The Christmas Spirit
This Christmas was unique for me for a few reasons.

1.) This was my first Christmas as a married man. Jenny and I got married in August, and life together has been wonderful. The Christmas season was tough because of her work schedule (she sells Lladro statues in one of the local malls), but I had plenty of time off after the holiday to spend with her, and she had time off because there's never quite as much returning after the holiday as there is purchasing before it.

2.) This was my first (and last) Christmas in San José. Coming from northern and central Illinois, it just doesn't feel like Christmas unless it's cold and there's a chance of snow. I love snow, and I love cold weather. It's no wonder that the bay area is not my favorite place to live.

3.) My mother, the woman who, along with my father raised me and helped make me the man I am today, nearly drove me to tears two days after Christmas. Apparently I didn't spend enough money on her. It would seem that Christmas really isn't about putting thought into gifts after all. It's about making sure you love everybody exactly the same by spending the same amount of money on them. Never mind that I spent four times as much of my time finding gifts for my mother that I thought she would like while everybody else was finished quickly. Hell, I didn't even buy a gift for my brother. Jenny found something he'd like and picked it up in my stead. I guess next year, I'll just send gift cards with unifrom values (I hope everybody likes Best Buy as much as I do). Then nobody will feel offended that I care enough about them to send gifts.



Programming, etc.
If you like scripting, you really owe it to yourself to check out Python. The forced indentation threw me off a bit at first, but if you tend to indent anyways it's not a big deal. So far I've written three classes (stack, queue, and binary search tree), the same three I always start with because they're handy to have lying around, and they're simple enough to implement that I can concentrate on learning the language instead of wrestling with a complex concept. Since then, I've written a Sudoku verification script, which I gladly share with you all, in its entirety.


Programmer: Justin Last
Language: Python

Purpose: Verify Sudoku solution (9 x 9 variety)

Command Line Usage:
    python <file name>

Interactive Environment Usage:
    import sudoku_verify
    sudoku_verify.main(['', '<file name>'])

File format 1:

File format 2:

NOTE: both of the above files represent the same (valid) Sudoku puzzle


import sys

def main(argv = None):
    # This allows us to use this script interactively.
    # Use sys.argv if called from the command line.
    # Otherwise use the interactively passed params
    if argv == None:
        argv = sys.argv

    if len(argv) == 2:
        infile = argv[1]
        infile = raw_input("Input a file name: ")

    # Open, read, and close the file
        f = open(infile, 'r')
            raw_data =
        except IOError:
            print "Error reading file...\nexiting program"
            return 2
    except IOError:
        print "Invalid file name...\nexiting program"
        return 1

    # Strip out anything that isn't 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
    processed_data = []
    for el in raw_data:
        if isNumber(el):

    TRIPS = [[0, 1, 2], [3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8]]

    # Construct the rows, columns, and triplets to be tested
    rows = [[processed_data[x + y] for x in range(9)] for y in range(0, 81, 9)]
    columns = [[rows[x][y] for x in range(9)] for y in range(9)]
    triplets = [[rows[x][y] for x in TRIPS[a] for y in TRIPS[b]] for a in range(3) for b in range(3)]

    valid = True
    for check in [rows, columns, triplets]:
        for array in check:
            # All valid arrays now hold [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
            if array != [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]:
                valid = False

    # Create and print the output message
    msg = ''
    if valid == False:
        msg = 'in'
    msg += 'valid Sudoku solution'
    print msg

    return 0

def isNumber(num):
    if type(num) == int and num < 10 and num > 0:
        return True
    elif num == '1' or num == '2' or num == '3' or num == '4' or num == '5':
        return True
    elif num == '6' or num == '7' or num == '8' or num == '9':
        return True
    return False

if __name__ == '__main__':

I also downloaded the Popcap games framework. If you don't immediately recognize the name, Popcap are the folks that made Bejeweled, Zuma, and my current favorite, Heavy Weapon. I've coded up a small game of my own using their framework called Lights Out! Trying to make a game of my own really makes me appreciate just how much work goes into these things. Now when I play Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (my current video game obsession), not only am I having a great time, but I have an awesome amount of respect for all of the people that worked on it. The man-hours that go into a project of that magnitude must be astounding.

For those that are interested, some of my programming (including the Lights Out! game) is available on my website. Feel free to use the scripts however you want. I write them to learn, and if you can make use of them, all the better.



New Job!!
For quite some time now I've been trying to transfer away from the land where everything is overpriced to some place that is hopefully a little more sane. Well, it worked. I got a job offer today. I'll be something called a Satellite Systems Engineer. I'm a little scared, as this is the first job I've ever gotten on my own (my uncle passed my name along to my current boss), but I like my new boss, and the description sounds like something that's right up my alley. Also, my salary won't change, but the change of venue means I'll be bringing home around 35% more money every week (if the statistics I found aren't incorrect), and we'll be saving money in rent to boot!



New Year's Eve Resolution
I only made one resolution this year. I'm going to floss my teeth regularly. I've only got two cavities (or is it three?), and I'd like to keep it that way.

Because we live in time, there has to be a best and worst.

Today is the worst day of my life.

Worse than the last time I saw my father alive. Worse than the time I brought my oldest daughter to see him, knowing it was her last time, and having to explain through her tears on the plane ride home why grandpa had gotten so small and sick and that, yes, she would probably not see him again.

Worse than the day they misdiagnosed me as having hepetitis C and having less than a year to live, the nurse suggesting on the phone that I "get my affairs in order" while I sat at my desk in my office at work feeling my life had become science fiction. Worse than the day I was humiliated in front of my entire team of 100 engineers by being publically passed over for a promotion everyone, including me, had simply presumed I was getting.

My startup company officially died. It's the second time I have lost a company, but it gets no easier to have two and a half years work and dreams come to a halt. We had a luncheon planned for all of us who stayed till the bitter end, to pledge our eternal friendship to each other and to thank each other for all the loyalty. And someone decided to inform and invite all of the people who had previously left the company -- those who presumed we had no chance and so went to greener pastures while we stayed behind and struggled. Even one guy I had to fire for poor performance showed up to be present at our final hour. The most humiliating experience of my professional career. Why those people would do that is borne of a hatred we cultivate here in silicon valley. The desire to know we are right at the expense of others.

After two weeks of living through the holidays, keeping our dissolution a secret so as not to ruin the holiday plans of our employees, knowing that on this day I would have to return and inform everyone who had been loyal that our investors rewarded their loyalty by demanding their money back, and so there was no severance pay, no continuation of medical benefits, only severance -- and they had to sit through their pizza lunch staring at the people who had come to say, "I told you so." Thus they were rewarded for their loyalty and belief in their abilities, and the team's.

And I had to confront my dear spouse of 23 years with that, with everything, with the concept that my cardiologist has crammed into me -- continuing my life on its current path will most certainly lead to an early demise. That the therapist he suggested I see to work on my stress is prescribing I leave my marriage to save the life of my spouse as well as my own. So like my beloved, loyal employees whom I could not protect from the trivialities of the venture investors, her life was not spared the inevitable wrath of change.

Today I don't sleep, despite taking a double dosage of sleeping pills, wondering if I should go try double again. I've no desire to die, but I wonder if I can bring myself close enough to it to stop myself from dreaming. Even when I do sleep, I simply relive my day as my imagination would have had it.

The company died and a storm took out the power on my block. Dropped a couple trees on houses down the road. We went for 4 days without electricity, my kids sleeping at neighbors' homes because we had no heat. All the food in the refrigerator spoiled. Ice melted and leaking onto the hardwood floors. A microcosm of a hurricane we endured in 1996, when our home was spared damage by hurricane Fran, but lived in a house transformed into a cave by cessation of utility service. Water. Gas. Electricity. We had nowhere to go then. Downed trees blocked the roads. Nowhere to go living by candlelight for 4 days while all the physical components of my life came apart -- my garage door, broken so that without the power of the electric door lifter, it was impossible to open, and so I was grounded. My heating system, damaged by the power surges so it did not come on when the power came back. The V-belt in my car broken, disabling the vehicle so that when the garage did open the car would not run. The laptop computer I brought to the ice 4 times, giving up the ghost within hours of the new year while I was composing an e-mail to friends asking for their help.

I am in a hell of my own design. For surely, I am in this house, in this job, this town, in this marriage because of my own decisions.

Today I presume there is no getting "well". There is no getting better. Only more grief for everyone I love as I fail to bring home a paycheck. Fail to bring home all the love I should. Let this be a lesson to all of us.

Like they discovered in New Orleans, nobody can be trusted to survive a hurricane, even one you make yourself.

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