Posted on August 24, 2011.

It has been quite some time since an entry, and I've been nursing this one for a little while now, one way and another. Forgive the disjointed nature, but there isn't really a narrative thread to link this all together - or at least one worth getting into in a public forum. And so on with the show...

Bitcoin

I've been exploring the novel - and on occasion, wonderful - world of bitcoin of late. I have been looking for an excuse to buy a new machine to operate as a server for a little while, as my laptop which has been serving such duty for the last few years is starting to be unable to lift the computational weight that I ask of it - and has an annoying habit of wanting to be shut down on occasion. The confluence of several factors spurred me to action. It has not been purchased with the intention of using mining to make the money back, but getting some of the money back in a form that is currently intrinsically interesting certainly holds a lot of appeal. The fact that my rent includes all bills also helps.

The fact that the community comes up with documents that explain pool hopping, what it is, and prove the optimal strategy is extremely attractive to me. There has been massive media interest of late in bitcoin, which has caused a somewhat amusing series of events, including a boom, crash and a hacking scandal at the largest exchange. This has all been fairly entertaining to watch from outside - it remains to be seen whether it will be as amusing from behind the curtain. Regardless of whether Bitcoin truly takes off, I am happy to have now been at least a small part of it, and it's exactly the sort of thing I enjoy tinkering with in the meantime.

Last FM

Last FM has sadly moved to a model where to stream on your iPod / iPhone you must pay a subscription. I used my iPod to stream Last.fm radio while I was at work where my PC (due to a unfortunate mixture of SunRay workstations and Linux) does not supply sound, and the result is that I am mourning the loss of what has accompanied my PhD for the last twenty months or so - as is my officemate who did exactly the same thing.

It's somewhat annoying that all of these music services are pulling the rug out from under us of late. I remember using Pandora when it wasn't just for those in the US of A. It wasn't that long ago that Spotify allowed unlimited streaming for free accounts - and I didn't even mind the ads that much. Now Pandora finds itself in a walled garden, Spotify only allows free accounts a limited amount of streaming a month, and Last.FM won't let me stream to my iPod. I can't imagine it'll be long before my current haven, mflow, ends up in a similar boat, sadly.

Google Plus

A challenger approaches. I snuck in under the rope cordon, past the bouncer, fairly early on through the 'share-something-with-an-email-address' workaround, and quickly found the same thing everyone else did: even if the animation to drop people in circles was incredibly satisfying, there was very little to do with no friends on the network.

This has become less of a problem in recent weeks, as Google have accelerated to an alleged 20 million users in less than a month. My immediate impression was that it was Skype, and not Facebook, that would have to worry, due to the very impressive webchat capability integrated to Google Plus. Of course, shortly afterwards, Skype announced integration with Facebook which leaves the fight wide open. I think the privacy features of Google Plus will help it win a lot of converts - while essentially all of the same options have been on Facebook for quite some time now, they are all squirrelled away; the same options on Google Plus are in full view, and almost more of an effort to not use. Easily delimiting where friends end and where family begins is an attractive feature for many people, including myself who, up to this point, has been operating on a no cross-generation Facebooking basis. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to watch how the battle pans out. Google's fights now span a wide range of frontiers, but they still seem confident that they have not yet bitten off more than they can chew.

Git

I've been using git for a while now. Indeed, it's the only version control I've ever really used, but I was properly sold on it recently when I used it in a way that was completely novel for me, but extremely useful. Indeed, not even a way I had ever considered that it might be useful.

I was debugging some code at work, when I ran across what was the magic number 173.3 hard-coded with no associated comment (I know, I know). Naturally, I needed to know what this number was and why it was there - and if it was correct. So a quick use of git grep "173.3" $(git log -g --pretty=format:%h) gave me a list of revisions that the number appeared in. Looking up the commit date for the earliest revision using git log allowed me to quickly flick to the appropriately dated page in my lab book - where I found a derivation of the number in question.

It was correct, but saved me a large amount of time flicking through old lab books and wondering where it had come from.

Treasure Hunt

At short notice, for a friend's birthday, I set up a treasure hunt around Cambridge. Sadly, I am not going to give details here, even though I'm incredibly proud of how good a treasure hunt I turned around in about 24 hours. This is because I will probably use many of its elements again in another treasure hunt for some other friends, who may all too easily stumble across this post.

It was universally enjoyed, however, to the extent that I got a round of applause from those involved at the end.

Less Computation, More Contemplation

The last couple of months have been fairly strenuous for me in most domains of life, but I think I've found my mojo again in the last week or two. This is something which I - and frankly, others - have sorely missed. My projects are interesting again, and I've reverted to my traditional volume of reading. Work is hard, although satisfying when it works - the trick is getting it to work often enough to not go mad, which I don't think I've managed yet. Unfortunately, my work at the moment revolves around measuring a 30 nanometer movement on a mount for a five-inch optic. That's a distance less than one-twentieth the wavelength of visible light on something that is comfortably larger than my cereal bowl.

It's non-trivial.

I reckon the third year of a PhD must get easier though. Right...?