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Jim's Random Notes

Last Build Date: Fri, 02 Feb 2018 03:38:24 +0000


Jerome J. Mischel, Jr (Jay): April 12, 1960 – January 31, 2018

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 03:38:24 +0000

My brother Jay passed away this afternoon, after a year-long fight with sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. He was 57 years old.

Jay was the second of five children, and the oldest boy; 18 months older than I. As children, we were pretty much inseparable. At least that’s how I remember it. . . . → Read More: Jerome J. Mischel, Jr (Jay): April 12, 1960 – January 31, 2018

Responding to errors at Amazon

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 04:51:51 +0000

Saying that Amazon’s servers handle a lot of traffic is an understatement. Publicly available information estimates something like 180 million unique visitors per month in the US. Amazon reported over seven million orders on Black Friday 2017. The amount of traffic we process is just staggering, and the complexity of the underlying infrastructure is mind . . . → Read More: Responding to errors at Amazon

Why I hate Outlook

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:45:11 +0000

Yesterday at work a co-worker sent me an email with a bulleted list of URLs that I would have to visit today, to make some configuration changes. The URLs have the format Where is replaced with a 36-character string like 85d8a9de-9503-457d-8815-18f277847f43. So, for example:

Ever helpful, Outlook tried to pretty this . . . → Read More: Why I hate Outlook

Gold Bitcoin Beanie Baby Bulbs

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 04:41:05 +0000

So, yeah, I’m not the first person to point out the parallels between the recent Bitcoin frenzy and the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s. Nor, I suspect, am I the first to mention that Bitcoin’s meteoric rise bears shocking resemblance to:

The silver and other precious metals frenzy of 1979 – 1980. The Beanie . . . → Read More: Gold Bitcoin Beanie Baby Bulbs

Birthdays, random numbers, and hash keys

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 19:37:29 +0000

This is a re-post of an article I wrote for my .NET Reference Guide column some years ago.

You’re probably familiar with the Birthday problem, either from your introductory statistics class or from hanging around computer programmers for too long. Briefly, the math shows that the odds of any two people in a group having . . . → Read More: Birthdays, random numbers, and hash keys

Live like our ancestors?

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 04:44:49 +0000

I’ve heard people say, during discussions of the evils of modern life, that we should endeavor to “live like our ancestors.” I wonder which of our ancestors they’re talking about.

I wonder if they think we should go back to my childhood, where we lived in constant fear of nuclear war, where there was a . . . → Read More: Live like our ancestors?

How to confuse a programmer

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 18:08:08 +0000

Computer programming is complicated enough that we really don’t need to look for ways to further confuse programmers. On the contrary, we should actively look for ways to increase programmer understanding. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to confuse programmers is to choose bad names for things. For example, consider this little code snippet that’s . . . → Read More: How to confuse a programmer

Take advantage of the early out

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 14:31:54 +0000

The “new thing” when I first started working with computers was Structured Programming. One of the tenets was that a function should have exactly one entry point and exactly one exit point. Some languages (Pascal, for example) enforced this by not having a return statement that would allow you to exit the function from somewhere . . . → Read More: Take advantage of the early out

How many feet of rope?

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 14:01:00 +0000

Elmer got a new job working for the procurement department of a very large company. boss called him in on his second day, and said that he needs a rope long enough to go all the way around the Earth at the equator. Elmer’s job was to figure out how long the rope has to . . . → Read More: How many feet of rope?

Wikipedia: Trust, but verify

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:09:35 +0000

A recent question on Stack Overflow asked why Quicksort is called Quicksort, even though it sometimes exhibits O(n2) behavior whereas Merge sort and Heap sort are both O(log(n)) in all cases. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, he’s asking why it’s called “Quicksort,” when other algorithms are theoretically faster.) It’s a reasonable question for a . . . → Read More: Wikipedia: Trust, but verify