Archive for June, 2008

Everything Is Numbers

Monday, June 30th, 2008

I’ve started teaching a programming class to the non-programmers I work with and decided to write up some of the lessons here.  In the last installment, I discussed binary numbers. This time we’ll go a little further and explain how those numbers can be used to describe other things like pictures and words.

Computers are just a bunch of ones and zeros and you now know how those ones and zeros can be used to make numbers. But ones and zeros can be used to represent all sorts of different things, from words to photos to Ricky Martin songs… lots and lots of Ricky Martin songs.

So lets take a look at how binary numbers can be used to represent other data — for example, what you are reading right now.

Perhaps you remember the scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie finally gets his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, locks himself in the bathroom and begins translating a string of numbers into letters. That is exactly how computers store text as well. Each letter is encoded as a unique number and each number is encoded in binary.

The most obvious way to encode letters as numbers is to set A=1, B=2, and then go through the alphabet until Z=26. This works okay, but what about punctuation, numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and this thing: §?

The standard system used to encode characters in computers is called ASCII. Originally it used 7-bits for each character, allowing for 128 unique values. It was then extended to 8 bits, bringing the total to 256. Here is a table showing how letters and other characters are actually encoded in ASCII.

Go ahead and decode this ASCII message:


And just for fun, here’s what it looks like in binary (using 7-bits for each character):


First one to decode it and post the answer in the comments gets a prize!

Read More »

I Want the RB Soda

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

The soft drink aisle at the supermarket advertises “6 pack NRB soda.”  First of all, why do they call it “soda” instead of “pop?” We’re in Chicago for Pete’s sake! Second of all, what the heck is NRB soda?  The only six packs were these little 8 oz cans.

Shama: It must be “Not Really Big” Soda.

Getting Old Isn’t All Bad

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Nancy, one of the engineers on the Guatemala trip, qualified for the “Seniors Ride Free” program offered by the CTA.  Perhaps it’s rude to mention a friend’s age online like this, but I don’t think she’d mind because every time I see her she manages to steer the conversation to free transit, often producing her pass and rubbing it in my face.

One of the nice things about being a student was getting a U-Pass from the CTA that offered me the fun and freedom of being 65 and older, transit-wise.  Unfortunately, that freedom ended in the middle of June and now I’m paying for the train again like a sucker.

If I managed to ride the CTA 1,371 times I could have totally paid my tuition with free fares.  I didn’t.

Save Mystery Cove

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I work with Arnie, whose blog, “A Year In Pictures of Comedy” is pure genius. I only recently learned that he has a side project as an executive producer on the FOX show “Mystery Cove.” Here’s what he had to say about the third season:

I’d like to remind everyone that the third season of Mystery Cove is currently airing on FOX. We have been told unequivicably by the network that if it doesn’t post better ratings this summer it will be canceled. Steve and I have put a lot of ourselves into this show over the last few years and have fought to use as much Chicago talent as possible at every level of production. I know a great number of you weren’t fans of the second season and have stopped watching the show. But I think as a community, we need to support this show, even those of us who don’t ‘enjoy’ it. As a way of reaching out to our (admittedly smaller) fanbase, Steve and I will be continuing to podcast about the production of the show, answering fan e-mails and teasing upcoming episodes.

I highly recommend the podcast for both fans and non-fans of the show. You can listen to it online or subscribe to it on iTunes. Facebookers can join the show’s Facebook group.

What Happens At A Software Company When The Power Goes Out

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

The construction workers constantly jackhammering outside of Jellyvision’s offices finally did it. We heard a particularly loud crash and then all the power in the building went out. This actually happened last year too when a crane knocked down a power line a block away. (Hooray!) I love it when the power goes out. It forces you to change your behavior for a little while and I think that’s nice — especially when your new behavior involves playing Mafia with all your coworkers.

Unlike Celebrity, Mafia has a comprehensive Wikipedia entry written by someone who isn’t me. (Although I was prepared to do it if one didn’t exist. Here’s a fun little experiment: See if you can find something that doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.) If you don’t know how the game works, you can read about it there.

Like last year, Amanda dominated the game. She is the most ruthless murderer I’ve ever met — playing dumb, giggling, spreading rumors — all of it coldly calculated to manipulate us while she quietly kills the entire town.

Who Wants Homegrown Bush Pickles?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

I had about 3 hours to kill before a 1 AM show at the Horseshoe so Shama and I walked over to the CVS and saw they were selling vegetable plants. Nothing says organic goodness like buying plants in the parking lot of a CVS. But after my bumper crop of asparagus was such a success, it seemed like an expansion of the vegetable garden was in order.

Here’s something I didn’t know: when you buy plants, you don’t just get tomatoes or peppers. They all have names! I picked out a fine looking fellow named “Bradley” as well as another tomato known only as “Beefmaster.” He seems like trouble. I also got something called a “Bush Pickle,” which I hope is a cucumber.

And the Home of the Land and the Land of the Free

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Kelly, who sings Breaking Up with me, sang the national anthem at a White Sox game. She was really nervous about screwing up the words, but as you can see she did just fine:

Oh wait. Not that one. Here she is:

I think she should have gone with “Bunch of bombs in the air.”

Happy Birthday, Grandma

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

My grandma turned 90 this weekend. I never know what to get her. She’s not so big on presents or flowers or even cards. So for her 90th birthday I got her this:

It was by far the most successful present I’ve ever given her. She loved it.

A few weeks ago she let me know just how she felt about my long hair: “You look like that horrible dancing fellow on tv.” She was talking about this guy:

Hi There. Who Are You?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Google Analytics tells me a little bit about the people who come to this site (hello to the two visitors from Vincente Lopez, Argentina, the three people who are using Playstation 3′s browser to get here, and the one dude who got to this site by searching for “good diet for growing a beard”) but I don’t know anything about the rest of you.

So I encourage you to click on the comments link below and say something. Have we ever met? Are you in Chicago? How did you end up at this site? Do you have a website?  Are you over 6 feet tall?  What’s this thing on my foot?

It’s like responding to an Evite except there’s no party and no one cares.

I’m A Celebrity Celebrity

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Last night Karen and Gordon invited some folks over to play Celebrity. As their friend Pete was explaining the rules I realized that he was much more succinct and eloquent than I was when I wrote the Wikipedia entry for Celebrity. Yes, that’s right. I’m eFamous.

I went back and looked at it today.  There have been 44 edits since my initial post, but it looks like my description has remained largely intact.  I was especially pleased to see that my example of a fictional character, A.C. Slater, hadn’t been changed.

Meet Crazy Horse One

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Some coworkers and I were walking to Subway one day to get lunch when we passed by a horse.

RYAN: Is there anything weird about this?

The horse lives in stables next door to a strip club. Before they changed their name to “VIP’s” (or is it VIPs?) the strip club was called “Crazy Horse Too.”  I wonder if anyone ever got confused and went in the wrong building.

What Are You (Woo) Doing Here (Woo)?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Yesterday I filled in on bass with Aric’s band, Divebar (minus Aric, who was in Washington.) The show was outside of Cellular Field playing for White Sox Fans as they came to the ballpark. Despite having to kill 2 hours with 90 minutes worth of material and my lackluster bass skills, we had a good time and the show went pretty well.

Our sound guy — a friend from another band — said when they played the same stage, Ronnie Woo Woo showed up. Sure enough, about halfway through our set he showed up for us too. He was probably our best fan, singing along with songs he didn’t know and dancing around. Ladies would dance with him briefly while their boyfriends took pictures. Guys in Sox gear would pose giving his Cubs outfit the thumbs-down while their girlfriends took pictures.

As we were packing up, the lady who booked the show came by to say thanks.

PROMOTIONS LADY: I just wanted to let you know that you were really well-received.
KELLY: Ronnie Woo-Woo seemed to like us.
PROMOTIONS LADY: (A little upset) Oh, he was here again? He comes here a lot.

I don’t know if the Sox folks don’t like Ronnie coming around because he’s so associated with the Cubs (and came dressed in a full Cubs uniform) or just because he can be a little annoying.

PROMOTIONS LADY: I guess he just really likes baseball.

On the way home Kelly asked if Ronnie Woo Woo has a Wikipedia entry. He does.

There Are Ladies Everywhere!

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Went to see Indiana Jones on Friday. I’ve never seen the movie theater so packed in my life. At first I was worried the movie would be sold out, but once we got in line for tickets it was clear that the throng wasn’t there for no Crystal Skulls. The box office was packed with women dressed up fancy for a night on the town. Yes, it was opening night for Sex And The City. As we inched through the crowd to get to the theater, we overheard an Indy fan in front of us complain, “There are ladies everywhere!“. It’s weird to see dolled up girls buying popcorn and waiting in line next to the Dance Dance Revolution machine. Movie theaters are not glamorous.

Brian spent much of the night trying to capture the moment on his camera phone. “I’m trying to look like I’m reading a message, not taking pictures.”