From Inductio Ex Machina: The Mathematical Grue

Colossal Cave meets nerd humor; this is fantastic stuff: The Mathematical Grue. Non-nerds needn’t apply. Just to give you a taste:

You are sitting before a particularly thorny conjecture.
Possible proofs lead away from here in several directions.

> inventory

You are carrying the following items:
A ream of blank paper
A pencil
The Cauchy-Schwarz inequality
Some half-remembered undergraduate mathematics

Google Gets IMAP, Cliff Discovers Synergy, Pandora

Whew! A busy two weeks, to be sure. First: the “old news”. I recently discovered the excellent open source app Synergy. Synergy

“…lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware. It’s intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own monitor(s).”

Wow. This is about the best thing since sliced bread for anyone with multiple machines (possibly running multiple OSes, no less). …and I have…well…a few machines.

Next up: Pandora, an online music service. “What’s so great about that?” you ask? Well, Pandora allows you to search for a song or artist, then creates a “station” for you that plays other songs/artists that are similar. This is beyond fantastic, and (apparently) has been around for quite a while now without my managing to catch wind of it. Kudos, Pandora!

Finally, in a fitting follow-up to my last post, Google has found a way to burrow even deeper into my daily routine. To be more specific, GMail now supports IMAP. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, folks, (as have a lot of other nerds who actually know what IMAP is) and it’s finally arrived.

Life Without Google?

As a systems engineer, I pride myself on knowing “a lotta things about a lotta things”. One of the questions that I was asked in the interview for my current position was “What do you define ‘engineer’ to mean?” My response was something along the lines of, “Someone who is capable of solving the problem at hand, who either has/knows the proper solution or has the capability to find the tools to solve the problem.” I still think this is as reasonable a generic description as any, although there are obviously other more formal descriptions available.

In this context, I’ve often found it interesting to observe the work habits of the people I work with. Most of them are older than I am, and most if not all of them are equally capable of solving problems just as I am. However, there are a couple of major differences that I’ve noted. One is a dependence on books as reference materials. I think I have one book in my office at work – an old and dusty book on C data structures that was likely left there by one of my predecessors. Don’t take that in the wrong way; I’m not undermining books as a useful training and/or reference tool, they simply aren’t generally a part of my daily workflow.

Another interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed – particularly with those employees that used to be in consulting – is an emphasis on professional certifications. Personally, I don’t put a whole lot of stock in professional certifications. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have any, but with few exceptions I see them more as “gold stars” to put on one’s resume than as being indicative of one’s capabilities as an engineer. The people who I work with are good at what they do because they’ve got good heads on their shoulders and because they have been doing what they do for several years, not because CompTIA said they were good at it. (As an aside, I would like to become a Certified Beer Judge…but that’s a subject for another post).

So, if I don’t use books and I’m not “certified”, how do I get things done? Well, there’s the aforementioned “know a lotta things” approach, but that only goes so far. Then, as a Unix sysadmin I’m fully capable of using all the tools therein – man pages, grepping through files in /usr/share/doc, etc. But after that? You guessed it…Google. I would generify that last statement by saying “online search” instead, but that would make it a bit less accurate. I don’t use “online search engines”; I use Google. Exclusively. Without hesitation or reservation, and generally without even considering using some other tool or site to find the information that I need. Just Google. It’s my default page when I fire up a browser window. It’s the first link in the single bar of links and folders that I allow myself in an otherwise fairly spartan browser configuration. In fact, a fairly large percentage of is dedicated to link icons for Google’s various services.

What’s my point? Well, I was contemplating what a Day Without Google would be like for me. What if Google just ceased to exist, or (horrors!) started actually trying to charge me for the invaluable services that they’ve graciously provided thus far gratis? No more GMail – my primary account for things not work related; back to Hotmail. No more Google Notebooks for tracking ToDo lists, certain contacts, and progress on various projects; back to pen-and-paper or Notepad, or the ever-popular “I’ll just remember it”. No more Google Reader for aggregating feeds for my daily news fix; back to Bloglines (which is less-than-terrifying) or *shudder* simply refreshing /. 200 times a day. No more Google Docs – perhaps the most useful app that Google has released thus far (and as yet one of the more underused…by me, at least). And, of course, the most important loss of all if Google were to disappear overnight: no more Googling.

Terrifying, no? It is for me. I don’t know what’s scarier, actually – the thought of Google going away, or the fact that I’m so completely dependent upon a single company for providing so many of the useful services that I use every day. They don’t have all of my data, but they sure have a lot of it, and that’s a bit troublesome for those of us that worry about these kinds of things on a day-to-day basis. Thus, I’ve thought it would be an interesting experiment to try living for a day without using any Google services. Don’t hold your breath – I’m not sure I’m even going to do it yet, let alone going Google-less any time soon. it’s just an idea that I’ve been kicking around in my head. If you know of anyone who’s done this (and lived to blog the tale :-)) be sure to let me know in the comments so I can figure out what I’d be in for…

Beautiful Wooden PC

EnlightenI generally try to stay away from gadget blogs, since for the most part they are high-volume, low yield time sucks – in short, they are the very reason that the mark all as read button was ever created. (Go back through any gadget blog’s archives around the time the iPhone was released and you’ll see what I mean). However, yesterday the folks at Gizmodo reminded me why I haven’t removed them from my feedreader (yet): Suissa’s Wooden Enlighten PC. Keep on posting like that, Giz, and I’ll be marking all your posts as “read” for a long time to come.