When you’re a little kid, the proverb “It is better to give than to receive” sounds like nonsense grown-up talk; most little kids would rather get a toy than give one away. But here’s a story about giving and receiving that shows what the proverb is really trying to express.
In 2010, I went to Burning Man with a bunch of friends. My friend Debby and I were walking around the city there, checking out all the art projects, and Saturday afternoon, after we’d all been living in the desert for a week, we came across a Wishing Well.
Here’s how the Wishing Well worked: you could make a wish, or you could grant a wish. To make a wish, write your wish on a rock (provided), along with your name and where you were camping. To grant a wish, rummage around through the stones that other people had written their wishes on, and see if there are any wishes you can grant. If so, take the stone with you, go find the person who wished on it, and make their wish come true.
I decided to make a wish. I wrote on a stone that I wished for a trinket to bring home to my daughter. I added my name, camp location, and tossed it in the Wishing Well.
While I was doing this, my friend Debby was rummaging around in the wishes that other people had tossed in the well. She held up a few stones that said all sorts of predictable things, and then held up a stone that said that “Dave” at such-and-such a camp was wishing for “fresh pineapple”. The entire population of the city had been camping in the desert for a week, and fresh fruit was an exotic wish indeed. But then Debby said, “I’ve got one.”
“You’ve got one what? A pineapple?”, I asked laughingly.
“Yes. A whole fresh pineapple. I have one. It’s been packed in ice all week, in a cooler, back at our camp.”
I was incredulous. “What were you going to do with your pineapple? Do you have a plan for it??”
“No”, she said, “I didn’t have a plan. It just seemed like a good thing to have.”
“Well, do you think we should bring it to ‘Dave’, and grant his wish?!?”
“Definitely,” Debby said.
So we took Dave’s wishing stone, went back to our camp, dug the whole, entire fresh pineapple out from the cooler, and set off to find Dave. Black Rock City (Burning Man) is never really entirely organized. In 2010, the population was over 50,000 people, and even though we had an approximate address of where to find ‘Dave’, Debby and I had to wander around quite a bit, and ask a lot of people for directions and clues before we triangulated on Dave’s camp.
When we found the right camp, we started asking “Does anyone here know Dave? Is Dave here?” After a few minutes, Dave poked his head out of a tent and said “Who are you? Why are you looking for me?”
We said, “We’re here from the Wishing Well. Are you the person who wished for fresh pineapple?”
“Yes? Yes…” he said starting to choke up, disbelieving, and getting emotional. “Yes, I did wish for that, but I thought it was impossible… oh my god…”
We handed the fresh pineapple, still cool from the ice, to Dave, who took it. He stared at it as if it weren’t real, as if none of this was really even happening. He broke out in tears of joy, hugging first the pineapple, then us, then the pineapple again. Debby and I told him to enjoy it, and we went on our way, grinning and laughing.
The next day, someone I didn’t know stopped by our camp, asking “Is Mark here? Does anyone know Mark?” I said “I’m Mark”, and they handed me a little hand-made necklace with the Burning Man logo on it, and said “This is for you to bring home to your daughter; I found your wish in the wishing well. I made this necklace, and I want you to bring it to her!” I gave a big smile and a big thank you, and a hug, and tucked the necklace away somewhere safe for my trip home.
Later, I was reflecting on these two experiences: receiving the thing that I had wished for, and giving someone else what they had wished for. It was exceedingly clear to me which had been more rewarding to me. While I did like receiving the necklace to bring home, granting Dave’s wish for pineapple had made me feel absolutely wonderful inside, and that feeling still stays with me today. So, I thought, I guess it really is better to give than to receive.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the real gift had been the one that Dave gave to me and Debby: by asking for something, Dave had given us the chance to give it to him, and then to feel wonderful about it. It’s the same gift that I gave the necklace artist by asking for a trinket to take home: a chance to do something nice for someone and feel wonderful about it.
I think about this story when people offer “Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything I can bring you?” My first impulse is often to say “No thank you, I’m all set”, because I don’t want to impose on them. But then I think that maybe a better answer is to say “Why yes, actually, there is one small thing that would be nice…”, because then I am giving them the gift of being able to do something nice for someone, and to feel good about it. It’s “giving the gift of receiving”.
Sometimes, by asking for something, we can make other people happier, and that seems worth doing. Someone’s got to toss their wishes into the well, so other people can grant them.
According to Merriam-Webster, a harbinger is “something that foreshadows a future event, something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come.”
So, now what’s the first phrase that comes to mind if I say “harbinger of _____” ?
Based on a casual poll, it seems that a majority of people answer with something like “harbinger of doom!”, a dark portent to be sure. But, on the other hand, there’s also a substantial minority of people who seem reply with “harbinger of spring!”, a far more cheerful spirit.
This got me thinking. What other harbingers of X are there out there, and are they more positive (like spring) or negative (like doom)? Well, Google autocomplete to the rescue! I went to Google twenty six times, and each time typed in “harbinger of” followed by a letter of the alphabet, and I let Google autocomplete whatever it wanted to, like this:
Here’s the table. In some cases, Google autocomplete didn’t give one clear answer, and so I left that line blank with a [?] note.
|B||Blood soaked rainbows||1|
|G||Good things to come||1|
|H||Hope (#2: haggis)||1|
|J||Justice (#2: joy)||1|
|P||Peace (#2: pestilence)||1|
|T||Things to come||1|
A side note: that whole “harbinger of blood-soaked rainbows” business? That comes from this bit of awesomeness: https://shop.theoatmeal.com/products/the-mantis-shrimp-is-the-harbinger-of-blood-soaked-rainbows-signed-print
So there you have it. If you take Google autocomplete as an accurate representation of totality of human spirit, intention, and our vision for the future, then there is currently an epic, but balanced, struggle between good and evil in our vision of what is yet to come.
That may be true right now, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to change it. If you personally choose to use “harbinger of spring” more often than “harbinger of doom”, you’re tipping the scales of the future toward the light, and that seems like a harbinger of peace.
This is a 100% recycled yak fur story.
Molly asked me a thoughtful question while I was in the middle of something else and I said “Just a second, I need to rotate my brain.” A moment later, I said OK and she asked me if my brain was all rotated now. I replied, “Well, 82° out of 90°, close enough.” Molly quipped “And since when did you ever do things square?”
But then I nerdsniped myself. I started to wonder about 82° angles. If a polygon with 90° angles is a square, what sort of polygon do you get if you turn 82° at each corner? It’s not one of your basic shapes, because:
- 120° angles make a triangle (3 sides, since 360° ÷ 120° = exactly 3)
- 90º angles make a square (4 sides; 360° ÷ 90° = exactly 4)
- 82° angles make a ??? (?? sides; 360° ÷ 82° = 4.3902439024???)
- 72° angles make a pentagon (5 sides; 360° ÷ 72° = exactly 5)
It must be some kind of … star shape, 82 doesn’t go evenly into 360, which means that you’d have to spirograph-around the circle more than once to come back to where you started.
But what kind of star? How many points would there be on a star with 82° angles at each point? I decided that I had to know, and that I wanted to see what the star looked like, not just find out the numeric answer. The numeric answer is the GCD of 82 and 360, and I could figure that out, but then where’s my picture of the star? I decided to write a quick program to draw stars with angles of ‘N’ degrees at each corner, and to print out how many points there were on the star.
So ten minutes later, I had refreshed my Logo skills. Luckily, Logo is secretly sort of a dialect of LISP, and I’m very comfortable with LISP-like languages. Here’s the code I finally came up with:
to anglestar :angle clearscreen penup forward 150 pendown make "count 1 setheading :angle while (heading > 0) [ forward 200 right :angle setheading round modulo heading 360 make "count sum :count 1 ] forward 200 show :count end anglestar 82
And it printed “180”, meaning that this is a 180-point star. Or, as Molly pointed out, more of a bike wheel than a star really. An imaginary bike wheel.
I decided to try other angles since I now had this great program. With N=80°, you get a nine-pointed star, because 80° x 9 = 720°, which is twice around the 360° circle:
And with N=81° you get a 40-pointed star:
Although as Molly pointed out, this one isn’t really a ‘star’, either. This one is more of an imaginary bicycle gear, a lot like this real 40-toothed bicycle gear:
Oh, and after all this, Molly very patiently re-asked me her original question again, and I answered her without yak-further delay.
Oh, we love our Easter Egg hunts.
Oh, we love our Easter Egg hunts. As the girls (now age 14) have grown from little kids, to tweens, to actual teenagers, what started as a simple find-the-hidden-eggs game has grown right along side them; it’s now a full-on multi-stage puzzle hunt. 2014’s hunt involved complex interlocking rules. 2016’s hunt involved cryptography and QR codes. Now, here’s how 2017’s puzzle unfolded…
The rules were simple: each girl would be assigned a couple of colors, and each girl could pick up any egg she found once she was certain that the egg matched one of her colors. Easy, right? Further ‘simplifying’ things, I announced that I had placed one giant colored egg on a pedestal with each girl’s name (and one for the parents), so all they had to do was look at the pedestal with their name, and they’d see their first egg color. I showed them all a picture (below) of how nicely I had set it up, and how easy it was going to be.
But when we got outside to start collecting eggs… quelle surprise! The wind seemed to have blown the eggs off their pedestals! How ever would the girls know which color was theirs??
Luckily, each pedestal contained a set of instructions for figuring things out in case of just such an emergency:
The girls retreated to the kitchen to pencil-and-paper this problem. After a few minutes, they’d worked it out with Rebecca offering supportive coaching (but not giving away the answers even though she’s great at these puzzles). The girls hastened outside to each crack open their correct-color giant eggs.
Inside each giant egg was a message… and another, smaller egg.
Inside the smaller eggs was some chocolate, which was immediate consumed as much-needed brain fuel. And there were also some scraps of cut up paper with writing across them — clearly they needed to be reassembled. The girls hurried back inside, and taped the paper back together, revealing four trivia questions about opening magical doors. (Full credit here: Three of these riddles were written by Ryan O’Boyle for Veracode Hackathon 10 & 5/7ths. His riddles were great, and inspired me to add one additional one of my own.)
It just so happened that the team included a Tolkien expert (Norm), and several Harry Potter fans (everyone but me) so the answers were quickly found. Bonus points to Abby for remember the spell “Alohomora”, and to Eleanor for remembering that the Ministry of Magic’s phone booth code was “M A G I C” on the telephone dial — and then using the Phone app on her iPhone to look up what numbers that was.
But now what? The girls still needed to know what colors of eggs they each were looking for, and all they had were these trivia answers — definitely not colors. Well luckily the third giant egg, the one for the parents, contained a “Helpful, Quick, and Easy Egg Color Key!” with some hand-wavey formula clues on it about how to transform the trivia question answers into numbers.
By considering a=1, b=2, etc., and adding up the letters in each trivial answer (and after I fixed a typo..oops), the girls arrived at numeric values… but still no colors. It was more or less at this point that Eleanor started invoking the word “patricide” in her running commentary.
Working through the formulas provided on the key, the girls had figured out that the variables k=112, j=250, x=147, and y=248, so, again, they had some numbers, but no colors. The key said that one color was y,y,x and the other color was k,j,k.
“But how are those colors?”, Rebecca asked, and there was a moment of silence.
“HEX CODES!” Eleanor exclaimed, and the chase was back on! Using an Internet color code converter, the girls converted 248,248,147 into yellow, and 112,250,112 into green. Colors at last!
Now with each of the girls knowing exactly which egg colors were theirs, they scooted out to the yard. Within just a few minutes, they’d found all of the (poorly) hidden eggs, collected them, and returned to the kitchen inside to savor the chocolate goodies within.
Then came the screams.
Then came the screams. For inside each egg not only was there a tasty bit of chocolate, but also… more sliced up message fragments. There was clearly another part of the puzzle. Madly, the girls sorted out all the pieces and assembled them:
The team stared at this for a while, and then started discussing the fonts: Papyrus, then a font that no one knew the name of, then Times, Comic Sans, and Helvetica (with a quick argument about Arial… ending with “Well, young lady, in this house, we use Helvetica!”). Could the five-letter word that the clue was asking for be made from the initials of the fonts? P_TCH? PATCH was considered for a minute, but when the girls hit on PITCH, the hints about “pining”, “note”, and “curveball” all clicked!
Using PITCH, they completed the partial URL and typed in http://tinyurl.com/2017EGGPITCH What came up at that URL was a photograph of the front of the house, with a big green arrow.
The girls practically flew out the front door, flipped over the flowerpot in the picture, and were rewarded with a glass jar filled with glittery treasure eggs, yet more chocolate, and a note saying VICTORY! CONGRATULATIONS on SOLVING the 2017 Easter Egg Hunt!
Happy congratulations were shared all around, and everyone enjoyed some of their hard-won chocolate.
With the puzzles finally solved, and chocolate fully secured, Eleanor finally stopped repeating the word “patricide” over and over, which she’d started saying nearly an hour before.
For the record, the total elapsed time was 56 minutes, 42 seconds — including the time it took for me to fix the typo in the math key (oops), and the time that Eleanor spent repeating the word “patricide”.
Maybe next year I’ll start making the puzzles hard.
Bear with me here, because about 200 words from now I’m going to make a huge brag that I hardly ever talk about these days. OK, thanks. Let’s go:
In January 2001, “Web Hosting Magazine” published their “Top 100 Awards” issue.
Clearway Technologies, a company that I founded, shared an award for “Fastest Growing New Market: CDNs”. C.D.N. stands for “Content Delivery Network”, a system of helping deliver web pages, images, and videos faster over the Internet; the CDN that some people may be familiar with today in 2016 is Akamai, but back in the 2000’s, there were half a dozen CDN companies, all trying to get a slice of the CDN revenue pie.
On pages 42-43, Clearway, SolidSpeed, Speedera, EpicRealm, and Akamai were all called out for awards #5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, in the overall CDN area, and for developing this hot new marketplace.
And then, later on in the list of awards, we come to #68, given exclusively to Clearway, and to me, “For Inventing CDN”.
And you know what? They’ve got the facts right here. By the time Akamai was just barely getting started, I already had Clearway Technologies up and running, and we were already shipping our first CDN offering, and I’d already filed for the patent on our core technologies.
So while I’m a little too modest to be comfortable saying it, as far as I can tell, it’s true:
I invented the first CDN.
Now, while I do get to say that I invented the first CDN, “FireSite” and “FireSite.net”, I also have to say that I didn’t get rich from it. Clearway was initially a ‘bootstrap’ startup, and so grew very slowly at first. Here’s the entire company, in August 1996 doing our initial product launch at Macworld in Boston.
Later, we took in venture capital, and we grew Clearway to over 200 people. Here’s the team that helped do our ‘big’ launch at Networld/Interop 2000 in Atlanta.
So we grew the company and ultimately we sold it to Mirror Image Internet, another CDN company with complementary technologies and assets. And while Mirror Image is still around today, it, also, is not a success story. Mirror Image was never able to successfully monetize the union of their existing network infrastructure and Clearway’s advanced CDN technology, and so the company has never seen the growth that we hoped. (And thus I learned the meaning of the term “reverse stock split.”)
Other people have gone on to build bigger CDNs — most notably Akamai, who has become the dominant player in the CDN market, and they’re doing fine financially.
My original CDN patent (U.S. #5,991,809) was filed on July 25, 1996. In the U.S. the term of a patent is twenty years from the first priority date. That means my first CDN patent will expire in two weeks, on July 26, 2016. These twenty years have been a heck of a ride, and looking back, I’m proud of what I invented, and happy to see what it’s become.
-Mark Kriegsman, July 12, 2016.
Here’s the full text of what Web Hosting Magazine had to say about the invention of the CDN:
from Web Hosting Magazine, January 2001, page 77.
For Inventing CDN
Akamai may think of itself as the grandfather of content-delivery network services, but let’s not forget the man who invented the idea: Clearway Technologies founder Mark Kriegsman.
Akamai’s business plan was entered into MIT’s annual $50,000 Entrepreneurship Competition in 1998, by which time Kriegsman had already received Patent #5,991,809 for his “web serving system that coordinates multiple servers to optimize file transfers.” The U.S. Patent Office abstract somewhat cryptically describes Kriegsman’s intervention as a “networked system consisting of one primary and at least one secondary server, both capable of storing static and dynamic content. In addition the primary server houses at least one look-up table, with which the system can use various criteria to search for specific data files and allocate transmission of each file between the primary and secondary servers based on these criteria.” (What can we say? It was 1997.)
So Akamai and Digital Island can sue each other all they want about patent infringements, but Mark– we know who really came first. Wink, wink ; )
We’ve always loved Easter egg hunts, but with the girls getting smarter, faster, and more wily every year, we’ve had to make the hunt more… challenging. Our previous Easter egg hunt had infuriatingly complex rules as to which girl got which color of egg. But with the girls in middle school now — actual teenagers — I knew that I was going to have to step up my game if I wanted the hunt to last more than just a few minutes. Inspired by some of my puzzle-crafting Veracode coworkers, I put together our 2016 Easter Egg Hunt. Here’s how it went.
Step 1. Read the rules.
Once again, Eleanor and Abby were each given a sheet of paper indicating which colors of eggs they should each pick up. Here are the ‘rules’ they were given for this year’s egg hunt:
After a few false starts, the girls cracked the emoji substitution cypher. Since some symbols like🌀 and 👻 appeared only once on the page, it took some thinking to decode the whole set of color rules, but working together they did it.
Step 2. Find the eggs.
List of colors in hand, they ran outside to start finding the eggs hidden around the back yard. Each girl found all of their eggs within about ten minutes; finding the eggs themselves isn’t too terribly difficult — which is why we got into all these rules and colors and puzzles in the first place.
Step 3. Open the eggs… and wait, what’s this?
Once back inside, the girls opened the plastic Easter eggs… but wait! Where’s the loot?!? Instead of treats or trinkets, each egg held one small, oddly-shaped piece of paper with black and white squares on it: a QR code, cut into puzzle pieces.
Working quickly, the girls each assembled the pieces of their respective QR code puzzles. One went together easily, the other took some collaboration and a couple of different attempts before it all came together.
Step 4. Follow the clues.
Each girl’s QR code was different, and scanning the re-assembled QR codes led to two different URLs: two different tweets, by two different people (neither was me). Each tweet had a picture and a big clue about a different location around our house.
Step 5. Victory!
Eleanor dug down into our pile of birdhouses (why we have a pile of birdhouses is a long story for another day), and Abby popped open the lid of the grill. Each girl found a set of colored ‘crystal’ eggs — filled with sweet, sweet victory loot!
In just under 45 minutes, the girls had cracked a cypher, found the hidden Easter eggs, reassembled the QR code puzzles, and followed the twitter URL picture clues to find their well-deserved treasure. The chocolate was sweet, but from the looks on their faces, I think the taste of victory was even sweeter.
Now about next year…
This thing that I am casually holding up in one hand is an 7′ x 3′ LED tapestry, plus diffuser, plus controller box, plus all mounting hardware, plus power supply and extension cord (rolled up inside for easy transport). It’d fit in the carrying bag for a folding camp chair.
Now, truth be told, I’m not crazy about the layout of LEDs on it (too gridular)…
…so there will be at least one more iteration of this “small” one before I build the “big one” for playa. But. It feels good to have come this far: the previous incarnation had to be wheeled around in a suitcase, and required complicated mounting due to it’s own weight.
Next iteration will focus on making the layout more ‘organic’ (the way I like it), and continuing to rethink how the diffuser is held at the right distance from the light.