Michael Buffington

Burning Rope Puzzle.

Sunday, November 26 2006

Jason posted a logic puzzle on his site that Carrie and I just took the time to figure out. Just to be clear, I don’t know the answer and I’ve only read about the following puzzle on Jason’s site:

>You are given two ropes and a lighter. This is the only equipment you can use. You are told that each of the two ropes has the following property: if you light one end of the rope, it will take exactly one hour to burn all the way to the other end. But it doesn’t have to burn at a uniform rate. In other words, half the rope may burn in the first five minutes, and then the other half would take 55 minutes. The rate at which the two ropes burn is not necessarily the same, so the second rope will also take an hour to burn from one end to the other, but may do it at some varying rate, which is not necessarily the same as the one for the first rope. Now you are asked to measure a period of 45 minutes. How will you do it?

This puzzle reminds me of a trick you can do with a ruler. Take the ruler and place it on top of the index finger from each hand, keeping the ruler level. Slide your fingers towards the center. The ruler will never fall off, despite the rate at which your fingers slide vary, and you will always arrive at the center of the ruler.

A similar trick can be done to determine 45 minutes of time passing with the burning of the rope.

First, light both ends of one rope at the exact same time, and one end of the second rope. Given the properties of the rope in the puzzle, it would seem that it’d take exactly 30 minutes for the rope with two burning ends to burn completely.

At the exact moment the first rope has burned up, light the other unlit end of the other rope. When both of its burning ends meet, another 15 minutes will have passed. You’ll be left with no ropes, but you’ll at least know that 45 minutes in total have passed.

I’ll see if we were close once he posts the answer.


Sunday, November 26 2006

I saw an antique razor the other day – a straight edged razor probably made in the 1930’s, and I was stunned at the quality of the razor. It was as if it were sculpted out of a chunk of metal, and no doubt took at least a day of work even with the help of simple machines and tools. I began to wonder how on earth anyone had the time to make such a high quality tool and still make a living, and I was struck with the idea that there was a time when Americans didn’t have television or video games sucking away every waking hour. People could make high quality stuff because they had the time to do it, and they didn’t pay for gas, or cable, or cell phone bills, or buy all sorts of crap they didn’t need. They could afford to take time on things and do things right and make a living out of it.

The same day I went to Costco. In order to go get our essentials (baby wipes, milk, frozen salmon, etc) I had to walk through a maze of plasma screen televisions. Lost in the maze were kids and their parents, mouth agape as they took in the high definition sample of videos of mountains and surf. All wore name brand clothing. All were overweight. All were slaves, tricked by sophisticated marketing into thinking that something that costs $3200 is vital to own, a $3200 device that is a vehicle for further enslavement. It tells all those people lost in its flashing light to buy specific things, to subscribe to specific subscriptions, to take specific political stances, to ignore family and intellectual well being. It wears people down and slots them into specific marketing tracks so they can be more easily marketed to, so that they must work harder, produce cheaper goods at a higher profit, enter into 2 year contracts for mobile phones, satellite channel packages, fast food, prescription meds, and all manner of vehicles to personal enslavement.

Carrie and I removed the television yesterday.

How to Rid Yourself of Television

Sunday, November 26 2006

For almost a few months now Carrie and I have been considering getting rid of our television so that we may, in our own estimations, better our home and quality of life. In a time when people, myself included, are tech obsessed and frothing over 42 inch plasma screens, we’re stepping back and turning the noise off.

The first order of business was to physically remove the television from our home, the television that is so heavy that it took six grown adults to lift it into its cubby hole above our fireplace. Carrie and I managed to remove it last night with the help of some well placed furniture and the proper use of skateboards. Actually removing it meant that giving into the tempation of watching will be impossible without the help of six grown adults who must be convinced to move a TV that’s gotta weigh at least a ton.

There are a lot of reasons why we removed it, the first being that we were letting our kids watch more and more and seeing their behavior spiral into supreme crankiness. We went back and forth, wondering if TV watching really did contribute to bad behavior, and more recently were convinced beyond a doubt. When our kids don’t watch TV, they’re far more independent, creative, friendly, and talkative. These are the kinds of behaviors we want to encourage, and the TV was making that job more difficult.

Then of course there’s some money to be saved here, about $960 a year in satellite and TiVo subscription fees. I figure that $80 a month could be far better spent at a bookstore than on paying for television, most of which is ads.

So removing the television, for me, is a step in that direction. I don’t want to be ruled by a box sitting in the most prominent spot in my home. I don’t want to be tempted to buy meaningless junk, or spend hours at a time with my brain sitting idle.

What finally pushed me over the edge was when I met Kevin Kelly, editor of the famed Whole Earth Catalog (this big mysterious book I used to pore over as a kid) and the first editor of Wired magazine (easily my all time favorite magazine). Kevin has long been someone I’ve admired, and when I met him a few weeks ago we spent at least 20 minutes talking about the benefits of removing your television. He helped push me over with two comments – the first was that his kids, now young adults, thanked him for removing the television when they were kids. And then he told me

Stikkit Is Go

Friday, November 10 2006

I’m back from the Web 2.0 conference where we launched Stikkit, and the response has been fantastic. We’re already getting a ton of great feedback from people using the product, and we’re realizing that a lot our instincts were correct. It’s reassuring to have so many people acknowledge that the world needs Stikkit. And where we have people saying they don’t get it, we realize that we haven’t done our job in making it clear in a lot of cases.

So in addition to solving that problem, we’re fixing bugs, optimizing queries, and generally working hard at tuning what we’ve built for the past several months.

Talking to Anil at the conference, I realize something now that I only sort of had at the back of mind before. He described how he just got back from watching the NYC Marathon, and how gruelling it can be just to arrive at the starting line. You need to fly there, take taxis, ferries, subways, then register, warm up, and finally start running. He said “You’ve just now arrived at the starting line, and your marathon has just begun.”

And there’s no doubt he’s right. I see much more clearly now that we’ve launched that a lot of attention has to be paid to pacing ourselves, and making sure we’re tapping into the collective intelligence of our rapidly growing user base. Some of those little things we put off prior to the launch are now beginning to take center stage, and we’re spending good quality time getting things right.

This period of a web app’s life cycle is my favorite. It’s where theories about what will work get proven or disproven, and it’s where significant clarity about how people perceive the product starts to occur. And it’s a chance to show that we care about the people using our product by making incremental improvements, and encouraging criticism and feedback.

I’m thrilled to be running in this marathon, and I’m happy that so many people are cheering us on.

IRB History

Monday, October 23 2006

Doing a lot of work with Ruby’s IRB or a Rails app’s console? Create a file called .irbrc in your home directory with the following Ruby code and you’ll have tab completion and most importantly, input history across IRB sessions. A huge time saver.

require ‘irb/completion’
require ‘irb/ext/save-history’
ARGV.concat [ “—readline”, “—prompt-mode”, “simple” ]
IRB.conf[:SAVE_HISTORY] = 100
IRB.conf[:HISTORY_FILE] = “#{ENV[‘HOME’]}/.irb-save-history”

Waterbed Prank

Sunday, October 22 2006

If you were a store pulling this prank in America you’d have people suing the snot out of you.


Path Prank

Sunday, October 22 2006

I find the bicycle riders particularly entertaining.



Monday, October 16 2006

A sneak peek of Dan Cederholm‘s fantastic design work for Stikkit is now up and online, but more importantly (for Stikkit) is that we’re pulling back the covers just slightly and describing with a bit more detail about what we’re doing.

Web 2.0!

Thursday, October 12 2006

This is simply fantastic. We’ll be showing Stikkit to the public for the very first time at the Web 2.0 conference in a few weeks. Everyone involved is excited about the news: for the past several months a whole host of good people have been working on it, testing it, using it and talking about it. Spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends, and offspring have been getting less attention from us because we’ve had a fire burning inside us for a while now. Thanks to everyone involved for getting us there – we can’t wait to show it.

Here’s a pic of some of the crew (with some more official ones to surface soon), taken by James Duncan Davidson (also a member of the team). Shown from left to right are: Michael Buffington (that’s me!), Jeremy Voorhis, Rael Dornfest (our leader!), and Surj Patel. Not shown are several others including Adam Greene, J. Duncan Davidson (the photographer), Dan Cederholm (oh Dan and his lucious designs), and surely more who I’m forgetting.

Hair of the Dog

Thursday, October 12 2006

Across the street from my home there’s a house where the yard backs up to the street (normally houses tend to face the streets on both sides, but not this one).

Living at the house is a yippy dog and the yippy dog’s owner. I’m not sure what kind of dog it is, but it’s very excitable. It’ll explode into barking and frantic dog like behavior at the slightest sort of noise – cars passing by, people walking, leaves blowing, eyes blinking. It’s the most annoying kind of behavior a dog can exhibit aside from leg humping, which I’d bet it probably does a lot of.

The owner of this dog is huge. I say this not to be rude – I have no bigotry towards huge people (nor for little people, nor medium people), but her hugeness factors into the dog’s behavior. The huge owner of this yappy dog sits in a chair in the yard and screams and yells at the dog when the dog barks at anything (her own volume louder and more annoying than the dog), rather than get up and strangle it. While part of me is tickled that, if even just indirectly, a huge woman screams and yells at the sound of grass growing, it gets old fast.

To me it’s obvious that the dog explodes into barking fits because of the woman launching into screams of “Tiger NO! Tiger come here! Tiger bad dog!”. Tiger thinks he’s doing a good job of defending his yard – it must be so because at the sign of any threat the boss dog barks and froths just like Tiger. Eventually Tiger finishes what he believes to be his purpose for living and the owner congratulates him for his work, Tiger not knowing that she’s delighted that he’s stopped yapping (and the owner not knowing that he stopped just so he could be congratulated).

One of the owner’s trademark noises while foaming at the mouth can only be described by instruction. The way it works is this: scream and yell for a moment to work up your froth and to get into the spirit of things, then exhale as deeply as you can, and when you’re nearly passed out, gasp as dramatically as you can. This is the noise that motivates me to write about my neighbor with such poison. I don’t even feel guilty hoping that the dog might get caught in the vortex while going to be congratulated, taking both dog and owner out in one silent event.

Hell hath no fury like an easily distracted programmer with his office windows open annoyed by a pack of yappy dogs while trying desperately to get back into flow.