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...
Whew, 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.
NASA 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.
Well, so much for blogging (yawn), I'm off to bed.
I think I'll watch Groundhog Day ... again.
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!
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.
Hey, it's February! Let's celebrate ... with a curious blog post :)
Here 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.
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.
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!
(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.
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...
Unrelated 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.
I'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 :)
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...]
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...
To 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."
To 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.
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!)
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?
Have 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.
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...
I 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.
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 :)
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.
Speaking 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?
To 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 :)
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.
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
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.
So, 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.