Critical Section

Archive: January 2016

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Sunday,  01/10/16  09:37 AM

reblogging, againI woke up this morning and said to myself, "self, this morning I'm going to blog [again]."  And so I am...

It has been three months.  Who can say why I stopped?  I was busy, but ... I'm always busy :)  Maybe I just didn't have much to say.  And who can say why I'm starting again?  I feel like I have a lot to say now...

Did you watch Pittsburgh survive Cincinnati last night?  That my friends is what you call winning ugly.  It was fun to watch though.  And today we have Seattle at Minnesota, in a game which is predicted to take place below zero.  Awesome.

By the way, ESPN's website is now so horrible that I can't even find the right article to link.  What the heck happened over there?  It was *never* a good website, and *always* a bloated mess, but now it's some weird unorganized and unnavigable collection of crap.  Nobody could think it's a useful site, could they?

Sorry about Sport Illustrated's articles' video autoplay.  That has to be the single thing I hate the most online, amid heavy competition.  Actually if I could simply filter out all video the entire web would be better, for me.

PS do you remember why ESPN's URL is  Yep I do... it's a relic of the portal era.  Try visiting for an interesting surprise.

the HammondsOh I have so much to blog about.  Top of mind is the whole Ammon Bundy / Citizens for Constitutional Freedom thing.  It pisses me off that people who don't understand the first thing about what's going on there are commenting on it anyway.  Somehow it's cool if you're a SJW to claim racism here, like the only reason we don't call Bundy a terrorist is because he's white.  Sigh.  I don't condone the actions of Bundy et al, but clearly this sort of armed protest falls into a different category from Islamic fundamentalists.  And what's happened to the Hammonds is clearly an astonishing abuse of government power.

By the way, my Bundy link is to Salon, which somehow managed to post a balanced article on this situation.  Even a stopped clock...

Reading Salon has become such a chore, not because I disagree with them (I do) but because they're so stupid.  I like reading the New Yorker for its intelligent discourse, and I used to like Salon for the same reason.  But the average IQ of the typical post there has plummeted...

the DonaldFor a good example of the stupidity of Salon, please see any one of their articles about the amazing success of Donald Trump, e.g. Trump talks at a fourth-grade level, maybe that's why the Fox News crowd loves him.  Trump is clearly an interesting phenomenon that deserves a more nuanced and thoughtful take than this.

Do you follow Scott ("Dilbert") Adams?  You should, he's a great blogger.  His series of explanations for Trump's success, based on what he calls "the master persuader theory", have been wonderful.

In case you're wondering, I'm in the "anyone but Hillary" camp.  I think I support Cruz right now - based on IQ - but I'm actually warming to Trump.  Oh and I did/do like Fiorina, but I'm afraid she's peaked and could now only be chosen as a VP candidate, to balance the chromosomes on the GOP ticket.

Speaking of stupid, could our President's attack on gun ownership be any dumber?  Murder is already illegal, so why would passing more laws do anything to prevent murder?

By the way, I don't own a gun and have never used one.  That you know :)  But I like the idea that a would-be burglar doesn't know that...

you can call me ... ReyHave you seen The Force Awakens?  Or should I say, how many times have you seen it?  I think it's awesome!  (You knew I would.)  I might have to see it once again tonight :)  And I might have to tell you all the reasons why, but that would be another post.  Suffice it to say, for this longtime Star Wars fan (I remember standing in line for six hours to see the first one), it was a most satisfying continuation / restart, and washed away the sour taste of the three prequels.  Can't wait for the next one?  (Who *is* Rey!!!!)

Related, 2015 was a great year for space movies.  In addition to The Force, we had The Martian, which was wonderful.  I loved the book, and I loved the way the book was brought to the screen.  And as a bonus, I love the way it rekindled a public interest in space.  Onward to Mars!

SapceX lands Falcon 9 booster while launching 11 satellites!My favorite space movie of 2015 wasn't fiction; it was SpaceX launching eleven satellites into orbit, and then landing the booster so it can be reused!  I watched it live, absolutely on the edge of my seat, and when that rocket touched down I yelled louder than I have for anything for many years, tears in my eyes.  Absolutely awesome.  I think I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that yes I was there at the dawn of the commercial space era...

Do you remember the landing on the moon?  (Possibly the right question would be, were you alive for the first landing on the moon :)  Well I do, I heard it on the radio, and man, was that exciting!  The dawn of the manned space.  Unfortunately that was 1969, and we haven't gone back since...  The ISS is all very exciting, but whole space shuttle thing never really got off the ground, so to speak.

PS NASA have started a blog, and it's great.  For example this post: Solar System 2016 preview.  Sounds like it will be a fun year, with Juno visiting Jupiter, the OSIRIS mission, Dawn doing a close flyby of Ceres, and Cassini's grand finale.

Mom and OrionnaAnd finally, speaking of grandchildren, I'm a grandfather!  My oldest daughter Nicole now has a daughter of her own.  Naturally little Orionna has captured my heart already, and has showed a healthy interest in football.  More about her in the many years to come :)

That's a picture of my Mom with her great-granddaughter.

Well that's enough for a Saturday morning!  I think in the coming days and weeks I'll blog in two directions, forward about new stuff, and backward about all the supremely interesting things that happened over the past three months...  stay tuned!


orbit 14

Sunday,  01/10/16  11:43 AM

everything is awesomeYou know what's cool?  Making your first post in a new year, after three months off, and discovering that all your blogging tools not only still work, but seamlessly made the transition.  My archive dutifully began recording a new year's set of posts, my logs rolled over, and I even have a new "this date in" link in the sidebar.  Yay.

This will be my fourteenth year of blogging, if you can believe that.  In that time I've made 3,193 posts, which included 9,870 images, and 22,527 links.  At the moment I get about 5,000 page views per day, about half of which come from RSS feed pulls.  That's so cool!

My most popular post is *still* the tyranny of email, which is still quite relevant today :), and my second is *still* IQ and populations, also still quite relevant in fact perhaps more so.  Those were both posted in 2003, my first year, and I don't think it's a coincidence; over time, blogging has become more diluted, both because there's way more people doing it, and way more other stuff competing with it.  And linking has become way less of a thing, so the Google juice you get from a popular post is way less.  I actually think Facebook juice is probably more relevant now, but it's a lot harder to measure.

Well enough naval gazing, onward into another trip around the sun.  It's going to be awesome!


the more things change

Sunday,  01/10/16  12:11 PM

the archiveI like blogging because I like sharing my thoughts, and the ego gratification of knowing they're being read is nice too.  But in recent years another reason I like blogging is because I like re-reading my own posts, many years hence.  The little Flight feature I have for my Archive is so cool for this; I can click a button and see what I was thinking about this time for each of the last fourteen years.  (Try it :)

So I just clicked it, and what did I find?

  • 2015: I was just settling in to watch football on a nice rainy day.  Well that sounds familiar :)
  • 2014: thinking about Space.  I guess I do that a lot.
  • 2013: checking in after ten years of blogging.
  • 2012: a summary post, after a year of blogging on Facebook...  and moving to Westlake Island, wow, can't believe that was five years ago!
  • 2011: blogging about football.  Heh.
  • 2010: my first Tesla test drive (in a Roadster).  The seed was clearly planted.  Not to mention a trippy 0s-and-1s Matrix-like graphic, so cool, I must keep that for future reference :)
  • 2009: a positive take on Obamacare, and Scott Adams on friends.
  • 2008: a filter pass with comments about science and the iPhone's impact, and also celebrating the 100th ScanScope at Aperio, and analyzing the Cowboy's Dilemma.
  • 2007: nothing, after a year of not-blogging :( except for an oasis of good stuff in May.
  • 2006: nada.  My nadir of blogging.  There was some cool stuff in February, though...
  • 2005: celebrating rain in San Diego (!), Vitamin D, TivoToGo, and a beach in an East German hanger...
  • 2004: Ottmar Liebert on home-making, LOTR, and blogging about blogging...
  • 2003: ten days after starting, a great list of  notes, including Reid Hoffman, my book, Peter Thiel, a family up for auction on eBay, Carl Sagan's baloney detector, and the problem with metadata.  Oh, and North Korea!  Well that sounds familiar:

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more I like blogging about how much things have changed and how much they've stayed the same.  Once in a lifetime...


Monday,  01/11/16  10:21 PM

Hey, I'm back...  yeah admit it, you missed me.  I missed myself :) 

Alabama - Clemson ... for the national titleGood game tonight, entertaining and well played.  I think in some ways the college game is a little more fun; more open, more prone to have things go badly wrong or amazingly right.  I think the best team won, even though I wasn't rooting for them.  So be it.

David Bowie ... into the serious moonlightGoodbye to the Thin White Duke; David Bowie passes away from cancer at 62.  Wow.  He will be missed...

... Ch ch ch changes

The Big Short ... a good story which misses the truth by a countrywide mileHave you seen The Big Short?  It's a fun movie, well acted, with an interesting approach ... quite different from Michael Lewis' book, which I enjoyed though didn't feel was his best.  What's interesting though is that the movie *completely* ignores the real reason for the housing bubble in the early 2000s, which was the government-sponsored subsidy of subprime mortgages via FNMA and FDMC (aka "Fanny Mae" and "Freddy Mac".)  These quasi-government organizations were founded for the specific purpose of making it easier for unqualified lendees to buy houses, and they did.  The movie makes it seem like Goldman Sachs was responsible.  I know it was only a movie, but a pseudo-documentary like that should at least get the main facts right.

Related: the recent movie Truth, a sarcastically named take on the Dan Rather affair, in which a major network's effort to influence the Presidential election is made to look like serious journalism.  I don't think the producers thought it was sarcasm, though...

FNMA and FDMC ... back at their old tricksAlso related: Fannie Mae Rolls Out Easy Mortgage, Catering To High-Risk Immigrants.  "The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals is praising the move, arguing it will bring tens of thousands of Hispanic families into the home market who have been 'skipped over' by stingy (meaning prudent and responsible) lenders."  I predict this will not end well.

Worth linking:  Dilbert's One-page Guide to Everything Financial.  What to do, and in which order.

In case you're wondering:  How Elon Musk plan on reinventing the world.  I think all these articles are really interesting, but the truly amazing thing about Elon is his ability to build and run great teams, to implement his visions.  That's a story that really hasn't been told yet.

SR-71 BlackbirdThis is totally awesome: SR-71 Blackbird pilot trolls arrogant fighter pilot with ground speed check.  Any excuse to run a picture of an SR-71, but this is a great story.

JWZ reports my payphone runs Linux now.  And it doesn't make phone calls :)  I love his blog, always entertaining...

Paul Graham considers Income Inequality.  "I've become an expert on how to increase economic inequality, and I've spent the past decade working hard to do it."  Agree with this take 101%; the problem is not inequality, it's raising the standard of living for the poorest people.

Followup: an optimistic reply to Ezra Klein.

Related: Mark Suster on why I don't celebrate income inequality.  A nuanced take from Mark, as usual.

Another VC link, Brad Feld wonders what's happening today that nobody sees?  A question prompted by his watching of The Big Short.  "I'm not angry, cynical, and convinced the world is a giant, rigged, inside game. But I do believe that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what is really going on, especially those who are in the middle of whatever game they are playing."  Yep.

And one more from Mark Suster, regarding movies: My One Wish for all startup employees (is that you see Supermensch).

little pig in bootsFinally and for no apparent reason ... this cute little guy.
  Good night!


whine tasting

Monday,  01/11/16  11:35 PM



Jean Genie

Tuesday,  01/12/16  11:09 PM

So, did you watch our President's final State of the Union speech?  Me neither.  Yawn.  At this point the Candidate in Chief seems to be running for history, and I predict he's going to lose.

Inhabitat: the jaw-dropping cliff houseFrom Inhabitat: the 12 most jaw-dropping stories of 2015.  Including the amazing "cliff house", my personal favorite, which has a swimming pool built into the root.

David Bowie: Star SpecialCelebrating David Bowie by listening to this two-hour radio show from 1979, hosted by ... Bowie himself.  We have the Doors, John Lennon, ... Excellent!

Robert X Cringley: IBM loses its mind.  "Much of what we think of as the IBM product line has disappeared from its U.S. website. This either indicates an epic screwup from IBM’s web team or an indication that the company no longer cares about most of their existing revenue."  I don't know whether to laugh or yawn.

CES: inconspicuous innovationShelly Palmer: CES Trendspotting.  "The pace of technological change is exponential and accelerating, and the results are hiding in plain sight. I call it 'inconspicuous innovation' and it’s the top trend of 2016."  Featuring of course Augmented Reality, one of the most promising near-term applications for visual search.

Helium 10TB driveSpeaking of inconspicuous innovation, here we have the Helium 10TB drive.  Never mind that it's filled with helium (!), this is a real live 10TB disk drive.  Wow.  I can remember washing-machine sized drives that held 240MB.  So this would hold 4,000 times more.  Incredible.

A great explanation: What Satoshi Did.  Just in case you were wondering what exactly is so innovative or cool about Bitcoin.

Windows 1.0So Windows turned 30 (!), and the Verge published this visual history.  I think I used every single one of these versions...  whew.  Even the not-useful ones, like Win 386, Vista, and Win 8 :)  Onward!

Dave Winer: Why Facebook and Twitter won.  Cliff notes: they made subscribing easy.  Corollary: why RSS didn't win.  Yeah, subscribing is not easy.

Don Surber: Firefox is this year's Darwin award winner.  "In March, Mozilla - parent company of Firefox - hired Brendan Eich as its CEO, only to publicly humiliate him and force him to resign over a $1,000 donation to the Proposition 8 effort, a 2008 ballot initiative a majority of Californians supported. Three board members also resigned.  Any company dumb enough to lose a CEO (and three board members) over demands from political hyenas deserves to fail."  Amen.

Environmentalism Gone MadAlan Carlin: Environmentalism Gone Mad.  "This [climate change] scare can only be described in superlative terms. It was and is audacious, deceptive, bold, mad, scandalous, and has come closer to achieving its purposes than it should have given its flimsy and invalid scientific basis. The proposed 'solution' advanced by the environmental movement is even worse."  Yep.

PS to would-be hecklers, I am not a climate change denier.  I am a climate change skeptic.  Just because something is exploited for political purposes doesn't mean it is wrong.  Only most likely exaggerated.

Incipit wire mesh sculptureThe Incipit wire mesh sculpture is amazing.  Just when you think you've seen it all, you realize "it all" is so much more than you ever thought.

World's top climate scientists again call for nuclear power to replace fossil fuels.  Yay.  This is super important, way more so than weird carbon caps.  Because it is economically feasible.

And Peter Thiel agrees.

A baby otter! Born in Monterey Bay aquarium tide pool.And to wrap up on the cutest note possible, a baby otter
(Born in Monterey Bay Aquarium's tide pool.)


star sizes (all hail VY Canis Majoris!)

Tuesday,  01/12/16  11:18 PM


(please click to play video)


Literally awesome



Wednesday,  01/13/16  09:31 PM

Today I rediscovered for the billionth time that coding to music is WAY better than coding to silence.  Sigh.

(Bowie of course - on the always awesome Slacker :)

Facebook politicsI am -> <- very close to abandoning Facebook entirely.  I am SO very tired of my politically minded friends hammering away at me with their views.  I don't care if you're left or right or green or blue, I'd much rather see pictures of your cat and hear about your latest epiphany regarding plant dusting than hear about your politics.

NY Times races to the bottom on immigration.

See what I did there? :)

NASA's "new" Space Launch SystemAfter watching the Martian and watching SpaceX land their booster rocket, you are probably pretty excited about what NASA are doing, right?  Well then you need to know about the Space Launch System, "the world's most powerful rocket".  "Another consideration for using these engines for future spaceflight was that 16 of them already existed from the shuttle program. Using a high-performance engine that already existed gave us a considerable boost in developing its next rocket for space exploration."  Riight.  Meanwhile NASA delays Orion's first manned flight until 2023.  Do not hold your breath.  Instead, root for SpaceX and Blue Origin!

InSight Mission to MarsNASA's next mission will be the InSight Mission to Mars.  Cool right?  Yeah, except it has just been delayed two years, because of a problem with a French seismological instrument.  Sigh.  What would JFK say?

Kurt Schlichter: 'The Martian' was our world just 50 years ago.  "'The Martian' is superficially about space travel, but it is really about time travel. The plot may focus on characters leaving Earth to explore the red planet, but the strange world the movie depicts is really our own world just over 50 years ago. The can-do, optimistic liberalism it depicts is utterly alien to today’s sobby, whiny, excuse-laden version."  I think history will record the Apollo program as an incredible aberation, in which a government program actually worked.

In the meantime, marvel at the space-beauty of Cassini's final close-up of Saturn's moon Dione.  Okay!  (click to enbiggen)

Seth Godin: After you've done your best work ... you really have no choice but to do it again.  I was afraid of that.

Brad Feld: The Confidence / Competence ratio.  "Over a long period of time, I’ve come to realize that a balance between confidence and competence is very appealing to me. I’m attracted to people who know what they know and know what they don’t know."  Same.  He goes on to define cluefulness as confidence divided by competence.  Heh.

two kinds of people: waterTwo kinds of people.  Yep.

One of the more interesting announcements at CES last week was GM's Bolt.  Wired precelebrates:  How GM beat Tesla to the first true mass-market electric car.  Um, Telsa has been shipping electric cars for five years.  GM has yet to ship their first.  (I don't count the Volt, which can only go 40 miles as an electric car.)  Stay tuned on this one...

Ada Lovelace - mother of computer programming?Steven Wolfram untangles the tale of Ada Lovelace.  In many ways she apparently anticipated the work of Turning and others.  Steven has a great blog; he doesn't post often, but when he does, its usually a deep and interesting article, like this one...

Another great blogger is Jamie Zawinsky, aka jwz; here, he exercises vague caution...  (And the sign said, you got to have a membership card to go inside.)

Edward Snowden solves the Fermi Paradox:  Maybe we haven't discovered intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, because their communications encryption is indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation.  Heh.

Related: now @Snowden.  And verified!

3D-printed car armorAnd finally: 3D-printed car armor.  Why of course!  (And people ask me why I have a 3D printer :)


Hell's Club

Wednesday,  01/13/16  11:45 PM


(please click to play video)


This is incredible. Wow.
More proof, if any were needed, that some people have too much free time :)
(via jwz, of course)




Thursday,  01/14/16  10:24 PM

Filter Pass!  After a looong day of coding.  If some C++ creeps into this post, you'll know the reason why...

The rumors that I am considering switching to Eclipse for blogging are == 0

Heliocentrism vs GeocentrismHeliocentrism vs Geocentrism.  Any questions?

Juno visits Jupiter (later in 2016)NASA: Solar System: 2016 Preview.  Juno arrives at Jupiter.  OSiREX takes flight.  Dawn sees Ceres up close.  And Cassini commences its grand finale.  Awesome!

For you to use and for me to remember:  A great tool for manipulating animated GIFs...

TechCrunch explains: Why Bitcoin matters.  A good survey, including the difference between the currency, which may not matter in the long run, and the blockchain, which might be vastly important, but which couldn't have bootstrapped without the currency...

BMW gesture control UICool!  BMW think the future of car UI is gesture control.  "BMW has just given us a brief teaser ahead of CES next week...  Called AirTouch, it uses sensors embedded in the dash near the car's main information display that pick up three-dimensional hand movements, allowing the driver to interact with the infotainment system as if it were a touchscreen."  Excellent!

Blade Runner (!)Reminds me of Blade Runner, a game-changing science fiction classic.  Indeed.

News item: Mozilla drops its single-signon tech.  Perhaps it is telling that my first reaction was, "what single-signon tech?"  And I'm a frequent Firefox user.

So ... this was not the answer, but *someone* has to solve the single-signon problem.  The worst thing about the web is remembering or recovering passwords individually on a site-by-site basis.

Safari!Meanwhile: We've had thirteen years of Safari.  Wow, cannot believe it has been so long.  I totally remember how weird it was when Steve Jobs announced it; Apple making a browser?  Why?  Of course they were playing a long game, we can see that now.  Internet Explorer, the then-default browser on Macs, was not going to get them where they wanted to go.

girl with 3D-printed prosthetic armThis is pretty great: Young girl is delighted with her new 3D-printed prosthetic arm.  "The arm was a gift from Team Unlimbited and e-NABLE volunteer Stephen Davies who designed, built, and delivered the arm for Isabella."  So interesting that many of the applications for 3D-printing are medical.  And I just use my printer for making Minions :)

Slashdot: In praise of the solo programmer.  While it may have been more true in the past, solo programmers are *still* responsible for most great software.  In particular, the design is often the work of one person, even if the implementation is shared by a team.

Tesla steampunk watchLust!  The Tesla Watch, an elegant steampunk device with two vacuum tubes.  "Everybody will want to ask you what time it is so they can see your watch. Just remember to follow the answer with, "... 1875."  Heh.

No:  Is wealth in equality just a matter of probability?  "Is extreme wealth inequality in the U.S. something that government can or should address? The answer depends on how it arises. If everybody has a shot at the top, maybe it's not so bad. If the wealthiest are exploiting some kind of advantage, the system may need fixing."  The possibility that wealth comes from personal talent and effort is not considered...  This is the dumbest article you'll read all day, and a strong contender for dumbest of the week.

Amazon Fire phone ... extinguishedNews item: Amazon stops selling the Fire phone.  When it was announced, I thought it was going to be huge, based on having the Firefly visual search technology built in.  But ... no.

I had one for a while, and while it was a fun toy, it was never a contender to be my daily axe.  And the Firefly tech was only useful for barcodes and OCR, not true visual search.

The Blackberry Priv ... Android smartphone with a portrait keyboard!Perhaps next up for me: The Blackberry Priv.  I'm not a Blackberry person but I like the idea of an Android phone with a portrait keyboard.  I still miss my Palm Pre :)



modern art, simplified

Thursday,  01/14/16  11:22 PM

I love it!


gray day

Saturday,  01/16/16  10:49 AM

gray day...Had a nice day of coding and watching football.  I'm kinda glad we have cold* weather, it discourages any thoughts of going somewhere :)  What a nerd, right?

* Southern California cold, not to be confused with actual freezing cold

Thanks you guys for the nice notes re welcoming me back.

Can I just say how much I hate the new "dynamic" web page ethic, in which a page wiggles around for 30 seconds while 30MB of crap loads?  I strongly dislike it.  There is no reason for this, none at all.  Do whatever you have to do on the server side, render a page, and then deliver it cleanly to the client.  If my browser window is WxH pixels, then at most WxHx3 bytes have to be transmitted to fill it.  Right?

Netscape logoWhile I was out, I missed the 20th anniversary of Netscape's IPO.  That was certainly an epochal event; not only heralding the "era of the Internet", but the "era of high-flying tech startups".  Both eras are still ongoing of course...  although Netscape has died an ignominious death.  Who can remember they were bought by AOL?  (Who can remember AOL?)  Heh.

Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky: "Netscape is an odd company to celebrate. It lasted barely five years, got trounced by Microsoft, and never made any money to speak of yet. Yet it made its early investors gobs of money, created an alumni network the envy of much more established companies, and changed our everyday lives. More than that, it taught an entire industry how to dream."

Tesla ModelX announcement via PeriscopeAnother thing I missed blogging, the formal announcement of the Tesla Model X, along with delivery of the first five cars.  It was amazing, did you see it?  The car itself is also incredible, but it did end up costing over $120K.  Not exactly the average soccer Mom's car.

Perhaps the coolest part for me was that the Tesla video feed dropped, so I ended up watching it live via Periscope.  That is, someone who was actually at the event broadcast it from their phone, and me and 30,000 others watched it.  What a time to be alive!

Adam Hanson rides 13 grand tours in a rowYou know I'm a huge cycling fan, and while I was out a bunch of amazing cycling took place.  One rather under-reported accomplishment was Adam Hanson completing thirteen grand tours in a row.  (Cycling's grand tours are the main events in the sport, the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana; they each last three weeks and have 21 days of cycling, averaging around 2,000 miles and 150,000 feet.)  Hanson is a beast.

Peter Sagan blasts away from the field to win the 2015 World ChampionshipAnother beast in the peloton is Peter Sagan, who won the 2015 World Championship (held in Richmond, Virginia!) by blasting off from the field in the last couple of miles to win going away.  Nobody can do that, especially not in the Worlds; nobody but Peter anyway.  This is well worth re-watching if you ever want to watch some exciting cycle racing.

And so now onward, to space...

Ceres! (asteroid or planet, or both?)Ceres, the planet that wasn't.  "When it comes to underdog planets, Ceres might be at the top of the list. Sure, you've probably heard about Pluto's demotion to dwarf planet. But before Pluto, there was Ceres. When astronomers discovered it in 1801, it was the only object known between Mars and Jupiter. Its story echoes Pluto's. After astronomers found more bodies in similar orbits - objects that became part of what's now known as the asteroid belt - they reclassified Ceres as an asteroid.  It's not just any asteroid, though; it's still the biggest one there is, accounting for about a third of all the mass in the asteroid belt."  Excellent.

Related: What are those bright spots on Ceres?  (the new base of the rebel alliance?)

Identical twin astronaut Scott Kelly spends a year in spaceDid you know?  NASA are running a real-live twin study.  "NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly’s twin brother Mark Kelly will spend the year on Earth while Scott is in space. Since their genetic makeup is as close to identical as we can get, this allows a unique research perspective. We can now compare all of the results from Scott Kelly in space to his brother Mark on Earth."  Super cool.

Cassini visits EnceladusJust in case you're wondering: What's Enceladus?  It is "one of Saturn’s many moons, and is one of the brightest objects in our solar system. This moon is about as wide as Arizona, and displays at least five different types of terrain. The surface is believed to be geologically 'young', possibly less than 100 million years old."  Visiting it will be superspacecraft Cassini's next - and last - mission...

Albert Einstein, father of cosmologyNASA remembers the 100th anniversary of Einstein's General Theory of Relatively.  One of the all-time amazing intellectual achievements.  Everything we've done in space depends on this critical insight about the nature of the universe.

You were wondering how I'd tie together cycling and space, right?  Hehe ...

Zooborn: baby giraffe arrives with the new yearWell you knew I had to do it; wrapping up, let's note this baby giraffe which arrived with the new year :)  Awww...

Thought experiment:  Given that we think babies from just about every Earth species are cute, if we encounter aliens in space, will we think their babies are cute, too?



Saturday,  01/16/16  11:10 PM



not a fish

Sunday,  01/17/16  06:55 PM

analog and digital fishWas just scanning my archive, and loved this: that was a not a fish.  It still isn't...

Green Bay vs Arizona - the coin flipDid you watch that amazing game between Arizona and Green Bay last night?  Wow.  The first replay review of a coin flip :)  It was as good as the previous game between New England and Kansas City was bad.  You tune in, you just never know what will happen...

In the same article as the fish, from seven years ago, this from Uncov about rewriting in Ajax: Just because you can doesn't mean you should.  That's exactly how I feel about today's massive dynamic web pages.

Elon Musk re SpaceX Jason-3 mission landingToday SpaceX attempted to land a rocket on a barge again, and once again was unsuccessful.  They missed it by -> <- this much; the boostback burn was successful, but the landing was harder than planned and a landing leg broke on the landing.  The 12-15' waves rocking the barge might have been a factor.  Meanwhile the mission itself was a resounding success; the Jason-3 satellite was placed into a polar orbit without incident.

Don't you love the SpaceX live webcasts?  Not only are the launches themselves exciting and interesting, but the discussion about the mission and technology by the SpaceX team is great.  Onward!

In case you were wondering: why SpaceX needs to land a rocket on a floating barge.  It comes down to safety, and staying away from populated areas.

leaving the solar system at the speed of lightWhat it looks like to leave our Solar System at the speed of light.  My takeway is ... wow, the solar system is *really* big.  (It takes 45 minutes just to reach Jupiter!)  And yet compared to our galaxy, it's *really* little.  My mind is boggled.

PS it's a great visualization.  Love it.

transparent solar cells: solar windows!Wow, cool (literally):  Revolutionary transparent solar cells.  "Unlike traditional and opaque PV technology, SolarWindow can be readily applied as a coating to any glass window or plastic surface and instantly generate electricity, even in artificial light and shade."  Excellent.  Our Earth is bathed in high-energy light all the time, the key to the future is converting more of it into useful stored entropy.

Hedgehog, a robot for asteroidsMeet the Hedgehog, an asteroidal robot.  This robot uses internal flywheels to move, to get traction on the surface of a low-gravity environment like the surface of an asteroid or comet.

News item: new bombers to cost $550M each.  Hmmm.... I'm all for national defense, but that seems excessive.  Couldn't we divert some of that money into ... asteroid robots?  (Especially since we already have bombers, this is just more money for more bombers...)

Don't you just hate websites that notice you're using an ad blocker, and nag you not to?  Yeah, me too.  "Wow, I'm sorry I'm not watching your crappy ads, okay, I'll disable AdBlock" ... said nobody, ever.  So how is this going to end?  I've actually had a website refuse to show me content because I blocked ads.  Will that be the endgame?  I think there will be an ongoing escalation of technology on both sides.

Similarly I am watching football today while blogging; I use a Tivo (of course) so I skip most of the ads, but there are ads sprinkled into the broadcast, too.  (This touchdown brought to you by...)

fake Brooklyn bar menus ... got nothing on LA bar menus :)This is the funniest thing ever: Website creates fake Brooklyn bar menus on demand.  They have nothing on LA bar menus, either.  ("Water tacos")  The weird pretentiousness is captured perfectly.

displaying a TitanosaurNews you can use: how to display a Titanosaur, the largest creature that ever walked the Earth.  I love the understanding and technology that allows us to reconstruct the skeleton of a giant creature that lived millions of years ago from a few fossilized bones.

The $10T mystery at the heart of Saudi Arabia.  How interesting that Aramco might be for sale.  The tech of fracking is changing the world.

Apropos: I'm so old, I remember when low oil prices were good news.  Yep, that would be me.  I can remember oil rationing, waiting in long lines to get gas, and swapping license plates with my roomate so I could buy gas on an even day.  How quickly we forget.

I totally support this: Help is on the way against noisy leaf blowers.  I'm not sure I agree this should be legistlated, but definitely happy that technology is replacing the noisy and dirty two-stroke engine with something better.

Jukedeck, winner of TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015Now this is pretty revealing: The winner of TechCrunch disrupt London 2015 is ... Jukedeck!  I know what you're thinking, who are Jukedeck, and what do they do?  "Jukedeck is a platform that lets users create custom, cheap, royalty-free soundtracks for their videos and/or podcasts, all without any musical talent."  Seems more like a moderately useful product than an amazing new company.

Hmmm:  Almost all US temperature data used in global warming models is estimated or altered.  I'm not surprised.  The more people go out of their way to make a case that humans are ruining their planet, the less I believe it.

how to make an iglooHave you ever wondered how to make an igloo?  Let these two Inuit men show you.  Of course with global warming this may be a vanishing art :)  Of special interest to me was the way they make "ice bricks" from snow.  Brrr...

Okay, back to football... and coding!...


the tree of life

Sunday,  01/17/16  07:10 PM

the tree of life:

this digital map catalogues 2.3M species, and shows how they are related in evolutionary time
1.8M of these are named, and 22% have been genetically mapped

especially when you realize the vast majority of all species which ever existed are now extinct


already gone

Monday,  01/18/16  08:43 PM

A quiet day of coding, in which I had a most pleasant open source encounter, and otherwise made forward progress on a number of fronts...

Jessica JonesFrequent readers know, I do not watch TV.  And by "TV" I mean, any packaged video content, including shows produced by nonstandard channels like netflix, HBO, and Amazon.  I watch movies and sports, and that's it.  Sometimes my friends will be talking about a great show - West Wing, or Breaking Bad, or whatever - and I'm mystified.  So lately I've been reading and hearing a lot about Jessica Jones, a netflix-produced show starring Krystin Ritter, and I'm tempted.  Should I watch?

Glenn FreyAnd so we've lost another amazing artist, Glenn Frey passed away today.  He wrote or co-wrote and sang lead vocals on so many of those excellent Eagles songs, and went on to have an amazing solo career after.  He will be missed.

I'm already gone
And I'm feelin' strong
I will sing this vict'ry song
'Cause I'm already gone

Trumping all: "the number of Republicans who could see themselves backing a Trump nomination rose 42 - forty-two - percentage points in 10 months".  I'm one of them.

It's pretty interesting looking back over links I had saved for three months.  Trump has gone from wacky outsider who somehow was leading the race for the GOP nomination (but who was surely going to screw up and blow it), to a respected leader widely considered the front-runner.

The Loco CoyoteYep: Texas is like Australia with the handbrake off.  "There is no individual income tax and no corporate income tax, which explains the state's rapid economic and population growth..."  Amazing what can happen if the government gets out of the way instead of trying to help.

One of those correlation vs causality mixups: poverty stunts IQ in the US but not in other developed countries.  Who can explain this?  Why I can.  Let's just turn that headline around: Low IQ results in poverty in the US but not in other developed countries.  Aha.  That's what happens in a meritocracy.  The US isn't all the way there, but it's a lot closer than other countries.

Ponder this: what if Tinder showed your IQ

Related: do smart people have bad sex?

That reminds me to link this interesting analysis by Scott Johnson of the recent Supreme Court review of "affirmative action".  (Otherwise known as anti-meritocracy.)  It turns out the pursuit of "diversity" hurts those it is trying to help.

Pipistrel Alpha electric airplaneYay: A real-world electric plane.  "Perhaps the age of hard-of-hearing flight instructors will be coming to an end:  The aircraft is quiet. There is some noise, but it’s mostly from the propeller, and headset-free conversation is no problem, even at takeoff power."  Excellent.

Loved this, from Mark Suster: Why I Fucking Hate Unicorns and the Culture They Breed.  "If you’re fortunate enough to raise $100 million early-on to build your startup – congratulations. But to all of the 99.999% of other startups out there please know that this isn’t the success by which to measure yourself."  His blog is an ongoing source of great wisdom.

I'll leave you today with Sunset on Pluto.  As you view this, remember: this is a real picture of a real planet.

Sunset on Pluto!


open source

Monday,  01/18/16  08:45 PM

go open!In our world there are a vast number of software tools which are "open source".  That means 1) anyone can use them, for free, and 2) anyone can fix them, enhance them, or otherwise change them, for free.  These open source tools are mostly maintained by a small group of individuals, as a labor of love, although sometimes companies will contribute some of their people's time or even their intellectual property, as a sort of public good.

There are a significant number of benefits to open source, but one of the least appreciated is the quick response possible for making enhancements.  I experienced just such a case yesterday.

I'd been working on eyesFinder's Visual Search Engine, adding support for PNG images (we already support JPEG, TIFF, and JP2).  To do so, I chose to integrate an open source library called libpng.  Using this standard library made sense to ensure compatibility with the widest range of possible images, not to mention it's out there and it works, so using it saved a metric ton of effort.

As I started using it, I realized there was an API capability I'd like to have which wasn't exposed; the capability was already there, but it wasn't neatly packaged.  At this point I had two options, 1) use the existing API, or 2) make a custom change to implement a new function which did what I want.  To help me decide, I emailed Glenn Randers-Pehrson, a maintainer of the library.  Two hours later (on a Sunday), I received a response; Glenn had copied John Bowler, the primary developer of the part of the API of interest.  Shortly after that (on a Sunday), I received an email from John.  We discussed a potential change in email, he improved my idea of what should be done, and I offered to make the change.  John replied that he was already making the change, and should have it available in about an hour.  Which he did!

So I now have a spiffy custom slightly-enhanced version of libpng, and was able to cleanly integrate it into eyesFinder's VSE.  And yay, we now have PNG image support.

What's absolutely remarkable about this is that Glenn and especially John gladly gave their time to be responsive and help.  Not only do I have the tool I need, but this version of the tool will be released to "everyone", so everyone will have a slightly enhanced tool.  This process, repeated hundreds of times, yields incredible software; solid, robust, functional, debugged, and secure. 

Some of the most important software around is open source; the Linux+GNU operating system, which runs most of the servers on the Internet (and most of the phones, via the Android derivative), the Apache webserver, which runs most of the websites on the Internet, the Chrome and Safari web browsers, which are based on the open-source webkit library, Open SSL, which provides security for most of the communications on the Internet, MySQL, the database which powers more online systems than any other, etc.  Not to mention thousands of support libraries, some of which encapsulate imaging standards like libjpeg, libtiff, and of course libpng.

It's amazing that this works, and yet it does.  Yay, open source :)


twin jet nebula

Monday,  01/18/16  10:33 PM

Here we have the Twin Jet Nebula:

just because
(please click to enbiggen amazingly)

Astronomers believe there are two stars at the center of this system,
a large star which is dying, and has ejected a bunch of gas millions of miles out into space,
and a small white dwarf which is providing the illumination




Tuesday,  01/19/16  10:50 PM

applause!Today was amazing; a new feature I've been coding was demoed for an entire sales team, and received a standing ovation.  As a software developer, that's what you live for :)

And in other news...

Wolfram programming lab - the best way to learn the Wolfram LanguageStephen Wolfram: "I'm excited today to be able to announce the launch of Wolfram Programming Lab - an environment for anyone to learn programming and computational thinking through the Wolfram Language. You can run Wolfram Programming Lab through a web browser, as well as natively on desktop systems (Mac, Windows, Linux)."  Awesome!

spacetime...!Just about everything Stephen writes about is interesting.  A most worthwhile blog...  for example: What is spacetime, really?  A most interesting explanation, by someone who actually seems to understand it :)

Blech: Why the Coast Guard needs $1B.  For new ice breakers.  Probably to rescue all those people looking for evidence of climate change that get trapped in the ice.

giant icebergsMeanwhile: Giant icebergs help the Southern Ocean soak up carbon.  Of course they do.  This is an interesting article, but any excuse to post pictures of icebergs is valid...

What could go wrong?  Sensors slip into the brain, then dissolve when their job is done.  Welcome to the 21st century.

the WalMagiA great post from Gerard Vanderleun: The gift of the Walmagi.  "I can't get over it. A winter coat for $7? The Goodwill won't sell you a dead man’s old winter coat for $7."

New item: Cassandra rewritten in C++, now ten times faster.  Excellent.  Despite all the advances in computer hardware, nobody ever complains that the software is too fast.

And this: Visual Studio now supports debugging Linux apps; code editor now open source.  Visual Studio is the best development environment for software there is, bar none.  This is excellent.

The Witness - a new Myst-like gameThis looks amazing: The Witness, a new computer game in the style of Myst.  I'm not a game player - at all - but I am a puzzle player, and I certainly enjoyed Myst back in the day.  Must check this out.

Fascinating commentary from Eric Raymond:  Why hackers must eject the SJWs.  "I have been participating in and running open-source projects for a quarter-century. In all that time I never had to know or care whether my fellow contributors were white, black, male, female, straight, gay, or from the planet Mars, only whether their code was good."  Amen.

new LA football stadiumHmmm... LA to build world's most expensive stadium.  I'm delighted the Rams are coming home (yay!) but not sure this makes sense.  Where will the money come from?

Progress!:  Website lets you view old websites, with old browsers.  Now you can revisit The Spot with Netscape 3 :)

And I'm gonna wrap up with this picture of the Blue Angels over San Francisco, from Scott Loftesness.  Just because.

Blue Angels over San Francisco


self parking

Tuesday,  01/19/16  11:59 PM

Hehe I love it


Thursday,  01/21/16  10:33 PM

Spent the day ping ponging between VB6 (!) and C++ (!!) and loving it.  NO, I did not wish I was programming in JavaScript or Go or Python instead :)

JavaScript nightmareThe perfect rant on The Sad State of Web Development.  "The web has created some of the most complicated, convoluted, over engineered tools ever conceived."  Totally agree.  And this is a big part of those 10MB+ page loads I hate so much.

Related: Jeffrey Zeldman: Web Performance today.

Brave is a new web browser from Brenden Eich (the inventor of JavaScript, who went on to be CEO of Mozilla before being fired for making the wrong political donation).  I'm in the beta queue!

Yay!  UberX can now pick you up at LAX.  Well it's about time.  And now the hotel shuttles can go back to shuttling hotel guests, instead of ferrying Uber passengers off-airport.

This was interesting: Silicon Valley kingpins commit $1B to create artificial intelligence without profit motive.  I cannot see how this can possibly work.  The only way to drive such a project is with capitalism.  And these people of all should now that.

Scott ("Dilbert") Adams, flushed with success from his Trump-master-persuader series, solves the gun problem with an app.  "The idea is to give legal gun owners – the kind who don't mind being known to the government – a way to see which public places NEED them to carry."  I'm not sure this is actually a good idea, but it is certainly innovative thinking.

Kuiper Belt objectsNo idea what to make of this: Caltech researchers have found evidence of "planet nine", a giant planet tracing a bizarre highly elongated orbit around the sun.  Hmmm... stay tuned on this one, right?  (And queue the Darth Vadar theme song.)

All those Kuiper Belt objects shown at left are orbiting the sun, yet are not considered planets.  Note inclusion of Pluto...

News you maybe could use: Space Gardening 101.  "In a weightless environment, there is no up and down, so roots grow in all directions. Water and soil, the materials used to anchor these plants and allow for root growth tend to float away."  Hey, you never know; you might find yourself in space, heading for the Kuiper Belt :)

NASA have helpfully published five signs you might be ready to apply to be an astronaut.  I am!  (Me me pick me)

Exploding Kittens: the appWell of course: Exploding Kittens is now a multiplayer IOS app.  It was just a year ago those kittens exploded onto the scene, with the biggest Kickstarter ever.

Brian Hall says there is no diversity crisis in tech.  And indeed there isn't.  From the viewpoint of SJWs there's bias, but it is actually a sign of meritocracy.  Not sure how this is going to play out; probably companies will continue pretending they're actively promoting "diversity", while not much will change.

Paul Graham weighs in with a most interesting Way to detect bias.  "What it means for a selection process to be biased against applicants of type x is that it's harder for them to make it through. Which means applicants of type x have to be better to get selected than applicants not of type x. Which means applicants of type x who do make it through the selection process will outperform other successful applicants. And if the performance of all the successful applicants is measured, you'll know if they do."  Cool, right?

Apropos: Stuart Taylor: A little-understood engine of campus unrest: racial admissions preferences.  "It is critical to understand that these are not bad students. They did well in high school and could excel at somewhat less selective universities where they would arrive roughly as well prepared as their classmates.  But due to racial preferences, they find themselves for the first time in their lives competing against classmates who have a huge head start in terms of previous education, academic ability, or both."  If there were affirmative action in tech, the same thing would happen...

Titan!Finally; look at Saturn's magnificent moon, Titan.  (cllck to enbiggen.)  I cannot wait until I can do exactly that!


possible undiscovered planets

Friday,  01/22/16  09:01 PM

The inimitable and most useful xkcd weighs in on possible undiscovered planets:

xkcd: possible undiscovered planets

makes clear the relationship between a planet's size and distance, and our ability to find them
I love that the distance scales go down to "birds that got into my house"



To Scale: the Solar System

Friday,  01/22/16  09:39 PM

A perfect video to accompany the preceding post about possible undiscovered planets,
To Scale: the Solar System

On a dry lakebed in Nevada, a group of friends build the first scale model of the solar system
with complete planetary orbits: a true illustration of our place in the universe.

The new Planet Nine discovered by Caltech researchers would not have fit in this desert
as it is 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune
or about 140 miles at this scale



Saturday morning post

Saturday,  01/23/16  09:57 AM

A nice quiet Saturday morning, no football (for the first Saturday in a looong time), and lots of interesting code to write... what could be better?

Slingbox!One of those weird first-world problems: this morning one of my Slingboxes stopped sending audio.  (I have two of course, one for each Tivo.)  I swapped and suddenly they both worked.  So that was nice, but me being me, I had to spend two hours figuring out why.  At the end of which, I never did figure it out, left them swapped and ... blogged :)

Oculus Rift headsetBehind Facebook's $2B acquisition of Oculus.  When this was first announced, I couldn't figure it out; it felt like one of those "well, the market will like it so our stock will go up" kind of acquisitions (like Google buying YouTube).  But I'm warming to the idea.  VR is going to be huuuge, and Facebook were probably smart to get out in front of it.

Of course part of my interest is that VR is going to be a big driver of Visual Search adoption :)

Related: for VR to be truly immersive, it needs convincing sound to match.

What I think is more important: Leap Motion is perfecting natural hand gestures for VR.  When we can interact with VR in addition to perceiving it, then it will become real.

And check this out! - the high performance icosahedron.  That would make anything seem real.

Blue Origin: launch. land. repeat.Excellent!  Blue Origin sends its rocket to space ... again.  We have to point out that "space" here means 100km, not at all the same as reaching Earth Orbit, but this is still impressive.  Love it!

SpaceX Dragon hoversAnd SpaceX's crew capsule is one step closer to flight.  In the race between SpaceX and NASA, who will win?  (We will all!)

This looks interesting: Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora: space is bigger than you think.  "Like some of the best Golden Age science fiction, Aurora is a story about engineers troubleshooting hard technical problems. But Robinson's generation ship is plagued by biological problems that are much trickier than the mere physics of propulsion."  On the list!

Philip Greenspun makes a great point: Why doesn't Windows 10 retry the password as if CAPS LOCK were off?  It already reminds you that CAPS LOCK is on... in case that would help.  This is a classic case of engineers implementing the solution without thinking about the problem.

global cooling?Are global warmists simply juicing the latest years' temperatures?  Yes.  Sadly, every year is now reported as being "the hottest year on record", because of these "adjustments".  Meanwhile a snowstorm on the East Coast has come in, right on schedule.  I'm not a global warming denier, just a skeptic, but the behavior of the "scientists" studying climate change is highly suspect.  Especially since their grants come from those with a stake in the "crisis".

new nuclear power plant in TennesseeExcellent news: first new US nuclear power plant in 20 years scheduled to open in Tennessee.  As we switch from carbon to electric cars, we'll need many more of these.

What do you think, is Tesla the car that killed glamour?  I disagree, because glamour will catch up with reality.  Someday soon carbon cars will seem like horse-drawn carriages do today.  They might seem glamorous, but only in a nostalgic kind of way.

single SD with all Atari 2600 cartridges everSpeaking of nostalgia, here we have the Harmony Cartridge, every Atari 2600 game ever made all on a single SD card.  Imagine the entertainment locked into that one little device.  Amazing.

You knew this already: The US Postal Service has not earned a profit since 2006.  Sigh.  If this were a business it would be out of business - or would have transformed itself by now.

Here's a cool visualization of wavelengths of different colors.  They look so happy :)

dance of the wavelengths

for extra credit, can you image adding X-rays?  (they are super-short)  What about radio?  (they are super long...)



Kara (Star Wars episode VIIa)

Saturday,  01/23/16  01:21 PM

Tired of rewatching Star Wars VII?  Check out Kara:

Kara (Star Wars VIIa)

I think Star Wars is by far the most fan-augmented film series ever



a better way to handle passwords

Saturday,  01/23/16  03:44 PM

<rant type="Saturday afternoon">

A key challenge in client/server systems which exchange information over a public network is authenticating users.  Typically users are identified by a userid, and authenticate with a password.

For security purposes passwords should never be stored, and so generally the server stores a hash of the password.  This enables validation but not recovery; if a user forgets their password it must be reset.

Because public networks are insecure, passwords should never be transmitted over the network, instead, they should be hashed on the client.  In addition to eliminating any possibility that passwords could be captured in flight, this also means that any kind of server error would never reveal a password, since the server never even sees them.

Note: the popular oauth2 authentication mechanism does send passwords over the network.  So it's a standard, but it is not that secure.

Hashing passwords on the client is good, but it leaves the possibility that a hashed password could be intercepted and replayed.  To solve this, maybe the current time could be combined with the password before hashing it?  Call this H(T+P).  But can the server validate this?  It knows H(P), and it might be able to guess T (although synchronizing time is never easy), but H(P) and T don't yield H(T+P).

Okay, maybe the current time could be combined with the hash of the password?  Call this T+H(P).  Now the server can validate this pretty easily - still the time sync problem - but it is insecure; if T+H(P) is intercepted then T could be guessed, allowing H(P) to be isolated.  A new T could be combined with H(P) to enable a replay.

Maybe the current time could be combined with the hash of the password, and that could be hashed again?  Call this H(T+H(P)).  The server can validate this if it can guess T, because it knows H(P) already.  This is secure and makes replays impossible.

That leaves the problem of time synchronization.  This can be solved with a little extra complexity by having the client request the time from the server.  The server responds with an encrypted time value V which is opaque to the client.  The client combines V with H(P), and then computes H(V+H(P)) and sends that to the server.  The server can validate this easily, because it knows V and H(P).

So here's the better way to handle passwords:

  • Client prompts for userid and password
  • Client computes hash of password H(P)
  • Client requests time token from server
    • Server responds with time token V (encrypted and opaque to client)
  • Client combines token with hash of password, and hashes the result, H(V+H(P))
  • Client sends userid and hashed hash H(V+H(P)) to server for authentication
    • Server validates H(V+H(P))

It's actually not that hard, and nicely secure.  You're welcome!

Oh yeah, this is how eyesFinder's authentication works...

</rant> fail

Sunday,  01/24/16  08:56 AM

yay, a new interface to learnOne of things I dislike more than other things is when new versions suck.

So I use this little service called, which monitors the RSS feed of my blogs, and when there's a new post it automatically relays it as a link to Facebook, Twitter, and (in the case of my business blog) to LinkedIn.  It worked great.

Yesterday they were down all day - no notifications on Twitter to say what happened - and today I discovered that they posted a bunch of links to Facebook as pictures.  They've launched a new version and it doesn't work.

Yay, a whole new interface to learn ... said nobody, ever.  But aside from the whole new interface which nobody wants to learn, it doesn't even work!  What's wrong with these people, don't they test?  There must be ten of thousands of blogs with hundreds of thousands of items which were mis-posted overnight, and thousands of people like me upset this morning.  Blech.

In addition to manually deleting the photos and manually posting the links, I had to blog about how crummy they are.  A complete waste of time.  Well, onward into the day (anyway)!

[Coda: four days later, they fixed it!  Same as it ever was ... once in a lifetime ... water flowing underground.]


the immigrant song

Sunday,  01/24/16  10:56 AM

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, sing and cry: Valhalla, I am coming!
On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

- Led Zeppelin, the Immigrant Song

immigrants!<post type=political>

I want to say a few things about immigrants.  I'm a child of immigrants - legal immigrants, mind you - and I have my point of view.

Let me start with the concept of a country.  There is a such a thing, and there is such a thing as a citizen.  And there is such a thing as NOT being a citizen of a given country.  Non-citizens have no rights to the resources of a country and none of the privileges and responsibilities of a citizen.  As it should be.

By analogy, there is such a thing as a household, and there is such a thing as a member of that household.  And there is such a thing as NOT being a member of a given household.  Non-members have no rights to the resources of the household and none of the privileges and responsibilities of household members.

The analog can be extended to cities, counties, provinces, states, etc.  Each person is in or out, either a member or not a member.  At each level the members decide the rules for admitting non-members.  And non-members have no rights to the resources of members, nor any of their privileges or responsibilities.

Given that, there is such a thing as a legal immigrant:  someone who becomes a citizen of a country of which they were not previously a citizen, by following that country's laws.  If an immigrant doesn't follow those laws then they are not a legal immigrant, and they are not entitled to the resources of the country nor to the privileges or responsibilities of its citizens.

Why do people immigrate?  For many reasons, but at the highest level they want to be a citizen of another country so they have rights to the resources of a country, sharing the privileges and responsibilities of its citizens.  Why does a country accept immigrants?  At the highest level because those immigrants are or will be net contributors to the common good.  In exchange for sharing its resources, the country is motivated by the net positive impact of having the immigrant as a citizen.

One of the most desirable aspects of being a citizen is the right to work.  Conversely, an effective way to deter illegal immigrants is to enforce the laws which prevent them from working, by punishing employers who hire non-citizens.  A "broken windows" approach to illegal immigration will be far more effective (and far less expensive) than mass deportations.

No country is obligated to accept any immigrants.  And every country is entitled to filter the immigrants it allows to become citizens.  If a prospective immigrant brings a net positive impact, great, and welcome.  If not, then so sorry, not welcome.  Immigration is a basic transaction between two willing parties.

What about newborns?  Each country can determine how newborns become citizens, but it doesn't make any sense to base citizenship on the geographic location of a person's birth.  Citizenship of a newborn should follow from the citizenship of its parents, regardless of where they are born.  For cases where the parents' citizenship differs and when countries do not allow dual citizenship, then the child must choose their country when they reach adult age.

refugeesSo, what to do about Middle Eastern refugees?  There is no obligation on the part of any country to do anything.  For humanitarian reasons a country may choose to help, but that is strictly a choice.  In practice, there is no altruism.  Countries allow refugees to immigrate because they want them, either to provide labor, or for their cultural impact, or for some other reason.

Being a refugee does not confer any entitlement to immigration.

What about Muslim immigrants?  What should really be done?  In this regard it's important to distinguish between freedom of religion and freedom of behavior.  US citizens enjoy freedom of religion, but not freedom of behavior.  Citizens must follow the law, which includes respecting the law.  And this the problem with Islam, because it is more than a religion, it is also a legal system.  Muslim immigrants who want to practice Sharia law cannot do so in the US.  If they feel this violates their religious principles, then they cannot immigrate.

As a final thought, enforcement of a country's immigration laws is an essential responsibility of its leadership.  If a US President doesn't agree with US laws, then s/he can work to get them changed, but in the meantime they should uphold those laws and enforce them.  And they should most certainly not issue executive orders which contradict them.



survey: page width?

Monday,  01/25/16  07:58 AM

how wide is your browser window?Hi blog public ... I haven't run a survey in ... a long time (whew, hope this works)! ... but I have one question I want to ask you: how wide is your browser window?  I've noticed that more and more websites are formatting themselves for "wide" windows, probably prompted by wide screen aspect ratios and tabbed browsing, and I'm just curious.  Maybe I should be targetting wider windows too.

Cheers and thanks in advance for your response!

How wide is your browser window? 

less than 800 pixels

between 800 and 1000 pixels

between 1000 and 1200 pixels

more than 1200 pixels


the song remains the same

Monday,  01/25/16  11:42 PM

Just another manic Monday ... up with the sun, gone with the wind ... get up, stand up ... working for the weekend ... the song remains the same.

the Mercator PuzzleThis is cool ... the Mercator Puzzle reminds you how deceptive maps can be.  Reminds me of that time I discovered there are ten time zones in Canada...

red state, blue stateSpeaking of maps, I thought this one was pretty interesting; a map of party affiliations in Congress as of the last election.  Of course those blue patches include the largest cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago...

This was simply a news item at Thanksgiving, but I think it is going to be most important:  Google unveils app streaming.  With this technology it is not necessary to preinstall an app on your phone, instead, when you visit a website the app is automagically downloaded and executed.  Absolutely seems like the way to go, right?

Ian McDonald: LunaTo be read: Ian McDonald's Luna.  "Luna has no government: it has contracts. You get to the moon by entering into a contract with the Lunar Development Corporation - the nice folks who'll be selling you your air, bandwidth, carbon and water for the rest of your life - and everything you do afterwards is also contractual: marriage, employment, and, of course, criminal redress."  Sounds about right...

Les Johnson: Mars.  "Since I work for NASA and have looked extensively at the technologies required to send people to Mars, I am often asked how close we are to being able to take such a journey.  Basing my opinion solely on information that is publicly available, the answer is… not straightforward.  Let me break it into the three areas that Project Managers and Decision Makers use when they assess the viability of a project in an attempt to explain my answer."  Yeah, but ... never tell me the odds :)

twisted art museum spans river in NorwayThis incredible twisted building slash bridge is actually an art museum which spans a river in Norway.  Wow!  Just when you think you've seen it all...

Lytro introduces the "Immerge" 360o camera for cinematic virtual reality.  This stuff is getting real, fast.  And maybe - just maybe - this will be the application which drives adoption of Lytro's innovative camera technology, which can "focus" after an image is captured.

glass-bottomed sky pool is 115' in the airSo cool: This glass-bottomed sky pool will be suspended 115' in the air.  The glass will be 8" thick.  Imagine the weight of all that water... wow.  Doesn't seem possible, does it?

Introducing the IBM Swift sandbox.  All you need now to start writing Swift is a web browser.  That's super cool, but I wonder if it will really foster adoption.  So far the Swift train has not really started rolling, despite Apple's enthusiastic backing.

Global warming notwithstanding, you may find this useful: how to drive in the snow, in a regular-ass car, without freaking out.  "You are not actually required to lose your goddamn mind just because snow is falling. It is not the apocalypse. Neither physics nor society have been cancelled by it."  Hehe.

circular bridge in UruguayThis is pretty cool: Circular bridge in Uruguay lets drivers slow down and enjoy the view.  Seems like bridge designers often take the opposite tack, and deliberately block the view so drivers are not distracted.


anyone can quantum

Wednesday,  01/27/16  08:19 PM

This is ... beyond amazing: 
Keanu Reaves narrates as Paul Rudd challenges Stephen Hawking to a game of quantum chess:

(please click to play video)

Yep just as good as you thought it might be, right?!

From ... One Entangled Evening, last night at Caltech, a celebration of Richard Feynman and quantum mechanics.
Of course I was in the front row, wondering ... how did I get here?

Other stars included the rather astonishing Michelle Feynman, and ... Schodinger's Cat :)



filter pass

Wednesday,  01/27/16  08:35 PM

Spent the *entire* day debugging one silly thing, which ended up being ... silly.  Some days are like that, so be it.  And now for a filter pass...

Trump vs O'Reilly, Fox, KellyI had been slowly warming to Donald Trump, perhaps mostly since I cannot possibly vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, while secretly rooting for Ted Cruz; but this whole "I don't like Fox News so I'm not going to participate in the debate" episode has reset me back to zero.  He seems to be proof, if any were needed, that the "average voter" doesn't seem qualified to vote.

In case you were wondering: What went wrong in Flint.  Many things, seemingly.  In the US we have come to take healthy running tap water for granted - despite the huge adoption of bottled water - but this episode shows how technically difficult it can be.

Airstream National Park Centennial editionThis I love: Iconic Airstream gets magnificent revamp to celebrate National Park Service Centennial.  There's something so ... "Americana" about both Airstreams and National Parks.  A glimpse through a looking glass into a bygone era - and one we wish would still be with us.

Of interest (to me): the rise and fall of the singular they.  Long before it was fashionable, I began using "they" in user documentation, as an accompaniment to s/he; it seemed better than him or her.  Or maybe it's just because I'm Dutch :)

project Monsoon: river-themed street murals which only appear when it rainsProject Monsoon: transparent river-themed street murals that only appear when it rains.  Love it.  And wish it would rain around here, maybe we would see some!

You might have thought One Entangled Evening was futuristic fantasy, and it is, but meanwhile quantum entanglement archived in semiconductor wafers.  Wow.  This new understand is just too weird for my feeble brain.

Related: the 17 equations that changed the course of history.  All of your favorites in there, including E=mc2 and a2+b2=c2, not to mention the Fourier Transform, Maxwell's Equations, and Schrodinger's Equation but what about my personal favorite, W=UH? :)

Also missing: the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  At least, I *think* it is missing... but I can't be sure.

it's a small world after allThe incredible winners of the "small world" microscopy competition...  the real world is so weird :)

Tim Bray: Vancouver Real Estate - the game of homes.  "Let’s assume that buckets of overseas money are flowing into Vancouver. The conventional explanation — which I find believable — is that the local real-estate is being used mostly just like a bank account; a safer place to put money than under your mattress."  The notion of stored value is so elusive.

Perhaps Apropos: How to pull off a bank heist.  It's not easy.  Especially in comparison to investing in Real Estate.

Good to know: You can explore New York's Guggenheim museum with Google's help.  They've created a "street view" of all the galleries in the museum.  I's cool, but I'm not sure this is actually useful?

1905 Wood electric carOMG how cool is this?  1905 Woods electric car sells for $95,000.  Probably incompatible with Tesla superchargers, but guaranteed to get a spot in front of any restaurant in LA :)

Yawn: Oracle announces Java plugin will be deprecated in JDK 9, scheduled for March 2017.  Is *anyone* still writing Java web applications?  (Another question might be, did *anyone* ever write Java web applications?)  I so remember the promise of Java, way back in Netscape 2, with Kim Polese leading the "Green Team" at Sun Microsystems.  But the promise of "write once, run anywhere" was never realized.

TAG Heuer connected smartwatchWhat does it say about me that this has me interested: TAG Heuer's Connected smartwatch looks like an actual watch.  My current favorite watch is a 40-year-old pre-TAG-Heuer, which not only looks like an actual watch, it is one.  Hmmm...


Lo and Behold

Friday,  01/29/16  10:43 PM

Greetings blog public, how is everyone today?  I'm doing well, thanks for asking ... a quiet day of coding, in which I discovered once again how much time good design saves ... sometimes ten minutes of thought saves ten hours of coding (at the end of which, you realize you did it wrong... and take those ten minutes to do it right :)  Sigh.

Meanwhile, on the Internets...

Lo and Behold, from Werner HerzogTo be watched: Lo and Behold, a film about "the connected world" by Werner Herzog.  "Featuring original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the film travels through a series of interconnected episodes that reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships."

Red Sparrow, by Jason MatthewsTo be read: Red Sparrow.  "There are two principal protagonists, and during the first part of the book their stories are told in alternating fashion. Nate Nash is a young CIA agent in Moscow. Dominika Egorova, the niece of a top-ranking SVR official, is prevailed upon by him to work for SVR, and is sent to 'sparrow school.'"

Maximally dumb: Maximum wage.  "Let's say we decided as a society that no private company should have a pay ratio above 40:1. That would lead to a radical decrease in income inequality, and it wouldn't involve a cent of additional taxes...  This would no doubt be fiddling with the natural markets for wages, but we fiddle with these all the time, through progressive income taxes, earned income tax credits, subsidies, and tax incentives.None of which work.

the iPhone 5se?Waiting ... tick tick tick ... iPhone 5se and its place in the Apple universe.  "A new 4-inch iPhone with an A9 processor and Touch ID solves a few problems for Apple, in one swoop. It gives Apple a modern iPhone to sell to people who really do prefer the smaller size, and it gives them a low-end-of-the-lineup model that is technically relevant for another 18-24 months."  Who wants a bigger phone?  (I want my Palm Pre back!)

Mark Suster: Stay focused on your goals, not your critics.  Okay!

house with a rooftop infinity poolThis is so cool: A house with a rooftop infinity pool.  Wonder if it lowers the cost of heating?

There are so many cool houses in this world ... I'd love to take a traveling tour visiting as many as possible.  Seems like something a lot of people would like to do?  On the other hand... maybe we can do it with VR?

Penrose: the Pixar of VRHave you heard of these guys?  Penrose is the Pixar of VR.  "Penrose just wants you to empathize with its characters, to feel something."  I think VR content creation is going to be huuge.

Richard Dawkins disinvited from conference for offending feminists.  The conference was on Science and Skepticism.  I swear the news reads more and more like the Onion every day...  and somehow the irony is lost.

kitten vs tortoiseHeh this is adorable: Kitten fails to impress tortoise.  Click through, it's sure to bring you a smile...


the three laws of robotics

Friday,  01/29/16  11:27 PM

As usual, xkcd helpfully explains the things you never even thought about :)



known star systems

Saturday,  01/30/16  11:34 PM

This incredible animation shows all known star systems, 685 of them, comprising 1,700 exoplanets:

(please click to play video)

Just a few years ago, this would have been far simpler, and we can only imagine the range of systems which will be known just a few years into the future.  You have to think there will be life *somewhere* out there, right?

No word on whether R2D2 has a missing map segment to show more systems :)

[Apropos: an interesting answer to Fermi's paradox*: the aliens are silent because they are extinct.  "In research aiming to understand how life might develop, scientists realized new life would commonly die out due to runaway heating or cooling on their fledgling planets."  Even life on Earth has only existed for a relatively short period of time, cosmologically speaking...]




Sunday,  01/31/16  04:45 PM

I've been musing about design and patience.

(I started this blog post last night, then decided I should think about it a little and maybe make it better today before posting :)


Yesterday I was debugging something which required two computers.  Rather than use two actual computers, I decided to use my main computer - a laptop running Windows 7 - and a virtual machine inside my main computer which was running Windows 10.  I happened to have a Windows 10 system because I've been playing with it for a year, tracking new versions from Microsoft and waiting for the inevitable day when I'll have to switch/upgrade from Windows 7.

Win 7 vs Win 10 - so this is progress?As I was doing this, with windows open in both Windows 7 and Windows 10, I couldn't help but notice that the Windows 10 look-and-feel is much uglier and less useful.  Windows 7 features transparency, shading, gradients, drop shadows, and 3D controls which light up when you mouse over them.  Windows 10 features none of these things, just a bunch of flat rectangles with solid colors and 2D controls that sit there until you do something with them. 

The same evolution toward dumb simplicity has occurred in OS X, and in IOS, and in Android, and as a result the whole software design ethos has shifted the same way.  You can't write software for Windows without considering what Windows itself looks like, and you want your OS X software to look like OS X.  Your IOS and Android apps have to be aesthetically compatible with their host systems.  This design trend has pulled everything else along; even my Tesla car now has an uglier and less usable interface so it looks more "modern".

I suppose there are people who will argue that the "clean and simple" look is better, but they're wrong.  Clean and simple is all very exciting, but elegant and simple is better, especially when it is more beautiful and more functional.

Why did this happen?  Let's get back to that in a moment...

corporate logo design evolutionUnrelated except in time, I just read an article about a company called Birchbox which is laying off some of their staff.  I looked at their logo, and it's just ... the word "Birchbox" spelled out in all caps.  That's their logo!  But it epitomizes a design trend, look at the evolution of Google's logo.  They went from a colorful word with 3D effects and shading to a flat bland design.  Microsoft have done the same thing.

Does anyone actually think these new logos look better?  No they do not.  They are more "modern" and more consistent with the overall trend toward plain simplicity, but they are not nicer.

Why did this happen?  Let's get back to this...

All through our society, there is a trend toward brutal simplicity and efficiency.  True beauty and elegance are being left behind.  No one designer can be blamed, but there is an overall trend being pushed by our society.

I think the key ingredient now missing in design is patience.

It takes time to design something nice, and it takes a willingness to wait for good ideas.  It takes iteration.  It takes difficult design choices and careful evaluation of simplicity vs functionality.  It takes care, and it takes patience.  And I don't think we as a society value the good design that results from patience.

better Birchbox logosI'm trying to imagine the marketing team at Birchbox, coming up with their logo.  Sure, they could have spent a lot of time and come up with something unique and interesting.  But instead they just wrote out their name and moved on.  They probably even told themselves "this looks cool" but maybe in their hearts knew it wasn't, and that they could have done better.  (I found the possibilties at right in just minutes...)

What happened at Microsoft when they were designing their new "Metro" look and feel?  Did they truly think it was better?  Or did they block something out and just decide it was good enough, and then moved on.  I cannot imagine a scenario where people who truly cared would get rid of shading, drop shadows, and 3D affordances because they thought it was better.  I can imagine that shading, drop shadows, and 3D are difficult to render and require a lot of design decisions, and that it was easier and faster just to skip them.

Note not all design which results in simplicity is laziness.  It took the original Mac team months of work to get rid of a second mouse button.  That was worthwhile simplicity which resulted from care and patience.  Swapping out rendered logos in favor of blocks of primary color is a different kind of simplicity.

So what will happen?  Is this the end of design, or simply a pendulum swing which will come back?

My bet is that good design will never lose favor, and the present lack of care and patience is simply a temporary aberration.  Software user interfaces are definitely trendsetters, and this tail is wagging a large dog.  Soon a little elegance will creep back into designs, it will be valued, and it will trigger a little more.  And a little later we'll have better user interfaces again with shading and drop shadows and 3D affordances.  Maybe even something new (gasp!)

In fact we might have 3D itself, not just a 2D approximation of it!  How cool would it be if you could turn actual knobs to interact with your computer?

It would be very cool.  And I predict it will happen.  We just have to exercise some patience :)


Thanks for reading all the way through :)


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About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
Emergent Properties
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji
The Nest
Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
Adding Value
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
Toy Story
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
solving bongard problems
visiting Titan
unintelligent design
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
triple double
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Holiday Inn
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker
vote smart
exact nonsense
introducing eyesFinder
to space
where are the desktop apps?
still the first bird
electoral fail
progress ratches
2020 explained