Hacking the PE

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 9 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life
Ok nothing nefarious going on here. However, I did open up these electronic kitchen timers to snip the cords connecting to their very loud internal speakers. I figured it would be good to have a timer with me during the exam, and excessive beeping might be frowned on.
Also, I used some cardboard to make front and back covers for some of my notes/printouts. The exam admins do not allow loose notes, but these booklets should be fine. The pages are held together with "screw posts", which you can get on Amazon for cheap.
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The Con X

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 9 months ago
Categories: Music
On this blog, I've previously revealed that I am a closet fan of the Canadian rock duo Tegan and Sara. I have a feeling my demographic is a minority within their fan base. Jess and I were able to see them live this spring at Boston Calling - which was great by the way.

Their music has transformed a lot over the years. It started off as punk rock, and now it's pop. All of it's good, but the 2007 album The Con is my personal favorite. This album is like a heavily distilled dose of angst filtered through Tegan and Sara's unmatched ability to craft catchy musical hooks.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the album, they just released 'The Con X', which consists of other artists covering each song in the album. I was excited to listen to this. Some of the tracks are fresh new interpretations of the original songs. Only a few of the covers were able to capture the magic of the original recordings. The best cover on the album is 'Back in your Head' by Ryan Adams. This might be because Ryan Adams recently went through a divorce and he is able to conjure up some feelings of desperation that was displayed on the album. Or maybe it's because Ryan Adams has been making sad rock songs for years. The cover of 'Dark Come Soon' by Grimes was enjoyable because that particular song somehow fits perfectly within Grimes' style. I'm not sure who Ruth B is, but she did a good job covering 'I was Married'.

I am particularly disappointed in Bleachers, Hayley Williams (of Paramore), and CHVRCHES for producing really bland emotionless covers. Williams covered 'Nineteen', which is my favorite track on the original album, and she turned the nuanced punk anthem into a snoozer. CHVRCHES' covered the album closer 'Call it Off', which is a rock-solid ballad epitomizing the tragic acceptance of a failed relationship, and they made it monotone and sterile. Even Bleachers, who often perform their songs with a bit of yelling and texture, chose to make a slow and quiet version of 'Burn Your Life Down' - would have been better if they made it loud!

Overall, it was fun to listen to new interpretations of these songs. I think this type of thing should be done with classic albums more often. At the very least, it helps us remember how great the original recordings were!
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Mythical Creatures

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 9 months ago
Categories: Web
I saw this image on Reddit. What's there not to like about these mythical creatures!?!
Edited: See the full picture here.
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Where to find the law...

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 9 months ago
Categories: Comet Web
Sorry for not posting in a long time. I am fairly busy lately preparing for my upcoming exam. Also, I am in the process of writing a somewhat longer post which I hope to publish sometime soon.
My upcoming exam can have questions related to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, which are developed by our government. While physical copies of the OSHA regulations are available for purchase, I figured that they must be free online somewhere since they are actually a part of the law.
...and I was right. I ended up printing out the portions of the OSHA regulations that I need.

I was pleased to find out that the U.S. "laws" are available for free online. In hindsight, this totally makes sense - after all, we are all expected to abide by these laws - we should at least be able to read them for free.
Anyways, if you're ever curious, here is how you can review U.S. law online. General disclaimer: I'm soooo far from being a lawyer that I literally just now learned that the laws are available for me to read for free. I might have incorrect information below.

First of all, there are several types of law in this country. There is statutory law, which is written by our actual legislators. This is called the "United States Code" and you can read it here. As you can imagine, it's absolutely massive. Title 18, Chapter 51, Section 1111 is where it says you can't murder people. Title 27, Chapter 2, Sections 11 to 40 contained the prohibition of alcohol - if you look now, it says it's repealed. Title 52, Chapter 101, Section 10101 is where it says that any person can vote.

Then there is administrative law, which is written by government agencies, such as the FAA, OSHA, the NRC, the EPA, etc. This is called the "Code of Federal Regulations", and it can be read here. Title 14, Chapter III, Subchapter C, Part 413, Section 413.3 says that you need to obtain a license before you launch a space shuttle. Title 29, Subtitle B, Chapter 5, Subchapter A, Part 570.2 says that you cant employ children younger than 16 (with a few exceptions). I think you get the idea.

The third kind of law is common law (also known as case law), which is when a court makes a ruling or decision which is then used as law. As far as I know, these aren't really listed on a government website - but they aren't really laws. They are more of a very strong precedent.

[Featured image is a drawing I found of the main characters from Law and Order SVU. I was hoping to find a funny law-related comic, but all the jokes went over my head.]
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Title bar colors

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 9 months ago
Categories: Metaposts
When I first made Comet, I realized how difficult it is to make a website that stands out in terms of appearance. I wanted the site to be visually interesting and unique, so I decided to make the site's color scheme change slightly depending on what photos were being shown. The end result was post title bars that shifted in color from post-to-post.

To do this, I made use of a method known as k-means clustering. This technique essentially scans through an image to find its most common colors. Depending on how rigorous that scan is, this can take a computer between a fraction of a second and a few minutes. On the new version of Comet, I had to program the k-means detection to work on a separate "thread", otherwise the entire website would be unresponsive while an image is being processed.

Teaching a computer identify "interesting" colors is not easy. The site currently looks for colors with high "saturation" (i.e., intense colors), but I am finding it gives mixed results. The site often has to lighten the selected colors so black text can still be legible on top of it. I'd like to experiment with different options when I have more free time.

Now you know a little bit about what goes into those odd colors above each post. I just turned the color detection mechanism back on - it has been turned off for awhile now - so we'll see how it works over the next few days.

By the way - this picture is completely unrelated to the content of this post. This was taken in September of 2011 at an Alzheimer's walk in Western MA. For those who don't know - that white doggo was our family dog, Molly - she was very sweet. This picture is colorful, so I decided to use it for this post.
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Future Islands Concert

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 10 months ago
Categories: Music
Jess and I went to a Future Islands concert on Monday night. If you don't know, future Islands is rock/pop/electronic band. They are hard to categorize.
This was honestly one of my favorite concerts ever. The frontman/singer is a truly great performer. He is known for his over-the-top dance moves and outrageous voices, but, when seeing it live, it's clear that he is living through the music and is putting no effort or energy into acting 'normal'. And if that means busting out a silly dance move while screaming, he ain't gonna hold back.
I could tell the audience was feeding off of his energy. I've never seen a crowd that was so happy. Everyone was on their feet and having a good time. Songs were punctuated with long stretches of applause - everyone was in awe!
Speaking of the audience - it was a very diverse crowd. We saw all ages enjoying this show.
Anyways - this was a great show. I'm looking forward to the next time they're in town. Below is a full concert from about 3 years ago. They have a lot of newer material, but this particular concert video is a part of the history of Comet. I basically listened to this concert on loop when I programmed the first version of Comet.
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Loops in music

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 10 months ago
Categories: Music
I like to be creative and make things. One thing I don't ever make - and don't ever expect to make - is music. I am happy to just listen. Since I am completely unaware of the majority of things that go into making and performing music. I am forced to just enjoy the apparent mystery of it all. That might make listening more enjoyable in some ways.
I recently found some interesting music performances online. The first was by a band called "The Academic." Last week, they live streamed a performance on Facebook. While live streaming, they connected to their own feed and allowed it to loop back on itself. Like when you point a camcorder at a TV and it creates an infinite loop. They took advantage of the loop and used it to layer an entire song together piece by piece. One thing that was especially interesting is that the singer adds words to the chorus of the song as it progresses. That's a neat concept - unfortunately the lyrics of the song make very little sense, and the song itself isn't really great. If you want to check it out, you can click here.

I also found a song by a Hawaiian reggae singer named Mike Love (no relation to Mike Love of the Beach Boys). Now - fair warning - this is some Northampton-grade hippie stuff, plus he's singing about going against the "corporate lifestyle". During the song, he uses an electronic loop to record bits and pieces of a chorus. Then, as it loops, he adds more pieces as it goes. It's really incredible. The song is actually pretty good. You can fast-forward to around 4:00 minutes where he starts doing the insane loop, or watch it from the beginning if you want to get the true experience, maaan.

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Incorrectly Rotated Images

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 10 months ago
Categories: Metaposts
Depending on which browser you use to view this site, images might sometimes show up sideways or upside down if uploaded from a phone. Here is a (slightly technical) explanation of why this is happening:
If you take a picture on your phone while holding it sideways or upside down, the phone recognizes it is being held that way and it can correct for that rotation. However, if you look at the actual data of the photo, the rotation is not actually corrected. The photo data is still saved sideways/upside down - the phone just added a little hidden note to the photo that explains how it should be rotated. Phones do this because it's much faster for the phone to just save an incorrectly rotated image along with a note than it is to actually rotate the image. This way, the phone can save a photo quickly and almost instantly be ready to take another photo.
Some browsers know to look at that little hidden note and to rotate an image based on the note; for example, the built-in browser on the iphone does this automatically. Some browser don't. I actually found the bug report on this for the Chrome browser (bad news, the bug report is from 2010 and its still not "fixed"). Most non-mobile browsers seem to be holding off on "fixing" this because a unified standard hasn't been set yet. Android phones and iPhones write those hidden notes differently at the moment.
In the old version of comet, I wrote a nice piece of code to automatically fix the rotation. For this version of comet, the back-end is a bit more complicated and I am not 100% sure what the best method of fixing this will be (I have a few ideas, but I haven't tested them out yet).
So - long story short - we will need to live with the silly sideways or upside down photos for a little while. If you look at the site on your phone, it should be fine. Once I fix this, I will delete this post and we will all pretend like this site was always perfect.
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Smoke this Ribfest

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 10 months ago
Categories: Food & Drink
We met Sam and Natasha in Cambridge today for the 'Smoke This Ribfest.' It was a BBQ rib festival. We had a great time and ate a bunch of ribs. At the end we could vote for the best rib. I'm not sure what everyone voted for, but it sounded like the ribs made by the taco shop 'Lone Star' were the general favorite of our gang.
Now you might be wondering why I posted a picture of Holy Smokes - the BBQ joint from Turners Falls. The main reason is because I failed to take a picture of the festival in Cambridge. But it's also because Sam and I were talking about Holy Smokes, and he said that name was a triple pun. 'Holy' because it was an old church, 'Smokes' because they made BBQ, and 'Holy Smokes' because that's what someone might have said when it burned down in 2007.
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Amazon Treasure Truck: Super Nintendo

Posted by: Ryan 2 years, 10 months ago
I was off from work on Friday to spend the day studying. I spent the day in the library, and it went well.
Part way into the day, I got an alert from Amazon that their "Treasure Truck" was selling the Super Nintendo Classic Edition. I didn't know what the Treasure Truck is, and I didn't know what the SNES Classic is - but I impulse bought this (on my phone) anyways. I've heard on Reddit that this was hard to find in stores, so I figured I had to go fast.
After studying/work, Jess, Violet, and I set out to discover what this truck was - and what I bought.
First of all, here's how the the Amazon Treasure Truck works. It sells only a single item at a time, and I think the item is usually something special (as in, a good sale price or a hard-to-get product). It tells you what the item is using an alert on your phone - and if you want it, you pay for it through Then you travel to the truck to pick it up (this time it was in the Boston Seaport, but I suppose that could change because, you's a truck.)
So after picking it up, I was able to learn more about what exactly this SNES Classic is. It's a mini Super Nintendo with an HDMI port (so you can plug it into modern TVs). It comes with two controllers, and - the best part - it comes with 20 games built-in. I was think about possibly reselling it on eBay (they are selling at 2 to 3 times their purchase price). But decided against it. I think I overdosed on nostalgia when I played Donkey Kong Country and F Zero. This is a great little console. It's $80 if you find it from an actual store - would recommend!
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