Gas station without pumps

2012 December 31

2012 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:16
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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here are some excerpts:

This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2012.

In 2012, there were 420 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 929 posts. There were 282 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 34 MB. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was May 14th with 705 views. The most popular post that day was 2011 AP Exam Score Distribution

Some of your most popular posts were written before 2012. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

Click here to see the complete report.

I’m a little surprised that I managed to average 1.15 posts per day—I knew I’d been spending too much time on the blog, but … I’ve been getting a lot of views (for an unaffiliated academic blog), over 8000 every month since March, despite my obsession since the middle of June with the design of the Applied Circuits course (98 posts and pages so far, and the course doesn’t even start for another couple of weeks).

I’m rather lax about posting pictures, so I was surprised to see the number up to 282 (and averaging 123kB each—I do use Photoshop Elements to crop, touch up, and downsample images before posting them).  I suspect that a lot of the “pictures” are actually circuit diagrams and gnuplot graphs, which would be much smaller if would allow a vector graphics format like SVG rather than insisting on raster graphics like PNG and JPG for everything.  I guess they feel they have to support obsolete browsers, like Internet Exploder, that still don’t support SVG.

Here are my top-viewed posts for the year (over 300 views):

Home page / Archives 28,751
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 10,615
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 3,990
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 2,836
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 1,814
2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,638
How many AP courses are too many? 1,618
Bring back the mammoth! 1,424
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 1,320
County Fair with Pictures 925
Soda-bottle rockets 821
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 812
Teaching voice projection 711
Raspberry Pi 697
Underwater ROV contest 651
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 639
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 637
Coursera Course Catalog 608
Soda-bottle rocket simulation: take 2 608
Learning to use I2C 591
Satisfying UC’s a–g requirements with home school 516
EMG and EKG works 503
Computer languages for kids 500
Speed of sound lab writeup 498
Underwater ROV 481
Magnetometer and accelerometer read simultaneously 474
Soda-bottle rocket simulation 472
Should high schools and colleges teach sentence diagramming? 470
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 466
DRACO: broad-spectrum antiviral drugs 398
Green beard effect 394
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 388
Carol Dweck’s Mindset 361
Medical Instrumentation, Chapter 6 355
NSF “clarifies” Broader Impacts 351
Better electrode placement for EKG blinky 351
Prevnar 13 approved for adults 341
Instrumentation amp lab 321
A critique of CS textbooks 315
iPad Oscilloscope 305

People coming to the home page are still the biggest single group, but overall, more people are finding my pages through search engines than by other means. It is a bit disappointing that two of my top pages are just pointers to someone else’s collection of AP exam score distributions, and another two are for middle-school students looking to cheat on the West Point bridge design contest (which apparently some schools assign as homework).

The gnuplot post is mainly used by people looking for a way to install gnuplot on Macs. I think that the gnuplot community really needs to get their act together and put up a proper binary installer for Mac OS X. They need to stop pretending that everything is fine if you can dual-boot your system or put up a 2Gbyte Linux-lookalike environment on your Mac.

There is now an ok USB oscilloscope for the Mac, though the code is still clearly beta-release quality.  I posted about it in FET threshold tests with Bitscope.

A couple of the popular posts are mainly fluff (the mammoth post and the Green Beard joke picture).

A lot of my most-viewed posts are technical ones on electronics, computer engineering, robotics, or physics, though more at a teaching or hobbyist level than professional, cutting-edge stuff.  I’m fairly happy with that, as I’m turning more into a teacher than a researcher over the past couple of years—I’ve always enjoyed creating new courses, and I’ve been putting a lot of time into that lately. My more philosophical musings have had less readership, perhaps because they are harder to find in a Google search and are less likely to be searched for.

I’m still not seeing many comments (about 2.4/post and 40% of the comments are by me).  I’d like to have more feedback from my readers, but with so many of them being one-time viewers who came via search, I can’t really expect much conversation in the comments.

I’ve seen a strong weekly periodicity in my viewership, with dips over the weekend (people must be goofing off at work when they access my blog).  The plot is particularly clear when I look at the Google Webmaster tools, which has minima on Saturdays:

As much history as Google's webmaster tools is willing to show me.  It would really help to have the clicks and impressions on a log scale, so that the clicks didn't have just a one-pixel fluctuation.  I suppose it is too much to expect Google to be willing to provide free tools that are actually well designed.

As much history as Google’s webmaster tools is willing to show me. It would really help to have the clicks and impressions on a log scale, so that the clicks didn’t have just a one-pixel fluctuation. I suppose it is too much to expect Google to be willing to provide free tools that are actually well designed for geeks like me.  My overall click-through rate of 4% is decent, I suppose,

My university web pages have a higher number of clicks, but 57% of them for the soda-bottle rocket launcher plans and the mead recipe, neither of which are related to my professional responsibilities.  The next few are for handouts from tech writing course I taught in 2003—I’ve not really been putting much of general interest on my University web pages lately. estimates my 2012 page views for my blog as about 103,000 (a bit less than number, which is more directly measured), but Quantcast also estimates the number of visits and people as about 55,000 and 43,000 respectively, so people are viewing about two pages per visit.  Somewhat surprisingly, given my age and how many of my posts are about educating my son, my demographics skews towards younger adults without kids.  Less surprisingly, given the technical content and academic tone, my demographics skew heavily towards people with graduate degrees.

Not visible to the outside world, I also have 169 draft posts (usually just a pointer to a web page I planned to comment on, or a couple of lines of notes) and 71 tabs in Firefox for web pages I planned to blog about but haven’t even gotten into draft posts yet.  So I have material for a couple hundred more posts, if I can remember what it was I wanted to say.  If I ever go through the lot of them, I’ll probably throw out ¾ of them as being no longer relevant or interesting—they weren’t compelling enough at the time to make me write the post immediately.

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with my blog this year, and hope that next year will continue to be successful—maybe I can get the draft-post backlog whittled down a little (though to-do lists always seem to grow rather than shrink, no matter how many things I do).

2011 October 7

High-Resolution Mandelbrot in Obfuscated Python

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:00
Tags: , , , ,

Although Python makes it fairly easy to write clean programs, there are always a dedicated few who wish to write “obfuscated” programs, as a challenge to show how thoroughly they can hide the meaning.  One popular target for such programs is the Mandelbrot set, since the algorithm for it is fairly simple.  (Debugging obfuscated code is extremely difficult, so you want to start with something very simple.)

The documentation for Python gives one example of obfuscated code for the Mandelbrot set, but there is a much more impressive example at High-Resolution Mandelbrot in Obfuscated Python, in which the code itself is shaped to look like the Mandelbrot set.  (Sorry I can’t show you the code here, but the blogs are crippled so that the <pre> tag does not work correctly.  I’m not sure why hates Python so much that they provide no way to preserve indentation, but they clearly do—or maybe they just hate programmers.)

You’ll have to go to the site to see the tiny code that produces the following picture:

Click to link to larger image.

Incidentally, I tried the code on my laptop using Python 2.7.2, and it produces the larger image in about 4 minutes.

UPDATE: based on the comment, I tried using
[sourcecode language=”python”] and
around the code, and it seems to work. So it looks like does have a decent way of including code. I just hadn’t found it in searching their documentation and support site.

_                                      =   (
                               V       ,B,c
                             :c   and Y(V*V+B,B,  c
               (              2+c-4*abs(V)**-0.4)/i
                 )  ;v,      x=1500,1000;C=range(v*x
                  );import  struct;P=struct.pack;M,\
            j  ='&lt;QIIHHHH',open('M.bmp','wb').write
for X in j('BM'+P(M,v*x*3+26,26,12,v,x,1,24))or C:
            i  ,Y=_;j(P('BBB',*(lambda T:(T*80+T**9
                  *i-950*T  **99,T*70-880*T**18+701*
                 T  **9     ,T*i**(1-T**45*2)))(sum(
               [              Y(0,(A%3/3.+X%v+(X/v+
                             /x   -2.7,i)**2 for  \
                               A       in C
                                       )   )

2011 March 22

Good error message

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:58
Tags: , , ,

I had some trouble with earlier today, and got the following amusing error message:


Something has gone wrong with our servers. It’s probably Matt’s fault.

We’ve just been notified of the problem.

Hopefully this should be fixed ASAP, so kindly reload in a minute and things should be back to normal.

I tried blogging about it right away, but, of course, there really was something wrong with the servers, and so the post got lost.  Still that is better than I’ve been doing with comments on Blogger blogs lately.  For the past several days, I make a comment, submit it, and Blogger just says “We’re sorry, but we were unable to complete your request.”  It then throws away the comment I made, so unless I had been paranoid and saved the comment, everything was lost (not even the “back” button could retrieve the comment).

This unreasoning trust in web services (to the point of throwing things away on the client) seems to be a general meme at Google these days: I’ve had the same problem with Google calendars also, often enough that I’m thinking of abandoning using them.

2011 January 18

High school Robotics Club started

The Robotics Club at my son’s high school is finally getting started.  We got two science teachers to agree to be pro-forma advisers and two parents to agree to be engineering coaches and to buy supplies.

The first meeting is Tuesday 18 Jan 2011, at lunch time in one of the teachers’ classrooms.  Unfortunately, only one of the coaches can make lunch-time meetings (the other is working over an hour’s drive away), so we’ll have to figure out a way to keep him involved.

The first project is to make a  remotely-operated underwater vehicle for the Monterey Bay Regional competition, which is part of the national competition.  The national web site has the rules and  documentation for the contest.  We’ve registered a team to enter the lowest (Scout) level this year, with the intention of bumping up to the next level next year, but the students may want to go for Ranger class right away, since the other Scout teams seem to be mainly middle-school teams.

The Scout Class Competition Documents (pdf) say that “Each student and instructor/mentor participating in the MATE competition is required to register (or to update his or her information) with MATE’s AlumniWeb.” The acknowledgement of our team registration says students must register or update “at least 2 weeks prior to your assigned competition or they WILL NOT be eligible to participate.” Coaches and mentors are also supposed to register on AlumniWeb.  There are some fine deals (including such useful objects as neutrally buoyant tether cables and bilge pump motors) being offered on the teams-only website (password needed).

One of the first things we’ll have to do is to build the “props” used for the Scout mission, as explained in the competition document.  Then we should put together a “development kit” to experiment with different vehicle designs. The competition web site has a list of suppliers, but the how-to list is more valuable.One of the best sites on that list for info about building your own ROV is, which tells how to get propellers and attach them securely to bilge-pump replacement motors.

We will need a treasurer/accountant to keep track of purchases and donations, as a detailed budget needs to be provided as part of the competition (details from last year).

The MATE team is trying to use social media:

In addition, you and your students can follow MATE on Twitter … find us at  To keep up with all of the ROV competition information, we also encourage you and your students to follow the MATE Center’s Facebook page.

Student teams are also encouraged to create a team web page. I suspect that they can’t do that at the high school (the high school has no webmaster and I’m sure they won’t give students access, even if they could figure how to do so).  Perhaps we can get a site set up with CruzIO or some other local internet provider, or we could just create a account for the team, which might be simpler anyway.

2011 January 2

2010 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:51
Tags: ,

The helpful machines at wrote a “year in review” post for me.  I’ve cut out some of the lamer parts (like the Blog-Health-o-Meter™ which is just one digit of information, with no interpretation of the scale used to measure blog health, other than the one word “Wow”).

This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2010. They “helpfully” interpreted this: if each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships—not exactly a very helpful interpretation of the statistic.  I’d rather know the distribution of views for other 6-month-old blogs.  Am I getting a lot of views or very few?  Who can tell?  The only point of comparison I have is f(t)’s post Do Not Be Discouraged, which shows her jumping to 1500 a month after a year and 3000 a month within the next year.  If those are typical figures for a good blog like hers, then I’m doing fairly well having hit 2500 views in the first month and held fairly steady at 2000–3000 views a month.  I suspect that some of the other blogs I read have much higher readerships, though.

In 2010, there were 172 new posts. There were 71 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8MB—about 1 picture per week and about 115kB per picture. Obviously with those file sizes, I’m not just dumping pictures off of my camera, but taking the time to crop and scale them appropriately for a blog.  There’s not much I can do about my somewhat limited photography skills, but the post-processing in Photoshop Elements means that the pictures are a bit clearer than the usual blog fodder from non-photographer blogs.

The busiest day of the year was August 3rd with 273 views. The most popular post that day was Corrupted peer review.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, Google Reader,,, and

As you can see, a lot of my viewers came from my announcing posts on e-mail lists (I don’t use Facebook, so the links from there were other people’s links, not my own).  Only a few of these e-mail-driven viewers have converted into regular viewers, though Riley Lark’s blog seems to bring some people my way.  There were three e-mail lists that I announced selected posts on: a private one for students, faculty, and alumni in my department, the tagfam (and tagpdq) list for parents of gifted children, and the ap-bio mailing list for teachers of AP Biology.  I’m not a teacher of AP Bio, but I’m part of a task force trying to find ways to get bioinformatics into the AP bio curriculum, and I’ve found the discussions of biology education on the blog enlightening.  I regard it as unlikely that we’d be able to get bioinformatics into many AP classes without a lot of effort: most of the teachers are struggling to cover the already overloaded curriculum, and they do not have the skills needed to incorporate bioinformatics exercises into learning the biology without a lot of hand-holding and a real mandate to do so. The AP bio curriculum only changes about every 10 years, and we’ve missed the cycle for the changes coming out next year.

Some visitors came searching, mostly  directly for the name of the blog but also for programming languages for kids.  It seems that there is a real interest in teaching kids how to program—one that is not being met by current schools (elementary, middle, or high school).  My most popular posts were ones that talked about education (generally high school level), but I’ve continued to blog about anything that interests me—no doubt turning off readers who believe that narrow focus is superior to breadth of interest.

The biggest number of views were for the home page (over 5000 views), and since the home page shows several of the recent posts, this may represent more posts read than the raw number

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts that got the most views in 2010 (they put the highest single-day post first, even though it was only about 12th on the overall list):

  1. Corrupted peer review August 2010
    15 comments, 224 views. I’ve still not gotten a good answer to the ethics questions I raised here, and I still haven’t resubmitted the paper anywhere, though that has more to do with my writer’s block and the heavy teaching load I had in the fall than with the ethical question.
  2. Computer languages for kids August 2010
    16 comments, 768 views.  This post not only got an initial burst of interest from being announced on the tagfam mailing lists, but also got a continuing low-level of activity from searches and pointers from elsewhere on the web.
  3. AP creates penalties for not guessing July 2010
    6 comments, 491 views.  This post was just passing on info about changes coming in AP scoring.  High school students seem to really believe that test-taking strategies are more important than knowing the subject when taking AP tests, so people look for information like this, rather than just learning the core material.
  4. Value-added teacher ratings August 2010
    28 comments, 414 views. This post, prompted by an LA Times article, was one of many in the blogosphere about the advantages and disadvantages of value-added teacher ratings.  I was fortunate enough to get some thoughtful comments from viewers, which made for an interesting discussion without the knee-jerk responses of much of the blogging on the subject.
  5. Group work July 2010
    13 comments, 343 views, and 1 Like on I have been bothered by the “everyone must work in groups” meme that is taking over education, even though 40% of the classes I teach are group-work classes. Group work is only appropriate when the projects are big enough to actually require groups: for projects small enough to be done more efficiently by individuals, requiring groups actually has negative educational consequences.
  6. The next several posts from my site states were all education ones:
    Bioinformatics in high school biology 319
    Placement by achievement 288
    High school stem cell curriculum 279
    Just scoring points 268
    Searching on the wayback machine 263
    Homework load 252
    Quick look at New Science Education Standards 232

I had other posts that I liked which got relatively few viewers, particularly ones from the first few weeks of my blogging.  Perhaps I’ll try to work pointers to the better ones into posts over the next month, so that people who have only recently started to read my blog will have occasion to go back to some of the old posts.  If anyone reading this posts remembers one of my 2010 posts fondly, leave a comment to direct others to it. (I can add the link to your comment if you don’t want to look for it.)

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