Crazy things that the Ceres “bright spots” could be.

Here’s a quick list of some crazy things that the Ceres bright dots could (or could not) be.

  1. A Biological Alien City

    Unlikely.  Current measurements of reflectivity of the spots says “they’re as reflective as water ice” or, in other terms “white as snow”.  Now, that’s not to say that there couldn’t be a race of aliens who have constructed a completely white city (complete with nearby suburbs!) but it seems quite unlikely.

    For biological life, there needs to be lots of other things present, likely water, source of food energy, like other plants and/or animals, or some kind of “Food farm”.  We could be looking at the top of a “biodome” type structure, enclosing a habitation environment, though.   (As below, likely coated in something like Titanium Dioxide to reduce heat & radiation exposure)

    1. A Mechanical Alien City

      By “Mechanical Alien” I mean “Machine Intelligence” or more simply: “robots from outer space”.  This seems more likely than any form of biological alien.  If the spots are created by aliens, then why would they choose Ceres over all the other nearby planets?  One simple choice would be the presence of unique or rare elements in Ceres’ crust or core.  Mechanical life could be attracted by an abundance of rare elements like Gallium or Titanium or even Helium (or tons of other options).

      We could be looking at a drilling or mining station and outpost, or even a single large mechanical life-form that’s working, stranded or crashed in that location.   Remember that when you think about mechanical life, all assumptions about size & scale can be thrown out the window.  This could be a colony of trillions of small machines, or one single big one, or something in between.

      This even (somewhat) could explain the “white as ice” nature of the spots.  If you were to make machines capable of interstellar travel, what color would you make the ships? Probably very, very white — this would give you maximum visibility in space, but also maximum reflectivity (or control thereof) to minimize the heating from nearby sun(s).  There are several common elements that would lead to the white nature — Something like a thin coating of Titanium Oxide on the surface of a building or machine.   The interesting point about this is that it also explains the Infrared readings showing that some of the spots were not cooler than their surroundings, and I believe that white titanium dioxide would almost exactly match this behavior, since it’s highly reflective to Infrared radiation.

  2. Some kind of “Beacon”

    Something left behind by a biological or mechanical intelligence.   Also seems unlikely — if this were truly meant as a beacon of some sort, then why just reflective and not emissive?

  3. Water or Carbon Dioxide Ice

    The weird thing about this is that on a planet with little to no atmosphere, the common belief is that over several millenia, anything on the surface gets coated by dust from the impact ejecta from the constant bombardment of meteors.

    So, for there to be surface-exposed ice in such a large volume (many km across) and for it to not be covered in ice, it either needs to be a very recent feature (recent impact exposing sub-surface ice) or an active geological feature.  Because this is at the center of a crater that doesn’t appear to be recent, we then assume that this is an active geological feature, erupting out sub-surface ice in a somewhat constant manner.

    But, science measurements from Dawn’s onboard Infrared cameras have shown that this region (Spot 5) is *not* cooler than its surroundings, so that sort of negates the possibility of some sort of ice.

Listing installed debian/Ubuntu packages by size.

Here’s a command to list all installed Debian/Ubuntu packages, sorted by size:
dpkg-query -W -f='${db:Status-Abbrev} ${Installed-Size}\t${binary:Package} ${Version}\t${Maintainer}\n' | egrep "^ii" | sort -k2n

Running do-release-upgrade or ‘apt-get dist-upgrade’ on an LXC container.

I’ve found that running do-release-upgrade or even a “apt-get dist-upgrade” on a containerized machine instance using LXC won’t actually complete successfully.  I found a post on ubuntuforums explaining the solution, but wanted to capture it here for my own reference.

# First make sure to stop the LXC machine using
# either lxc-stop or the virt-manager GUI or
# commandline. 

$ cd <directory that contains the lxc image> 
$ sudo su - 
# mount -t devpts devpts ./dev/pts 
# mount -t proc proc ./proc 
# mount -t sysfs sysfs ./sys
# chroot .
# apt-get dist-upgrade 
# do-release-upgrade 
# <Ctl-D to exit chroot> 
# umount ./dev/pts
# umount ./proc 
# umount ./sys

I also had at least one case on one container where the do-release-upgrade or dist-upgrade process had messed with /etc/resolv.conf, and I needed to make sure to put an entry in there for so that the subsequent commands worked.  That was done manually, and was fixed by network-manager when the container was finally booted after the update.

Using this technique, I have several LXC containers running 14.04 on my 12.04 machine.  Pretty cool.

Adding an “Always launch a new terminal” shortcut to Gnome Launcher

When using gnome3, the default Terminal launcher will just raise and focus an existing terminal if there already is one.  I find this behavior counter-intuitive.  I like to always create a new terminal.

To add this behavior, create a file in:


With contents:

#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_US]=Open a new terminal every time.
Comment=Open a new terminal every time.

Then, use Gnome’s search feature to find “NewTerm” and add it to your shortcuts.

Children’s Poem about Iron Gall Ink

Via and this book:

To make common yncke of Wyne take a quart,
Two ounces of gomme, let that be a parte,
Five ounces of galles,
of copres take three,
Long standing dooth make it better to be;
If wyne ye do want, rayne water is best,
And as much stuffe as above at the least:
If yncke be to thick, put vinegar in,
For water dooth make the colour more dimme.
In hast for a shift when ye have a great nead,
Take woll, or wollen to stand you in steede;
which burnt in the fire the powder bette small
With vinegre, or water make yncke with all.
If yncke ye desire to keep long in store
Put bay salte therein, and it will not hoare.
Of that common yncke be not to your minde
Some lampblack thereto with gomme water grinde.

yncke = ink
Wyne = wine
galles = Oak Gall Powder
copres = Ferrous Sulfate
gomme = Gum Arabic
rayne = rain

Iron Gall Ink DIY project.

This weekend we finished up our “Make your own Iron Gall Ink” project with the kids.  Amazingly, our crazy “only using stuff we have at home” experiment worked and we got something that resembled ink!  We even made our own rudimentary pens to write with!

To make your own homemade ink, you will need:

  • An Oak Gall.  We got ours from the oak trees near the entrance to Bayshore Park along Terminal Blvd. (North end of San Antonio Ave in Palo Alto).  There were tons of galls on the ground there under the Oak trees.
  • A steel wool pad.  We used an S.O.S pad that I rinsed free of all its soap.
  • White vinegar.
  • Corn starch (thickener)
  • Some bamboo barbequeue skewers, the big kind.  We made these into our pens.  We tried to find some crow feathers but failed to find any that day.
  • A metal strainer, a jar and a couple of small glasses.


  1. Put the steel wool in the jar, and cover it with white vinegar.  Let it sit for about 2-3 days until it’s completely dissolved and you have a dark brown-ish liquid with some remaining flecks of iron. (Note: upon further reading, I’m not sure if this is a reasonable substitute for FeSO4 but I’m continuing anyway because that’s what we did…)
  2. Smash up the Gall in a zip lock bag using a hammer.  Smash it really good — to completely powderize the inside parts of it.  Remove the largest remaining pieces of “shell” by hand, and keep the rest of the powder.
  3. Heat some water in a small glass as you would for making a nice cup of tea.
  4. Pour the gall powder into the glass of hot water and stir.  Let it steep for a minute or two.  The liquid should be dark brown, almost the color of the Iron & Vinegar.
  5. Using the metal strainer, strain out all the pieces of gall from the liquid, leaving just the brown liquid.
  6. Put about 2-3 tpsp of the gall liquid into a new glass or shallow bowl.
  7. Using a straw or dropper, add a little bit of the Iron & Vinegar solution.  The liquid should immediately turn dark black/purple.  I think we ended up at about 50/50 but it seemed like it would take a lot less Iron — some recipes seem to say about 1/3rd of the amount of Tannic Acid. (the brown gall liquid)
  8. If you want, add a bit of corn starch as a thickening agent.

To make a crude pen, take the bamboo skewer, and cut it off at about a 45 degree angle.  Even shallower is better but it tends to split and not cut nicely at very shallow angles.  Snip off the very tip to leave a somewhat flat-ish part about 2mm wide at the tip.

Now, dip the pen in the ink and draw!  The ink will come out a dark purple color, and when it dries, it lightens up a little and comes out a very nice looking light to deep brown color.


I had considered using a bit of dissolved tapioca as a thickening agent (a substitute for the originally called for Gum Arabic), and I think it might have worked better than the corn starch, as the ink tended to flake off somewhat when tried (if very thick).  I think this would require boiling to dissolve some tapioca in water, then adding that to the ink.  I was hoping for something “more sticky” than the starch, but something that we still easily had on hand in the kitchen.

Here’s a great website on Iron Gall Ink with several recipes/formulas but most call for “real” Ferrous Sulfate which I didn’t want to have to procure.

I’m not actually sure if Steel Wool + Vinegar is actually Ferrous Sulfate or is it some other compound? Maybe it was actually Ferrous Acetate?  Maybe I should have tried to evaporate it a bit more to see if I got the blue-green crystals through precipitation as the vinegar evaporated?

Having a nice fountain pen, or even maybe a real feather as a writing instrument might have made the drawing part a lot more fun.  The bamboo doesn’t hold much ink and only lasts for about one letter when writing, so there’s a lot of dipping in ink.  We tried paint brushes but it’s not the same writing feel as something more stiff.

We tried making pens out of drinking straws, but they were far too flexible to hold up under writing pressure.

Winding down on Facebook

I’ve been winding down my use of Facebook over the last several months, particularly when it comes to sharing photos and more personal/family details, but in general I’m finding that I get less and less utility from FB in general.  This has meant that for me, the privacy concerns now outweigh the benefit of social sharing using FB’s network.

There are several things that started this, but the first was a general feeling of Facebook fatigue, particularly caused by notifications on my phone.  Additionally, it seemed as though with each app update, they were requesting more and more intrusive permissions.  The list has really gotten out of control, including reading & writing my contacts, read & write my phone call log, reading & sending SMS messages, view running applications.  This is a hugely intrusive and unnecessary list.

At the same time, I found that my Facebook feed was mostly full of advertisements along the lines of “Bob likes Target” and “Jane likes” type messages.  Completely unnecessary and irrelevant content.  I found that my “friends” (really, friends-of-friends and beyond) had primarily switched from sharing self-authored content to posting links to off-site “funny” content.  I have many sources of “funny” content, and I don’t really need another one.

After uninstalling the app, I found that the mobile web version available on was fast & easy to load, and had virtually none of the privacy concerns of the native application, so I’ve switched all my mobile usage to that.

But, in switching away from the native app, I found that sharing photos from my phone was much harder, and I was inclined to just not do it anymore.

At the same time, Google+ began rolling out some really interesting improvements to their photo sharing product:

  • Auto-backup and easy download of all my photos from my Android device.
  • “Auto awesome” photo enhancements, animations, “stories” etc.
  • Easy to use fine-grained privacy controls.  I can easily manage & share with a small group and understand the ramifications of sharing.
  • Users can request access to albums they can’t see.
  • Its not as ugly as Facebook, particularly the photo stream & galleries

That’s basically it.  So, if you want to find me and what I’m up to, I’m mostly doing the interesting stuff on Google+ these days.

If people spoke like most code comments are written.

How do you like my new San Frascisco Giants Baseball hat?

It’s a hat. It’s for the game baseball. Baseball is a game involving one or more bases and a ball.  You’re wearing the hat. Hats that are worn are hats that are currently on some person’s head.  The Giants are a team.  A team that plays baseball in San Francisco.  San Francisco is a city.  Some cities have one or more baseball teams.  The Giants are the team from San Francisco.

I’m not using the Facebook app and neither should you.

Given that the Facebook mobile app has continued it’s unprecedented increase in required permissions, I’ve decided to stop using the app altogether.

Funny thing is, the mobile interface available on is just fine, and gives me pretty much everthing I want from facebook these days, which isn’t much.  In fact, in many ways its superior, as it doesn’t require continual app updates, on-device storage, background data syncing (battery drain and data usage), and doesn’t generate annoying notifications.

I’m even inclined to say that it’s actually better than the facebook app for those reasons.

You should ditch the facebook app too.

Google translations of “perkeleen vittupää” (and back again)

Quoting Linus:

There aren’t enough swear-words in the English language, so now I’ll
have to call you perkeleen vittupää just to express my disgust and
frustration with this crap.

So, what’s the best translation of this phrase into English?  I’m not sure I trust Google (since “fucking motherfucker” doesn’t translate right back to “perkeleen vittupää” I suspect the translation is imperfect or hard to express)  To that end, I’ve translated the phrase to several languages, and then back to english for comparison:


Language Result Back to English
English (direct) fucking motherfucker N/A
French putain de connard fucking asshole
Spanish maldito hijo de puta you son of a bitch
German verdammte Wichser fucking wanker
Italian fottuto figlio di puttana fucking son of a bitch
Chinese (Traditional) 他媽的混蛋 Fucking asshole
Korean 빌어 먹을 새끼 Fucking chicks

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