunately, given the preposterous nature of the premise) and focuses on personalities and relationships instead, which makes for a pretty good film. Bruce Willis does eventually get his yippee-kai-yay moment, and the ending was a surprise. Worth seeing.

Movie Review - Atlas Shrugged, Part II

The second installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy is out and Southern Man had a look. In short it's a fairly faithful portrayment of the middle third (ish) of the book, with the strengths and weaknesses therein. It picks up where Part I left off (Wyatt goes on strike) and ends with Taggart's accidental discovery of Galt's Gulch.

Possibly a new record for the gap between critics and audience.

It's a mostly new cast; Southern Man preferred the original Rearden and Taggart but the new pair was all right. Sadly, their sexiest moments were in photos used to blackmail Rearden into surrendering his patents, not in their actual acting. However it was a fine movie (at any rate it beats the heck out of wading through that damn book) and Southern Man hopes that there is a Part III.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Flight Of The QuadroCopters

Through the generosity of The Dean we have three new toys: Parrot AR.Drone quadrocopters, which will be used for recruitment. The Dean issued a challenge: a hundred bucks to the first to fly. So while Southern Man was teaching his Friday morning lab the Finance Department rose to the challenge...

RS and JM fly their copter.

Southern Man was not far behind: after lab he broke his out and got it up in the air as well.

A little video from the 'copter of a few of Southern Man's programming lab students.

Southern Man gets in a little flying time. Photo by Trudy.

Sadly Southern Man managed to break a gear on his during a later flight so replacement parts are on order. Quadrocopters are fun!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Women In Science

Today was spent at the local Science Museum for the annual Women In Science conference, for both students and teachers predominantly female), so Southern Man and his partners Dr. S and Dr. A took LittleFe and a shiny new quadrocopter to show off and hopefully generate some interest in both science in general and Southern Man's university employer in particular.

Dr. S, Henry, and Dr. A demonstrate our LittleFe computer to some workshop participants.

An enthusiastic Dr. S.

Southern Man entertains guests. Photo by Miranda.

Grad student Asal (on the right) with a participant.

The Dean snapped a few pics as well.

A nice photo of our booth by one of the EPSCoR volunteers.

There were about eight hundred middle- and high-school women, and their teachers, at this all-day event. It was a lot of fun!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Weekend At The Land

This was actually Southern Man's first full (well, at least semi-full) weekend at The Land since - wow, probably since Spring. Between work and Teen Daughter the Younger all summer and busy, busy weekends since there has not been much time to work. But after Saturday Morning "Coffee Talk" with the church singles group and a little shopping Southern Man headed home and spent most of the day Saturday and Sunday cleaning up and mowing and moving woodpiles and such and got quite a bit done. One more weekend as productive as that and the area around the buildings will be looking pretty good. Well, at least relatively good. It's been pretty cold but Southern Man found an old space heater that does a fine job, and he picked up an electric blanket as well that keeps the bed nice and warm. He trapped a pretty large mouse the other day (inside the oven, of all places - that gas oven has a vent in the back. And, yes, it will get scrubbed down hard before it ever gets used!) and found a couple of babies on Saturday (right out in the middle of the floor, with no clue as to where they came from) but no trace of rodent activity since so perhaps the Mouse Wars are swinging in his favor. Next up: finish cleaning up around the outside to keep the neighbors happy, and then get back to work on the inside of The Workshop.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Describe The Goal, Not The Step

As Southern Man was busily working this morning he noted this post at Armed and Dangerous and followed it to a nice article entitled How To Ask Questions The Smart Way. While intended for hackers software developers it was generally good advice, and one section read like this:
Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something (as opposed to reporting a bug), begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.
Southern Man makes this error all the time. In particular, the way he makes this error is:
Sally forth to accomplish some task.
Find that the tools (or whatever) required to accomplish the task aren't available.
Forget about the task and spend an inordinate amount of time looking for those particular tools.
Just the other day Southern Man was hitting some geocaches during lunch break. On finding one he sought to sign the log but found that he had lost his pen. Thus, he forget entirely about the task at hand (signing the log) and was immediately consumed by finding his pen (locating the tool). Which he did, by backtracking to a previous cache and finding his pen right there on the ground. Then on return he noted, to his chagrin, that the cache owner had already provided a "writin' stick" in the container. That's half an hour spent walking, for no purpose, because Southern Man got caught up in finding his pen and forgot about the goal, which was to sign the log. He fell into a similar trap during the supercomputing symposium. In serial computing, the n-body problem is modeled by computing the interactions between each pair of objects, one at a time. The speaker (Bob Panoff of challenged us to think about how this problem could be solved on a computing cluster. Southern Man dutifully began to work on parallizing that serial process - only to be reminded that the goal was to solve the n-body problem on a cluster, not modify the old algorithm. Again, Southern Man (and most of the audience) focused on a tool, not on the goal. Sure, he (and the audience) were deliberately set up to fall into that trap, but it's still embarassing. Full disclosure: Southern Man admits that he falls into all of Bob's traps.

Southern Man is not even going to relate the many times this sort of thing happens to him out at The Land. THe only bright side of working along out there is that no one is there to witness his many errors. Perhaps writing this post will help him better focus on solving problems.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Supercomputing Symposium Day 1

The day-long symposium kicked off with talks by our host (Henry Neeman) and other distinguished guests (including Bob Panoff of Shodor).

The conference center.

Two Gods of Supercomputing.

Southern Man slipped away at lunch to do a little geocaching... of which was tucked up in this big tree.

Southern Man is continually amazed by the progress of supercomputing. The performance of the multi-million-dollar supercomputers of twenty years ago is in your phone today. What will we have in a decade or so?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Supercomputing Symposium Day 0

placeholder The annual Supercomputing Symposium at the local Enormous State University kicked off this evening with a reception and poster sessions.

Viewing the exhibits.

A favorite attraction.

Another favorite. The only thing that could possibly be better than a chocolate fountain would be a dark chocolate fountain. Well, Southern Man can dream, can't he?

These symposia are always a lot of fun and Southern Man is looking forward to the talks and presentations tomorrow.