Quora Greatest Hits - What are common stages that PhD student researchers go through with their thesis project?

I have been posting on Quora since April of 2014, earning top writer status in 2017 and 2018 and running up, as of this writing, 5.6 million views by Quora readers. While many of my posts are of limited interest, I'm inordinately proud of some of them.  With this post I will begin retrieving some of my particular favorites from Quora and reposting them here on my blog. There is some fun history behind this particular post.  Back when I was a grad student at CMU back in the 1980s I was friendly with Jeff Schrager, a fellow grad student at the time, and he posted a hilarious item in, as I recall, rec.humor.funny, an early netnews group.  The item was titled "How Many AI People Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb" and I admired it so much that I tracked it down and put it up on this blog some years ago ( Several years ago someone posted the question, "What are common stages that PhD studen

Facebook Outage (a haiku)

BGP reroute Blackholes Facebook, Instagram The sound of silence.

HP 35 calculator 200 trick

In 1972 I bought the first HP 35 calculator sold on the Caltech campus.  It was not by far the first one on the campus – HP had distributed pre-release copies to numerous faculty members.  Max Delbrück, my next-door neighbor, had given me my first experience with the calculator one evening while hosting my landlady, her family, and me for dinner.  I was smitten. When the Caltech Bookstore posted the impending availability of the calculator I was the first on the list.  The arrival date was not known, so I haunted the bookstore. HP-35 (Source: They finally came in sometime in November of 1972, if I remember correctly, and I happily paid the $395 price (about a quarter of my life savings at the time).  It was everything I had dreamed of and more.  It transformed my Physics lab performance from C (great on execution and writeup, not so hot on accuracy of calculation) to A.  It made me popular as a member of study groups. Games with HP 35

Monthly Payment Tracker spreadsheet

Increasingly the various businesses that I pay monthly (rent, garage, credit cards, phone bill, newspaper bill, and utility bill) are only notifying me that I have a payment due by email or worse, not notifying me at all.  Combined with a shrinking window between when the bill is issued and when late charges start to accrue, there is increasing pressure on me to track my bills. In the past I would accumulate unpaid bills on a designated spot on my desk at home.  The presence of paper bills there told me that I had bills to pay.  When a paycheck rendered me sufficiently liquid to write checks, I would pay them. As the transition to email notification and non-notification has progressed, many of these bill issuers have offered to help me out with this scheduling problem.  All I had to do was give them the ability to directly take money from my bank account in whatever amount they desired and at whatever time they liked. You’re kidding, right? Not all of these institutions are crooked, an

Now that's funny

A friend of mine told me that she had logged in to the Social Security Administration's website recently and was able to review her account and get a forecast of her Social Security retirement income, should she make it to retirement. Intrigued, I decided to do the same thing. I went to the website ( ) and tried to create myself an account.  I entered my Social Security number, my name, my address, my date of birth, all sorts of information. After a while it told me that it could not create an account for my social security number.  It suggested that I call the help desk and gave me a toll-free number. So I called the number and followed the instructions to get to the help desk. The help desk person was very nice.  She asked me all of the same information that the website had asked. She confirmed that the site would not activate access for me.  She asked me if I had bad credit.  I said no, I think I have excellent credit.  She asked me about my mortgage, and I told her 

Buying notebooks ...

Well, I'm trained as a scientist and engineer, so I keep a notebook. This is something I have done religiously since I was in grad school, much to my wife's dismay. Since 1991 I have loved the National brand Chemistry Notebook (number 43-571), but National was bought a few years ago and the new owners cut a stupid corner by reducing the notebook from 128 pages to 120. Worse yet, this notebook has become rather expensive to buy, costing upward of $10 per book. The pages are still numbered for me, but the reduction from 128 to 120 remains an irritant. So, when I recently changed jobs and, at the same time, ran out of notebooks I decided to switch to the Clairefontaine 9542C.  This is a smaller notebook with paper that is slightly more opaque and quadrille ruled 5x5 to the inch. Oddly, despite the fact that it is made in France and described with metric dimensions (14.8 cm x 21 cm) the ruling is specified as 5x5 to the inch.  I agree that this is a convenient grid size for technic

Toy Data Center update

It's been a while since I've written about my toy data center.  I started with two Intel NUCs and shortly thereafter expanded to four.  Each of the first pair has a 240 G SSD and the second pair each sports a 480 G SSD. All running Ubuntu 14.04.