Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Some articles worth reading

Here's a few articles that are worth your time:

  • I'm not generally a policy wonk, but you really, really, really should spend some time with Steven Brill's magnificent cover story in Time about healthcare costs in the United States: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us
    Unless you are protected by Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot. People fare differently according to circumstances they can neither control nor predict. They may have no insurance. They may have insurance, but their employer chooses their insurance plan and it may have a payout limit or not cover a drug or treatment they need. They may or may not be old enough to be on Medicare or, given the different standards of the 50 states, be poor enough to be on Medicaid. If they’re not protected by Medicare or they’re protected only partly by private insurance with high co-pays, they have little visibility into pricing, let alone control of it. They have little choice of hospitals or the services they are billed for, even if they somehow know the prices before they get billed for the services. They have no idea what their bills mean, and those who maintain the chargemasters couldn’t explain them if they wanted to. How much of the bills they end up paying may depend on the generosity of the hospital or on whether they happen to get the help of a billing advocate. They have no choice of the drugs that they have to buy or the lab tests or CT scans that they have to get, and they would not know what to do if they did have a choice. They are powerless buyers in a seller’s market where the only sure thing is the profit of the sellers.
  • Here's a fascinating story from Runner's World that appears to be about sport, but is really about Alaska: The Last Man Up
    Think about that for a moment: 1.5 miles up. Roughly 1.6 miles down. Hundreds of runners within view of thousands of fans, and a man simply vanished. How the hell is that even possible?
  • This intriguing story from Grantland discusses the enormous problem of match-fixing in soccer: Soccer's New Match-Fixing Scandal
    I'm generally in favor of making sports gambling legal, for reasons that have nothing to do with sports. But it's important to recognize that what's enabled soccer's match-fixing problem is not the unregulated shadiness of illegal gambling but the fact that the sheer volume of betting encouraged by legal gambling opens up opportunities to exploit the systems devised to handle it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The bubble is back

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Elon Musk says that "there were probably a few hundred" cancelled orders for the Tesla: Musk: NYT Likely Cost Tesla Hundreds of Orders .

I guess I'm an old fogie, but in my mind, a $101,000 car is an extreme luxury item, not a common-place purchase.

And, yet, the factory is supposedly running 21 hours a day, producing something like 100 cars a day.

Am I insane? Who are all these people who have $100,000 to spend on a new car?

I mean, the sales tax alone is almost what I could afford to spend on a new car.

What sort of annual income do you have to have to be able to afford such a vehicle?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Visual Delight

Every fruit tree in the city is blooming.

Cherry, Plum, Pear, Apple.

You can't walk twenty feet without seeing one.

Profusions of pink and white flowers in all directions.


Getting started with virtualization

System virtualization is one of the most powerful, yet most complicated, topics in computing.

If, like me, you're trying to deepen your knowledge about the basics of virtualization, may I suggest this short syllabus as an introduction to the concepts and principles?

  • System virtualization is actually one of the oldest sub-fields in computing; it's been intensively studied for 50 years. One of the best early papers about system virtualization is Creasy's The Origin of the VM/370 Time-sharing System. I actually spent some time on a VM/370 system in the mid-1980's, when I was working in the mainframe DBMS market (this was before DB2). Creasy notes that the critical innovation of VM/370 was its recognition of computer resource management as a separate layer in the operating system software:
    A key concept of the CP/CMS design was the bifurcation of computer resource management and user support. In effect, the integrated design was split into CP and CMS. CP solved the problem of multiple use by providing separate computing environments at the machine instruction level for each user. CMS then provided single user service unencumbered by the problems of sharing, allocation, and protection.
  • There were many other early studies of computer resource virtualization; Goldberg's article is a great place to look for more historical background: A Survey of Virtual Machine Research.
  • Perhaps the most important work in system virtualization came out of Stanford's FLASH project in the 1990's, and the best paper for understanding that work is: Disco: Running Commodity Operating Systems on Scalable Multiprocessors
    Rather than attempting to modify existing operating systems to run on scalable shared-memory multiprocessors, we insert an additional layer of software between the hardware and the operating system. This layer of software, called a virtual machine monitor, virtualizes all the resources of the machine, exporting a more conventional hardware interface to the operating system. The monitor manages all the resources so that multiple virtual machines can coexist on the same multiprocessor.
  • Another major project in system virtualization was happening at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Originally called the "XenoServer" project, it soon became known as Xen. There are many important resources for learning about the Xen project; here are two. First, there is their primary paper: Xen and the Art of Virtualization
    We avoid the drawbacks of full virtualization by presenting a virtual machine abstraction that is similar but not identical to the underlying hardware — an approach which has been dubbed paravirtualization. This promises improved performance, although it does require modifications to the guest operating system. It is important to note, however, that we do not require changes to the application binary interface (ABI), and hence no modifications are required to guest applications.
    A great way to comprehend the Xen project, and how it compares to and differs from the Stanford work, is to listen to Ian Pratt's talk at the 2008 NSDI conference: Xen and the Art of Virtualization Revisited.
  • As you will learn from the above, the primary techniques for system virtualization around the turn of the century required either that the guest software be modified, or that the Virtual Machine Monitor perform dynamic modification of the binary machine code of the guest software. Both approaches are extremely complex, so there was intense interest in improving the situation. To understand the issues, look to this paper from Adams and Agesen: A Comparison of Software and Hardware Techniques for x86 Virtualization
    Ignoring the legacy “real” and “virtual 8086” modes of x86, even the more recently architected 32- and 64-bit protected modes are not classically virtualizable:
    • Visibility of privileged state. The guest can observe that it has been deprivileged when it reads its code segment selector (%cs) since the current privilege level (CPL) is stored in the low two bits of %cs.
    • Lack of traps when privileged instructions run at user-level. For example, in privileged code popf (“pop flags”) may change both ALU flags (e.g., ZF) and system flags (e.g., IF, which controls interrupt delivery). For a deprivileged guest, we need kernel mode popf to trap so that the VMM can emulate it against the virtual IF. Unfortunately, a deprivileged popf, like any user-mode popf, simply suppresses attempts to modify IF; no trap happens.
  • Another active area of work involved the virtualization of hardware devices. Rosenblum and Waldspurger's article in ACM Queue is a great place to start: I/O Virtualization
    When an application running within a VM issues an I/O request, typically by making a system call, it is initially processed by the I/O stack in the guest operating system, which is also running within the VM. A device driver in the guest issues the request to a virtual I/O device, which the hypervisor then intercepts. The hypervisor schedules requests from multiple VMs onto an underlying physical I/O device, usually via another device driver managed by the hypervisor or a privileged VM with direct access to physical hardware.
  • Another good introduction to device virtualization is Virtualizing I/O Devices on VMware Workstation’s Hosted Virtual Machine Monitor. Although it's now a decade-old paper, it's well written and approachable.
    whenever the guest performs an I/O operation, the VMM will intercept it and switch to the host world rather than accessing the native hardware directly. Once in the host world, the VMApp will perform the I/O on behalf of the virtual machine through appropriate system calls. For example, an attempt by the guest to fetch sectors from its disk will become a read() issued to the host for the corresponding data. The VMM also yields control to the host OS upon receiving a hardware interrupt. The hardware interrupt is reasserted in the host world so that the host OS will process the interrupt as if it came directly from hardware.
  • If device virtualization is your thing, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in terminology like Port ID Virtualization and Single- and Multi-Root I/O Virtualization. This Intel white-paper will help you get deeper into this world: PCI-SIG SR-IOV Primer: An Introduction to SR-IOV Technology
    The goal of the PCI-SIG SR-IOV specification is to standardize on a way of bypassing the VMM’s involvement in data movement by providing independent memory space, interrupts, and DMA streams for each virtual machine. SR-IOV architecture is designed to allow a device to support multiple Virtual Functions (VFs) and much attention was placed on minimizing the hardware cost of each additional function.
  • One of the hottest parts of the virtualization world recently is the area of Network Virtualization. Entire conferences are devoted to this topic nowadays, and you won't find a shortage of things to read. For a taste of what's going on, consider this recent paper by the Ncira team: Fabric: A Retrospective on Evolving SDN
    We then describe how we might create a better form of SDN by retrospectively leveraging the insights underlying MPLS. While OpenFlow has been used to build MPLS LSRs [12], we propose drawing architectural lessons from MPLS that apply to SDN more broadly. This modified approach to SDN revolves around the idea of network fabrics which introduces a new modularity in networking that we feel is necessary
    For some valuable critical commentary, try Brad Casemore's analysis of the Ncira presentation: SDN Focus Turns to Infrastructure
    The paper essentially proposes a refinement to both OpenFlow and to the SDN architectural model. We might call it SDN 2.0, though that might seem a little glib and presumptuous (at least on my part). Regardless of what we call it, it is evident that certain elements in the vanguard of the SDN community continue to work hard to deliver a new type of cloud-era networking that delivers software-based services running over a brawny but relatively simple network infrastructure.

After four decades, it's quite clear that system virtualization continues to be one of the more important and most complicated areas of computing; it's unlikely that will change soon.

Read any great works on system virtualization? I'm always looking for good ideas to add to my reading list. Let me know!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Engineers and their toys

It's a Friday afternoon, and I'm day-dreaming about some of the more fun aspects of technology...

  • For whatever reason, one of the best articles about the nearly-completed Bay Bridge appears in the New York Daily News, of all places: As San Francisco’s Bay Bridge redesign nears completion, architect Marwan Nader reflects on his feat of earthquake and aesthetic engineering
    “The thing people tend to forget is that we’re dealing with very poor soil under the bridge,” Nader said.

    In fact, Nader’s team found they would have to dig three times deeper than the current footing in order to make sure they would have a firm enough foundation so that the bridge to withstand another major earthquake of 7.0 or greater.

    To do this, crews had to drill more than 300 feet into the Bay floor, where they were finally able to secure concrete-reinforced steel pilings.

  • Speaking of digging into the floor of the bay, and speaking of New York City, I love these great pictures of the project to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station: The Tunnels of NYC's East Side Access Project
    Deep underground, rail tunnels are extending from Sunnyside, Queens, to a new Long Island Rail Road terminal being excavated beneath Grand Central Terminal. Construction began in 2007, with an estimated cost of $6.3 billion and completion date of 2013. Since then, the cost estimate has been raised to $8.4 billion, and the completion date moved back to 2019. When finished, the line will accommodate 24 trains per hour at peak traffic, cutting down on commute times from Long Island, and opening up access to John F. Kennedy International Airport from Manhattan's East Side.
  • Over the holiday weekend, my wife and I picked a fun rainy-day activity: we went to see Life of Pi, the delightful screen adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling book. After the movie, I commented to my wife about how amazingly realistic the computer-generated Richard Parker was, and she was shocked that it wasn't real. Everyone is expecting the production team to win major awards on Sunday for their superb work, but as Wired points out, the work has driven other advances as well: How Mathematical Research Is Making the Life of Pi Tiger Even Better
    As that object deforms, it’s easy to approximate the resulting movement with a linear deformation, which is a good treatment for small movements, but wildly inaccurate for larger ones. Sanan’s central task is to use “geometrically nonlinear” models which are almost as easy to use as linear models, yet work equally well for all deformations, maintaining an object’s volume across a full range of motion.
  • On a similar movie-related note, I enjoyed Spencer Ackerman's piece at Wired: Inside the Battle of Hoth
    What did the Empire gain at Hoth? It had the opportunity to deal the Rebel Alliance a defeat from which the Rebels might not have recovered: the loss of its secret base; the loss of its politically potent symbol in Leia; and most of all the loss of its promising proto-Jedi in Luke. Instead, Luke escapes to join Yoda; Leia escapes with Han to Cloud City (where Vader has to resort to Plan B); and the Rebel Alliance’s transport ships largely escape
  • Lastly, the week wouldn't be complete without my obligatory nod to the Tesla review, with a nice reflection from Taylor Owen at the Columbia School of Journalism: What the Tesla Affair Tells us About Data Journalism
    And here in lies the principle lesson from the whole Tesla affair: Data is laden with intentionality, and cannot be removed from the context in which it was derived. We do not know, from these data alone, what happened in that parking lot.
    and some great work by Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic: Elon Musk's Data Doesn't Back Up His Claims of New York Times Fakery
    In the end, it looks like Broder made some compromises to get from the Newark charging station to the Milford one, in both speed and temperature. Broder may not have used Musk's car the way Musk would like, but Musk is, for now, overhyping his case for a breach of journalism ethics.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stuff I'm reading, mid-week edition

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm over Kingdoms of Amalur; I had a four-day weekend and haven't played it even once. But then again, I was pretty busy with lots of other things going on, including re-creating this delightful hike from Weekend Sherpa.

But in case the rainy weather is keeping you indoors today, here's a few things you might find interesting:

  • Ever wonder how Netflix keeps track of your queue? The implementation has recently changed, and the team have described some of the improvements they undertook: Netflix Queue: Data migration for a high volume web application
    Migrating data to an eventually consistent data store, such as Cassandra, for a high volume, low latency application and verifying its consistency is a multi step process. It involves an one time data forklifting and then applying further changes incrementally. There could be error cases where the incremental updates cannot be successfully applied for reasons such as timeouts, throttling of data stores, temporary node unavailability etc. Running an end to end consistency checker and validating data by doing shadow reads helped us better evaluate the consistency of the migrated data.
  • The hearings have begun regarding the sinking of the HMS Bounty replica, and gCaptain is following the proceedings: Bounty Hearings Begin – Chief Mate Testifies
    After Svendsen’s testimony was finished, Carroll and the panel discussed a piece of evidence (CG-12) – a 2010 survey report from the American Bureau of Shipping – that outlined 19 deficiencies requiring attention if Bounty was to be issued a Load Line certificate. The issues ranged from weather-tight fittings and missing hatch gaskets to improper drainage and problems with watertight bulkheads. The Coast Guard investigator kept repeating the phrase “that repair was not done” when referring to an interview with the ship’s owner following the sinking. The load line certificate was never issued.
  • You may have thought the Oracle v. Google lawsuit was over. Not so: the case is now under appeal. Florian Mueller discusses some of the primary issues: Oracle's appeal brief clears up misconceptions about software patents-copyright relationship
    The claim that increasingly broad protection through software patents renders copyright superfluous should set off the alarm bells in the minds of some of the people who cheered about Judge Alsup's ruling but simultaneously criticize (or fundamentally oppose) software patents. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation isn't really being consistent on these two issues.
  • I can't get enough of this Tesla v. The New York Times thing. Bruce Schneier looks at the medium-term privacy implications: Automobile Data Surveillance and the Future of Black Boxes
    it gives you an idea of the sort of things that will be collected once automobile black boxes become the norm. We're used to airplane black boxes, which only collected a small amount of data from the minutes just before an incident. But that was back when data was expensive. Now that it's cheap, expect black boxes to collect everything all the time. And once it's collected, it'll be used. By auto manufacturers, by insurance companies, by car rental companies, by marketers.
  • The understatement of the day comes from this fascinating article about the ongoing studies into Burmese Pythons on the Florida Everglades: Biggest Python in Fla. Snake Hunt Released Into the Wild
    Initially the prize for the longest snake went to a man who brought in a 10-foot long python, but on Sunday another longest snake prize was given to Blake Russ and Devin Belliston of Miami who wrangled an 11-foot long python. The error in measurement, according to Mazzotti, has to do with the difficulty of measuring a live python.
  • Speaking of Python, the Python I spend much more time dealing with is a programming language called Python. As Ned Batchelder notes, one of the things that programming language educators should think about is how terrible our basic programming language idioms are for describing simple concepts: Getting started with programming terminology
    Expressions have no range of emotion at all, arguments aren't debating anything. Comprehensions are incomprehensible, floats just lie there. You can't put a price on values, dictionaries have no order.
  • Junio Hamano takes a few moments out of his incredibly busy life to help us understand The Maintainer's Life. It's basically what some people might call "project management":
    what I the maintainer alone does as the project leader.
    • Keep an eye on end-user reports and requests that haven't been responded, find somebody in the community (i.e. victims) who are knowledgeable enough to handle them, and redirect.
    • Accept the patches polished in the review process and manage releases.
  • Wired is featuring a human-interest story about one of my absolute favorite bloggers, James Hamilton: Why Amazon Hired a Car Mechanic to Run Its Cloud Empire
    Much like two other cloud computing giants — Google and Microsoft — Amazon says very little about the particulars of its data center work, viewing this as the most important of trade secrets, but Hamilton is held in such high regard, he’s one of the few Amazon employees permitted to blog about his big ideas, and the fifty-something Canadian has developed a reputation across the industry as a guru of distributing systems.
    (Yes, most people would say 'distributed systems', not 'distributing systems'. But anyway.)

  • Totally unrelated to Hamilton's work at Amazon, Scott Hanselman tracks down and describes the details of one of the many social engineering frauds that are rampant on the Internet. Learn how they work, and avoid them! Chasing an active Social Engineering Fraud at Amazon Kindle
    there are a series of chats with "Scott" using their Live Chat system. So, this is a social engineering hack, not a "password compromised" hack. The person has reported that "Scott's" Kindle is broken and has asked for a replacement, but then later tried to redirect the delivery. The customer rep says they can't redirect it. However, it appears the bad guy tried multiple support folks until they finally got the package redirected.
  • My mother raises an interesting point about how we respond to "historical fiction": Texas, by James Michener
    I became irritated quickly with becoming involved with a family or an individual character and then, checking the list he had helpfully added to the front matter, would find they were fictional.
  • In local news, the Artemis Racing team are said to be making a presentation here in town next week; I'm going to check the schedule to see if I can attend. Meanwhile, the Oracle Racing team have finished repairing their boat and are scheduled to be back on the water: Exclusive news! Four AC 72′s expected to hit SF Bay on Monday.
    Will they be cautious with their new toy, or will they hit the ground running to catch up with the other teams who have been operating daily on the Hauraki Gulf and right here on the bay? Either way, Oracle will have to watch out for high speed traffic because on Monday there is expected to be four AC72s plying the waters of San Francisco!
  • I love it when I find things like this on the Internet: it's simply a self-published, sentimental photo-essay about growing up on the East Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Quite nice: Four Seasons on Brick Kiln Road
    The poetry in the town can be found in the smell of steamed hard crabs, the pungent funk of the salt marsh, the sound of hymns being sung, the soft creak of a rocking chair on a weathered front porch. Days and weeks drift by in long periods of idleness interrupted by the occasional Lions Club pancake supper or great storms sweeping over the Chesapeake.
  • Joe Duffy reflects on what "Software Leadership" means, and hits on a point that's been made before (e.g., Joel Spolsky's "smart, and gets things done"), but it's still worth making, and making again: Software Leadership #1: Code Speaks; Love the Code
    I’ve seen it afflict software engineers too: "I’ve been a professional developer for 10 years, so my job is now to tell others what to do rather than doing anything myself." At this point, they might adopt the title Architect.


    The idea that you can improve the state of software, whose bloodline is code, without ever writing a line of it or becoming proficient in it, is complete insanity. And yet it’s generally accepted.

  • Saving the meatiest for last, don't miss this superb and lengthy investigation into the new world of BitCoin and Silk Road: Using Silk Road
    It’s worth noting that the buyers bear the real risk on SR. A seller can easily anonymize themselves and send packages without difficulty: simply drive out of town to an obscure post office and mail it, leaving behind fuzzy surveillance recordings, if even that. (See the Silk Road subforum on shipping (mirror).) A buyer, on the other hand, must at some point be physically present to consume the ordered drugs or items. There’s no way to cleanly separate herself from the shipment like the seller can. Shipping is so safe for the seller that many of them will, without complaint, ship worldwide or across national borders because customs so rarely stops drug shipments.

This week, may the challenges you face pale beside "the difficulty of measuring a live python."

Happy reading!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Software for beginners

One of the interesting things about the Apache Derby database is that it's often the first database that a beginning programmer is exposed to.

One of the reasons for this is the wide distribution of Derby:

  • It's free, and open source
  • It's the most prominent database in the Apache Software Foundation (although it may be losing that place as other databases are added to the Apache umbrella
  • It's included as part of the JDK download from Sun/Oracle
  • It's bundled and embedded inside the NetBeans IDE from Sun/Oracle
  • It's bundled and embedded inside the Glassfish application server from Sun/Oracle

For whatever reason, it seems quite common that new programmers, just beginning to get into the "serious" phase of the programming education, often come across Derby very early in their exposure to databases.

For this reason, I think that it's a very good thing that Derby is quite careful about the database implementation that it provides.

The Derby implementation of SQL is very traditional; it conforms quite tightly to the international SQL standards and behaves in the most correct manner in its implementation.

This gets programmers off to a good start.

Later, when they are more fluent in database concepts, have built some database applications, and are no longer struggling with the basic ideas, they can move on to other database implementations and start experimenting with variations and embellishments.

But there is a very long ways you can go while still adhering to the core SQL standards, and the knowledge you gain while working with Derby will be transferable to all those other wacky not-quite-standard databases you'll meet out there in the real world.

So the next time you wonder why the Derby developers are a bit touchy when they get asked why Derby doesn't implement your favorite database's Wacky Feature #39, remember that Derby is often software for beginners.

And beginners need to get off to a good start.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sock Puppets

If you're at all interested in the topic of how the Internet and our modern connected world is changing every aspect of our social interactions, you'll want to spend some time digging into this fascinating story in the weekend edition of the New York Times: Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences.

Mr. Golb, 53, is waiting to begin serving a six-month sentence for waging an Internet campaign against his father’s academic rivals
A prison sentence for "waging an Internet campaign"? Wait, it becomes more clear as you read the story.

The story involves the Dead Sea Scrolls, enormously-intriguing documents that are nearly 2,500 years old. In the seven decades since the scrolls were discovered, they have been studied extensively, but interpreting them is challenging, and has led to a (mostly) healthy debate about their significance.

This, however, is not so healthy:

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas.

Though it may be hard to see that these "sock puppet debates" constitute an offense worthy of jail time, the story gets still worse, as Gelb allegedly moves on to actively smearing others:

the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Though it's no turn-the-other-cheek on Cargill's side, as he decides to fight back, online:

Beneath one of Mr. Golb’s pseudonymous comments, he posted a message, using the pseudonym Raphael Joel, a combination of Mr. Golb’s first name and his brother’s. The message was: We know who you are.

His sock puppets, in other words, were taunting Mr. Golb’s sock puppets.

Others are dragged into the mess, as Golb escalates to forging e-mails:

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of Larry.Schiffman@gmail.com, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

As the article observes, it's not obvious that this is felonious behavior:

He wasn’t trying to defraud anybody or gain anything, his lawyers argued; he just wanted his father’s views represented. If he was guilty of slander or libel, his victims could sue him in civil court.

Still, the government didn't see it that way:

It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.

As Peter Steiner so brilliantly put it, 20 years ago, On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog. I'm surprised that Golb is actually getting jail time, but cyber-harassment, email forgery, and character destruction are certainly serious actions.

What the article doesn't discuss, and should be discussed more widely, is the fact that the Internet, with its apparent anonymity and action-from-a-distance aspects, is an inviting trap for those afflicted with certain mental illnesses, and it isn't obvious how our modern social organizations are adapting to recognize such mental illness and provide treatment. Clearly Mr. Gelb needed help, but it's not clear why nobody seemed to recognize that and figure out some way for his anger and hostility to end in treatment, rather than incarceration.

What do you think of the story? At what point did it all go wrong, and what could and should have happened differently? Let me know!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Internet is cool

One of the reasons that the Internet is cool is that, if your washing machine should stop working one day, and sit there with a blinking LED display reading

then you can go to the Internet, and search, and pretty soon you'll find detailed instructions and illustrated summaries of how to fix the problem.

And, of course, another reason that the Internet is cool is that you can construct a catalog of exactly how not to get the job done.

But, if you were wondering what else might be cool about the Internet, here are a few ideas:

  • The 11th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies has wrapped up, and I've been looking through the conference sessions to get a feeling what was was being discussed. As usual, Robin Harris's blog is one of the best places to get a feel for the material. As Harris observes, a number of the best papers this year were focused on real-world experience with new technologies; it's always worth reading what happens when academic ideas confront the hard realities of implementation.
  • Everybody of course is talking about the Chelyabinsk meteor. I thought that Phil Plait's article on Slate was one of the better summaries: Russian Meteorite Fragment May Have Hit Lake
    it's become clear that the multiple booms heard were in fact explosions, and not just shock waves from the meteoroid's passing through the air. In some videos, you can see multiple flashes of light inside the contrail, which are clearly from the rock breaking up and then burning up very rapidly and with intense energy—the very definition of an explosion. Over the course of just a couple of seconds, the large energy of motion of the meteoroid was converted into heat, and this exploded with a yield of several thousand tons of TNT. It goes to show that you need not have an asteroid hit the ground to be dangerous, and in fact the hole in the ice made by the plummeting meteoroid was probably the gentlest thing it did.
  • If you were wondering why there were so many car-mounted cameras which caught video of the meteor, the reason is that having a camera on your dashboard is common in many parts of Russia: Dash-Cams: Russia's Last Hope For Civility and Survival on the Road
    Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law. Forget witnesses. Hit and runs are very common and insurance companies notoriously specialize in denying claims. Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old–the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers.
  • As long as we're talking about cameras in vehicles, though, we have to talk about the dust-up between Tesla Motors and the New York Times. The event that got it all started, of course, was this review in the Sunday edition of the paper: Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway
    The car is a technological wonder, with luminous paint on aluminum bodywork, a spacious and ultrahip cabin, a 17-inch touch screen to control functions from suspension height to the Google-driven navigation system. Feeding the 416 horsepower motor of the top-of-the-line Model S Performance edition is a half-ton lithium-ion battery pack slung beneath the cockpit; that combination is capable of flinging this $101,000 luxury car through the quarter mile as quickly as vaunted sport sedans like the Cadillac CTS-V
  • Tesla Motors took offense at the New York Times review, however, and responded with their own information; Mike Masnick provides a great summary of the events: What The Tesla / NY Times Fight Teaches Us About The Media
    Musk is obviously quite passionate about the companies he runs and their products. And that's something that's actually quite appealing. Having followed his work for a while, you know that he really is striving to build "insanely great" products. So I can absolutely understand how his first emotional reaction is to lash out at someone who wrote a less than kind review (I've been there myself too many times). But, in the end, it seems like there would have been much better ways to handle this.
  • I'm particularly intrigued by Seth Finkelstein's observation that what we might actually have been witnessing was a bug in the cruise control of the new, insanely complex vehicle: Tesla Test Drive Controversy Data - Speed HIGH by 10% ?
    Maybe someone just fumble-figured a conversion number for translating the tracking data into a figure of speed in terms of miles per hour. That is, where hypothetically they should have entered "755" (revolutions per mile), instead they might've entered something like "855". Such things have been known to happen.
I can only imagine what fun it must be to debug a car as sophisticated as the Tesla. My life is simpler; I just have to debug my distributed database implementation :) That's plenty fun enough, though...

Happy Generic President's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thought for the day

From William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth, the author is reflecting on how little America seems to care about history:

The American disease -- and I'm quoting someone I can't recall -- is forgetfulness. A person or people who cannot recollect their past have little point beyond mere animal existence: it is memory that makes things matter.
Then, reflecting on himself, and on why he chose to spend a year chronicling a single Kansas county, he says:
My grid walking half complete, I understood this: I'd come into the prairie, this place of long and circling horizons, because of a vague and undefined sense that I lived in shortsightedness; I saw how the land, like a good library, lets a fellow extend himself, stretch time, rupture the constrictions of egocentrism, slip the animal bondage of the perpetual present to hear Lincoln's mystic chords of memory. If a traveler can get past the barriers of ignorance and forgetfulness, a journey into the land is a way into some things and a way out of others.

Over the weekend we received a charming gift: a family friend that we rarely see had unearthed a collection of photographs of Emily's girl scout troop from about 15 years ago. We've followed along with this collection of girls as they grew into adults, and it was a treasure to think back just that brief period and remember what they were once like.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Google Reader strangeness

I guess it's not just me: Google Reader broken for a large number of users.

Google Reader appears to be experiencing a number of issues, displaying viewed posts as unread and not allowing users to mark posts as read. Some users are even reporting that several of their subscriptions have disappeared altogether.

Several times today it's seemed like it was back to normal, but as of 7:15 PM tonight, it still seems to be re-showing me posts I've already read.

The Dark Monk: a very short review

After enjoying his first book, I recently picked up Oliver Potzsch's The Dark Monk, the second in the series The Hangman's Daughter.

I quite enjoyed his first book, and I enjoyed the second as well. Potzsch's skill as a writer continues to improve, and the book flows well and is very enjoyable to read.

The story is good, the characters continue to develop, and the basic premise is quite intriguing.

Still, I must admit to a certain dreariness about the whole thing: life in the 1600's was clearly pretty lousy, and although Jacob Kuisl makes the best of a bad situation, it's still a bad situation.

I could have gone for a bit of sunshine at times.

If you're a fan of mysteries, you'll enjoy Potzsch's work. Start with the first book in the series: The Hangman's Daughter, and if you enjoy that, move on to The Dark Monk.

There's already a third book: The Beggar King; I'm sure I'll be reading it soon!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Alameda Creek

I live in the city of Alameda.

The city of Alameda is located in Alameda County, alphabetically the first of California's 58 counties.

Alameda Creek is also located in Alameda County, but it is nowhere close to the city of Alameda. In fact, they are about as far apart as it's possible to get, and still both be in Alameda County.

Like many California creeks, Alameda Creek is often barely a creek at all. In the summer and fall, it can be dry and barely a trickle.

But in the winter and spring, Alameda Creek is as beautiful as any creek you'll find.

The best way to experience Alameda Creek, in my opinion, is to pick a pleasant day in late winter or early spring, when the temperatures are in the mid-50's or low 60's, and the sky is clear and blue, and drive down to Sunol Regional Wilderness, one of the very nicest of the East Bay Regional Parks.

The road to Sunol Regional Wilderness is about a 10 mile dead-end; when you get there, pay your fee and find one of the parking spots at the end of the road. It can get quite crowded on a nice weekend afternoon, but there's always plenty of parking available.

The picnic tables are very nice here, so make sure you bring a nice picnic lunch.

Then, when you're rested up and packed away, set out on the Camp Ohlone trail. It's a wide and gentle gravel road of a trail that follows Alameda Creek upstream. Soon you'll be amazed that, after just a 30 minute drive and a 10 minute walk, you've found yourself in as beautiful a canyon as you'll find in the Coastal Range: here's a great picture.

You can go as long or as little as you want along the trail, but you should try to make it at least to the so-called "Little Yosemite" area, where striking boulders frame a delightful cascade.

If you're energetic, the trails from here run for miles; you can even arrange to walk all the way to Livermore along protected park trails!

That would be a long walk, though, so we were satisfied with our 3.5-mile Saturday afternoon hike, declaring it, all things considered, one of the best Saturday hikes we've been on in a very long time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rainy day reading

It was supposed to be a rainy day in the Bay Area today. Since it hasn't rained since 2012, that would actually be a good thing. But it barely sprinkled, in the end, so I don't think we can really call this a rainy day.

Still, if you were planning to spend a nice rainy day reading (or if you're somewhere else, and it's rainy where you are), you might find some of these articles interesting...

  • On our normal morning commute together, my wife and I pass by the local Google Busstop. These are increasingly common here in the Bay Area, where giant high-tech companies nowadays provide not just employment, but food (company cafes), lodging (company-sponsored apartments, condos), services (on-campus child care, on-campus dental care, on-campus fitness), etc., and are now moving into the sphere of corporate-provided transit. Rebecca Solnit writes about the Google Bus in her Diary
    Silicon Valley has long been famous for its endless work hours, for sucking in the young for decades of sixty or seventy-hour weeks, and the much celebrated perks on many jobsites – nap rooms, chefs, gyms, laundry – are meant to make spending most of your life at work less hideous. The biotech industry is following the same game plan. There are hundreds of luxury buses serving mega-corporations down the peninsula, but we refer to them in the singular, as the Google Bus, and we – by which I mean people I know, people who’ve lived here a while, and mostly people who don’t work in the industry – talk about them a lot. Parisians probably talked about the Prussian army a lot too, in the day.
  • James Hamilton reflects on the Super Bowl Power Outage of 2013: The Power Failure Seen Around the World
    Modern switchgear have many sensors monitored by firmware running on a programmable logic controller. The advantage of these software systems is they are incredibly flexible and can be configured uniquely for each installation. The disadvantage of software systems is the wide variety of configurations they can support can be complex and the default configurations are used perhaps more often than they should. The default configurations in a country where legal settlements can be substantial tend towards the conservative side. We don’t know if that was a factor in this event but we do know that no fault was found and the power was stable for the remainder of the game.
  • I can't wait for The Performance of Open Source Applications to come out; I thought The Architecture of Open Source Applications was one of the better computer books I've read in the last 5 years. An early teaser is Ilya Gregorik's High Performance Networking in Google Chrome
    To most users and even web-developers, the DNS, TCP, and SSL delays are entirely transparent and are negotiated at network layers to which few of us descend or think about. And yet, each of these steps is critical to the overall user experience, since each extra network request can add tens or hundreds of milliseconds of latency. This is the reason why Chrome's network stack is much, much more than a simple socket handler.
  • Dan Lyons on the latest Dell financial news: Michael Dell Goes To Hell
    Deals like this are where big companies go to die. Michael Dell has gone to hell. He's now in bed with a bunch of ruthless private equity guys whose role in this world is not to build things, but to take them apart and sell the pieces. They're corporate chop shops.
  • Ross Anderson writes about quantum cryptography: Hard questions about quantum crypto and quantum computing
    We argue that quantum entanglement may be modelled by coupled oscillators (as it already is in the study of Josephson junctions) and this could explain why it’s hard to get more than about three qubits
  • Speaking of Ross Anderson, did you realize that the entire second edition of Security Engineering is available online? Security Engineering — The Book
    When I wrote the first edition, we put the chapters online free after four years and found that this boosted sales of the paper edition. People would find a useful chapter online and then buy the book to have it as a reference. Wiley and I agreed to do the same with the second edition, and now, four years after publication, I am putting all the chapters online for free. Enjoy them – and I hope you'll buy the paper version to have as a conveient shelf reference
  • As long as we're talking about computer security, see if you can make heads or tails out of this confusing article about Silent Circle: The Threat of Silence
    The technology uses a sophisticated peer-to-peer encryption technique that allows users to send encrypted files of up to 60 megabytes through a “Silent Text” app. The sender of the file can set it on a timer so that it will automatically “burn”—deleting it from both devices after a set period of, say, seven minutes.
  • Returning to online textbooks, I've been taking Introduction to Electrical Engineering on Coursera, taught by Professor Don Johnson of Rice University (no, he wasn't on Miami Vice!). It's a superb course, but even more amazing is that he's made his entire textbook available online: Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering I
    Whether analog or digital, information is represented by the fundamental quantity in electrical engineering: the signal. Stated in mathematical terms, a signal is merely a function. Analog signals are continuous-valued; digital signals are discrete-valued. The independent variable of the signal could be time (speech, for example), space (images), or the integers (denoting the sequencing of letters and numbers in the football score).
  • I continue to try to understand Software Defined Networking. Brad Hedlund tries to explain it to me: Network Virtualization: a next generation modular platform for the data center virtual network
    In a network virtualization platform, the fabric is the physical network – which itself could be constructed with modular chassis switches, or perhaps a distributed architecture of fixed switches. Either way, the physical network provides forwarding bandwidth between all of the virtual Edge linecards. And the fabric for network virtualization can be supplied by any switching vendor – similar to how hardware for server virtualization can be supplied by any server vendor.
  • I love this follow-up journalism done by USA Today, looking back on the great "Arsenic-based life" incident of 3 years ago: Glowing reviews on 'arseniclife' spurred NASA's embrace
    Basically, the reviewers took at face value the fundamental claim by the study authors that the GFAJ-1 bug was growing without any phosphorus, says microbial ecologist Norman Pace of the University of Colorado. "Once you accept that, everything else follows," Pace says. "You just have to have a certain expertise to know that is nearly impossible; removing phosphorus is just very hard."
  • Finally, if you, like me, are finding that your copy of Mozilla Thunderbird has become more and more sluggish and more and more frustrating to use as time passes, here's a suggestion. A colleague suggested that I go into the Thunderbird preferences and uncheck the "Enable Global Search and Indexer" checkbox. I did so, and it does indeed seem to have dramatically improved things. A search for this feature indicates I'm not the only one who benefited from the advice.
    This is a new feature, and large inboxes and mail folders take a while to index. My understanding was that Tb 3.1.x was supposed to fine tune the feature to turn off while you were doing something, so it didn't get in the way. It appears in your case, that fine tuning didn't happen.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

This may mean absolutely nothing, or ...

... it may be the absolute BEST news of the year!

Portal, the Movie: Valve, J.J. Abrams Team Up for Future Games, Films

Abrams and Newell made the surprise, succinct announcement at the end of their keynote speech, which took the form of a carefully rehearsed discussion between the two creatives about the strengths and weaknesses of games and movies as storytelling mediums.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The wheels of justice turn slowly...

... still, isn't it somewhat shocking that it took SIX YEARS for this to occur? S&P expects US lawsuit over its mortgage ratings

According to a report in the New York Times, the lawsuit will likely be brought this week after settlement talks between the Justice Department and S&P broke down last week. The talks collapsed over federal authorities' insistence that a settlement involve at least $1 billion, the Times reported.

I think that this is the "report in the New York Times": U.S. and States Prepare to Sue S.&P. Over Mortgage Ratings

The case is focusing on about 30 collateralized debt obligations, an exotic type of mortgage security. According to S&P, the mortgage securities were created in 2007 at the height of the housing boom.

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero looks like my sort of game.

Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King's Quest series, or more recently Telltale's Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.

But I just bought The Cave, and am still neck-deep in Kingdoms of Amalur!

What am I to do?

Need to find more hours in the day to play games...

Sunday, February 3, 2013


The East Bay Regional Park District is one of the greatest urban treasures in the country. We've been visiting these parks for decades and still find new places to explore.

Here, apropos of nothing more than a beautiful February weekend, is Bryan's list of the Top Five Places To Go With Your Dog In The East Bay:

  • Briones. Briones Regional Park is one of the crown jewels of the East Bay parks. It is simply enormous: you could visit dozens of times, spend hundreds of hours, and there would still be huge sections of the park you've never visited. On a fine spring or fall afternoon, there may be hundreds of people in the park, but it's so immense that it never feels crowded. On a brisk winter weekend, you may feel like you have the place all to yourself, with views reaching for miles.

    Briones has both on-leash and off-leash sections; the more popular trails are on-leash, but there are plenty of off-leash areas too. At certain times of the year, you want to pay attention to the cows; Briones is used for stock grazing in the winter, and if your dog isn't comfortable around cows, you'll need to take some precautions.

  • Point Pinole. Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is one of my favorite parks. Both you and your dog will love the park. There are many trails for dogs to explore, while humans will find both the historical aspects of the park and the breath-taking views over the San Pablo Bay worth the hike. A fun thing to do is to take the shuttle bus down to the picnic area at the far end of the park by the fishing pier, then walk back along the shore enjoying the views.

    Once we were at Point Pinole when there was a Vizsla fan club having a meet-up; you haven't lived til you've seen 25 Vizsla prancing and bounding around the meadow.

  • Morgan Territory. Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is a bit of a drive from our house, but boy is it worth it! Another of the larger parks in the system, Morgan Territory has extensive trails to explore. For a dog that wants to explore, Morgan Territory is the place; just make sure you're current on your tick medicine, because the grass can grow rather high.

    Morgan Territory is one of the more remote parks, and kind of unpredictable; if you visit in August it can be 107 degrees, and we've had a few December visits when it was in the low 40's with a howling wind, and we stayed only a short while before heading home. But on a mile March afternoon, when all the wildflowers are in bloom, it's hard to imagine a more pleasant location for you and your dog.

  • Diablo Foothills. Diablo Foothills park is adjacent to Mount Diablo State Park, and the trails inter-connect. Diablo Foothills has some very nice trails, with lots to see, and it's quite dog-friendly.

    You never quite feel like you're out in the wildnerness, but if you're looking for a great 2-hour hike without a 2-hour trip to get there, pop the dog in the van and head to Diablo Foothills.

  • Leona Canyon. Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve is the smallest of the parks in this article, but it has a lot going for it. Drive up to the back of the Merritt College parking lot, find a space (don't forget to put money in the meter if it's a school day), and look for the hard-to-find Leona Canyon gate at the very farthest end of the parking lot. Within just a few steps, you'll be completely isolated, surrounded by canyon walls, following a wide peaceful trail down the canyon. In wintertime, the creek will be running, but even in summer time the trees will provide glorious shade. Although the walk is short, the complete immersion into the wild makes Leona Canyon one of our favorites.

    Don't forget to stop and admire the view of the bay from the college parking lot on your way back out!

You'll notice I didn't include Point Isabel nor Oyster Bay on the list. Those are the classic "dog parks" in the East Bay, and they're certainly nice. But with so many wonderful East Bay parks to choose from, you shouldn't limit yourself to those, so next time you're looking for a dog-walk, why not try one of these?

Got any other great suggestions for places to go with your dog in the East Bay? Let me know!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stuff to read

I know, I know, there's a football game this Sunday (as my co-worker says, "it's the best day of the year to go shopping -- all the stores are empty!").

But if you're not sitting on a couch somewhere with potato chips within reach, you might find some of these links worth chasing. Or maybe not.

  • Google explain how Google Street View was able to show pictures inside the Grand Canyon: Trekking the Grand Canyon for Google Maps
    On its first official outing, the Street View team is using the Trekker—a wearable backpack with a camera system on top—to traverse the Grand Canyon and capture 360-degree images of one of the most breathtaking natural landscapes on the planet.
  • It's the 30th anniversary of Lotus 1-2-3. I was actually working in Cambridge during those days, just two blocks away from the Lotus headquarters, and I know many people who worked at Lotus during that time. Dan Bricklin reminisces
    It was written in tight assembly code, accepting the limitation of making porting to other computers more difficult (it couldn't run on Apple's 6502-based computers or many others) to get the speed needed on the soon-to-be-dominant IBM PC (which it helped make dominant).
  • From the Harvard Gazette, a nice short article about the 100th anniversary of Andrei Markov's lecture to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg: An idea that changed the world
    Markov added the idea of interdependence to probability, the notion that what happens next is linked to what is happening now. That creates what Hayes called a “chain of linked events,” and not just a series of independent acts. The world, Markov posited, is not just a series of random events. It is a complex thing, and mathematics can help reveal its hidden interconnectedness and likely probabilities. “Not everything,” Hayes told an audience of 100, “works the way coin flipping does.”
  • The Verge looks at the ongoing arms race between casinos and would-be casino cheats: Not in my house: how Vegas casinos wage a war on cheating
    When you’re playing a game where decisions matter (rather than pure games of chance), cheating is simply a matter of having better information than your opponent. "If I know your hole card, I’m gonna beat you. If I know the flop, I’m going to beat you. It’s all information transfer. And that’s all everything in this room does," he says, sweeping his arm to take in the acres of electronics surrounding him, "is move information from one place to another. Information management is all it is."
  • From Dr. Dobb's: Mobile as the Driver of Desktop Software Design
    Microsoft's error with Metro on the laptop and desktop is, in my view, simply a case of going too far too fast. It does not negate the fact that these platforms will eventually move to UIs driven by the mobile experience. A key part of that mobile experience is gesture recognition. As yet on business-style laptops and desktops, there is no gesture recognition capability, but that's beginning to change.
  • Speaking of Microsoft, it's time to start learning about the next release of Office: Ars Technica takes us on Office for Home: A visual tour
    While the functionality of Office has been pulled into the world of cloud services and "app" stores, the look and feel of Office has been recast to make it more functional on touch devices and traditional PCs. The new themes echo the flatter look of Windows 8.
  • I just studied spanning trees in Tim Roughgarden's class on Coursera, so I enjoyed: Computer Scientists Find New Shortcuts for Infamous Traveling Salesman Problem
    The shortest spanning tree was a natural starting point for efforts to build a short round-trip tour. But this approach also offered an opening for researchers trying to whittle down Christofides’ 50 percent guarantee. For although the shortest spanning tree seems effective at first, other trees may be better when it comes to the short-cutting process that converts the tree into a round-trip — for example, a tree that never branches needs only one added highway to become a round-trip.
  • The Mystery Hunt 2013 has just concluded; The Tech describes how the hunt went: A Hunt of Epic Proportions
    By Monday morning, the hunt had already been declared the longest hunt in history, surpassing the previous record, the 68 hour hunt created by the French Armada in 2004. On Sunday, HQ sent out an announcement that teams only needed to solve five of the six super metapuzzles to win. While many people had to leave starting Sunday night, there were still 25 teams that submitted answers sometime on Monday.
  • Ars Technica on the patent battle between NewEgg and Soverain: How Newegg crushed the “shopping cart” patent and saved online retail
    The main piece of prior art used at the appeals trial was the CompuServe Mall, and Newegg's lawyers, led on appeal by Ed Reines of Weil Gotshal, argued that system hit each and every patent claim in Soverain's patents.

    At district court, the judge hadn't even let those invalidity arguments go to the jury, stating there wasn't "sufficient testimony" on obviousness, and that it would be "very confusing" to them.

    Soverain argued that CompuServe's system didn't include a "product identifier" as they define it in their patent, and that CompuServe lacked a "shopping cart database." Soverain also argued that its system was new and superior because it was adapted to the Internet, whereas CompuServe's system was a pre-Internet network.

  • Datamation speaks the unspeakable: 9 Things That Are Never Admitted About Open Source
    Supporters like to claim that one of the advantages of FOSS is that it encourages diversity. Unlike Windows, FOSS is supposed to welcome new ideas and to be less vulnerable to viruses because most categories of software include several applications.

    The reality is somewhat different.

  • Speaking of speaking the unspeakable, Seth Godin just nails it: Eleven things organizations can learn from airports
    Of course, this post isn’t actually about airports
  • Amazon remains the most fascinating corporation in the world: Amazon Profits Fall 45 Percent, Still the Most Amazing Company in the World
    Amazon, as best I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.
    Amazon, Apple, and the beauty of low margins
    Study disruption in most businesses and it almost always comes from the low end. Some competitor grabs a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder and pulls itself upstream. But if you're already sitting on that lowest rung as the incumbent, it's tough for a disruptor to cling to anything to gain traction.
  • From Scientific American: How to Lose $3 Million in 1 Second
    There are models that do incorporate illiquidity, or market freezes. These do so by adding rare, but large, discontinuous jumps in the price of assets. These models, however, are of a different breed than the non-jump models.
    The Real, and Simple, Equation That Killed Wall Street
    there is an equation one can point to and blame. This equation, however, requires nothing more than middle school algebra to understand and is taught to every new Wall Street employee. It is leveraged return.
  • I think I've read about 25% of the entries in Conor Friedersdorf's 102 Spectacular Nonfiction Stories from 2012; I'm pleased to see Cory Doctorow's Lockdown in the list.
    These projects afford me the opportunity to read as much impressive nonfiction journalism as any single person possibly can. The result is my annual Best of Journalism List, now in its fifth year.
  • Lastly, I can still vividly remember an incident during my second year of college in Chicago: quite unexpectedly, my grandfather had died, and I needed to travel to Cleveland on almost no notice. After class, I waited my turn to talk to my professor to tell him I'd be missing Monday's mid-term. Just as I was about to speak to him, I was stunned to hear the person in front of me say: "Uhm, sir? I won't be at the mid-term, because my grand-mother has died."

    Professor Dongwon Lee of Penn State investigates this phenomenon: The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society.

    For over twenty years I have collected data on this supposed relationship, and have not only confirmed what most faculty had suspected, but also found some additional aspects of this process that are of potential importance to the future of the country. The results presented in this report provide a chilling picture and should waken the profession and the general public to a serious health and sociological problem before it is too late.