Critical Section

Archive: February 2016

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Monday,  02/01/16  09:54 PM

Hey, it's February!  Let's celebrate ... with a curious blog post :)

Curiosity selfie - an amazing compositeHere we have a wonderful "selfie" taken by the Curiosity Rover.  (Please click to enbiggen.)  This is a cool picture of a rover on Mars, and then you realize ... who took the picture!  The secret is that this image is a composite of 57 images snapped with the MAHLI camera, which is on the end of the rover's arm.  By combining the pictures in just the right way, it looks like the camera was completely separate from the rover.  Most curious...

Back here on Earth, it looks like Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses, with Marco Rubio a strong third, and on the other side of the aisle Bernie Sanders tied Hillary Clinton.  All good news from my perspective, but there's a long way to go.

Alphabet - now the world's most valuable companyAlso, Alphabet passes Apple as the world's most valuable company.  Basically the two leaders in cellphone technology.  Remember when oil companies were the most valuable?  And who will be next?  (SpaceX, after they colonize Mars?)

Meanwhile, the National Debt hits $19T.  Yeah, that's about 38 times more than Alphabet and Apple are worth.  Not good.  And not clear if any of the current Presidential candidates can or will do anything to reverse the trend.

Oh, and Venezuela is on the brink of a complete economic collapse.  That's not surprising, but the article reads like one from the Onion: "Hugo Chávez's socialist government started spending more money on the poor, with everything from two-cent gasoline to free housing. Now, there's nothing wrong with that - in fact, it's a good idea in general - but only as long as you actually, well, have the money to spend."  I love the weird economic editorializing right in the middle of a "news" article.  More proof, if any were needed, that since the smartest people didn't become journalists, journalists are not the smartest people.

coffee!Here's some important work: Ars Technica considers the science behind a good cup of coffee.  And also the health benefits: "Caffeine enhances perception, reduces fatigue, increases abilities to stay awake, and may help improve long-term memory. In addition to the pick-me-up, caffeine is linked to boosting metabolic rate and energy expenditure, and it may reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndromes."  Mmmm...  most curious!



electoral fail

Monday,  02/01/16  10:29 PM

You might not know, but the US is about to elect a new President this year.  And you might think that US citizens elect their President.  But you would be wrong.  And therein lies a huge electoral fail.

Instead, US citizens vote for candidates, but their votes determine which electors chose the President.  Each candidate submits a slate of electors, who are chosen at state party conventions or by each party's central committee.  The actual people chosen to be electors don't really matter, because they don't have a choice; they are chosen to be an elector, they vote for their candidate.  So far, so complicated, and so far, no big problem.

The problem comes from the fact that in all but two states, *all* the electors are chosen from the slate given by the candidate who receives the most votes in that state.  (Can you name the exceptions?*)  This winner-take-all aspect means that if the citizens of a given state split their votes 51%/49% between two candidates, 100% of the electoral votes from that state go to the winning candidate.  In practice, this means the vast majority of states and the vast majority of votes do not matter.

* In Nebraska and Maine the electors are chosen by the popular vote in each congressional district.

For example, as the most populous state California has the most electoral votes, 55.  It is virtually certain that the candidate for president nominated by the Democratic party will win the popular vote in California.  So California and Californian voters don't matter.  The second most populous state, Texas, has 38 votes.  It is virtually certain that the Republican Presidential candidate will win in Texas.  So Texas and Texans don't matter.

The map below illustrates the overall situation.  Of the fifty states, which collectively have 538 votes, all but 10 are likely to vote for a particular party's candidate.  Forty states which collectively have 418 votes do not matter, including the states containing the ten largest cities in the US.

The 10 states which do matter include Florida (29 votes), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), and Virginia (13).  You can expect to see those states get a lot of attention from candidates this year.  In fact, the only reason for a candidate to campaign outside of these states is to raise money.  Get that?  We Californians contribute money to candidates so they can campaign in ten other states where the votes count!

This is the most bizarre and dysfunctional system imaginable.  A huge electoral fail.

So what can be done?  The most logical thing would be to simply add up the popular vote, and declare the candidate with the most votes the next President.  Suddenly California and Texas and New York and Illinois would matter.  But this isn't going to happen easily.  Any change to the electoral laws will be made in the US Senate, where each state has two equal votes.  Smaller states are not going to support a change which strongly lessens their influence.

The next most logical thing would be to have each state behave like Maine and Nebraska, and split their votes in proportion to the popular votes in their state.  (Doing this by congressional districts probably makes sense.)  This would vastly increase the influence of the largest states, and make the whole process more democratic.  And it could be done state-by-state at the state level, without a federal change.

So why hasn't this happened?  Well, consider the situation in California.  Democrats control the state.  Would they vote to give Republicans more than 0% say in the next election?  They would not.  Would the Republicans who run Texas vote to give Democrats in Texas more than 0%?  They would not.  So we have a bad deadlock.  The small states won't vote for an overall popular vote, and the big states won't agree to split the vote within their state.  The present situation is suboptimal but locked in by self-interest.

I think the only way this will change is when a President is elected who did not win the popular vote.  The popular outcry against the system which allows that to happen might be strong enough to cause the Senate to change the system.  This almost happened when George Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000, because he did not win the popular vote (it was very close).  If it happens again, I would expect the winds of change to blow. 

In the meantime, we Californians get to watch Floridians and Iowans elect our next President.  Pass the popcorn.

PS... as a separate observation, note the large advantage a Democratic candidate has among the "locked in" states (56 votes!).  The other day I posted a map showing party affiliation by congressional district.  If you compare the two maps, the districts of states which are "in the bag" for one party but which have the opposite party affiliation are the ones which will drive change.  I would expect Republicans to be more interested, both because the present system is not in their favor and because they generally support local solutions over national ones.


no shadow

Tuesday,  02/02/16  08:22 AM

The scene this morning at Gobbler's Nob, Punxsutawney, PA:

And the good news: "'There is no shadow to be cast! An early spring is my forecast!' ... 'Take your jackets off, you're not going to need them!'  Few in the crowd followed that advice; the temperature this morning in Punxsutawney, Pa., was reported at 22 degrees."  Here in San Diego it is 35o, brrrr...

Hope you have a nice day, wherever you are, and whatever the temperature.  And if you don't, well, you can always do it again.  It's Groundhog Day!



Thursday,  02/04/16  09:19 PM

dualWhew, what a day.  Please remind me never to schedule an investor update and a software design review on the same day, especially if they're for two different companies.  I survived and actually both went very well, but that was so much fun I might not do it again.  Onward...

Do you think we've reached Peak Trump?  I'm hoping ... yes.  His overreaction to having "lost" in Iowa proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not Presidential material.

minimum wage impact on jobsHmmm... Minimum Wages Surged In 6 Cities Last Year; Then This Happened.  "Wherever cities implemented big minimum-wage hikes to $10 an hour or more last year, the latest data through December show that job creation downshifted to the slowest pace in at least five years."  Shocking.

That's an interesting article, but Investors Business Daily has a horrible website.  About 4MB of crap loads first, and then you get the only thing you care about ... the article itself.

Glenn Reynolds: 21st Century Headlines: Luxembourg to invest in space-based asteroid mining.  Excellent!  May the force be with them.

Doc Searls: The Giant Zero.  "A world without distance."  Most thought-provoking...  Proving once again that he can blog with the best of them :)

Alternatives to Resting Bitch FaceImportant work:  Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face.  In my family (four daughters) "RBF" is a well-recognized and often-used acronym... :)

ion propulsion - the force of the futureNASA helpfully explain:  Ion Propulsion ... What is it?  "Instead of heating the gas up or putting it under pressure, we give the gas xenon a little electric charge, then they're called ions, and we use a big voltage to accelerate the xenon ions through this metal grid and we shoot them out of the engine at up to 90,000 miles per hour."  The Dawn spacecraft uses this technology.

An interesting post from Robert X. Cringely: personal computers approach retirement age.  He quotes himself from 25 years ago:  "Don’t worry; you'll understand it in a few years, by which time they'll no longer be called PCs. By the time that understanding is reached, and personal computers have wormed into all our lives to an extent far greater than they are today, the whole concept of personal computing will probably have changed."  Heh.

Feyman diagram: dualityWell, so much for blogging (yawn), I'm off to bed. 
I think I'll watch Groundhog Day ... again.



Saturday,  02/06/16  11:14 AM

wisdom can be found in the most unexpected places :)


super bored

Sunday,  02/07/16  10:48 PM

Audi super ad: "Commander"So, did you watch the Super Bowl?  (Of course you did!)  And did you think it was amazing?  (No, you did not...)  And did you watch the Super Ads?  (Of course you did!)  And what did you think, any of them stand out for you?  (No, they did not...) 

My friends and I did enjoy the game and the commercials (and the chili and the guacamole ... thanks Kevin!), but we failed to be wowed by any of it.  The two things which stuck out for me were 1) good defense beats good offense, and 2) the Audi ad featuring an aging astronaut driving an Audio R8, with a David Bowie soundtrack.

Wow, another Super Sunday has come and gone.  Onward into the year!

Mark Suster: Why Uber should go public.  Great post and great thinking.  Basically, they should go public because the scrutiny of public markets will force them to improve.  Interesting argument.  Of course you could argue the other way, that the need to deliver quarterly results works against innovation...

Hmmmm..  Retail apocalypse: 2016 brings empty shelves and store closings all across America.  I haven't noticed this myself, but I could believe it is happening without my awareness.  What do you think?

Meanwhile: Aetna joins growing chorus warning about ObamaCare failing.  Yeah, you could see this coming from a long way off.  They're running out of other people's money already.  (Which means, they'll be coming for more of ours...)

Three ways the blockchain will change the real estate market.  This hasn't happened as quickly as I thought, but I still think it will happen.  Especially perhaps in connection with unmapped real estate, like asteroids and planets :)

designer kryptoniteHehe :)


Amazon support: not helpful

Monday,  02/08/16  09:08 PM

We all think of Amazon as a company that cares about their customers and wants us to find the right products, right?  Well...

Amazon support not helpfulAmazon is first and foremost a book store, and their Kindle ecosystem has transformed publishing.  Furthermore their "recommended for you" algorithms have set a high bar for e-commerce sites everywhere.  So finding Amazon's "Kindle Books recommended for you" should be easy, right?  You just visit, sign on, and poof there they are!  Nope.

I challenge you to find Kindle Book recommendations linked anywhere on the website.  It's there, but you won't be able to find it.  Today I was trying to find it, spent a good ten minutes clicking around, and then figured I might as well just ask.  My first attempt was to chat with an Amazon rep.  Here's how that went:

Initial Question: Hi can you please help me find Kindle Books recommended for me?

02:45 PM PST Adam(Amazon): Hello Ole, my name is Adam. I'm here to help you today.
I understand that you want to find Kindle books for you. No worries, I'll do my best to help you with your concern, Ole.

A member of our Kindle team will be the perfect person to help you with this. Please hold while I transfer you. One of our Kindle Specialists will assist you shortly.

02:46 PM PST Jeff(Amazon): Hi Ole, Thanks for contacting Amazon. How can I help you today?
02:46 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: Hi can you please help me find Kindle Books recommended for me?
02:47 PM PST Jeff: A member of our kindle specialist team will need to help you with this. Please hold while I transfer you. One of our kindle specialist representatives will assist you shortly.

02:48 PM PST Ina(Amazon): Hello, my name is Ina.
How may I help you today?
02:48 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: Hi can you please help me find Kindle Books recommended for me?
02:49 PM PST Ina: What kind of Kindle books are you referring to?
02:50 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: Any kind of books. You have a page of Kindle books recommended for me and I cannot figure out how to get there

(long pause)
Hi are you still there
02:50 PM PST Ina: Yes.
02:51 PM PST Ina: One moment.
02:52 PM PST Ina: Are you referring to the Recommendations that can be found on your device?
02:52 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: Not on my device ... on your website
02:53 PM PST Ina: One moment.

(long pause)
02:55 PM PST Ina(Amazon): I'm sorry we were disconnected. I can pick up where we left off.
Please click on the link:
02:56 PM PST Ina: Check to see if you are able to locate "Sign in to see personalized recommendations" button.
02:56 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: I am signed in already
02:57 PM PST Ina: Kindly log out and sign in when prompted once you click"Sign in to see personalized recommendations" button.
02:57 PM PST Ole EichhornI am signed in already
Hi can you please help me find Kindle Books recommended for me?
02:58 PM PST Ole EichhornI cannot find the link
02:58 PM PST Ina: Kindly click on the link below:
02:59 PM PST Ole Eichhorn: that is a signon link
02:59 PM PST Ina: Sign in to see the Recommendations.
03:00 PM PST Ole EichhornI am signed in already
03:00 PM PST Ina: Let me connect you to Generalist for further assistance. Please stay connected. Thank you.

03:00 PM PST Amazon: Thank you for contacting Chat Support my name is Shanice.
03:00 PM PST Ole Eichhorn:
Me: Hi can you please help me find Kindle Books recommended for me
03:01 PM PST Amazon: Let me transfer you to our Kindle team.

So that was fun.  Next I tried calling customer support.  The first person with whom I spoke was unintelligible.  I have no problem with people who have learned English as a second language, but in a customer support situation you have to be able to communicate.  When I called back, I was transferred three times between teams.  Finally I was told there is no such link.  I knew there was such a link - I've visited it - so I hung up and tried again.  On my third try, the second rep put me on hold and never came back.

So, what to do?  I decided to spend another ten minutes poking about the site, trying to find the link, and this time I found it!  Yay... here it is:

You might want to bookmark this link because it is *not* easy to find :)



Monday,  02/08/16  09:53 PM



(Still not quite as bright as the Galvanick Lucifer :)



the day after

Wednesday,  02/10/16  08:56 PM

New Hampshire primary resultsThe day after (the New Hampshire primaries): wow, I can't believe Bernie Sanders actually beat Hillary Clinton (yay) and by 20 percentage points (double yay).  And wow, I can't believe people are still supporting Donald Trump (boo), and Jeb Bush still has support too (double boo).  Sort of a regression to the mean from Iowa, I guess.  Next up is South Carolina...

If you want an example of the sort of weird thinking people put into their support for a Presidential candidate, here's Jason Kottke: the symbolic President.  He's actually planning to vote for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman, and presumably voted for Barack Obama because he's [partially] black.  I like Jason (usually), but that is not deep thinking.

And this: the left has two huge advantages, and I have no idea how we overcome them.  The third advantage is shallow thinking, apparently.

Scott Adams tries to explain: the Thinking Filters.  He also tries to explain why he was wrong about Rubio, and fails (after explaining that we would think so).  Some of what he's written about Trump is interesting, but it is starting to feel more like random hammers hitting nails than actual analysis.

DiSaaSter 2016Mark Suster: the resetting of the startup industry.  "Much has changed in the past four months of the technology startup world and how outsiders value the business."  Regression to the mean.

It's starting to feel 2008-ish again, featuring a presidential election year and a major economic meltdown.

professional peloton blows overThis you have to watch: impossibly strong winds stop professional cyclists cold.  Yes the entire peloton comes to a standstill with riders falling off their bikes etc.  Wow.  I thought that only happened to me and my friends :)

From John at Desk: the customer is right (and wrong).  "The customer is right about the experience today and wrong about what the experience will be tomorrow."  I think that's right.

One year of Apple World Today!  Congratulations to them.  My advice, should they choose to take it, is to concentrate on features and analysis, and leave the news to big sites like Engadget.  That's what makes John Gruber and MG Siegler worth reading.

FirewatchNoted: Firewatch could be the prettiest mystery you play this year.  It could be the only mystery I play, too, but "pretty" and "interesting" have me pretty interested.  The trailer looks great.

Ark Royal, science fiction by Christopher NuttallReviewed: Ark Royal, the first of a new science fiction series I've started to read, by Christopher Nuttall.  So far I like it a lot, reminds me of the Hornblower series but moved from the oceans of the 1800s into space.

Oh, and Christopher has a blog, too.  (Sample: In Contempt, about the Sad Puppies fiasco around the Hugo Awards for science fiction.)  Subscribed!

To be read: Free Bitcoin textbook from Princeton.  "It's over 300 pages and is intended for people 'looking to truly understand how Bitcoin works at a technical level and have a basic familiarity with computer science and programming'."  Huh, stay tuned.

So be it, New Hampshire is over, and we're on to the next.  Onward!


Thank *you*, Carly

Wednesday,  02/10/16  10:15 PM

After yesterday Carly Fiorina saw the writing on the wall and has suspended her campaign. After some early momentum last Fall she never connected with voters and dropped off the main stage of contenders.  I was an early fan, partly because she was a businessperson, not a politician, but mostly because I liked the blunt way she took on Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, and the pervasive liberalism of the mainstream media.  I will say I did not agree with all her positions and in particular her strong anti-abortion stance.  Still I hope that she stays in the national picture; it's possible she might even be a vice presidential candidate, if it is deemed helpful to have a woman on the Republican ticket.

Today Carly sent a Thank You email to those who had registered as supporters:



From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for everything you've done for this campaign. For standing with me, for fighting with me. For your generosity, for your support, and for your faith. Thank you.

This campaign was always about citizenship—taking back our country from a political class that only serves the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well connected. Election after election, the same empty promises are made and the same poll-tested stump speeches are given, but nothing changes. I've said throughout this campaign that I will not sit down and be quiet. I'm not going to start now. While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them.

Our Republican Party must fight alongside these Americans as well. We must end crony capitalism by fighting the policies that allow it to flourish. We must fix our festering problems by holding our bloated, inept government bureaucracy accountable. Republicans must stand for conservative principles that lift people up and recognize all Americans have the right to fulfill their God-given potential.

To young girls and women across the country, I say: do not let others define you. Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you're a woman. That is not feminism. Feminism doesn't shut down conversations or threaten women. It is not about ideology. It is not a weapon to wield against your political opponent. A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts. And always remember that a leader is not born, but made. Choose leadership.

As I have said to the many wonderful Americans I have met throughout this campaign, a leader is a servant whose highest calling is to unlock potential in others.

I will continue to serve in order to restore citizen government to this great nation so that together we may fulfill our potential.

Thank you again for all you've made possible.


It's a nice message, but as the father of four daughters I thought the words about feminism were particularly apt (highlighted in blue).  "A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses."  Or I suppose a man who supports women who are this kind of feminist :)

I know I'd rather my kids end up being like Carly, a self-made woman who became CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, then ran for President as a person rather than a woman, than like Hillary, a woman who succeeded by being the wife of a successful man, and is making a point of running as a woman.  Thanks, Carly!


gravitational waves

Thursday,  02/11/16  09:29 PM

gravitational wavesPretty cool, huh?  So we've detected gravitational waves, but what are they?  NASA attempts to answer, here.  The NY Times also does a nice job with a video, here.

This rabbit hole is pretty deep.  Normally with "waves" you think of things moving in time.  But ... what if the waves are time itself?  Yeah.  Whoa.

Anyway it's great that we have further confirmation, if any were needed, that Einstein's 100-year-old theory of the universe is correct.  I don't think this is quite as surprising or momentous as a lot of news reports make out...  we've had a long time now to confirm this theory in all its aspects, and have found zero counter-examples.  It would have been surprising if the absence of gravitational waves had been proved, but of course it is hard to prove a negative. 

Missing from all the breathless reports is any new implication.  I find experiments which yield new implications to be more interesting than those which confirm existing ones.

Well anyway it was fun, and the diagrams are cool.  Onward!



ode to old school: Craigslist

Thursday,  02/11/16  09:42 PM

craigslist!The other day I had to sell a car (details redacted).  I did what millions do every day, posted it on the venerable Craigslist.  Within an hour I had several calls of interest, and within three hours the car was sold, cash.  It is possible it was priced to move, but still, that's impressive.

Even as impressive or more so is Craigslist itself.  It exists as a simple HTML website, a throwback to the mid-90s.  I'm sure it runs on LAMP*, is rock solid, and can handle millions of concurrent users on crappy old hardware without breaking a sweat.

The pages are simple and clean, and load instantly.  There is no delay waiting for a metric ton of JavaScript to load, and no shifting images, input fields which aren't ready to respond, and other artifacts of today's emphasis on slick user interfaces.  Somehow this old school site "just works".

I love it, and not just because it could help me sell my car in a few hours.  To me this is true design elegance.  Long may it wave...

* LAMP = Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl


system update update

Friday,  02/12/16  10:33 PM

Want to know what happens when you run Lenovo System Update?

Yep.  And guess what happens next?  Nothing.  99% of the time, the only update System Update updates is System Update.  Van Quine would love it :)



'Normal' is one of the most powerful words a Radiologist can use

Friday,  02/12/16  10:57 PM

Radiology CTs - which of these are normal?This morning I was reading The Health Care Blog, as usual, and came a across a most interesting post: The Radiology Report.

I thought this phrase was intriguing: "'Normal' is one of the most powerful words a radiologist can use".  Which of course begs the question, how does the Radiologist get to "normal"?  They use their training and experience.  And they do this all day long, with case after case, normal, normal, normal.

But what if they could hit a single button to quickly search a vast reference library of exceptional cases just to be sure.  If there are no strong correlations, great, the case is "normal", nothing to see here, move along.  Every once in a while - perhaps every once in a great while - they might get a hit back which triggers a thought.  And every once in a while that hit might cause a "normal" to be reported as a possible "not-normal", perhaps saving a patient’s life.

Radiologist at workThat is the value proposition behind eyesFinder for Radiology.

I am excited about many many of the possible applications of visual search, but I'm especially driven by the possibilities in healthcare.  We've been working with Leica for two years on a decision support tool for Pathology - now being field-tested - and are actively seeking partners in Radiology as well.  So that 'Normal' can be even more powerful :)



happy birthday Mr. Darwin, Mr. Lincoln

Friday,  02/12/16  11:08 PM

Chuck D ... natural selectaWeird, that two of history's most amazing people have birthdays on the same day, and today is that day.  Congratulations on another trip around the sun, Mr. Darwin, and Mr. Lincoln...

Scott Johnson remembers Mr. Lincoln.
And Boing Boing remembers Chuck D, natural selecta :)

Taking nothing at all away from Mr. Lincoln, who had an impressive series of failures before an even more impressive legacy of success, I think Mr. Darwin had one of the most important insights ever.  He saw that over time natures behaves like a rachet, in which good ideas accumulate and in so doing yield even better ones.

And so ... how being awesome became the great imperative of our time.  I have resolved to cut down on "awesome" as my go-to adjective for greatness.

spot the ISSBut ... literally awesome: spot the International Space Station.  If you do, you will be awestruck :)

Hmmm...  Time Inc acquires MySpace.  That feels like a headline from fifteen years ago, doesn't it?  Who know that Time Inc. and MySpace still existed...

I was in a meeting the other day with some twenty-something colleagues, and PayPal came up, and someone said "PayPal, that's so old school."  Heh.  (covers eyes and shakes head sadly.)

Minority Report - user interface of the futureGood question: Who will own the virtual reality interface?  Of course sensing and reacting to head motion is all very exciting, but what about hand motion?  (Remember Minority Report!)

Meanwhile... Microsoft's latest iPhone app will tell you what kind of dog you are.  A pretty low use of visual search, but still, cool and possibly even useful.

Sadly: scientists have given up on the Philae lander.  As time passes the dust accumulation will make it increasingly less likely the robot will have enough power to wake up.

little Russian ATV is amazingOkay, I agree: this little Russian truck is amazing.  The secret is the giant tires, which give it floatation, the ability to go anywhere, and ... cuteness :)




Sunday,  02/14/16  10:08 AM

Valentine's puzzleGood morning blog public, and happy Valentine's Day to you all.  I celebrated in the usual way - by 3-D printing a heart.  This year I decided to print it as a four-part puzzle, which seems appropriate given the complexity of relationships :)

Valentine's Day seems stressful to a lot of people; of course it is fun to celebrate being with the one you love, but demonstrating just exactly how much you love them with physical objects can be difficult :)

Did you know?  Spotify will make a playlist out of your Valentine's love note.  Well that's certainly demonstrating your love ... hehe.

How did this all get started?  Apparently it began with a pagan fertility festival in February (as so many good things do :), and then the Catholic church mutated it into a celebration of St. Valentine.  Most countries with a Catholic tradition celebrate it today, but more as a secular ode to love and relationships than a religious holiday.

The weirdest practice was that when I was a kid, we bought Valentine's Day cards for all the kids in our class, not just the one we thought was special.  (Is that still done?  Maybe?)  An early attempt at political correctness but perhaps a defensible one, to avoid hurt feelings.  I do remember taking great care over the exact wording with which I signed certain cards :)

I hope you enjoy the day, and are able to fit your pieces together...



politics after Scalia

Sunday,  02/14/16  10:40 AM

Antonin ScaliaUnless you've been out living a normal life away from a computer you will have heard; Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has passed away, at the age of 79.  This is a pretty big deal because he was a staunch conservative, and it opens the door for current-President Obama or whomever is our next President to nominate someone considerably less conservative.  It feels like the 2016 Presidential race will take place in two parts, before Scalia, and after.

It is worth noting that in this context conservative is used in its traditional, one might even say "conservative" meaning, as one who conserves the status quo, and resists change.  Justice Scalia was apolitical, but became embroiled in politics by arguing strongly against those who wanted to have the court drive change.

President Obama has already said he will nominate a replacement, and the various Republican candidates for President, debating last night in South Carolina, have all called for the Republican-led Senate to delay confirmation of any candidate until the next President is seated.  It will be an interesting fight, and it will be played out in public.  A year is a long time to go without confirming a new judge, but it is unusual for a lame duck President to nominate a new justice.

I watched a little of the debate last night, and I must tell you, whatever softening I had in my opposition to Donald Trump has hardened again.  I will vote for anyone against Hillary Clinton, but I certainly hope it won't be Trump.  I think Trump and Sanders are both selling magic, and while that might work to get elected, it doesn't do much to make things better once you're in office.  (And I guess President Obama is exhibit A.)  This is the downside of our democracy; everyone gets to vote, and everyone isn't very smart, so we end up picking leaders with not-very-smart thinking.

I still think Ted Cruz is the smartest candidate, and support him on that basis, but perhaps Marco Rubio is the most likely to get elected running against Clinton, and so I support him on that basis.

As Winston Churchill noted, "democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else".

PS did you see this Cruz ad now running in South Carolina, "It feels good to be a Clinton".  +1 for the Office Space reference and +1 for not letting Clinton off the hook for having a personal email server while Secretary of State.  Heh.

feels good to be a Clinton



warming up for the Iditarod

Sunday,  02/14/16  12:43 PM

If you're a frequent reader you'll know, I am a big fan of the Iditarod dog sled race, a 1,000-mile slog in Alaska from Anchorage to Nome, which takes place every year in early March.  It began with meeting and becoming a fan of longtime musher and perennial contender DeeDee Jonrowe, but I just like everything about the race; the dog / athletes, the people, the tradition, and most of all the strategy.  When to go fast, when to go slow, when to rest, when to push on, how much to feed the team and when, etc.  The amazingness of the race was exemplified by the finish of the 2014 race, in which the leader dropped out, the team in second thought they were racing for second, not first, and the winning team thought they were third!

Yukon Quest 2016 leader Hugh Neff and teamSo with three weeks to go I'm warming up for the 2016 edition by following the Yukon Quest race, which is probably the second most prestigious sled race, and which is often used by teams as a pre-Iditarod.  Many think this race is even harder than the Iditarod, as it is slightly longer and features more climbing, and takes place in an area which is even more remote.  That's current leader Huff Neff and team at right; they are currently about 150 miles from the finish, neck and neck with Brent Sass, Allen Moore (husband of longtime Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle), and Matt Hall.

For the last few years the competitors have carried GPS trackers, which makes realtime watching of these races a lot more fun.  In my nice warm chair I can watch the teams battle snowstorms, subzero temperatures, sheet ice, and moose.  Heh.

This year the Quest website has a key innovation, a "race flow" chart, which nicely shows who is where and what's happening.  Here's a current snapshot:

Yukon Quest 2016 as of 2/14/16 at 10:00AM PT

Each colored line represents a competitor; with time along the X-axis and distance traveled on the Y-axis.  Horizontal lines show when the teams are resting, and the slope of the lines shows how fast the teams are traveling.  I love this and I hope the Iditarod adopts it too.  If they don't, I wonder if there will be enough data available to make one myself... hmmm.



Falcons nest

Monday,  02/15/16  09:52 PM

the FalconThe view from the Falcon's nest ... yes, I did print my very own Millennium Falcon, and yes of course that is why I have a 3D printer ... you didn't think I would just use it to print hearts, did you? :)

In between printings I've been coding, and have rediscovered the quiet joy of slogging through forests of architectural wilderness in the pursuit of a clean path to a goal.  I've implemented pasting images from the clipboard in eyesFinder's web interface - something which is so simple and so standard that one has to build a complicated non-standard interface to each browser's non-standard implementation of the standard.  Stay tuned for the nerdy details...

3D-printed earThis is incredible: 3D printer can make bone, cartilage, and muscle.  "A team of biomedical researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has just completed an invention 10 years in the making. It's a 3D printer that can craft relatively simple tissues like cartilage into large complex shapes—like an infant's ear. Using cartridges that are brimming with biodegradable plastic and human cells bound up in gel, this new kind of 3D printer builds complex chunks of growing muscle, cartilage, and even bone."  Wow, I might need an upgrade.

Bernie Sanders should read this: Why is tuition so high?  Turns out the main reason is all the student aid.  This is the same reason houses cost so much and medical costs are so high.  Every time - every time - the government intervenes in a market to "help", the end effect is to hurt.

Northern lights!As you warm up for the Iditarod*, you might ponder, what lies beneath our fascination with the North?  It's a little "PC" for me but I do admit to having that fascination...

* PS congratulations to Hugh Neff and his team for winning the 2016 Yukon Quest.  He will be a favorite for the Iditarod ... in two weeks!

Horace Dediu with an interesting analysis: Priorities in a time of plenty ... for Apple.  How does a great company stay great, and keep building innovative new products?  (tl;dr: by focusing on customers)

Comedic relief: Obama compiles shortlist of gay, transsexual abortion doctors to replace Scalia.  I agree with Glenn Reynolds: future historians will read The Onion and be unable to tell it from the actual news.  Does anyone believe Obama will nominate a white male?



art mobiles

Tuesday,  02/16/16  10:20 PM

These ... are gorgeous:  Sculpted in Steel: An artful construction of cars and motorcycles.  So many of the most beautiful stuff was art deco, whether it be buildings, furniture, fine art, or ... vehicles.







Wednesday,  02/17/16  11:54 PM

Beyond AI - Humanlike ReasoningToday was a good day; it rained, quietly but steadily, I got some tricky code to run, I attended I, Robot, and Humanlike Reasoning, and I have a most interesting new customer.  And ... I blogged!

Five years ago: I got my first iPhone (a 4, I was *not* an early adopter), and I switched to Chrome.  Also Lance Armstrong retired (for the second time), the Apple App Store launched subscriptions, and Apple was worth $100B more than Microsoft, with Google closing fast in third.  I commented "could you have predicted that five years ago?  No."  So now that Google has overtaken Apple and they've both left Microsoft in the dust, what do you think will be the most valuable company five years from now?  Hmmm...

PS love having my blog archive :)

Great news: Ted Cruz now leads Donald Trump in national NBC/WSJ poll.  I'd take anyone besides Trump (since I cannot possibly vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders), but Cruz is actually my first choice.  Way back last Fall we kept thinking that Trump would self-destruct, and maybe he has ... but in slow motion.  Stay tuned!

As Glenn Reynolds comments You can't trust them: Twitter shadowbanning 'real and happening every day'.  Somewhere there's someone who actually thinks they're improving the world by doing this, but ... they're not.  Even.

Yukon Quest: Rosebud SummitSebastian Schnuelle: Post Yukon Quest, Pre-Iditarod.  Great survey of the race which just finished and the race which will start in two weeks, by this great armchair musher.  I especially like his analysis of the optimal run/rest ratios.

Keith Kaplan on the Joe Biden cancer initiative: Moonshot hits a Wall.  "The reality is and our government officials need to understand, the war on cancer is not a single moon shot, the war has been and will be a series of battles."  Indeed.

An interesting observation from my friend Jared... I'm not sure which number is more surprising.  Both feel about right for me, but I would have guess I do more of both than the average person...

wine mileage


NASA's space travel posters

Saturday,  02/20/16  10:53 PM

Did you see these?  NASA have made some amazing space travel posters.  Of course it would be great if we could actually visit these places, but in all likelihood that may never happen.  And when it does happen, these places will be nothing like we can imagine.  Except we might visit them via virtual reality.  In which case, they could be like anything we can imagine :)  Onward!











Going Gaga over Bowie

Sunday,  02/21/16  11:04 AM

A Saturday night filter pass ... wow, it's all happening ...

2016 Grammy's: Lady Gaga's tribute to David BowieDid you watch the Grammy's?  Yeah, me neither.  I love music, but I don't necessarily love all of today's music, and I especially don't love today's music's culture.  But.  If you, like me, did not watch the Grammy's, you must still watch Lady Gaga's incredible tribute to David Bowie.  A wonderful performance, and the technology was out-of-this-world.  The Thin White Duke would have loved it...  and he probably did.

Good to know: Lady Gaga's robotic keyboard had some help from NASA.  When they're not making space travel posters, they're helping musicians create cool performances.  Our tax dollars at work.

NASA: astronautI don't know whether it was the travel posters, Lady Gaga's keyboard, or [more likely!] the success of The Martian, but NASA have been inundated with astronaut applications, 18,300 of them.  Mine is somewhere in that pile, but I'm not sitting next to the phone.

Virgin Galactic VSS UnityMeanwhile in the real world of space travel, Virgin Galactic unveils the new Space Ship Two (named the VSS Unity).  You might recall their previous SST broke apart during an October 2014 test flight; they've regrouped, and now this is the vehicle they hope will enable them to take people into space.  (Where by space, they mean, about 100km up, not necessarily visiting moons and planets...) 

I rate a "space flight" by Virgin Galactic significantly more likely to occur than a manned mission by NASA...

So ... today we had the South Carolina primaries, and as expected Donald Trump won, but as perhaps not expected Marco Rubio finished second, and Jeb Bush dropped out.  At the conservative Powerline Blog, Scott Johnson regards this as bad news (because Trump remains ahead), while John Hinderaker sees reasons for optimism (because Rubio is emerging as they alternative).

And Scott Adams finds reasons for humor ... the Pope vs Donald Trump:

Scott Adams: the Pope vs Donald Trump 

Speaking of humor, wow, Steve Martin performed stand-up last night for the first time in 35 years.  Would that I could have been there...  I've searched YouTube in vain but so far no video of the performance has surfaced.

how a sewing machine works!You might find this interesting (as I did), how a sewing machine works.  This sort of ancient mechanical magic is always cool, right?  The problems that people were able to solve without computers before computers...

Chris Nuttall on publishers raising e-book prices: Reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.  "I recall a story from the night the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The crew, realizing the ship was in trouble, started launching lifeboats, but the passengers were largely reluctant to believe that the unsinkable ship could actually be sunk. Accordingly, the first set of lifeboats were largely empty. Unsurprisingly, as the ship continued to sink below the waves, there weren't enough lifeboats to take the remaining passengers."  The value of a book doesn't come from its production cost, but people will balk at paying the same prices for e-books as hardcovers...

And here we have a breathtaking fairytale home worthy of a Hogwarts wizard.  The woodworking on those floors is definitely wizard-ly magic :)

fairytale house worthy of a Hogwarts wizard


Apple HAL

Sunday,  02/21/16  06:47 PM






Saturday,  02/27/16  10:41 PM

Whew, busy week.  Coding (several different projects, for several different companies :), and ... moving!  More about that *soon*...  but in the meantime, it's all happening...

Trumbo - the movieSpotlight - the movieWatched some interesting movies recently, warming up for the Oscars ... Trumbo, which despite being [apparently] far from the truth of what actually happened with the real Trumbo, was most entertaining, Hail Caesar, a farce set in the same time period which was pretty entertaining, and Spotlight, my personal choice for Best Picture, a great story and well acted in a beautifully made movie.  (Yeah I liked The Martian a lot too, and wouldn't quibble if you chose that instead.)

So I guess it is going to be Trump vs Clinton.  They say we get the leaders we deserve, so I guess we don't deserve any better, but wow what a terrible choice.  Regardless of your politics you cannot be enthusiastic about either of these clowns.  My favorite comment in the political season so far is this one: I never expected Idiocracy to become a documentary.

John Hindraker finds an interesting analog for Trump's success: Jesse Ventura, who surprisingly was elected Governor of Minnesota, running as a non-politician.  "Once Ventura took office, however, a couple of things became apparent. First, not being a politician ceased to be as asset. Ventura had no idea what he was doing, and had to rely on his advisers for pretty much everything. Second, Ventura was not a conservative at all. On the contrary, he and his aides governed primarily as liberals."  And that's the good outcome.

Scott "Dilbert" Adams is making a comeback as a political analyst: How to spot a narcissist.  "Narcissism is definitely a thing. But we also need a name for the mental condition in which you believe you are so smart you can diagnose narcissism from a distance. I won't call you a narcissist unless you state your opinion in a public comment forum and insult other voters and commenters as if you have no empathy. So don’t do that."  Heh.  Well, I think Trump is a buffoon, and I think people who can't see that are idiots.

what's next in computing?Chris Dixon: What's next in computing.  "If the 10–15 year pattern repeats itself, the next computing era should enter its growth phase in the next few years. In that scenario, we should already be in the gestation phase. There are a number of important trends in both hardware and software that give us a glimpse into what the next era of computing might be."  An interesting and wide-ranging think piece, well worth the read. 

There are a number of candidates: VR, AR, and AI among them.  Possibly a combination of all three!

"put that there" - MIT gestural interface ... in 1979In case you think all this stuff is "new", check this out: a voice and gesture interface from 1979, at MIT Media Lab.  Wow.  That predates Chris' three big breakthroughs: personal computers (1981), the web (1994), and smartphones (2007).

RCA building c1931Even older cool tech: this beautiful RCA building from 1931.  What has happened to architecture that we don't design anything this cool anymore?  (Maybe we've lost patience...)

This might be more helpful to you than me: Twitter's missing manual.  Who knew the apparently simple UI had so many weirdnesses?  (I will say viewing Twitter has become a vast ugliness, sort of like visiting a MySpace.)

Philip Greenspun wonders: how do people mix alcohol and skiing?  Weeeelll....


Codility ... testing, testing, 1 ... 2 ... 3

Sunday,  02/28/16  11:01 AM

Codility in actionRecently a potential client asked me to take a coding test on Codility.  (Well, they asked "us", not knowing that "us" was me :)  I took the test and failed miserably.  Herewith, lessons learned...

At right: the Codility interface ... (click to enbiggen)

My first mistake was taking the whole thing lightly.  I'm a great C++ programmer (if I say so myself) so I was confident in my ability to code.  However, there is more to passing a Codility test than writing good/great code.  1) you have to understand the interface, 2) you have to code an efficient solution, as opposed to a simple one that works, and 3) you have to do it in a limited amount of time.  Oh, and 4) you have to pay attention to boundary conditions.

1) To understand the interface, Codility recommend you take their sample test.  This is good advice which I did not take.  The interface is just fine, but it does take a few minutes to acclimate to it, especially the means of entering and running test cases.  In particular, they allow you to run any test cases you want, but they do not tell you whether the tests get the right answer, only whether they compile and run.  This isn't immediately obvious, and it's important.

2) Codility specify the O-notation of the expected best solutions.  Most of their algorithmic problems are pretty simple, but coming up with a most efficient solution may require tricks.  It's a mistake to go after a tricky / efficient solution first, however, as I found to my chagrin.  As I note below, code a simple solution that works first, then develop optimizations.

3) You are typically given 30 minutes to complete a test (I was given 90 minutes to complete three).  This is plenty of time to code and test a simple algorithm.  However, it is not plenty of time if you spend a lot of it learning the interface and investigating interesting optimal solutions.  Plan your time wisely.  Out of 30 minutes I suggest 10 minutes for a bolt dumb solution, 5 minutes creating a wide variety of test cases, and 15 minutes for optimization.

4) In many of their tests (I have now taken six) Codility specify boundaries like "integer in the range -2,147,483,647 ... +2,147,483,647.  You will recognize these are the max values for a 32-bit int.  They will give you these values in a test case.  If you want to add 1 to such an int, you'll need a long long.  This sort of stuff doesn't often come up in everyday coding, but you need to be ready for it.

My suggestions for anyone taking a Codility -type test:

  • Take a sample test or two first, to get used to the interface.  This post discusses their sample problem (take that one first) and has links to two others.
  • Develop your solutions in your favorite IDE, and then copy-and-paste them into Codility.  Really really.  At first you will think "this interface is fine, no worries" (as I did), but when you're pressed for time and want to run many test cases, you'll be happy to have your own IDE.  Mine is Visual Studio, yours might be Xcode or Eclipse, but use it.
  • For each problem, develop the absolute most bolt-dumb simple solution first.  Make sure it works (with "printf" debugging, or whatever), and then use it as a check against your more complicated more efficient solutions.  This does two things for you: 1) if you run out of time, you have a solution that works, 2) having an instant test for any would-be more-efficient solution is most helpful.  You can run though many, many possible optimizations rapidly once you have an automated test.

TestDome ... another test site similar to CodilityIn addition to Codility, other sites which offer these types of tests include TestDome and HackerRank.  They're actually a lot of fun once you get into the mode of taking them.

A final comment: In Googling I found quite a few people online have commented that this type of test is a bad measure of programming ability.  Okay, I agree it isn't perfect, and of course you will want other data points before hiring someone.  But it's a pretty good screen; ideally a good programmer would pass such a test, easily (*ahem*), and the fact that they've taken the time to do so is an indication of their sincere interest in your opportunity.

Cheers, and happy testing!



Happy Leap Day

Monday,  02/29/16  06:29 AM

leap day!Yay, we get an extra day this year!  Let's make the most of it...

Checking my archive, I see that four years ago I didn't post anything; I had begun a two-year slump in which I was posting on Facebook, only.  But eight years ago I posted "try to do something special today, after all, it will be 1,461 days before the next one!"  So I'm asking myself, what did I do in those 1,461 days, and the 1,461 which followed?  Many things, but did I make the most of them

Tough to say.  The best I can do is make the most of the next 1,461 days, starting with today!


Return to the archive.

this date in:
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