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31 December 2011

A High-Velocity Year

Ah, 31 December: The last day of the year.  Time for reflections on the past, New Year's Eve Nachos, and OHMIGOD has it been five MONTHS since I've written on my blog??!?!!?

Well... the best explanation for why it's been so long since I've written here is because, simply, I have way more interesting thoughts than I have time to write any of them here.  This may be some form of the proverbial "good problem to have," but really, I'm not sure.  I find it nearly impossible to bookmark or backtrack to a thought for long enough to write about it, as my thoughts are constantly moving forward.  I think they call this phenomenon "stream-of-consciousness."

Anyway, the thought-time imbalance is caused mostly by the fact that one can think from anywhere, in parallel with performing other tasks, while writing here requires being at a computer and not being busy doing other things.  Most of the time, I have one of these, but rarely do I seem to have both.

But enough of this meta-blogging nonsense.  I find that too often I set out to write something novel here only to end up writing ever-longer diatribes about why I haven't written anything novel here for ages, and it just spoils everything for everyone.  Why should I write about writing, and specifically about not doing it, when I could just be doing it instead?  Who could possibly care enough to read what I have to write about (not) writing?

Crap.  Now I'm meta-meta-blogging.

Anyways, onto the "meat" of this post, which is primarily on the topic of the year that we've just been through (twenty-eleven, for those keeping score) having reached its inevitable ending.

As you've no doubt guessed by now, the reason I've been so busy this year has been due to the immense amount of change that has been going on in my life... and the high velocity with which it has happened.  While at home earlier this year after graduating, I struggled to figure out what my next steps in life should be.  Through February and March, I studied for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, the first step toward professional licensure for engineers, which I took (and passed!) in April.

Then, in May, a lightbulb went off in my head that, academically, computer science was the missing key.  So I signed up to take the GRE in June, began making arrangements in July to take courses, and headed back to Pittsburgh in August.  And now I'm a student again!

Obviously, it wasn't quite that simple, and there's a lot more to explain... but as has become as much of a tradition as writing these year-end posts, I'm writing a good deal of this in the last several minutes of the year while also trying to do other things simultaneously.  As such, I'll be cutting this short but intend to continue in the near future (ha!).  Nevertheless, I'm pleased to report that my first semester of courses in the CS department went exceedingly well, and I have high hopes for the future.

I wasn't lying 364 days ago when I said that I had no idea what 2011 would bring.  It certainly didn't fail to bring me, and I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring.

Random tangents:

  • Oh, and the computer issues from July are issues no longer; as a computer science student, I was more or less forced to get a new computer in September, the arrival of which was very welcome.  The only reason I mention it is because the aforementioned issues were featured in the post adorning the frontpage of this blog for the last five months.
  • As with last year, we're watching Carson Daly on NBC tonight.  We're quite the anti-Seacrest family now.

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31 July 2011

Computer Issues

Well, I knew this day would come. I was just hoping it wouldn't for a few more months.

A few weeks ago, I was just looking at a few low-cost replacement parts for my laptop, like a new bezel and hinges for the monitor. Now, I'm considering getting a new computer altogether.

About a week ago, some mysterious vertical lines started appearing on my screen near the cursor. Then they started appearing all over the screen. Then the computer started hanging when it came out of hibernate. Then it started crashing more frequently.

After a good round of diagnosing, I'm pretty confident it's my graphics card. So now I'm faced trying to decide whether I want to:

  • buy a refurbished replacement card for around $150–250 and hope it works,
  • buy a new replacement card for around $450–600 but only get a few months' use out of it, or
  • buy a whole new computer right now for... well, a bit more than that.
Each option has its pros and cons and none is terribly desirable. Decisions, decisions!


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30 June 2011


Most of you are probably at least remotely aware that I'm not the most athletic person in the world by a long shot. Nevertheless, this past winter I found myself getting a little bit stir-crazy. Wanting to run, walk, get-out-of-the-house — whatever — but not being able to do so, primarily because it was winter.

I kept myself busy (with all sorts of stuff I haven't bothered blogging about, as usual) and made it through the winter. Most days, though, I still felt a general sense of malaise. And then in May I stepped on a scale and finally confirmed my suspicion that I was a little bit heavier than I had remembered. (The technical phrase for the amount is "a couple kilograms" which, of course, translates to "a few pounds"; thankfully nothing more.)

So I looked at my schedule and picked a date to start the Couch-to-5k Running Plan, which had actually been in the back of my mind ever since my friend Jen posted to Facebook well over a year ago. And when that day came... it rained. But I did it the next day!... in the humid afternoon heat at 16:00 on the day of the summer solstice which made it downright miserable. To say nothing of the fact that I was also out-of-shape and attempting a moderately taxing workout.

I mean, I'm still out-of-shape now. Just a little bit less out-of-shape. I've got a lot of work to do, but I figure I'd better do it while I still can.

And you know what? It feels great. I've always known this, really, but the stresses of life have often taken their toll and prevented me from getting out as often as I'd've otherwise liked. But now, there are no excuses. I'm doing this for me.

Of course, that's not always easy with everyone else who's involved in my life. With the exception of that first workout, I've typically been starting about half an hour before sunset, which is around 20:30 EDT here right now. Unfortunately, twice already that has come within about 5 minutes of dinnertime in this household. Faced with the choice between running now and eating later or eating now and not being able to run until nearly midnight, I've picked running. And hungry as I've been during some of those runs (tonight was spaghetti and meat sauce), I haven't regretted it yet.

Hopefully the same will hold true in Week 4, when I'm going to be counseling at Lambec Music Camp and will have to wake up with the sun at 05:45 to get my workouts in before the bustle of the camp day begins. I must persevere!

Now assuming I can keep to the nine-week Ct5k schedule (which may not happen since you're encouraged to repeat weeks if necessary), I'd be at the end of Week 7 for the 5k at Dan Rice Days on 6 August, which would have me running 4 km (2.5 mi) straight, but perhaps I'll register just for the fun of it. Obviously, that'll be a decision I make much closer to the day of the event, but it would be an experience nonetheless.

I've been tracking my progress at, an awesome site for all sorts of fitness tracking, which I've actually used since before I became terribly concerned with my fitness. For the record, I'm doing a slightly modified version of the time-based version of Ct5k, with basically the only difference being that I'll be planning the "straight through" routes in Weeks 5–9 by distance in metric, since the actual Ct5k program peters out at 3 mi. (Which — I'm sorry — is only 4.83 km. I know, I'm a stickler. Sue me.)

Here's my planned Ct5k workout calendar, all nicely worked around the oddities of my schedule and everything. We'll see where I am physically on 20 August, but whether I'm running 5 km or not, hopefully I'll be a lot better off!


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14 May 2011

Start on the Other Hand

Once again, it's mid-May. Whoa.

You see, six years ago today, I started this blog. That means it can't show you its age on one hand anymore...

It's also still worth mentioning that this blog still exists, I guess. I've got some ideas for what to write more of here, but they're all pretty radically different from the existing content. So we'll see if any of them actually come to fruition. (Hint: Probably not anytime soon, if ever.)

Anyway, tradition dictates that I bake a bloggy cake today, but since today was an awfully busy day, I did it after midnight last night. Which still counts. Totally.

It's perhaps worth noting that today was busy in the same way as the day I started this blog in that it was the day of the National Association of Letter Carriers' Stamp Out Hunger food drive, the second Saturday in May. Each year, I've volunteered to help the local food pantry take in all of the donations from the area, which usually amounts to about 2 tons of assorted food coming through the doors in 7 hours.

It's always fun and rewarding, but also somewhat exhausting. So that explains why my first post was so short and uninspired. And it explains why I'm finding it difficult to come up with more to write here now.

I guess I'll just loosely tie things together by saying that we saw various cake things at the food pantry today. But don't worry, for my dearest bloggy's sixth birthday, I baked this one fresh! Enjoy! And get used to counting on two hands...


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15 April 2011

An Unwise Commitment

I wasn't planning on posting anything here for a couple more days, but I couldn't resist passing this particular gem along. There is a slight chance that this may be the birth of a new "series" on this blog — but then again, series have historically died here faster than they've been created. But in any case, this one might be fairly more sustainable than the others I've tried. (Key word: "Might.")

Welcome to Bad Quotesville. Or whatever you want to call it, really. Often, I read the news and come across a quote that sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the story. In most cases, including this one, it's not so much a "bad quote" as just "less-than-desirable juxtaposition" — but that's not as catchy a phrase.

So without further ado, the following is excerpted from the front-page story of Thursday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

A napping air traffic controller who forced a medical flight to land unaided in Nevada brought swift reaction from the Federal Aviation Administration, which on Wednesday added a second overnight controller at 26 airports and a radar facility. The move came after several other recent incidents of controllers sleeping during their shifts.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "The American public trusts us to run a safe system. Safety is our No. 1 priority, and I am committed to working 24/7 until these problems are corrected."

Now I'm all for the principle of what Secretary LaHood is saying, but I truly hope that he fails to uphold that commitment. Because actually working 24/7 just can't be good for one's health. I mean, after a while you'd get tired and have to go to bed, lest you accidentally fall asleep while on the job. ...Oh, wait; that's what we're trying to avoid in the first place!

You're certainly not going to fix the air traffic control system on no sleep, Mr. Secretary. No one can actually work completely tirelessly, much as they may try. Since "[t]he National Air Traffic Controllers Association has warned against... assigning tiring work schedules," perhaps you would be wise to adhere to the same standards.

Get some rest, man!

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31 March 2011

On Fears of Fukushima

I was thinking about what I wanted to write here today, since I hate missing a month on this blog even though I've done it before and will likely do it again. I've been talking myself in and out of writing about the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, but I wasn't sure what I was going to say about it. After all, it's been nearly three weeks since the earthquake and tsunami rattled that region of the world, and most of what can be said has been said already — and a lot of it by people more qualified to say it than myself.

Nevertheless, I got a little bit upset watching ABC World News this evening. The first four minutes were all about fears that fractions of trace amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in milk supplies in California and Washington... fears that are entirely overblown.

Even though the associated article is entitled "Radiation Levels in West Coast Milk 5,000 Times Lower Than Danger Threshold", from watching the main story presented in the newscast you'd think levels were 5,000 times higher than the threshold. Go ahead and watch it yourself. Of course, at the end, they bring in their medical expert to assure the public milk is safe, but all the while they're playing up the fact that the nation is abuzz about this dire situation, making very little mention that it isn't dire at all. Especially not here in the United States.

Now I don't claim to know everything about nuclear power, but considering I took several classes on it and even helped teach one, it was frustrating seeing something which I know isn't a big deal being blown out of proportion in the mass media. How many people who saw that report are thinking, right now, "I'd better avoid giving milk to my kids until this blows over"? At what cost to our collective public health? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

In this particular case... probably not.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson managed to put many of these fears in perspective this morning with a sobering tweet entitled "Causes of death worldwide in March 2011." He noted that while 3,000,000 died of starvation, 250,000 of Malaria, and 100,000 in car crashes, less than 28,000 have died in the aftermath of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. (I would even go so far as to point out that there have been no deaths related to the so-called "nuclear crisis" at Fukushima Daiichi.)

Yes, there is potential for much worse to happen from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. But it's important to remember that there is potential for worse in anything. Work is being done around the clock to protect public's health, safety, and well-being. And while there will always be disagreements on how the specifics are handled (we're only human), we must remember that it is because this work is being done — diligently, tirelessly — that a true nuclear crisis is being averted.

We must remember that, even without the fear of radiation, there are already hundreds of thousands of people in Japan whose lives have been directly affected by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. And while remembering that, we must guard ourselves from the easy fear of the "unknown" by educating ourselves with facts whenever we can.

And in the age of the Internet, there's really no excuse anymore for not having the facts.

If you're on Twitter, consider this a "Follow Friday" (even though it's still Thursday for a little while longer). Countless organizations have been diligently sifting through conflicting reports and cutting through the media hype, but the ones I've found the most useful in the past three weeks are (in no particular order) @ans_org, @W_Nuclear_News, @neiupdates, @iaeaorg, and @NuclearStreet. All have provided timely updates, presenting the data clearly and concisely and providing context, despite the difficulties that arise when trying to put radiation figures into perspective.

If you're not on Twitter, you can get updates from ANS Nuclear Cafe's Fukushima page, World Nuclear News' Fukushima portal, and the Nuclear Energy Institute's Fukushima page.

In short, there's really nothing to be worried about. But you have to prove it to yourself.

P.S.: There's no way in hell I'm attempting BEDA this year. More on that later.


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03 February 2011

Ten Years Later

On the morning of 3 February 2001, my great uncle, Michael L Troiano, passed away at the age of 66.

It's difficult to get a grasp on all that has happened in my life and the lives of those around me since Great Uncle Mike, or "GUM" as I came to know him, left us. Obviously, the first week or so was the roughest for me. But there have been countless ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, demarcating ten years from this point seems more significant than arbitrarily demarcating a decade according to the calendar.

I'm almost positive the last time I saw GUM was for Christmas 2000; I was 12, going on 13. Gosh, when you put it like that, it's scary. And here I sit in 2011, a 23-year-old. I honestly can't begin to fathom what percentage of the things I think about in day-to-day life — my ambitions and desires, my worries and fears, my hopes and dreams — were even part of my conscious existence when I was 13. Simply put, so much has changed.

GUM, even though you were affectionately known as everyone's "Uncle Mike," you'll always be my "Uncle Mike." Life isn't quite the same without you, but it is in part because of you that things have turned out as great as they are. And while I still remember old memories of you fondly, I can't wait to share my newer ones with you someday.


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11 January 2011


Today was 1/11/11. A "numerical somersault" of sorts. I've mentioned before that our dating system is quite arbitrary, but it was still notable.

In fact, at 11:11:11 today, I noted that the date and time (at least in its most common format) wasn't just comprised entirely of ones, but that there were 11 ones. Now, if that isn't cool, I don't know what is.

I hope everyone enjoyed writing the date today and assure you there will be more meaningful stuff on this blog soon.


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05 January 2011


I just turned twenty-three years old. This may not seem terribly important, but as anyone who knows me well can attest, 23 has been my favorite number for a long while.

First things first, though. As it turns out, I didn't ever write about my twenty-second birthday like I said I would. But, as 2010 was a rough enough year, I'm going to have to apologize and forgive myself for that. As I will have to do for a lot of other things. (Especially this blog. How've you been, ol' bud?)

But anyway, Tuesday started out well enough. I woke up rather earlier than normal, and grabbed a Dr Pepper (full of its "23 flavors"), ready to enjoy the day. David was getting ready to head back to Pitt, packing the final things just before leaving for his orthodontist appointment which awaited him on the way.

This somewhat euphoric anything-can-happen feeling, however, was quite shortlived for a number of reasons I'd rather not get into on account of me having spent the couple hours after my brother's departure stewing, which I'm quite glad to have out of my system at this point.

Once I'd finally calmed down enough to figure out what I wanted to do, I went to the bank and had lunch before stopping by the grocery store. Taking a version of my uncle's advice to make lemonade from the morning's "lemons," I bought some lemonade which I later enjoyed. I watched a little bit of television on Hulu which I had still to catch up on (only two things left in my queue!), and then I resumed coding the latest of my semi-secret pet projects, which is actually coming together much quicker than I thought it would. (In this case, that is a very good thing.)

Around 18:00, my mother called me from work and asked, rather out-of-the-blue, if I wanted to go see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 with her, a request to which I almost immediately replied, "Yes." So we drove into town, got to the theater just in time for the movie, and ate plenty of popcorn because we hadn't yet been able to have dinner.

The movie was great! It's amazing how vividly some of the scenery came back to me just from having read the books. It really was a well-done film, and I can't wait for Part 2 in July! (And that's all I'm going to say about it, lest I spoil it.)

Afterwards, Mom and I grabbed a late dinner at Chipotle (which finally exists in Erie!), and then headed home. I did a little lot more work on my project so that I would feel more able to do other, more important things on Wednesday. And then it somehow became the wee hours of the morning, so I fought through to write this. After all, I can't miss writing about two consecutive birthdays, can I?

I guess I'll have a late start in the morning. Or maybe early afternoon. But I wanted to get every last bit of enjoyment out of my birthday, and I think, despite the "lemons," I did! And if real life as a 23-year-old has to wait a couple extra hours so that I can fully experience the last throes of whatever-this-is, then so be it.


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03 January 2011

Last Day of the Holidays

Tomorrow morning, my brother has an orthodontist appointment (and thank God it's not with Allcare), and then it's time to take him back down to Pittsburgh for his second semester.

And once that happens, things will slow down a bit here. The holidays are coming to a close. For those inevitable few who will be wondering, that means that the job search resumes in earnest on Wednesday 5 January. Wish me luck.

Still, I'm enjoying what's left of this break in the action. Because tomorrow's travel falls on my birthday, my family and I had a nice dinner tonight at Olive Garden. I seriously couldn't get over how wonderful their Steak Gorgonzola-Alfredo was!

We used a $5 coupon from their Facebook page, too... if you haven't been to Olive Garden lately, I suggest you do the same!


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To the Pennsylvania PUC

In December 2010, it was announced that the 814 area code, or NPA, would be split into two, with the Erie area receiving a new designation of 582 effective 1 February 2012. Not surprisingly, many Erieites haven't taken too kindly to this proposal, and an online petition at has since garnered over 11,000 signatures. As the deadline to file the petition with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is Monday 3 January, I thought I'd add my two cents. Seeing that I actually have some semblance of a cohesive opinion on this matter which is too long for any comment field, my "comments" are below:

Firstly, the public comment process on these proposed changes was a farce. Neither sufficient effort nor adequate foresight was put into determining how and where these meetings would take place. As a result, four of the five hearings were held in the area which is to retain the 814 Numbering Plan Area (NPA) designation. The only hearing in the proposed 582 NPA (in Erie) was delayed due to weather by two months, and it wasn't anywhere nearly as publicized as any of the others.

Are we really supposed to believe that all of this adds up to "fewer people from [the Erie] area protest[ing] a possible change"? Where were the hearings in other Northwestern Pennsylvania cities, like Meadville and Warren? Most of the people signing this petition were never given a legitimate chance to voice their opinions.

Secondly, an NPA split effectively discriminates against those receiving the new designation, to the tune of millions of dollars spent reprinting letterhead, promotional materials, and internal directories. Moreover, every company in the nation which retains customer phone numbers will have to comb through their databases and manually determine which records should be changed and which should not—or, more likely, they'll just shift the onus to the customers themselves: an even more cumbersome proposition. Introducing an overlay designation avoids every one of these pitfalls and eliminates these unnecessary costs, both monetary and human. The only "expense" is introducing ten-digit dialing.

In an already-digital world where ten-digit dialing is already the norm on cell phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services (not to mention most of the rest of the country), why should we even think to undergo an NPA split, a system whose only tangible benefit is the retention of now-antiquated seven-digit dialing, instead of an overlay, a system which has been implemented countless times around the country with nary a problem?

It couldn't be clearer that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in no way exercised due diligence in soliciting comments from a broad-based sample of the populace of the existing 814 NPA, and that they completely failed at the simple task of considering all of their options. This entire process has been flawed from the start, and I implore the Pennsylvania PUC to seriously rethink its decision in light of this petition.


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01 January 2011


Now that it is officially 2011, it's time for me to present my annual doodley thing for the year. I must admit, it was notably harder this year because of the two "ones."

I noted a year ago that we typically spend 31 December overly romanticizing the coming year, while we spend 1 January getting used to the fact that the first day of the new year is, in fact, exactly like what we'd already been used to. For 2010, it took, at most, a few hours for me to get acclimated to that. Just a flaw of human nature, I guess.

But so far this year, I really haven't had that problem. Honestly, today, the first day of 2011, has felt a lot like a continuation of 2010. There are probably a number of reasons for that:

  1. It's still the holiday break, and my brother is still home.
  2. Today started, unfortunately enough, with some of the same gripes that many a day in 2010 did.
  3. I didn't do much different today from what I did yesterday. Mostly watching football, blogging, and doing year-end website stats.
  4. I'm still closing out my post-graduation list of things I'd put off doing.
Still, it's important to look forward. While I'd always known that 2010 was at least going to bring the end of my undergraduate career, 2011 is effectively a blank slate. There is absolutely nothing on my life calendar which is more-or-less guaranteed to fall in 2011, and there hasn't been. Whereas at the dawn of previous years, there was always something somewhere on the horizon, I simply don't have that this year.

In some ways, that's refreshingly inspiring. In others, it's paralyzingly daunting.

But I'm looking forward to it. Who knows what 2011 will bring? It's exciting, in a way. I have some ideas of how I want to shape this year (in ways both big and small), but who knows where exactly I'll end up?

I've already set my bearings. All that's left to see is how far I go. ;)


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