At work a co-worker got upgraded to a window office across the hall from me, so we naturally had to rig up an office-warming surprise for him.

ghost prank door

The shut door looks innocent enough..

ghost pops up

.. until you open it and a ghost pops up to scare you!

The idea was that opening the door quickly would cause the Angel of Death to pop up from the shadows and startle the victim. The bright yellow network cable probably looked suspicious as the door was opening up, but we had to make do with the supplies in the office.

Unfortunately, the prank was not a huge success and didn't really scare anybody, as you can see in the YouTube video below. We tried it out on various other co-workers and got similarly underwhelming reactions.

Posted on January 20, 2008
Filed under: General, Humor Comments


I saw this in a university newsletter spam today:

If you’re SINGLE and want a “special” Valentines Day – Join us for a night of Graduate student SPEED DATING. Just in time for Valentine's Day! Come meet fellow single graduate students!

Who: Current single UW graduate students

What: Speed Dating

When: [redacted]

Where: [redacted]

Please RSVP to [redacted] to let us know if you are coming. (The sooner you respond, the better your chance of getting a seat!). If you feel comfortable please also let us know what table type you would like to be assigned to. There will be four tables to choose from: straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual.

Note: this event is only open to UW graduate students; IDs will be checked at the door.

My initial reaction is "Ha, like that would ever work. Delete.", but on second thought I'm actually considering it, if for no better reason than curiosity. I have never been to one of these kinds of things - anyone have any idea what they are like? The Wikipedia page actually makes it sound somewhat interesting.

Being an engineer I naturally started trying to do a CBA on it, but the usual approaches aren't working too well. Here's what I have so far:


  • Pool restricted to just girls who are single.
  • Potentially lower awkwardness/expectation levels.
  • They're graduate students, so at least some level of intelligence-filtering has already been performed.


  • Potential for embarrassment.
  • Speed-dating == speed-rejection? [see: personal phobias]
  • Mail does not say whether free food is provided.
Posted on January 16, 2008
Filed under: General, Random, School Comments

Rent Increase

After last year's experience of having my rent raised on me by more than $100 per month for two years in a row, I decided to try mitigating the problem by only signing a 9-month lease. I wanted to move my lease renewal period from June to March/February, in order to hopefully lock in low rental rates during the winter. My hypothesis was that June is a bad time to sign a lease due to all of the college kids who just graduated and are starting new jobs at that point, thus creating increased demand for apartments. In my area there's also a large influx of summer-only interns that work for nearby tech companies. The traditional wisdom is that all of these hundreds of interns fill up all the available apartments and cause rents to be higher over the summer. I haven't seen any data that actually backs up this idea, but it seems plausible.

Today I got my lease renewal offer from my apartment manager and I was "pleased" to find out that my rent is only increasing $40 per month for this year, which is much less than in previous years and within the 2%-4% "move out threshold" that I established last year. I want to attribute this "success" to my plan described above, but in all reality it probably has much more to do with the plummeting housing market in Seattle than anything else.

As far as I can tell, there are two schools of thought about the relationship between apartment rents and housing prices:

  • The "traditional" model says that rents and prices are tightly linked to each other, and the economy as a whole. If house prices go down, then rents should also go down because there's less money flowing around. Similarly they should both go up at the same time as well. This model seems to have matched the last few years, as both housing prices and apartment rents have climbed to ridiculously high levels.
  • The "bubble" model suggests that when a housing bubble "pops", as seems to be happening right now, then rents should actually increase as housing prices decrease since all of the people who would have been buying houses are now forced into renting apartments due to the credit crunch, which increases renting costs everywhere due to increased competition. Similar logic would also seem to imply that rents should decrease or level off during a housing boom, since lots of renters are moving out and buying houses.

The fact that my rent is still going up even though local housing prices are declining seems to indicate that neither theory is totally correct (or as often seems to be the case, reality is just more complicated).

It may also be related to the fact that Microsoft keeps hiring 10,000 new people every year. Any theory is going to predict that local prices are going to be rising in that scenario...

Posted on January 14, 2008
Filed under: General, Housing Comments

RAM Upgrade

One of the problems with the HP MediaSmart windows home server is that it only comes with 512 MB of RAM by default. This is probably sufficient for a file server, but it gets pretty slow when you load it up with other stuff and try browsing the web. Here's my Task Manager results after two weeks of normal usage:

Windows Home Server out of memory

The way to check if your computer doesn't have enough RAM is to compare the Physical Memory and Commit Charge numbers. In this case, the server has 512 MB of RAM (Physical Memory = 490956 K), but the operating system has currently allocated about 545 MB of memory (Commit Charge = 558872 K), which means that it's 6.5% over-allocated even when it's idle and doing nothing.

The 'Peak' Commit Charge reflects the heaviest usage the system has seen since it was booted, which probably happened when I was using Firefox. In this case it was about 753 MB (770832 K), or 241 MB (47%) over-allocated. When this happens the system grinds to a halt as it tries to move unused blocks of memory to the hard disk in order to keep the 'Available' physical memory (98672 K here) high enough for programs to run smoothly. These are the kinds of slowdowns we want to avoid since they are the ones that happen when you are actually trying to use the computer.

Fortunately these days RAM is cheap and a 2GB stick can be had on NewEgg for only $50, which should be more than enough for the foreseeable future. I was surprised at how easy it is to upgrade the RAM in the HP server - it just required removing a couple of screws and sliding the motherboard out of the bottom of the case:

HP MediaSmart RAM Upgrade

With the new RAM the system is running a lot faster, but the bottleneck is now the relatively weak 1.8 GHz AMD Sempron processor, which doesn't appear to be readily upgradeable. One of the reasons to go with a Sempron is the power/heat savings, so it's probably an acceptable tradeoff at this point.

Posted on January 5, 2008
Filed under: Electronics, General Comments

Broken Rock Band pedal

Broken Rock Band Drum Pedal

The excitement of New Year's Eve got a little out of hand.

Posted on January 1, 2008
Filed under: Games, General Comments



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